Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Comings and Goings

(The following is part of a message given at the American Church in London this past Sunday, as we said goodbye to Kate Obermueller.)

Judges 18:1-6

1 In those days Israel had no king. And in those days the tribe of the Danites was seeking a place of their own where they might settle, because they had not yet come into an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. 2 So the Danites sent five warriors from Zorah and Eshtaol to spy out the land and explore it. These men represented all their clans. They told them, "Go, explore the land." The men entered the hill country of Ephraim and came to the house of Micah, where they spent the night. 3 When they were near Micah's house, they recognized the voice of the young Levite; so they turned in there and asked him, "Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? Why are you here?"

4 He told them what Micah had done for him, and said, "He has hired me and I am his priest."

5 Then they said to him, "Please inquire of God to learn whether our journey will be successful."

6 The priest answered them, "Go in peace. Your journey has the LORD's approval."

The Book of Judges covers the period between Joshua and King Saul—between the wars fought over entering the Promised Land and the establishment of the Nation of Israel. You might recognize some of the names of the judges: Gideon, Deborah, and Samson.

It was a tough time, but the judges helped by governing and organizing the 12 tribes into one nation. At times they all wondered if the journey and the conflict and the moving around were worth it. In our passage one the leaders is trying find out if his efforts fit in with God’s plan for his people.

You heard the response: ‘Go in peace. Your journey has the Lord’s approval.’

What a great thing to hear.

After more than 20 years in different kinds of ministry, among all the things that people ask me, there’s one question that comes up more than all the rest.

It’s some variation of: How do I know where God wants me to be?

Now some people have more basic questions about who God is and if he really exists. But for those who have made a commitment to be followers of Jesus Christ—people who want their lives to reflect their faith in a meaningful way—questions about how to determine God’s leading–God’s plan for our lives—is the one we ask the most.

How do I know where God wants me to be?

How do I know what God wants me to do?

How can we as a congregation know where God wants us to be?

One of the movies I watched on the plane this summer was the new Star Trek. It’s sort of prequel—it tells the story of how Jim Kirk and Spock and Bones McCoy met before we saw them on TV in the 60s. Capt. Kirk earned his reputation by changing the rules of a leadership test so that he could survive a no-win situation.

I try to do the same thing when people ask me how they should figure out where God wants them to be. I’ll never give a straight answer to that kind of question. Partly I do it because answering the question for someone else is a no-win proposition. But I also do it because I’ve never really had a lightning-bolt experience before. No voice from heaven or burning bush has ever really helped be make a life choice. To be honest, the closest I’ve ever experienced to that was the call to come here, to this church, to make the move from California to London to be your pastor.

When people come to me with the ‘How do I know where God wants me to be?’ question, my goal is usually to reframe the question into something slightly different. The important question for us isn’t as much where we’re supposed to live as it is how we’re supposed to live. We spend an enormous amount of time waiting to hear from God about where we should go and what we should do. But it’s what we do in that wherever we are that can make all the difference.

Because being God’s faithful disciples is less about where we should be, and more about how we should be wherever we are.

To put it in other words: It’s not ‘Where does God want me to be?, but rather ‘What does God want me to be like?’

When we frame the question that way we can see some tangible answers for ourselves.

We know we’re called to pray and to worship, to study and to serve. The Bible is pretty clear that we’re supposed to work for justice and to forgive each other—that we should share our own stories of faith with the people we encounter in our daily lives. There are all kinds of answers to the ‘What does God want me to be like’ question.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to discern where God wants us to be. There’s still something important about listening for God’s call to a new place—something critical for each of us about hearing that call and acting on it at different times in our lives.

That’s what we’re celebrating today as we say goodbye to Kate. I have a very clear memory of our first conversation on the phone back in 2007. We talked about life and ministry and food and movies—the really important stuff—and then she cut the call short so she could go jump out of an airplane. As the call ended I decided that if she survived that day, she might make a good assistant minister.

The last two years have confirmed Kate’s sense of call to this place—and our invitation to her—over and over again. Through children’s ministry and work with our youth groups. In the midst of relationships with the young adults and her service on Council. Kate has lived out the call on her life to serve in this place. She makes it easy to say, as we heard in our passage today: ‘Go in peace—your journey has the Lord’s approval.’

It’s with that same hope that we call Stephanie to come and serve here starting next week. The gifts and training and qualifications are all there, but the most important quality she’ll being is the same one Kate brought with her—a willingness to hear God’s call and act on it—a desire to be the person God made her to be, and to serve our young people and this church in Christ’s name.

In the end that’s what God wants from all of us, in big ways and also in those little everyday situations that tend to change the world. God calls us to be people who fellowship in true community, who worship with passion and creativity, who desire to grow in our knowledge and faith, and who will turn outward in service so that people will hear and experience the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Next week we officially begin a new church year in this place. As we say goodbye to one friend and welcome a new one, my prayer for us is that we will offer ourselves in service to Christ and to this church—that we’ll commit individually and as a community of faith—to allow ourselves to be transformed into the people God made us to be all along.

As we come to the Table this morning, my prayer for each one of us is that we’ll listen for God’s call on our lives—whatever and wherever that may be—that we’ll hear that call and follow it with faith and humility and passion.

Let’s pray together.

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