Calls Across Thresholds: Abram, Paul, The Woman, and a dash of Jimmy Buffet
2nd Sunday after Pentecost, June 11, 2023
Perhaps you opened up a magazine, and the picture that greeted you was a place that every bit of your being wanted to visit. Perhaps there was an echo: a word or an idea that sailed through your mind repeatedly, like a seahorse on a carousel, coming around again and again, and always tickling you with surprise. Maybe it seemed like a chance encounter, but you met. You sat at the same table at the coffee shop and started up a conversation. And they were exactly the person you needed to meet.
Several of our lessons are about call: who are we, who are we created to be, where are we going. How do our skills and gifts and passions meet reality and the needs of the world, and what we do when that doesn’t seem to make sense? Maybe you remember a line from a Jimmy Buffett song about how he really wanted to be a pirate but he was born 200 years too late. That line had a special potency when I was a young adult. It asks questions about purpose, and dives into the lament of realizing that most people have to make choices that are not all-star athlete they dreamed of at age 6. Discerning purpose, and acting on call, and living practically is a messy art. Because one cannot be, and morally should not be, Captain Hook or Jack Sparrow. Even if Mr. Buffett has crafted an empire on our wishing we were something like that.
Abraham, currently known as Abram in our text, is called. It's a kind of call in which there seems to be no doubt in the telling of it: the Lord said go! What was that really like for Abram? Some people experience the nudge of God as an undeniable voice. Maybe it's big and booming like something from the Field of Dreams. Maybe it's a small and tender conversation, maybe even a whisper of your name. Some people experience the call of God as that idea that they just can't let go of. Call can reveal itself in the context of crisis: injury, illness, or disaster. It may arise from a sense of deep satisfaction in doing something that improves the world. Sometimes lifes purpose and mission becomes clearer through the witness of the life of a person they admire. There's also un-call. I had a valuable internship when I was in high school, where what I thought I learned at the time was there weren't many people in that business to look up to and that was not who I wanted to be like. Discovering purpose, and acknowledging God’s call is a mix of many of these factors and other mysteries. Or maybe, the whole idea is a bit strange, and you would not know quite what to do with a call like Abrams.
Paul who was Saul, was called. To be and live and proclaim in the exact opposite direction his life had been before. Here in the letter to the primordial church in Rome he is struggling with the things he has learned, and what he has experienced. And he is both darn sure of himself and very confused at the same time. One of the big questions around our Epistle reading today is: how can we follow Jesus as the good news for all in a community that still considered itself ethically and normatively as indistinct from ancient Judaism? What to do when that community, the Jewish one which is also you, has extremely important dietary differences from the rest of the respectable neighborhoods, and has a physical marker, that if required of an adult, is painful. Paul is called deeply to proclaim Jesus as the center of life and love, and as the embodiment of the promises given to Abraham and to generations unnamed before him. Paul uses language that sounds like he doesn't like his own people but in such a new thing, there was no language to differentiate. It's an extraordinarily hard question about who is in and who is out - is there even an in our out? And where do we go from here when all of what Paul is divinely motivated to proclaim blows up all the categories? How do you make it work together when this revelation asks his sisters and brothers to ignore behaviors that bring them centering and purpose? It's a threshold, it is a confusing invitation to go beyond the comfortable and known, just as much as Abraham's directive is a threshold.
Lastly in the gospel lesson we have to examples of call that are life-changing, but not in the same way that it would have been for Paul or for Abraham. The high-ranking community leader is motivated to go to this Jesus, this teaching healing wonderworker who hangs out with all the wrong kinds of people. Sometimes call comes in the context of crisis, and burns a fire in your belly that sends you beyond reason or expectations. Calls can change, because we change, and the world changes. And then, there is the woman. The woman in pain and messiness and isolation for years. She's called, called from that place of desperation, and also from hope. A faith, a trust, that isn't about doctrine, or in or out, or philosophies or politics, but the sheer abundance of the healing presence of God in the community, known most clearly in the face and hands and self of our namesake - Christ.
So how have you experienced a sense of call: not necessarily to anything religious but please, let's focus on things that are for good - no piracy. How have you experienced understanding of your life’s purpose and how did you respond? What in all of these examples of call in our readings holds wisdom for Christ Church? If you do not know - that is where the real work, and deeper journey begins.
We can't really be princesses, or Jedi, or the heart of gold pirates. Each of us is known and loved by God, called by the Spirit to go - to cross the threshold - to waste our hearts on fear no more. Jesus is calling us as a community, and as persons into abundant grace and purpose that it isn't always in accord with what we had planned. The example of all our lessons is to take action - listen deeply and go! to wrestle with the changes and confusion, and to go into the world and reach out touch his hem. Call - purpose - is real and comes to us in ways as varied as the creatures of the sea. You do not have to have a lucid moment, a directive dream, or admit you were knocked off your horse by the risen Christ. And calls can change because we change and the world change. The way of faithfulness is to listen, to wrestle, and respond wholeheartedly to the direction of the Spirit - Offering not just our toe tap, but our hands and hearts. So may we go forth on the sea, stand with the crew, face the adventure before us, and know God is right there on deck.