Still Waiting

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 10.16.49 AM.png

I’ll be blunt — very few of you have responded to my challenge to write out your call story and submit it to me.

Don’t think you’re hiding from me — I see you out there! I know you might think this is too challenging, but I want to persuade you to try anyway!

Come on, it’s fun!

Perhaps the reluctance to answer “The Call Project” comes from a sense that you haven’t actually been called by God. One person wrote me to say this very thing: “This is very difficult for me, because I don't think I have had a call to tell you about.”

Maybe, because you haven’t been knocked to the ground by a blinding light like Saul, or heard an audible voice from a burning bush like Moses, that you haven’t been called.

But I will restate what I said in the sermon two weeks ago — every Christian has a call. That is, in fact, what it means to be a Christian! It means to have received a mission from God, to be included in the story of what God is doing in the world. When you decide to follow Jesus, you are necessarily charting a different journey for yourself than you would have walked otherwise.

The life of faith is a journey into the heart of God, and the heart of God is full of love and compassion for the whole world. Or to put it in the words of Paul, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

If you have the heart of God and the mind of Christ, then you will be full of a love that breaks for the pain and anguish of the world. When you have that kind of love, you will be unable to carry on with business-as-usual, because business-as-usual for most of us is a life of wealth accumulation, personal and family security, and the pursuit of leisure. You will be unable to walk the streets of the city without seeing people through God’s eyes, and you will suddenly be able to see through the illusions and fantasies of modern life. You will be attuned to injustice and inequality. You will ache for people who have no hope.

And you will want to do something about it.

The whole point of the church is to gather folks who want to do something about the world’s condition in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s why Kessler Park UMC exists, that’s why the United Methodist Church exists, that’s why Christianity in its myriad forms and permutations exists.

I will repeat: every. single. one. of. you. has. a. call.

It may sound like a whisper to befriend unlovable people. It may be merely a hint of interest in a child with learning disabilities. It may be a vocational draw toward a job in the non-profit sector. It may even be to pursue theological studies for the sake of becoming a pastor.

If you haven’t heard the call yet, then all you have to do is get quiet enough to listen. If everyone is called, as I believe, then everyone has access to that call. God speaks. We have to learn to listen; we must develop the capacity to hear God.

Let me reissue my challenge — please write down your call story and send it to me so that I can share it with Eric. If you struggle with putting it into words, here’s a simple template to use, based on my sermon on May 12th:

“I was __________________________________________ (your situation before the call), when suddenly _________________________ (the call arrives), and now I ________________________ (your response).”

Give it a try — I know you can do it!

The Call Project


In Sunday’s sermon, I announced what I’m calling “The Call Project,” in which I’m asking each of you to write down and submit a brief version of your “call story.”

What’s a call story?

I explained in my sermon that a call story is a personal story about when and how God called you to fulfill your own particular shape of ministry, whatever that might be. (This is different from what people used to call their “conversion story,” which narrates how and when someone became a Christian in the first place.)

I believe that every Christian has received a unique and personal directive, or “call,” from God which should determine and shape one’s life choices. For a few of us, God’s call is to full-time, specialized ministry within the church, which we call ordination. But for most of us, the call is to embody the love of Christ in our vocations, whatever they might be, and to embrace our spiritual gifts. 

While I believe that every person has been called to some kind of ministry by God, I also believe that not every Christian has actually responded to the call. That means not everyone has a call story … at least not yet.

That’s partly the role of a pastor — to help lead people into hearing and accepting the call of God on their lives. I know I’m doing my job well only when I see you responding to God’s call to mission, service, or compassion. 

That’s why “The Call Project” is important to me, especially at this moment in time. Before I leave, I would like to know from each of you how you are responding to God. I would love to celebrate your call story with you, as well as to pass the story on to the next pastor, Eric Folkerth. 

In my sermon, I argued that every call story has the same basic three-part structure. That story usually goes like this: first, you are making your way through normal, everyday life when, second, a crisis occurs. This disruption or interruption leads to a sudden recognition of your call from God. If you accept the call, then the third stage takes place, in which you begin to live into a new reality, open to God’s guidance.

When you are ready to write your story, try using the following sentence prompts: “I was ____________ (part one: status quo) when ________________ (part two: crisis/disruption), and I realized that God was calling me to ___________________ (your call), and I responded by ________________ (part three: new reality).”

Using that structure, here is how my story of how I was called into the ministry: “I was studying filmmaking in college when, one night as I was praying before bed, I clearly heard God call me to be a preacher, and after I had graduated with my film degree, I responded by enrolling in Perkins School of Theology and beginning the path toward ordination in the United Methodist Church.”

Using the same structure for Saul in the New Testament, here is his story: “I was going to Damascus to arrest Christians when I was blinded by a bright light on the road and heard a voice from heaven which told me that I was to be an ambassador for Christ, and after being healed of my blindness by the kindness of Ananias, I responded by becoming an apostle to the Gentiles.”

See? Your story doesn’t have to be long and complicated, but short and to the point. You’re welcome to use the prompts I’ve given above, or to write something free style.

Please take a few minutes to write out your call story and send to me at It will bring joy to my heart, and I’ll make sure Eric sees it. Even more important, you’ll see it written down for yourself, a reminder of the divine purpose for your own life.

Oh, one more thing — if you haven’t yet, please take the time to upload a picture of yourself to the church directory on Breeze. If you don’t think you can manage it yourself, we’ll have volunteers take pictures of you after worship over the coming weeks and help you do it! This will also be extremely useful for Eric to get to know all of you.

Revisiting Jesus' Baptism


    I preached about the baptism of Jesus last Sunday. As one person was leaving the sanctuary, she shook my hand and said, “I’ve always wondered why Jesus was baptized in the first place. Jesus didn’t have any sins to repent for and he didn’t need to have any sins forgiven.”
    It’s a very good — and popular — question. Almost every commentary written about the gospels has to address this matter, since Christianity traditionally holds that Jesus was sin-less.
    For one thing, scholars across the board agree that this event actually took place. The fact that all four gospels tell the same story lend credence to the idea that Jesus really was baptized by John. It appears to be a very important story to the followers of Jesus.
    So why was Jesus baptized?
    I’ll be honest; I think this is a misleading question. It assumes that Jesus knew he was sinless, or conscious of his status, when he was baptized. I think this story is best read as Jesus’ own call story. This is the event in Jesus’ life which jolted him into awareness of who he was, and what he was called to do.
    You may have noticed that the gospels are extremely light on details of Jesus’ life before his baptism. All we have are birth stories from Matthew and Luke, and a story about Jesus in the temple as a 12-year old (Luke 2:41-52), and those stories are all of dubious historicity.
    The truth is that nothing is really known about Jesus before he was baptized. He came down to the Jordan River that day to see and hear John the Baptist. He was moved by John’s proclamation, decided that he wanted to be part of John’s movement, and went down into the water with everybody else to be baptized.
    But when he came up out of the water, something happened. He saw into heaven, he saw the Spirit of God descending and entering him, and he heard God’s voice saying to him, “You are my Son, my beloved; in you, I am well pleased.”   
    What happened in the Jordan River was the defining event of Jesus’ life, up to this point. This is his coming out party, his debut, his “burning bush” moment. From this time forward, Jesus begins to live into the reality of who he is. He begins to understand more and more about his calling and his task; he starts to speak and act with authority.
    I think he didn’t fully understand his identity before the baptism; he didn’t know who he was or what he was supposed to be doing. I don’t believe this is a heretical idea; the orthodox belief is that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. To be fully human means to have knowledge which is limited to one’s own experience. Until Jesus experienced God’s call, he couldn’t have known precisely who he was.
    The more important question that this story raises is whether or not each one of us has heard God’s call upon our lives. God didn’t call only Jesus; no, the New Testament is full of stories of men and women who recognize — or not — God’s call and then act — or not — upon it.
    I believe that God has called every one of us — man, woman, and child — to a life full of meaning, fulfillment, and grace. Each life has its own unique bent; some, like myself, are called to ordained ministry, others are sent into the corporate work place, while others are called to the teaching, healthcare, or law enforcement professions, just to give a few examples.
    Yes, your life has its own special divine calling. You are the only one who can follow it. You are the one chosen by God to fulfill God's own particular mission.
     It's a high calling. But you are equipped for it. And so am I.