This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 7, 2019.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into God’s harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kindom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kindom of God has come near.’
It is so great to be with you all today. I wanted to start our time together by sharing a little bit about how I have come to be one of your pastors, something I’m so excited about and humbled by.
One of the things pastors get asked about a lot, by their bosses or colleagues or conferences, is their call story. This term is used a lot in Christian circles in general too, but it’s essentially this one moment that someone knew they were called into ministry.
This moment for me, when I’m asked to tell that particular piece of the story, happened when I was a summer intern at my home church in Anchorage, Alaska. I remember sitting in my office space, when suddenly I heard my name coming from the office where the pastors were. A minute or two later, one of them walks in, and asks if I’ll preach that next Sunday. Now, let me tell you that I had no intention to preach and no interest to preach. I was there to help with VBS and teach Sunday School and lead youth group. I was studying Elementary Education at the time, and any form of adult interaction, much less preaching, was nowhere near my list of wants. But, being in church my whole life, I knew that you can’t say no to a pastor, and so I reluctantly agreed, hoping that I’d get sick in time for Sunday so I could get out of it.
To my surprise, and not God’s, I was perfectly healthy, and it was time to preach. I remember standing up, walking very slowly to the front, my knees and hands shaking. I already had tears in my eyes. And then I started to speak, and at that moment I just knew. This was it. This was what I was supposed to do.
This is the part of my call story I tell most often, but I have others. Part of my call story involves me serving communion to my 3rdgrade campers, telling them they are loved by God, some for the first time. Part of my call story involves an autoimmune disease diagnosis, which forced me to reorient my life and my priorities to go beyond other people’s expectations for me. Part of my call story involves a short stint with an unaffirming campus ministry, where God taught me about justice, and the ministry of Jesus, stirring my own heart for the marginalized people around me. And part of my call story is unfolding right now, as I stand before you all for the first time, my first time as an openly queer pastor, starting this brand-new adventure we all have been called into together.
When I get to reflect back on these moments of call, I realize the ways they all have brought me closer in relationship with God, and also have taught me about joy. These moments of call have grounded me, not because they are all perfect or happy or without struggle, but because, it is a clear reminder, like our Psalm says, of God taking off a sackcloth and clothing me with joy. These moments of call for me, and for you, are reminders that some of the most joyous encounters we have are ones where our calling connects with the world.
I want us to pause for just a moment, and I want to invite you to think about where you find joy in your own life. What in your life brings you joy? Are there stories you think of, or people, or dreams you have for yourself? I would argue that those things, those moments, are directly connected to what God is calling you to do or be.
Friends, joy and call are connected, intertwined by the Holy Spirit’s hand speaking life into our beings. And what a gift that is. My call is to create spiritual spaces for people who have been hurt by the church, people who’ve experienced religious trauma. And my role in this church, my primary jobs, they all connect to leading from that call. That is where my joy comes from. My joy comes from knowing who I am and who brought me to know that.
Today in Luke, we read about another group’s call into joy, where seventy people are being commissioned to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. In doing this, Jesus is literally pushing those he appointed out into the world to do ministry. These people were having a lot asked of them, and it was a bit of a scary situation. They as followers of Christ could be considered the marginalized people of the day. They certainly were looked down on by society. The government thought that Jesus was out of his mind, and I’d imagine they would have thought those willing to follow him were too. And still, they were being sent out by this prophet, and they said yes.
We too, are invited to say yes, to say yes to joy and yes to our call. You and I have been sent out, seemingly underprepared, unknown destination, but we have been sent, to bring peace and to be joy to those we encounter.
I find it interesting that the first verse of our passage today says ‘the Lord appointed’. It doesn’t say ‘the Lord suggested’, or ‘the Lord invited’ or ‘the Lord asked if they thought they were ready’.
The Lord appointed.
This means that no matter how prepared we think we are, no matter what our resume says, no matter how often we go to church, no matter our age or race or gender or sexual orientation or abilities, we are called to joy, and we are called to live out that calling.
One of my personal prophets, Nadia Bolz Weber, says this about calling:
“Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” -Nadia Bolz Weber
On the days I believe this story, I believe that God has sent these ordinary people out, and these ordinary people said yes, then did the best they could to bring peace and share God’s love. On our best days, that is joy. Joy is not perfection or obedience. It is a deep awareness of the presence of God. Joy is a striving to orient and reorient ourselves towards a common goal, and a willingness to give what we have to live out Jesus’ instructions to us, to love God and to love neighbor.
Friends, today, I want to invite you into a rhythm of joy. I want to invite us all to remember those things that bring us a deep sense of joy, and hold on to them tightly, knowing that these are the places where God is calling us.
May you see God and God’s love in the moments of pure joy you encounter. May you find pockets to embody joy for those around you. And may you know that you have been called by the God of the universe to be exactly who you are, full stop. And that calling is sacred.
Let us pray.
Holy One, who created us out of dust. We give you thanks for your true example of joy. Guide us through your spirit to be your hands and feet. Provide us with moments to own our sacred stories and calls, moments of reflection and seasons of action. Empower us to strive towards justice and toward deep relationship, knowing that you are there already. In your joyous name we pray, Amen.