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A Sermon On The First Reading for Ordinary 22 - Proper 17 - Year A
Exodus 3:1-15; 4:1-5
"Is God Calling You" - By Rev. Stephen Portner -



READING:  Exodus 3:1-15; 4:1-5
SERMON :  "Is God Calling You"

Rev. Stephen Portner
SGPortner1@aol.com
(Lightstreet UMC, Bloomsburg,PA)
                  
   This sermon was written by the Rev. Stephen Portner in 1999 
   for Pentecost 14, Year A (Ordinary 22) and posted to the PRCL
   List in August of that year.  Reproduced with permission. 
    
The search committee for a new pastor was having difficulty making a
decision.  One member of the committee, who was admittedly tired of
the whole process, offered one last letter of introduction from a
pastoral candidate.  She read: 

"To the pastoral search committee:  It is my understanding that you 
have a vacancy in your pulpit, and I would like to apply for the 
position.  I can't say that I preach too well.  In fact, I tend 
to stutter when I speak.  I do have a lot of different experiences 
I could share with you, since I am over 75 years old.  I have only 
just recently had an encounter with God and, despite my initial 
resistance to the idea, I heard a Voice which told me personally 
that I was the one to do the ministry for you.  One never knows 
when God will appear right before your very eyes.  As far as
people skills go, I do tend to lose my temper every once in a while. 
I also tend to want things done my way, and can get violent if it's
not taken care of right away.  Once I even killed somebody.  But since
I know you are gracious people, I know you will believe me when I say
that's all behind me now.  I intend on showing up there in a few weeks
to lead you into a brighter future.  Although I was reluctant at first
to work with you, I still feel called to be with you nonetheless." 

The committee member glanced up at the rest of the group. "Well, what do
you think?  Can this person be our leader or not?" 

The rest of the committee was aghast.  Have an old, arrogant, 
temperamental, obviously neurotic, ex-murderer as their pastor?  Was 
this committee member crazy?  Who signed the letter of introduction?  
Who had such colossal nerve?  The committee member eyed them all 
keenly before she answered, "It's signed, 'Moses.'"  

One has to admit that Moses did not sound like a likely candidate to
receive a call from God.  He didn't seem to have "the right stuff." 
Isn't it amazing that God doesn't require the same qualifications for
a job that we would?  Is it possible God is calling you to some kind
of ministry? What can we learn from Moses' call to ministry that might
help us discern if God is calling us?  

First, God tends to call us out of the ordinary circumstances of our
everyday routines.  

Moses had been minding his own business, tending the flock of his
father-in-law, Jethro, when he encountered God for the first time. 
Once could not say that Moses was actively looking for some kind of 
encounter with God.  Moses was tending sheep, not out looking for 
some mountaintop experience.  Moses did not intentionally go on a 
spiritual retreat to experience God. God was the one who made it 
possible for Moses to be at the right place at the right time. 
God's presence arose out of Moses' mundane world.  God wanted Moses'
attention.  How would you feel if something at your workplace started
glowing red-hot yet did not burn up? (1)  How would you feel if you
were doing your yardwork and one of your tools started whispering 
your name?  Think you had finally lost it?  

Then you can probably imagine how Moses felt when he saw a burning 
bush that was not consumed by the fire.  When God is calling you, God 
first needs to get your attention. 

It may not necessarily be as dramatic as a burning bush which attracts
your attention, but it will be something else that catches you
off-guard.  When our defenses are down, that's when the holy can get
through to us.  I can only speak from my own experience.  Being laid
off from my job when my first-born was only three weeks old was not
something I expected.  Granted, it was no burning bush, but it did
disrupt my going about business as usual.  And even at that, it took
another eight months for me to admit that God was trying to get my
attention.  My call was a call to the pastoral ministry.  You may be
called to a different kind of ministry, depending on the gifts and
graces God has given you.  You may be called to be a care-giver, a
greeter, a visitor of the newcomers, a teacher, or some other kind of
leader.  Is God calling you?  Is it possible that God is trying to get
your attention?  


Second, when God calls us, God wants to establish a relationship with
us. 

God told Moses that he was the God of his ancestors -- the God of
his father, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.  It is possible that
Moses, since he was brought up in Pharaoh's household, did not know
about God or about his ancestors.  God wanted Moses to not only know
about Him but also to know Him personally.  

It is essential that we know God personally when we answer God's call.  
There will be those who question our call, question our motives, 
question why we do the things we do.  If we do not have that sense of
being personally called, then we will be easily shaken from going in 
the direction God wants us to go.  

Knowing God is in our heart gives us the courage to risk, and to 
sometimes fail, because our ultimate  goal is to please God not to 
please others.  Sometimes our personal failures may lead to God's 
successes. 

Joni Eareckson Tada, despite becoming quadriplegic at an early age due 
to a diving accident, feels  called to live her life for the Lord.  She 
states that, when it comes to job placement, our tendency is to not 
accept people who are weak or have physical defects, people who might 
slow us down or seem to have significant problems.  "We would accept 
only the cream of the crop.  This is the way the world works.  But 
thank God, we're not running the world.  [God] is.  And He opens His 
arms wide to people who are poor, sick, ugly, lonely, weak, ungifted,
unlovely. and unlikely.  God's great love mandates it.  Plus what's in
a person's heart matters more to [God] than what's on the outside." 
She quotes 1 Sam. 16:7 which reads (NRSV): "...the Lord does not see 
as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord 
looks on the heart."  Joni adds: "It's a good thing." (2) 

From one who had to deal with a fear of public speaking before becoming
a pastor, I have to say I concur.   When we accept God's call, it 
transforms our whole perspective on life.  

Is God calling you?  Is it possible that God is speaking to your heart,
desiring to have a relationship with you -- despite any imperfections 
you think might stand in the way?  


Third, when God calls us, it is for a definite purpose.  

God was very specific in what God expected Moses to do.  God wanted 
Moses to lead the nation of Israel out of slavery.  Just as God has a 
master plan, all of us who are called have a specific role in that 
master plan. 

One could say that God's master plan is one of salvation.  God desires
us to be free from whatever it is that enslaves us and causes us to
suffer.  The Israelites needed to be free from slavery in Egypt.  We
need to be free from the persons or things that enslave us.  We may
call it sin or we may call it addiction, but whatever we call it, it
is usually an enslavement of our own making.  We find ourselves bound
to persons or things that separate us from a relationship with our
God.  

Is God calling you?  Do you have a sense of something specific that 
God is calling you to do?  


Fourth, when God calls us, it is typical for us to object to it.  

When Moses heard what God wanted him to do, he said, "What?  Who?  Me? 
Who am I that I should go do that?"  Remember, last week I  mentioned 
the Israelite fighting men numbered at about 600,000 at this time in 
Moses' life (Ex. 12:37-39).  That number, plus women and children 
would have made the number of Hebrews to be close to  two and one-half 
million.  "Marching ten abreast, the numbers would have formed a line 
over 150 miles long and would have required eight or nine days to march 
by any fixed point." (3)  Two and one-half million people.  Not a bad 
sized church for your first pastorate!  No wonder Moses was a little 
hesitant to take up the reins of leadership. 

Have you ever made excuses when it came to striving toward what God 
has called you to do?

Moses was a master at it.  He couldn't do what God wanted him to do
because he was a nobody (Ex. 3:11).  After all he was only a shepherd
and no longer a family member of Pharaoh's court.  

He couldn't do it because no one would know who God is (Ex. 3:13).  
After all, he did not even know God's name.  

He couldn't do it because no one would believe him (Ex. 4:1).  After 
all, who would believe a wanted murderer who said he talked to a bush 
that was burning but was not consumed by the flames? 

He couldn't do it because he could not speak very well (Ex. 4:10). 
After all, wouldn't God need someone more eloquent to speak so that 
the words sounded like they were God's words.  How are you going to 
sound like God if you are slow of speech and slow of tongue? 

He couldn't do it because he needed assistance (Ex. 6:30).   After all, 
with a church of 2 and 1/2 million, couldn't he at least have a little
help? 

You get the idea.  Moses tried all kinds of excuses, but God still 
wouldn't ease up.  God had an answer to all of Moses' excuses.  When 
God calls you, it is because God has chosen you rather than you having 
chosen God.  Sometimes you have to follow the call because God will not
ease up on you until you try. 

Is God calling you?   Are you making some excuse for not answering the 
call?  

That is a typical response but it didn't work for Moses.  If Moses did 
not get peace of mind until he answered the call, why would you think God
would be easier on you?  


Fifth, when God calls us and we finally answer "Yes," God reassures
us. 

Moses was reminded that God would always be with him or that God would 
send someone to help him or that God would provide what Moses needed 
to get the point across.  God never said it would be easy.  God
promised to be present.  It's like the plaque my wife pointed out to me 
the other day:  "Faith  makes things possible -- not easy!" 

Is God calling you to step out in faith, 
to say "Yes" to God when you would rather say, "No"?  


Sixth, when God calls us, we are generally given a sign.  Moses needed
a sign because he needed to understand more about God and God's
purposes (Ex. 3:12).  God is not asking us to act impulsively.  We are 
expected to test the  call.  

What does Scripture say about your sense of calling?  How does it fit 
in with your understanding with God?  How do you know for sure if it is 
really God who is calling you?   These are all legitimate questions 
when we ponder our call to ministry.  God often provided signs for the 
people in the Bible as proof of the call.  The proof may not be as 
obvious as a rod that transforms into a snake, but we will have a sense 
of peace and well-being when we are following God's call and abiding 
in God's will. (4) 

Is God calling you?  

----- 
(1)  Inspired by "The Voice from the Mop Bucket," from Max Lucado's
When God Whispers Your Name, Copyright 1994. 

(2)  Joni Eareckson Tada, "We Say 'No' ...God Says 'Yes.'"  From
Destiny and Deliverance, Copyright 1998 by Dreamworks.  Nashville:
Thomas Nelson Publishing, pp. 73-74. 

(3) Miller and Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah, Copyright
1986, The Westminster Press, p. 60. 

(4)  I am indebted to Thomas Dozeman for the outline of this sermon,
as found in his commentary, "Deciphering God's Call," Preaching the
Revised Common Lectionary: Year A - Pentecost 1, Copyright 1992,
Nashville: Abingdon Press, pp. 149-152.  


copyright:  sermon - Rev. Stephen Portner 1999, 2002, 2005
            page - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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