Saturday, January 17, 2015

Qualified and Call-i-fied

Zion Lutheran Church, Twin Valley
Installation of Pastor Sarah Dille
Epiphany 2/January 18, 2015
John 1:43-51

I don’t know if Jesus had a “to do” list when he began his work on earth….but if he did, I’m guessing that right at the top of said list was this notation:  Get help fast!

And what a strange thing that would be!

Here he is, as we confess in the Nicene Creed:  “God of God’s, Lord of Lords, True God of True God”….but when Jesus starts his work on earth the first thing he does is seek out helpers.   Really!?   The One we call “Very God of Very God” needed helpers along his way?

I don’t think Jesus needed helpers as much as he wanted helpers—he required helpers in order to be true to himself, in order live out his mission as the one and only God-in-human-flesh.   
This old world is filled with all sorts of Unmoved Mover-type gods, self-sufficient gods who need no help and want no help.  

But Jesus came among us to be God and to “do God” for us, with us, and never without us.    And for Jesus to do and be all of that, for Jesus to get through to us in the only way God wants to reach us, Jesus had to enlist followers, friends, disciples through whom Jesus would accomplish his greatest work—bringing God’s unfathomable, unconditional forgiving love “home” to human hearts.

Here’s how the great missionary bishop of the 20th century, Lesslie Newbigin, put it: “God’s purpose is precisely to break open that shell of egotism in which you are imprisoned since Adam first fell and to give you back the new nature which is content to owe the debt of love to all [people].  And so God deals with us through one another.  [REPEAT]   One is chosen to be the bearer of the message to another, one people to be God’s witnesses to all people.  Each of us has to hear the gospel from the lips of another or we cannot hear it at all…Salvation comes to each of us not, so to say, straight down from heaven through the skylight, but through a door that is opened by our neighbor.”[i] 

All four gospels spin that out in the way they tell us the story of Jesus.   Jesus is baptized, commissioned, sent by his Father….and right off the bat he calls others to join him, follow him, help him.

And as if that were not wild enough, it appears that Jesus was ready to go after just about anybody he happened to meet.

So here in this gospel text, Jesus puts the squeeze on Philip—and we aren’t even given a little mini-bio on Philip—only that he came from the home-town of  two other Jesus-helpers (whom Jesus had already recruited).

“Quality control” seems not to have been on Jesus’ mind as he started calling helpers.   In fact, he wasn’t even all that picky about who did the inviting….because as soon as Jesus called Philip, Philip turned around and found Nathanael (without even “clearing” him with Jesus first).  It’s as if Jesus came a calling and those whom he called just felt that they could go out right away and start doing their own calling!

Sounds a little chaotic, doesn’t it?   I can tell you—and, if you were on the call committee here at Zion, you know--that we 21st century Lutherans are much more “particular” about who gets called to represent Jesus in our midst as a pastor!

But with Jesus himself, it’s sort of a free-for-all:   it’s as if Jesus has a big vacuum cleaner that just sucks up whoever crosses his path.

So Jesus calls Philip and Philip calls Nathanael, about whom we know even less than we know about Philip….

…..EXCEPT, except that when Philip reaches out to Nathanael, it seems as though Nathanael immediately raises an eyebrow in a skeptical fashion.   Nathanael displays some “attitude” right off the bat. 

Not one to hide his true colors, Nathanael’s first instinct is too call into question Jesus’ credentials by besmirching the good name of Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth.   “Never heard of anything good coming out of THAT one-horse town!”   Nathanael, it would seem, was going to be one tough nut to crack!

And isn’t that interesting…..Jesus calls this guy and that guy, and some of the guys don’t seem all that interested in or attracted to Jesus, at first blush!

Jesus starts his ministry seeking helpers….and he doesn’t limit himself to the “easy marks.”   Nathanael falls under the sway of Jesus’ attractive powers, even though Nathanael’s going to need a little persuading.

You and I probably would shy away from a fellow like Nathanael.  If we were on the visiting committee or the evangelism committee, doling out names of folks to be visited—we might not fight over who gets to see Nathanael!

We would seek out more compliant, non-judgmental subjects…..we’d go after easier targets…but Jesus’ big disciple-capturing vacuum cleaner just brings in a whole motley crew, including folks who on the surface were hardly—hardly!—cut out to be his helpers.

And so it has always been in the movement Jesus initiated.  Jesus comes a’calling, and there’s no telling who will end up in his merry band of followers.  In fact, as the four gospels play it out, Jesus even seems to have a special place in his heart for those who are most ill-suited to following him.

And what’s that about?

I think it’s about the fact that Jesus’ “personnel handbook” reads nothing like the policies and procedures we follow when hiring workers or even calling pastors.  

We tend to put all the emphasis on being qualified.  But who, pray tell, will ever be qualified enough to follow Jesus let alone to help Jesus?  

One of my former colleagues on the synod staff  liked to say that we may not be “qualified” but we certainly are “call-i-fied” by Jesus![ii]

Which is to say:   when Jesus calls us, Jesus’ very call to us becomes the only credential we need to be numbered among his helpers.    Jesus’ invitation itself—because it comes from Jesus the Savior of lost causes, Jesus the forgiver of champion sinners, Jesus the liberator par excellence--Jesus’ invitation MAKES us, fashions us, transforms us into followers who are worthy of the One who calls us.

That happens here at the end of this text:   despite his initial reluctance, Nathanael tags along with Philip to meet Jesus who immediately tells Nathanael that he already reads him like a book—Jesus knows Nathanael’s whole back-story….

And Nathanael is so flabbergasted by Jesus’ instant “knowing” of him that he impetuously blurts out one of the first bold confessions of faith that we hear in the Gospel of John:   "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"

….to which Jesus responds, in effect:  “Nathanael, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

So where does this all land in our lives today, here at Zion, as we install Pastor Sarah?

Well, I can tell you this much:   she certainly is qualified to be your pastor!   As you’re already learning, Pastor Sarah is extremely knowledgeable, she knows how to communicate, she’s good with people, and she has the heart of a pastor.   Pastor Sarah is qualified and then some!

But here’s something even better:  Pastor Sarah is also “call-i-fied.”    Jesus has known her for a long, long time.   Jesus has looked her in the eye, staked his claim upon her in her baptism, wrapped her up in rhythm of his overflowing forgiveness,  nourished her at his Supper, wooed and won her for the sake of a lifelong relationship marked by Jesus’ cross, illuminated by the light bursting forth from Jesus’ empty tomb.

Pastor Sarah knows this stuff, and more importantly, she believes it.  

And she “gets it”—that Jesus calls not just her but all of us to be the Christ-speakers and Christ-bearers God has created us to be.  

So here’s the upshot, the payoff:   Everything that happens here at Zion—every baptism, every Holy Communion celebration, every announcement of God’s forgiveness of our sin, every Bible study and Sunday School session and confirmation class, every church council meeting, every pastoral visit by Pastor Sarah, every caring conversation that you are part of whether with other members of Zion or neighbors in the community—everything we do is designed to pass on God’s calling, gathering and sending Word….from one person’s mouth to the next person’s ear, bringing Christ home, helping Christ find a place in every human heart.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

[i] Paul Weston, Lesslie Newbigin:  Missionary Theologian, A Reader (Eerdmans, 2006), p. 50.
[ii] I’m grateful to Mr. Erin Anderson of Perham, Minnesota for this wonderful phrase.

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