As Seen Through God’s Call
Sermon Presented to Union Church in Waban by Brian Donovan
There is no easy way to say goodbye. For, goodbye is a definitive term which means the end of something. The end of a time with friends, the end of a time of learning, the end of a time of worship. To say goodbye, we must express what or who we are saying goodbye too and too often these goodbyes feel like losses. Sadly, we have felt loss twice this week with both our beloved Tess MacDonald then our dear Dick Husher. You will both be missed in our day to day lives and our hearts go out to both of your families. But I do not wish to say goodbye because it does not feel right. Yes, when our friends depart from this world it does feel like a loss when they are not with us each day – yet, I still push back against – goodbye. Because, our faith shows us another way, a way that is divergent from the traditional human goodbyes, a way that carries us into the beautiful transition of the Divine which is unfolding. The growth from the dance which we are called to and into the revelation of a new life. This is the promise of faith which becomes visible as we embody our revealed life and discover what God has been calling us too – all along. However, before we begin would you pray with me.
God please hold us in your hand as we walk through the transitions in this life and let us live faithfully as your children so we may fully embody your Revelation. May the words of my mouth and the meditations on all of our hearts be pleasing to you…
Now, I am not suggesting that anyone should immediately accept the changes that befall us. The truth is our feelings are there for a reason. We feel loss and sadness in most transitions of our life and our feelings are there to ease these transitions as we let go of that which was – while preparing us to embody – that which is to become. In other words, I am saying that our faith does not need to say goodbye.
Last week, Amy invited everyone to find the courage to dance to the call which God is moving within each of us. So, let us look at this idea of transitions through the call, through that feeling God has placed within each of our hearts to do something in this world. Actually, I would like to broaden this idea of God’s Call to more than just ministry. Rather, let us think of the call as the idea, the drive, and the inspiration which stirs us to our decisions. Let us think of God’s call as the impetus which motivates us to choose our careers, our marriages, or even to order a salad instead of a burger for lunch. I cannot be the only one who says “I am not sure why I chose this or why I chose that, but I felt drawn to, called to the choices which I have made throughout my life.
However, what happens when we cannot engage the loss, the transition, the change of a call? What happens when we hold onto the remnants of what we were inspired to be a part of, what happens when we try to block God’s encouragement of a new call which will draw us even closer to the Revelation. I expect we all know that we could become – stuck. Our lives could become hard and it may feel horrible as we wallow in the loss of what we are no longer a part of, or at least this stagnation is what can happen.
To explain, I heard God calling me to writing and ministry when I was thirteen. It was beautiful and I hope to share the full story with each of you – at some point. Yet, it took me until I was thirty-nine before I returned to the path. The time in between was wrought with me fighting the call and struggling to survive. I was part of the working poor – living week to week with my former wife. Now, this point is not to say that there were not some great things which happened during this time; rather, I was simply not following the call which God had placed in my heart and I also struggled to put enough food on the table each week. Are these factors related? Is there a cause and effect? Did I struggle in this world; because, I was not listening to the Call which God had placed in my heart? I don’t know. Honestly, I just do not know if this was a causal event or if there is only a correlation in that the more, I stepped away from God’s call the harder my life became.
I have seen events like this happen to friends who are still wearing their high school jerseys, who cannot move on after college graduations, who cannot transition from being married, who cannot accept the loss of a career they love or a loved one they have lost. When we force ourselves to use the idea of goodbye to shut away our emotions – to end something – we are doing so prematurely. Because there is no end in God’s Kingdom, these aspects of high school, of college, of marriage, of careers and of loved ones have and are shaping us and recreating us into someone new, a persona we need to embody so we may live into the next step of God’s call. So, no – I do not believe in goodbye; because, I have faith in what we are becoming. I have faith in God’s Kingdom being revealed.
With these thoughts in mind, let us contemplate the scripture this week from the Acts of the Apostles. Here Paul and Timothy are strengthening the faith of the Pauline churches when they are stopped from entering Asia by “the Spirit of Jesus.” They accept their new path which leads the group to Troas where Paul has a vision, or one could say – a call, of a man requesting the missionaries’ presence in Macedonia. The company goes across the sea and converts Lydia while establishing the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth.
In many ways, this story seems very straight forward. There is no conflict per say because Paul is actually following God’s call. He never says goodbye to the churches he establishes which allows him to continually strengthen their faith. Likewise, we see that Paul does not say goodbye to God’s call being done through him when he does not fight the transitions of the mission. Rather, Paul and Timothy simply accept the path to Ephesus then they are turned away from Asia then shown the path to Galatia and then the path into Macedonia. The missionaries are just following God’s call and seem to be conflict free in this passage.
However, what would have happened if Paul had said – goodbye. Let us imagine for a moment that Paul had fought God’s call and instead of heading towards Troas, he went into Asia which was not ready for the word of God. Well, depending on when he said goodbye to God’s call the Galatian church may have never existed which would have meant the Letter of Paul to the Galatians may have never been written. Lydia and her household in Macedonia would probably not have become Christians along with the churches and letters of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. I suspect that this key moment in God’s call being done through Paul may have even stopped the books of first and second Timothy from ever being written. Of course, these possibilities are only fabrications of the imagination. Yet, they are important because we know Paul wanted to head into Asia just by the fact that the scripture says he was turned away. So, how different would our world be if Christianity had reached China approximately 600 years before it did? How different would our lives be now if we just have faith in God and listen to the call, accept the changes, and live into the Kingdom being revealed to us? It seems that in this critical moment of Paul’s mission, he did just that and his life was free from conflict and strife for a moment.
This said, I cannot say that the effects of listening to God’s call are always immediate. Nor that you will live without any conflicts. In truth, I cannot even say that you will be free from the transitions in your life. Rather, I can say that when we have faith in God’s call, when we have hope for the future of what is being revealed to us then – and only then, are we living into the call – God has placed in our hearts.
Two thousand years ago, the author of Revelation shared their perception of what this hope would look like. The author revealed a world free of fear where people would no longer have night and human beings would no longer need to lock their gates. This author showed us a new Jerusalem where the trees produced enough fruit for everyone and the leaves themselves “healed the nations.” This vision is our hope, our promise in scripture, our revealed future which God is calling us to become. But, this Kingdom of God starts – with faith. Faith in God and the call, the hope, and the love she is revealing through us.
Still, this impetus which we are called to in our life, the one which draws us away from the goodbye and into a life that is becoming is not over in one step.
As with Paul, we must continue to discern God’s call being done through us; for, the path may turn us away from our own Asia where we were originally called. Not too long ago, as some of you may know – I applied for an Associate Pastor position in Acton. I felt called to this ministry. I woke each morning, thinking about the position and went to sleep wondering about the congregation. It seemed like a perfect fit. I even received an invitation to interview with the search committee which I went too and then… Then the feeling of the call disappeared. It was not quite immediate; but, as I prayed and thought about the congregation, I no longer felt the call. It was in this moment that I realized what had happened to Paul. My path had changed- I had been turned away from my Asia – called Acton. At this point, I had a choice I could fight God’s call or not. Before I even received the rejection email from Acton, I had made my decision that this was not the church for me – right now. But that does not mean I said – goodbye. Perhaps one day I will be called back to that congregation. But for now, God is calling me elsewhere.
This fluid path is the good news; for though God’s call may be moving, it is always within our grasp every day, every moment, every breath. We can always discern and faithfully commit to the hope of what is being revealed in us as we embody God’s call. But this belief leaves no room for goodbyes, no place for the definitive ending of never again. Because, in God all things are possible. Because, Christ showed us that not even death is an end, because the Holy Spirit interconnects us all no matter how far we may roam. So, no – I do not believe in goodbyes because my faith tells me our paths may turn and one day, we may see each other again. Instead, let us use another word when we find ourselves in transition. The German people use the word – auf wiedersehen which roughly translated means “till we meet again.” So, let us not say goodbye to something or someone but discern faithfully our path – say auf wiedersehen and continue to follow whatever God is revealing within us. May God’s love be with you always – auf wiedersehen and amen.