Blessed to be a blessing to others
Blessed to be a blessing to others
Devotional for the week of January 24th, 2021
Jan, wandering seat to seat on the bus, was crossing state lines from Michigan to Wisconsin. Bruce had sent her the ticket. The two met at a church youth convention; now she was going to be his high school prom date. Here’s how it happened: At the youth gathering, during each morning’s worship, the two held the same green hymn book. During the afternoon Bible studies, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, she read compellingly from her red leatherette Bible. For evening reflections, the prayers she pulled from her blue plastic packet of devotions swept the room. Bruce was bedazzled. That’s why he bought the ticket. When Jan stepped off the bus, she shimmered, telling him how from seat to seat along Highway 2 she had saved souls, netting fourteen converts on a colorful missionary journey.
As delighted as Jan might have been, her proselytizing was not the kind of fishing for people Jesus was after when he passed along the Sea of Galilee, calling oily fishermen to “follow me.” What shook Simon and Andrew, James and John, and countless women and men throughout the ages to—immediately, impulsively—give up their nets, quit mending, abandon boats, and leave families and homes?
Jesus’ wild, sea-changing challenge demands courage. It dares us into a way of living, a manner of seeing, and a risk of not knowing but earnestly believing that when he asks us to step up, something more meaningful than all we have awaits us.
Jesus’ “follow me” comes amid a lifetime of rigorous monotony, in which we are constantly casting nets to catch more of what never satisfies. Jesus’ “follow me” is an epiphany. It is an invitation, not to “save souls,” but to be gathered and to gather the weak and despairing, to minister to the ruined and abandoned, scared and starving, to show compassion to the mean and unloving, and to embrace the great, greedy, proud, and demanding; all of this awaits us in the nets of God’s kingdom.
Devotional message and art based on the readings for January 24th, reprinted from sundaysandseasons.com.
Copyright © 2019 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.
Rev. Joshua D. Rinas
Second Sunday after Epiphany B,
January 17, 2021
The story of Samuel’s call is a famous one, but is one among many found within scripture. God called Abram, renaming him Abraham to be faithful to God and follow where God led. God called Moses from within a burning bush that never caught fire. Jonah fled from God because he was so resistant to fulfilling the call to help save the people he loathed.
Call stories that begin with resistance are common for people of faith.
I was probably about 7 years old when in the narthex of Trinity Lutheran in Shelton, Connecticut I was asked about my career plans. Parishioners tend to give pastor’s kids a good bit of attention. A serious child trailing in my father’s shadow, a woman coming out of worship inquired whether I would be a pastor when I grew up. Never one to miss an opportunity for thoughtful reflection, I shared, “no, I would never be a pastor. I wouldn’t want to do that to my wife and children.”
Clearly, I had been thinking about the effects my father’s vocational choices had upon myself, my little sister and my mother. A flexible schedule that kept dad away every evening and weekends, almost all the time I was home from school, seemed neither fair nor decent.
As Lutherans, many of us have heard of Martin Luther’s earlier professional training. He had been studying law, in part at the direction of his father. When riding his horse at night a severe thunderstorm formed and engulfed the road he was traveling. With lightning strikes so close, he offered a bargain in prayer, “spare my life this night and I will commit myself to the life and work of the monastery.” That commitment and the reformation he initiated are responsible for worldwide changes in education, government, free inquiry, and democracy, not to mention theology and the church.
Luther’s namesake, St. Martin of Tours, had his own complicated call story. Though he was young when he became a Christian, he soon went to serve in the Roman army at age 15. He served dutifully, but before his discharge, he began to sense increasing conflict between his soldiering and Christian faith. Just before a battle in the Gallic provinces at Borbetomagus (now Worms, Germany), Martin determined to switch his allegiance to a new commanding officer—Christ. He told his superior officer, Julian, "I am the soldier of Christ: it is not lawful for me to fight," which earned him a charge of cowardice and he was jailed. In response, Martin offered to meet the enemy at the front of the battlefield unarmed, but before it could happen, they sued for peace.
Upon discharge, Martin pursued his new vocation, visiting monasteries across the empire. He was lured to Tours, to minister to a sick woman, but he became wise to their plans as they were leading him to the cathedral, broke away, and hid in a barn. Unfortunately, the barn was filled with geese and these were no quieter or less ornery than other geese, so Martin ended up becoming the third Bishop of Tours.
Samuel’s call was unexpected, but not resisted. Hearing God’s voice, he repeatedly assumed it was the voice of his mentor, supervisor, the head religious leader, but it was in fact God calling.
Have you been feeling a nudge, or a pull? Has God been tugging at you?
Though this story may be familiar, we may not remember just how hard the call was for Samuel. The priest, Eli, had served for a long time and was old. The text tells us faith was not well in that time, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
God shares with Samuel that God will create upheaval, that Eli, with his authority and power, will be overturned, along with his family. Eli was a terrible priest, but his worst offenses were through his sons, “Hophni and Phinehas [his subordinate priests] stole the best portions of sacrifices from God for themselves (2:12-17). And if that was not enough, they also raped the women who were serving/guarding the entrance to the tent of meeting (1 Samuel 2:22). Instead of controlling his sons and protecting the people of Israel from their abuse, Eli seems to have spent much of his time sitting on a throne (1 Samuel 4:13, 16).” (Cory Driver, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-1-samuel-31-10-11-20-6)
God was calling Samuel to prophecy, to speak the word of God, against the immorality and sin of the man under whom he worked in the temple. This call would be hard. It would require courage and steadfastness and still it would be risky. To speak truth to power is central to the prophetic role God calls people into.
To what hard things has God called you? And what easy things does God ask of you?
I ask because its good for us to think on and reflect upon, but not because I expect you will know the answer immediately.
There is a great deal of difficulty around us right now: “pandemic, rampant injustice, intense division, a readiness to resort to violence to achieve dubious ends, a disregard not just for facts but verifiable reality.” (David Lose, In-the-meantime/preaching) The world is topsy-turvy.
Even as this has made our world somewhat less comprehensible, we are also aware that God is still calling people. God is still calling people like you and I into tasks that we don’t want anything to do with, like Jonah preaching to the sinful people he loathed in Ninevah, from which we can’t hide on sailing ships or barns filled with geese. God is still calling people to do hard things, like the boy Samuel who would preach against the immorality of the powerful who helped raise him. God is still calling people like you and I in dramatic scenes and quiet ways.
And like it or not, God is not just calling the perfect people. Abraham questioned God repeatedly. Moses spoke so poorly he needed his brother Aaron to do the talking. Jonah held grudges, hard. Martin Luther was a hot head. St. Martin of Tours was a zealot.
God seems to have love for the lost, the irresponsible, self-absorbed, and even the sinful. God has a penchant for working through them as well.
So, where is God calling you?