2018-1-21 “What’s Your Call?”

“What’s Your Call?”

A meditation based on Mark 1:14-20

January 21, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

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                   This meditation is a bit different than you usually hear from me.  For these past two weeks have seen something we’ve never seen before in this country’s long history…a president using vulgar language to disparage whole countries of people…people who happen to have been born with darker-colored skin.  And I want to invite us this morning, in light of this occurrence, to revisit the principles of Jesus as we live them out in the United Church of Christ.  I am so very proud of our UCC national leaders, for within two days, they had written a powerful letter demanding an apology.  But more than the political aspects that have been part of us, from the beginning our 400+ year old denomination, more than the church’s involvement in the political sphere, we can hear in their letter the principles that guide us still.  And that is what makes me proud!  I invite you to hear the letter in its entirety, and then we’ll talk a bit about it.  Listen beyond the politics, if you will…listen for the life principles that make this world a better place.

January 13, 2018

The United Church of Christ believes it is called into being to express fully the love of God most powerfully known to us in Jesus, the love of neighbor, and the love of self. We believe our mission is to build a just world for all. We cannot remain true to such a calling and be silent in the face of racist language, especially when it comes from the highest office in the land.  Therefore we condemn the language used by the President in his recent outburst and call on him to apologize.  As we all gather as a nation to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. – a leader committed to racial harmony and justice – the United Church of Christ once again celebrates the rich tapestry of religious and racial diversity that America has become. We too dream of a land where all are equal and are judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character.

The United Church of Christ is appalled at the President’s speech. We denounce it as racist. We have grown weary of efforts to either apologize for or normalize the bullying that we have all had to endure.  An inclusive denomination, we affirm the dignity and full humanity of all people of all nations. We are asking the president for an apology. A broken, divided nation will not fully heal without it. We are committed to building bridges of peace and understanding, of participating in the exchange of a love that can heal all wounds and bind together broken communities. Words of understanding and remorse are, we believe, a critical and necessary step in helping this nation heal from this new wound.

The National Officers of the United Church of Christ

The Rev. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, Executive Minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries

The Rev. James Moos, Executive Minister for Global Engagement and Operations

What life principles did you hear from our national officers?  I hope you heard:

  • We exist as church to express fully the love of God
  • We exist as church to express love of neighbor
  • We exist as church to express love of self
  • Our mission is to build a just world for all
  • We speak up in response to injustice
  • We are inclusive
  • We value all humans, all countries
  • We understand that healing requires apology
  • We are about building bridges of peace and understanding
  • We believe in love as that force that heals wounds and connects communities…we love!

                   When Jesus called those four fishers of fish—Peter, Andrew, James and John—they had no idea what they were getting themselves into!  They dropped nets and boats and livelihoods to follow Jesus, and we marvel that they did so.  When we take a look at their call, we often put ourselves in the place of these four individuals on the shore.  We marvel that they dropped all—changed their lives completely—and followed this teacher.  We ask if we would have been so inspired, so spontaneous.  Yet, according to preacher and professor Barbara Brown Taylor, to ask that question of this passage is to put the emphasis on the wrong syllable!  She suggests that this story is not so much a story about the disciples or about us, this is a story about God.  To focus on what the disciples gave up (and whether we could do the same), is to miss the real miracle of the story. 

                   This “miracle story,” as she calls it, is really about “the power of God—power to walk right up to a quartet of fishermen and work a miracle, creating faith where there was no faith, creating disciples where there were none just a moment before.”  What we’d best find along the way of our own lives, encourages Barbara Brown Taylor “…is a full sense of the power of God – to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hapless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them upside the head with glory.”  

                   What does this “smacking upside the head with glory” look like exactly?  In the case of the fishers, it looks like fishing, only instead of catching fish, they catch people.   In the case of the United Church of Christ, it looks like using one’s God-given gifts, mixed with a whole lot of courage, to live love and bring positive change to the world.  For Community Congregational Church, it looks like, perhaps, doing some of the same things but doing them in a new way, or for new reasons, or with new and renewed vigor.  You see, life with Christ, is a dynamic “call

and response” in which, in every moment and with each decision, we are invited to creatively, and sometimes courageously, respond to God’s call.  

                   What is your call, do you think?  What one or two words describe it?

Perhaps the United Church of Christ, with its long history of speaking out on social concerns, perhaps that gives you pause or motivation or a sense of direction for your own living out of your call.  Living our call is as simple as being who we really are; acting from that, deciding based on who you are, speaking from your deep and true self.  Remember what I said last week…your call is not to be Jesus, or anyone else for that matter.  Your call is to be you, full of God-given gifts unique to you, the best version of you that is possible.  That is your call.  And mine.

                   In a sermon delivered just after the terribly devastating fires here in southern California in the fall of 2007, Dr. Forrest Church wrote that, “Being who we are means embracing our God-given nature and talents, not someone else’s.”  He goes on to tell that he admired his father—Senator Frank Forrester Church, III, longtime U.S. Senator from Idaho.  Son wanted to be like father, saying, “I wanted, more than anything, to borrow his ladder to the stars.  I had more confidence in him than I did in myself.  I wanted to be like him, not like me.”  While working on a doctoral degree, the son was handed a political career on a platter, and when that offer occurred, he nearly followed its tempting pathway.  But his father interceded and called him a quitter.  Finish your doctorate, the father said.  Then go ahead and do whatever you wish with your life.  So the son persevered.  And, in persevering, he found his calling.  Two years later, he was installed as the ninth minister of All Souls [Church in New York City], a position he held for over thirty years.  Rev. Church referred to his calling as a privilege—fulfilling not his destiny, but answering a call that was his, not someone else’s.  He concludes his story with these words, “To envy another’s skills, looks, or gifts rather than embracing your own nature and call is to fail in two respects.  In trying unsuccessfully to be who we are not, we fail to become who we are.”

                   Being who you are, you see, is not an end in and of itself.  Being who you are invites you to see others with the same respect as you see yourself, to honor the integrity of the neighbor, to connect with the stranger, one to the other, in the family of God.  Be who you are.  Loving.  Grumpy.  Honest.  Human.  Creative.  Hopeful.  Willing.  Courageous.  Be who you are. 

And our scripture today assures us that God will be who God is.  Calling you, just as you are.  Just as God has done with humans from the beginning of time, God will call you each day, and God will fill you every moment with what you need in that moment, and God will use you—being you—to change the world for the better.


Amen and Blessed Be!