Who am I that I Should Do God's Work?, Sermon 8.28.11

Who am I that I Should Do God's Work?, Sermon 8.28.11

(Our sermon today, because many our kept home by Hurricane Irene, also includes the introductions for the scripture lessons and, at the end, questions for reflection.)

Exodus 3.1-15:
Who are you, anyway?
We can ask that question of ourselves,
of each other,
and even of our God.
Be prepared, though,
for some surprises
when the answers come.
In this passage of Exodus,
God calls Moses to go and free his people.
When Moses asks the reasonable question,
“Why me?”
God doesn’t answer with a list of Moses’ qualifications.
All God says is,
“Because I am with you.”
When we listen for our call,
let us not worry so much about
the skills or gifts we have or lack;
instead, let us listen for
– and feel –
the presence of God.
Let us listen for what the Spirit is saying to the church….

Matthew 16.21-28
For most of us,
day to day life is not a cakewalk.
serving God, following Jesus,
and heeding the Holy Spirit
is not a cakewalk either.
In our first reading today,
we learned that,
although God is and will be with Moses,
proximity to God isn’t the cuddly,
cozy safety of hearth and home.
Holy ground can be hazardous ground
if you are not careful.
In this passage from Matthew,
Jesus confirms that message,
in part by predicting his own suffering,
and in part by spelling out the necessity
of our suffering too.
Before we pick up our cross and follow him,
let us perk up our ears and listen
to what the Spirit is saying to the church…


May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts…

“Who am I that I should do God’s work?”
Moses’ point on question.
Particularly for people who,
one way or another,
have uncovered a clear sense God has called them
to certain tasks or relationships or ways of being.

I’m reminded of Lily Tomlin’s asking,
“Why when we talk to God is it called ‘prayer,’
and everyone thinks the best of us…

…But when if we go further and explain that God talks to us,
people get worried and wonder if maybe we aren’t a little crazy.”

At Old First, we believe a sense of vocation is a central part of being a Christian…
developing the vision to recognize what God means for you…
hearing God’s call, if you will.

To be
or to live life
as a Christian then
is about being able to see, at least a bit,
what God sees,

…or to live listening for and to God’s voice…

I know, we’re more familiar and comfortable with the language of calling for clergy.

But, by our baptisms, our whole lives have been dedicated to God.
The words are quite clear:
We die to ourselves; that we can be born again to Christ.

At confirmation, as we enter the adulthood of our religious lives,
we take the promises our parents made for us as babies…
we take them on ourselves.

Our lives never really are our own,
but these are the rituals by which our tradition focuses us on that fact,
re-orients us if you will,
and expects us to live out that greater reality.

Ok, but still, Moses’ question rings awfully true, right?
Who is any of us to take on,
much less complete even the first, easiest task
of what could be said to be God’s work?

This week, In between the earthquake and the hurricane,
disaster preparedness recommendations
reminded me of Annie Dillard’s insight,
which I posted on the church’s facebook page:

Dillard wrote:
“Why do we people in churches seem like
cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?

…Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power
we so blithely invoke?

…Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;
they should lash us to our pews.”

Before the ominous assignment, “mortals who undertake the work of God,”
we ought to rightly ask,
“Um, Lord, who me? and how in the world do you expect me to…?”

And at the risk of an over-generalization,
a stereoptype even,
I’d say
effective Christians accomplish
whatever humble service they get done,
pull off whatever small feats we can…
right alongside,
maybe even, ironically, WITH the benefit of significant self-doubts,
plaguing concerns they aren’t up to the job before them,
and serious questions as to whether our efforts
are really making any difference.

Oh, hopefully, we don’t show only this side of being a Christian too often!
Or too much!

A person leading with his or her doubts,
isn’t exactly a recipe for inspiring confidence
and calling others to a deeper faith and a lived out belief!

Sometimes I think that’s what seminary is all about for ministers,
our professional training tries to develop our spiritual lives enough
so that we can carry our doubts ourselves, like crosses.

Folks– I don’t have to tell this congregation!– but
pastors are very human and we have our struggles too.
but we can serve effectively
as long as we keep our doubts and questions in some healthy tension…

You can too!

But I guess I should be clearer–
Effective Christians, clergy and lay, often doubt themselves,
And we question the efficacy of their efforts
before the monumental task that God puts before us.

But our self-doubt can serve to helps us to believe more?
“Lord, I can’t do this alone!”
And recognizing that makes us lean more on God?
“I need a shoulder and an arm and a whole lot more help, God.”

It’s this accepting and living into this dependency
that gives us this real, transforming sense that,
“Lord God, you’ve called me to this task
that surely I can’t accomplish on my own,
…but, maybe, with you right beside me,
not on my own strength, but through you…”

I guess, that’s how any of us,
with all his or her questions,
and a good deal of skepticism about the results of his or her work,
can walk in faith
and invite others to a deeper practice of faith.

Actually, that’s what happened with Moses and God.
Moses said, “Who me?
Free the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt?
You’ve got to be kidding!”

And God’s only answer was:
“I will be with you.”
and “I am who I am.”

Turning this issue around,
I’ll go out on a limb and say:

If you don’t wonder how or why God has chosen you,
if you don’t cringe before the idea that you are to accomplish Godly things
if you don’t doubt your abilities, or the chances you’ll fail,
if you don’t worry you’re not adequate to the mission you’ve been given…

well, remember the Lily Tomlin joke I opened with?
that’s sort of crazy!

The idea that God would ask, expect, count on humans to do God’s work.
Well, that idea
or God
or both is kind of crazy.

But it’s our faith!
Not just that religious superheroes like Moses or Peter do God’s work.
Not just that rabbis and ministers are called to “godly service.”
But that every last one of us is here for a purpose,
and has something God’s waiting on us to do.

Yes, some of us free slaves or deliver the law.
Some found churches, become the first Pope,
and go to the ends of the earth in mission.

But most of us, our deeds might be less heroic,
or at least less visible and acclaimed,
but our faith teaches that EVERYTHING we do is to be in God’s service too.

This call, our vocational sense is not some narcissistic madness.

Lest you think too grandiosely
or get all anxious and overwhelmed,
God’s call is never about you and you alone–
Not even Moses or Peter had to do it alone.
There were others with them,
and they entered into a long line of servants before and after.
One that you can walk in now too.

God’s not asking any one of us to do everything:
even Jesus needed help–
we can see that in his promise that those who came after him
would do even greater works than he had.

Instead, each of us is a participant in a drama the is much bigger than any of us.
A vitally important participant,
but in a story that is much bigger than we can imagine.

That’s why God reminded Moses,
“I am the God of your father,
the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob”

Beloved, in picking up our cross and following,
we are joining into the parade of humans that flows towards God.

Because all of us are called.
It’s just what human life is really about.

I don’t know why,
but I always think of Moses and Peter in these passages
like college students.
Maybe because that’s when I first began to struggle with my own sense of call.
And, I like thinking of them that way this morning,
because it makes me think of Lorena and Dee,
their first Sundays away from home at college.

There’s something about being away from where everything is comfortable and secure. Where we have been given some real responsibility for ourselves
and for the work that we now need to do on our own.

But our vocation, our full sense of who we are to become,
isn’t yet worked out (if it ever is!).
Maybe our vocation is nascent in our commitment to learning.
Our future is hopeful, but still obscure.
And whether we are a shepherd or a fisherman or college student,
faith provides a framework
and the promise of an emerging life of service.

Moses meets his burning bush.
Peter struggles against Jesus’ fate.
Dee and Lorena are probably full of emotions this morning too.
I pray that each of us here too,
feels a bit overwhelmed, troubled, excited, anxious to see where it all leads…

Fear and wonder are exactly what we should expect
from people venturing forward into a new understanding of themselves
and their place in the world.


Reflection Questions:

Where have you found yourself — literally or figuratively– on “holy ground?”
In what ways did you “take off your shoes?”

What have you done recently that you consider to be God’s work?

What self-doubts do you struggle with?

How do you get knotted up in human things, rather than focusing on divine things?

Our undertakings often don’t work out as we expect; could they still turn out as God meant?

How do you understand God’s call on your life?