“(Not So) Ordinary Callings”
By Rev. Jennifer Christenson
For Christus Lutheran Church, Greenville, Wis.
April 14, 2013
Easter 3C – Acts 9:1-20 http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%209:1-20&version=NIV
When you’re in seminary and going through the candidacy process, a big question that gets asked, in various ways, is “What’s your call story?” Meaning, “When did you know you wanted to be a pastor? How did it happen?” I’ve heard a lot of these stories in my time, both at seminary and in the almost eleven years I’ve been a pastor, and, while some are really interesting, I have yet to encounter anyone who had an experience like Saul on the road to Damascus. Or even Ananias getting a vision to go and see Saul in Damascus.
Some are even a little apologetic about this lack of spectacle in our call stories. It starts out, “Well, there was no blinding light, no burning bush but…” As though what happened with Saul and Ananias is the norm and the rest of us are outliers.
That’s not the case at all though. Saul’s story is pretty unique, even in Scripture. Perhaps because of his violent inclinations he needed a jolt such as the one he got.
For it was quite a turnaround Saul made. We begin with Saul breathing out murderous threats against Jesus’ followers. We end with that same Saul proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues.
In between God was busy at work doing what God does best: changing lives and calling people to live out their faith in risky and courageous ways.
The amazingness of this story can be a bit off-putting for the rest of us people of faith who don’t have such grandiose call/conversion stories to point to.
For many of us coming to faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, “seeing the light” so to speak, was a much quieter affair.
Some were baptized as infants and, as such, can’t even remember a time when we lived not knowing who God was, what Jesus did, how the Spirit is at work in our lives. We can’t remember a time when we weren’t assured that we were and are a precious, beloved member of God’s family.
Others may have started out life in the faith, then quietly drifted away for various reasons…and then quietly drifted back, again for various reasons. There may not have been a blinding light, just a realization that something was missing and being a part of a community of faith again suddenly seemed more important than it had been before. Being closer to Jesus and his Word and his ways was suddenly a higher priority.
And, for still others, for those new to the faith, it was responding to an invitation. Not, perhaps, an invitation in the form of a vision directly from the Lord telling us to go to a home on Straight Street in Damascus…rather, a coworker, a friend, an acquaintance, alive with their faith, extending an invitation to come to worship, or join in on a Feed My Starving Children mobile-pack, or check out a bible study or an overnight at the children’s museum.
No flashy lights from heaven, to be sure, but that doesn’t make these quiet callings and conversions any less significant. And I’m not just saying that to make us all feel better. This statement is true because ultimately it’s not the experience or the flash and dazzle of the call that matters. It’s the one who DOES the calling.
In Saul’s story we get caught up in the incredible transformation that takes place. It’s hard not to! The chief persecutor of the church goes rogue and starts building up the very institution he sought so rabidly to destroy. We are rightfully in awe of the blinding light, the voice from heaven, Saul’s three days of blindness and fasting, and the scales falling from his eyes as he is blessed by Ananias.
But the main character in the story is neither Saul, nor even Ananias. It’s the risen and at this point in the story of the Church now ascended Lord Jesus.
Jesus is the one who catches Saul’s attention out there on that road. Jesus is the one whose voice the bystanders heard, even if they couldn’t understand the words that were said. Jesus is the one who convinced the understandably fearful Ananias to go to Saul. And, Jesus is the one who chose Saul – of all people – to lead the expansion of Christ’s church on earth, Christ’s kingdom now come, to spread the good news that Jesus is the Son of God to places near and far.
And because of that, because the story is ultimately about Jesus and not Saul, or Ananias, or the bystanders…
Because of that, it lends a certain dignity and worth and value to our own stories of calling and faithful living, however flashy or non-flashy they may be.
For it is Jesus through the Holy Spirit who claimed you in your baptism, made you a part of his Body, and commissioned you to live a faith-filled, graced-filled life. (And if you haven’t been baptized yet, then it’s Jesus who WILL do that for you when the time comes.) It is Jesus who rustled around in your heart, making you see that you wanted something more, and then showed you where you could find it, in His Word and in His holy, albeit imperfect, people. It is Jesus who gave that neighbor, or friend, or coworker, or classmate, or whoever it was the courage and timing and wherewithal to invite you to check out a community of faith where you would be welcome and would hear the good news proclaimed in word and deed.
And it is Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, who continues calling you, and me.
It is almost too bad that the group of believers known as “The Way” ended up changing their name to Christian. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the name Christian, or being identified with Christ. I claim that name humbly and proudly all at the same time and hope that you do as well.
But “The Way” is actually a pretty accurate description of what this faith thing is all about. Faith is not a one and done destination that you one day arrive at and that’s it, you’re there, your work is finished. This faith thing is a path, it’s a way, a way of life. It’s a way that has its ups and downs. It has its mountain-top moments of joy and strong convictions. It has its deep valleys of hurts, pain, sorrow and doubt. It has its long stretches when nothing out of the ordinary seems to happen.
Yet every step of this way, whether it’s on the mountain, in the valley, or down that boring road in the middle of nowhere… Every step of this way, the one who IS the Way, the Truth, and the Life goes with us.
Meaning, all we do, we do in the presence of Christ – which can be comforting or scary depending on what we’ve been up to.
Even so, even if that is a scary thought, remember Saul. Saul was actively working against the Way, was persecuting Christ by persecuting Christ’s followers. And still, he was chosen. Still Christ saw someone on that road to Damascus, even breathing murderous threats against Christ’s people as he was, someone worth redeeming. Still, Christ saw the potential for all of that zeal against the Way to be used FOR the Way. And so with a flash of light he knocked Saul off his intended course…and the rest, as they say, is history.
The rest is history that all points back to Jesus. Jesus, who sees the sinners that we are and chooses us anyway, dies for our sake, rises so that we might have life in his name. It all points back to Jesus, who sees us wandering out there in the world, or even headed somewhere with purpose, and calls us by name, puts to death our old ways and raises us up to something new, calls us to a new Way. It all points back to Jesus, who sees us as those with the potential to spread the good news of the kingdom far and wide, or maybe just over to our next-door neighbor’s house to invite them to worship next week.
So what’s your call story? One need not be a pastor or church worker to have one. We’re all called by God into this life of faith. So what’s your story? When and how have you seen, heard and felt Jesus at work in your life? And where is Jesus calling you to go? Is he calling you to completely change your way of thinking as Saul did? Or is he calling you to trust in him and do something really scary that you otherwise would never do, as he did Ananias? Or is it something altogether different? Share those stories with one another, you may be surprised at the ways God chooses to work in our day and in our age.
Share those stories, and remember that whatever they are, trust that Christ, the one who calls us all in baptism, feeds us through his supper, and accompanies us through his Spirit, Christ is the one behind you, before you, and beside you through it all. Amen