We are now a few weeks past Easter, and I am sure that everyone is ready to get back to normal as far as our church life goes. Easter is always the year’s biggest emotional high, but according to what I heard last Sunday’s Jazz Eucharist and send-off of Greg and Melanie may have topped Easter in intimacy, emotion and spirit. Though I was off on a vacation planned last fall, I hated to miss it, and everyone said it was one of the most meaningful worship services they’d ever witnessed. Perhaps it is time to settle into our usual routine around here. That will be hard with Greg gone though, and Randy is out of town this weekend guest-preaching for a friend. So it’s just me. As I was preparing my sermon on Friday I couldn’t help feeling the blahs. Countless ordinary Sundays ahead of us began to sink in as a reality with me.
Then it occurred to me that I wouldn’t necessarily feel this way if I paid attention to our scripture lessons and saw the bigger picture. After Easter, when we want to get about our business, the risen Christ refuses to leave us alone. He comes to us; he calls us. The disciples were not looking for Jesus or for some deeper religious meaning in their lives when he appeared on the shore. They were looking for fish. And Paul, in Acts, wasn’t looking for inspiration, he was looking for Christians to persecute. Unlike the other apostles, Jesus did not graciously appear and invite Paul to follow him. No, he knocked him off his feet with a bolt of lightning and blinded him. I suppose the risen Christ knew what it would take to get the man’s attention.
The point is that neither the apostles nor Paul were out looking for the risen Christ. They were getting on with their lives. But Jesus returned and found them. What this tells us is this: We don’t find God; God finds us–often when we’re least expecting it. Someone said once, “One finds God because one is already found by God. Anything we would find on our own would not be God” (Catherine M. LaCugna). This is true. I certainly do not trust myself enough to think I could find God on my own–it has taken me 40 years to find myself!
Paul was adamant during his ministry that he really had seen the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus . He never knew Jesus as a man walking the earth. Paul had heard of him, of course, and he had made it his life’s work to harass, arrest and persecute the followers of Jesus. After he accepted Jesus’ call and became a zealot for the Way, he suffered a credibility problem. In his defense, Paul pointed out time and again that while the other apostles had seen Jesus resurrected, Paul had seen him after the others had ceased seeing him. Paul saw the risen Jesus long after the Ascension.
Here is the question, then: Do we believe it when we are found by God? In all the ordinary Sundays that will fall between Pentecost and Advent do we even consider that God might come into our lives. And if he does, will we recognize it, believe it, tell others about it?
There was a very long time in my life, a period of at least 10 years, when I was ashamed to share with people how God first found me. For one thing, I found the entire episode embarrassing because it came in the context of my break-up with a longtime high school and college boyfriend. I was only 21-years-old. Who would believe me; I could hardly believe it myself. Now, as I look back on that big dramatic moment when the skies opened up and almighty God took me in his hands and called me, it seems to me the first of many times, many moments, in which I felt myself found.
Now before I tell you the story, I need to explain my use of God language. When I speak of God, I refer to the inclusive Trinity, meaning: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My God is three-dimensional, and has no gender even though I refer to God as father when I preach and within the context of liturgy. I don’t have a hang-up about this; I hope you don’t either.
It was the summer of 1981, and I had just gradated college. I had dated the same guy throughout high school and college (a big mistake!) and had moved back to Denver to reunite with him. He was a year older and was in law school at the time. The week I moved to Denver , full of excitement and wonder for our future, he dumped me so big and so hard that I was literally broken in half. Turns out there was another woman in the picture.
One evening in the early weeks after the break-up, I went for a run to clear my head. I got so worked up that I ran faster and harder and farther than I had planned. I became completely lost to myself–in the zone as they say. I hadn’t even noticed that it had begun to rain hard. Eventually I exhausted myself and collapsed on a sidewalk. Like it was yesterday, I remember hearing a voice call me by name. For some reason I knew it was God, and God told me that I was loved and that I would survive my heartbreak. This is exactly how it went down. I was sitting on this curb, sobbing in the rain, and God said to me, “Dana, pick yourself up by your bootstraps. I have big plans for your life. I have a mission for you. You have much bigger fish to fry than Andy Kersting.” How ridiculous is that? Bootstraps, fish to fry. It sounds like something out of a Western. I guess that’s how God thought I would understand him. But what followed was the most startling. I distinctly remember the slate-gray skies opening up, but just in my space, and an orange-purple glow beckoning me to my feet. I walked home, drenched but with the feeling of being enveloped in a blanket. That’s what God felt like. As I walked home, wrapped in God, I knew I would be alright. The heartbreak of my relationship would not heal for a very long time, but I knew that if I hung in there, God would show me the way.
I assumed that I should start looking for jobs that were benevolent in nature, teaching, social work, something like that. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be an eventual call to ordained ministry. My first job out of college was writing obituaries and sports stories for a newspaper. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I began to figure it out. It was all so strange. I never forgot my God moment on that curb in the rain, and I never told anyone about it until years later.
The story almost derailed my ordination process when I was in seminary because I refused to tell it. All sorts of important, influential people would ask me how I knew I was called by God for the ministry and I would fumble and struggle my way through answers of half-truths. I was so embarrassed by it because I thought that serious, holy people who were in seminary had epiphanies worthy of C.S. Lewis or someone of his stature. I assumed that these people had been hand-selected by authority figures in their churches who recognized their callings for them. That was not the case with me. I didn’t grow up in any church and I didn’t begin attending the Episcopal Church until I was in my late twenties. Who was I to claim that God had hand-selected me? I never believed that I was worthy of such a call. And that’s what almost tripped me up in seminary.
After years of Biblical study I am now aware of all the seemingly crazy ways God calls people–Moses and the burning bush, Elijah ascending to heaven in a whirlwind and his mantle literally falling from the sky to Elisha, and, of course, Paul being knocked down and blinded from the bright white light of the Lord. It’s interesting what Jesus does not say to Paul. He does not say, “Paul, now don’t you believe that Easter is true?” Rather he says, “Paul I’ve got work for you to do. You are going to be my great missionary to the Gentiles, to kings, to the people of Israel .” That’s the way it is with Jesus. Every conversion to him is a call to do work for him. Revelation and call go together. Please don’t get discouraged if you haven’t had a cinematic God moment yet. You might and you might not. God can speak quietly, as well as with a bolt of lightning. God sometimes finds us in the smallest of ways that accumulate into a lifetime of gotchas.
Our Scripture this morning makes it clear that the risen Christ is the seeking Christ, especially after Easter, after all the fanfare. He searches, seeks, and saves those who are not wise enough to know where or even how to search for him. Which I suppose is all of us. We can’t hide. Christ calls ordinary people to do godly work. Easter is true and Easter means, among other things, that Jesus is on the loose and that he is looking for you. Stay alert. Stay ready.