August 29 , 1999
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Readings

Exodus 3:1-15
Matthew 16:21-28

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Sermon: Out of Bewilderment

In the process of becoming a minister one is asked at least bazillion times,

what ever gave you this idea? That is an impossible question to answer - and

anyone who has a sane answer, probably isn't ready to enter this strange

vocation called ministry. For most people, the answer is hard to put into

words and there is great reticence about trying. My usual answer was to

point heavenward and say - "well, this certainly wasn't my idea of a way to

get rich quick"

It seems really strange to me that I am preaching on this call of Moses text

today. For this is the 12 anniversary of my call to ministry. This is the

day that I mark as my burning bush day, even though, I didn't actually meet

God as Moses did. At first I was as bewildered as Moses - and even called a

friend and asked - "what is this?" She was clueless, so I was left to figure

it out on my own - well, more or less on my own.

Now I am sure there are many of you thinking, "what does this have to do with

me? Only prophets, or ministers or special people, like Martin Luther King

Jr. get a call from God. For the rest of us, this is extraneous information

- we are just living our lives, trying to be good Christians.

But that just isn't the case. Look at the text from Matthew - repeatedly

Jesus tries to explain to Peter and the disciples what is going to happen -

but they are just regular folks - who took Jesus up on his request to follow.

And they are just mystified. As a matter of fact, the world has continually

struggled with this passage -"deny yourself and take up your cross and follow

me" It is so often distorted, misread - not as a call to discover your own

ministry - but as justification of a life of passive acceptance of wrong.

How often have you heard someone say, "it is my cross to bear" and then sigh

with hopelessness. That distortion twists this passage - giving it the exact

opposite meaning that is intended. That passive acceptance reading of this

passage leaves off an important phrase - one that gives the reader freedom of

decision. "If any want to become my followers, let them." This is a saying

that is intended to set you free, not harness you to a situation that

oppresses and drains your energy.

So how does all of this work? What is your call? How do you identify a real

call from God? How can you distinguish it from your own human hopes and dreams?

I think we can find all of our answers right in the Moses story -

1. Moses is walking along and the call comes to him right in the middle of

ordinary experiences - in the middle of his everyday routine. Moses is just

tending his sheep - not out looking for a mountain top experience. Call

arises from your life -

2. The call from God will give a new perspective on your life - it will make

sense of who you are - Moses had everything he needed to lead Israel out of

bondage, he had knowledge of the kings court, because he had been raised in

it, and he also knew his own people. A call from God will link your past to

your future in such a way that you will have a deeper and more thorough

understanding of yourself.

3. A call from God is task oriented and specific - not just a vague

suggestion. Moses is to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt - Not all

calls are so large, they can come in all different sizes, but they are

specific. Volunteer to regularly cook meals for the soup kitchen, lead a

clothing drive for students returning to school, help with the youth group

mission trip? The possibilities are endless.

4. There is always some human objection to a call from God - As humans we are

rarely adequate to fulfill a divine call - and in that knowledge comes an

inherent need to avoid the call. It is certainly evident that Moses resisted

- and I can certainly attest to the fact that I was willing to offer to do

anything - if only I could avoid what God had in mind for me.

5. The resistance is always countered by a reassuring word from God.

Remember, "I will be with you and this shall be a sign for you that it is I

who sent you. " Remember on the mountain - The Ten Commandments? God was

there with Moses, leading him and giving him the tools that he needed. And I

can remember so clearly, standing in front of my daughter's preschool, after

having registered to take my first 2 classes- with absolutely no idea how I

would manage to pick her up after school each day. Out of the blue another

mother volunteered to drive my daughter home each day, which would give me

the exact amount of time that I would need to manage the drive home from my

classes. I was quite impressed. I kept hearing God's voice, "I didn't

bring you this far to abandon you now."

This reassuring word always seems to be the hallmark of God's call - When you

hear people say "I don't know how I managed - it must have been God -because

alone I could not have done it."

Finally, #6 - call narratives often end with a sign. For Moses it was God's

willingness to offer a name, a dramatic step for a people who were filled

with superstition about a name for God. For most of us it is a bit less

dramatic. For me, it was a letter from a friend, just at the point that I

was wrestling with what I could hardly believe God was suggesting. The

letter made it clear that I had heard right - that I could trust the call.

For many other people the sign is verification by friends and relatives. "I

can see you doing that" or "of course, that is the next step for you". Or

the sign might be a promotion, acceptance into a special program, or an offer  of a new job.

At the moment of our baptism we become one with the Body of Christ, and we

are all asked to use our talents and gifts to further God's work in the

world. It is a little like joining a special team - once you are on the

team, you have a responsibility to maximize your ability.

Has God called you? Undoubtedly. This is the time to examine your life.

To ask God to help you to see the ways in which you are being tugged and led to

become more than you ever thought, to do more than you ever envisioned. The

world is crying out for your help. Here in New Milford, in our country,

abroad - our world struggles. God has given you unique gifts and will

continue to maximize them.

So I ask you - What have you been resisting? When do you find God's

reassurance buoying you up? Have you heard God calling and thought that it

might be too far out of your reach?

But remember - the choice is yours. Do you want to be a follower of Jesus?

Will you choose to pick up your cross? All you have to gain is your whole

life. Amen.

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