Chosen, Converted, Called
The following sermon was preached by Robin E. Caldwell, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, February 23, 2012.
“The time is fulfilled.”
It certainly is! Not only am I acutely aware of the call assignment process underway, I’m also very conscious of my work load at this point in the semester. My time is full, and it is filled. In fact, I’m pretty booked until May 13 – graduation day! After that, I amWIDEopen! God knows what will be on my calendar then. My schedule is full of events, assignments, and appointments that go along with being a graduate student, an active member of the church, a wife, a mother, a friend, a chauffer, a party and sleep-over planner, a daughter, and a sister. I play all these roles, they are my identity, but now, in the ebb and flow of the seasons of student life, my attention and time are heavily focused on my theological education to prepare for my calling into professional ministry leadership.
The past few years have been full of insightful theological learning, brutally honest self-reflection, disturbing realizations, challenging exercises that pushed my limits, and conversations that drove me out of my comfort zone. It’s been a wild ride.
Mark describes the beginning of Jesus’ wild ride as being driven out by the Spirit. He left the oasis of the Jordan where water and the word of God united in affirmation, announcing to the world that he was beloved, chosen. God was pleased with him, before he began to preach, recruit, heal the sick, or exorcise demons.
Before he did anything, according to Mark, Jesus was driven away from the comfort of cool fresh water in a desert, away from family, away from Nazorean anonymity and dropped off by the Spirit in the middle of the nowhere with Satan, wild beasts, and angels. Mark doesn’t elaborate on Jesus’ time in the wilderness. He only gives us the bare essentials in his story. But, while there, something happened. A change took place. Jesus was still the son of God – that role announced at baptism would never change - but his assignment did. A conversion occurred to ready him for claiming God’s calling as his own. Jesus had to be driven by the Spirit to the wilderness before accepting this mission.
Often, people ask me, “What brought you to seminary?” Some feel driven, others pulled. Some dragged and others willing; but I’ve described my trip with a thread.
Several years ago, we had a spare bedroom for guests, where I had a sewing machine set up on a desk. Normally it was threaded and one day I came into the room and could have tripped over the white thread that was pulled taught at my ankles, almost invisibly stretched across the room. I went to the sewing machine where it began, and followed it along, pulling it so that I could wind it back up or throw it away. Pulling this thread, I followed it under the bed, around corners, over the desk, into the closet, in all directions until I came to the end when I realized the end was swallowed by my cat!
Besides my cat gagging, my road through life and to seminary is much like following that invisible thread, changing directions around obstacles and making adjustments with unexpected accelerations and delays as I was guided by the Spirit.
Whether you came to LSTC unexpectedly or as one step in a well-executed plan, no doubt, you’ve experienced temptation, encountered wild beasts and received angels. What temptations of glory or escape beckoned you? Have you hid from the wild beasts as they passed you by, or confronted them when they crossed your path? What unexpected angels waited on you, embodying the Spirit to share God’s grace? There is no strict or regular path to follow to accept God’s calling. We each have our own stories of temptation that drive us to question ourselves, lose faith in the system, and doubt our concept of God. We all find our way into the wilderness somehow.
Strain on our brains, drain on our savings accounts, pressure with our work load make us targets of temptation. Constant adjustment to new unknowns challenge our faith as we worry about the future wondering what our job description will be next year, or waiting for results of qualifying exams, or to know what hospital you’ll be spending your summer at, or what MIC congregation you’ll be with on Sundays, or what internship context you’ll be in next year. And when nothing seems to suit your call, what unconventional mission field is God preparing for your arrival? What community will affirm your call; claiming you as their own?
What are you supposed to do in the meantime? What if your departure from this conversion period is delayed or denied?
After 40 days, who’s to say what got Jesus out of the wilderness, whether he was driven out, guided, or escaped. Mark only says that after John was arrested, then Jesus proclaimed the good news of God, saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” Repent. The Greek word metanoia can also be translated as ‘convert.’ He calls us to change – turning back to our baptism, when water, the word of God, and the Holy Spirit united in affirmation of you, announcing to the world that you are beloved. You are chosen. God was pleased with you before you ever went to Sunday school, met with a candidacy committee, or wrote an exegesis paper. Jesus calls us to return to God, and away from temptation to be anything other than God’s children.
Your acceptance as daughters and sons of God will never change, but your assignment does. When we are struggling through wilderness periods, we get impatient; anxious to move on. We want to accept God’s call! Some feel like they are held back from accepting it – prevented by communication glitches and denied requests. Where is the Spirit? When and where will it descend?
At the water of the Jordan, the Spirit showed itself when the heavens seemed to be going to pieces. God’s call can appear to be delayed or postponed, but we are never denied. This has nothing to do with candidacy or the call process, and everything to do with the fulfillment of time.
Jesus proclaims this good news to you. Repent and believe. Usually that means moving over to let the Spirit take the wheel. We don’t enter, remain in, or leave the wilderness alone.
When our world is torn apart, the Spirit descends. When we are in the wilderness, the angels wait with us. When family or friends are arrested, proclaim the good news. It takes time with wild beasts and angels to learn to trust the Spirit and to convert us for the reality of our next assignment.
As children of God, through baptism we not only share adoption with Jesus, we share his fate. Living palms of celebration reduced to ashes, smashed and pressed onto our foreheads set us on the road toward the arrest and crucifixion of our brother. The time is fulfilled. Proclaim the good news! The kingdom of God has come near and the heavens which divided us have been torn apart. Accept God’s call to the cross and the empty tomb.