Thursday, April 12, 2007

Callings and Claims

I have heard a lot about callings this week. Our Wednesday Bible study group started a study on Jeremiah this week, and the prophet's call is outlined in the very first chapter of the book:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the lord. Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth: and the Lord said to me, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Jeremiah is a boy - still the Lord calls him, telling him that he was consecrated for service in God's kingdom before he was even born. Jeremiah does not know what to do or what to say, still the Lord touches his mouth, giving him exactly what he needs to be a faithful leader.

These are powerful words, and I love reading about the calls of the prophets, the disciples and anyone else in the Bible. But my favorite thing is to hear about how God is calling someone today.

On Tuesday evening, I gathered a group of seminary students in my home in order to talk about their call and the places in which God might call them to serve upon their completion of seminary. Three young adults in their 20s and 30s told the story of how God had set them apart. For one person, it was a difficult ending to a relationship that enabled her to first see God at work. For another person, it was a transforming time in college and in a ministry setting in a far off land that enabled her to see God at work. And for another person, something began to happen in junior high that allowed him to see how God had given him specific gifts that could be used in the church. They were amazing stories, and I felt as though we were standing on holy ground as each story was told.

The stories were received by a seasoned leader in the church who responded by telling stories of what a remarkable privilege it is to be a pastor. He told stories of forgiveness -- including one story of how he forgot a wedding but the bride still forgave him! He told stories of how members of his congregation continued to affirm his gifts, placing a phone call to him each year after he was reappointed to be their pastor to say, "I'm glad your back -- I'm glad that you will be my pastor for another year." And he told stories of a person whose life was almost over. When the person was asked about whether or not he was ready to go on to heaven the person responded, "I cannot imagine any place better than this one."

This month marks the 11th anniversary of my call to ministry. In April of 1996, I was a young Senate staffer who was spending my days in the office of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. I liked what I was doing Monday - Friday, and I was planning to attend law school in the fall of 1997 as I wanted to pursue the dream of having a public office of my own. I had every intention of being a United States Senator myself. But something happened...

In April of 1996, I was invited to serve as a chaperone for a group of young United Methodists from Washington and Baltimore on a trip to New York City. I had never been to NYC before, and I loved the city. I had never been around such raw, vulnerable young people - people who were willing to share with me whatever it was that was on their hearts or in their minds. The excitement of the city combined with the words of these young people started me thinking about what it was that I wanted to do with my life. By Saturday, I had decided that I did not want to go to law school anymore but instead wanted to move to New York City or work with young people for the rest of my life. And on Sunday, my pastor offered a closing prayer, "Dear God, thank you for this trip and for the safety you have given to us. Thank you also for the ways in which you can use experiences like this one to call people. Please be with the individuals who you have called this weekend as they seek to discern your will for their lives."

It was like a bolt of electricity. I had been changed in an instant. I did not go to law school the next year but enrolled in seminary instead. And, I have not looked back once. I, too, cannot imagine anything better than this life.

God, please be with those individuals whom you have called as they discern your will for their lives.

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