Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Some people have a telephone service known as “call forwarding.” They can program in another number when they will not be home. Incoming calls are forwarded to the number where they will be. God’s idea of “call forwarding” is different.
When the world or His church is in trouble, stuck in reverse or in neutral, God calls a person to get it going forward. How frustrating it must be to Him when people “pick up” and immediately turn to someone else with, “It’s for you.”
Did you hear about the fellow who was born after his parents had already raised four children? His father loved him dearly, but jokingly called him “Bos” — an acronym for “Big Old Surprise.” In Sunday’s lesson from Isaiah, we read a powerful contrast to this story. Isaiah speaks of being “called” before he was born to be God’s servant, fulfilling God’s purpose. His birth was intentional and his life purposeful.
Some people just live carelessly, letting life happen to them, rather than having an intentional impact on life. Consequently, when God calls, they forward the call to Isaiah or someone else. This is especially true if the call is potentially unpleasant.
I heard a great example of this just recently. A woman quit going to church because “the church” was always in need of money. As a pastor, I felt compelled to put those words in quotes because I always wonder who or what is meant when someone complains about “the church.” The unusual logic of the example is astounding to me. This woman apparently said, “Problem: the church needs money — solution: quit going and give nothing.” It’s another way of forwarding the call — “It’s for you…”
James W. Moore relates an interesting story in his book, Can You Remember to Forget? It concerns a Midwest pastor whom he calls “Scott Levy.” Scott arrived early at a church where he was to fill in for a pastor-friend as the guest preacher. He was walking around the halls, when he noticed a light and heard a sound from a room marked “nursery.” He looked in and saw a little boy of about four, sitting on the floor, all by himself. “Hi,” said the boy, “My name is Tommy, and I’m all alone in this big room.” Scott, a trained counselor, decided to use a non-directive response: “You feel all alone in that room?”
“I don’t just feel it,” said the boy, “I know I’m all alone!”
Trying to reassure him, Scott replied confidently, “Don’t you worry , I’m sure that before too long somebody will come to be with you.” With wistful eyes, little Tommy looked up at Scott and said, “Why not you?” Moore doesn’t say if Scott continued to search for someone else to whom he could refer Tommy’s need. Maybe he did and said, “It’s for you.”
Many times, a call to radical change or heroic faith is not even forwarded; it is muted or ignored. The most common way to do that is to complain and gripe. If the call appears in society, obvious in the pleas of the unemployed, we yell, “Get a job!” and drive on. If the need in the church is for money, we quit. If the need is for more workers, we stand around and gripe and moan that a clique runs everything.
Many of life’s most difficult problems remain unsolved because they are too complex to even address — we throw up our hands without ever beginning to look for a solution. The call comes and comes and comes and always gets a busy signal.
When Paul Tsongas left the U.S. Senate because of cancer, he wrote, “I used to walk my children to school and all I could think about was reelection. Now that I have resigned from the Senate I walk my kids to school and I think about my kids.” He said that he used to receive hundreds of letters at his Senate office every day, but the most memorable came after his retirement. The writer congratulated him on his decision saying, “Nobody on his death bed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time on my business.'”
Not long ago, I read a little vignette with point and purpose. It said, “If you’re too busy to spend time with your kids, you’re too busy. If you’re too busy to take time to show your love to your spouse, you’re too busy. If you’re too busy to go to church, you’re too busy. If you’re too busy to care about your neighbors, you’re too busy.” The fact is, however, that everyone is too busy doing something to do something else. My doctor even says, “If you’re too busy to take some time off, you’re too busy!” Are you too busy to acknowledge, let alone answer, God’s call?
In Sunday’s Second Lesson, Paul reminds us that we are “called to be holy!” Here we are struggling with things like laxity, apathy and indifference, and Paul is talking about holiness! Why are our sights always set so low? I think the answer is similar to the vignette about “too busy.” Our sights are low because our sights are low. We have meager and mediocre goals in life because we fail to draw on resources from above. Poet Annie Dillard once wrote: “You catch grace the way a man fills his cup under a waterfall.” What a wonderful image!
Of course, most of us think that we fill our own cups, so when we hold them under the waterfall, they are open to ourselves and upside down to God’s grace. Others have their cups filled with so much other junk that, even when inundated by His grace, they remain too stuffed to let anything else in. Finally, some of us realize how dangerous holiness might be to our selfishness and greed and maybe even to life and limb, so we keep our umbrellas handy and open. We deflect God’s love and keep the tidy little packages of our empty lives safe from Him.
Jesus was empty of self and overflowing with grace. It is no wonder that He clashed with a humanity so diametrically opposite. The clash cost Him dearly, but even that cost is His gracious gift to us. In Sunday’s Gospel, John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” To some, that is a “sweet and sunny” image. They picture a cute little lamb playing in a sun-drenched meadow. In reality, it is an image of slaughter and sacrifice. Sin is a deadly debt. Jesus paid in full.
The way to faith and to faithfulness is not mysterious. God’s grace comes to us in the waterfall of Word and Sacraments. There you discover that Jesus’ life, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection, His body broken and His blood shed — it’s for you. It’s all for you.
John the Baptizer urged his listeners to empty themselves and get ready to be filled with God. His witness stands for all time. Like John, we are called to witness with our words and with our holiness. We are called and we are sent on Christ’s mission. Don’t turn and look for somebody else. This call is for you.