In the name of the father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In most cases the people God picks to do his work are not the people we would pick. If you are too well turned out, too together, too status quo, if you ve got pedigree, then if the Bible is any guide chances are you won t be someone they write sacred texts about. The story of the great characters of the Bible is really the story of how the people we least expect to do great things are in fact the people God most often chooses. The people might least recognize in other situations are frequently the most blessed, the most holy the most used by God.
Jacob was a liar and a thief, a trickster who shamelessly stole his brother s birthright. Yet he was still called by God to be Israel, the chosen, the patriarch of a nation. Joseph was a spoiled brat, the overindulged youngest son, doted on by his father and hated by his brothers. Nonetheless he was picked by God to lead his people. Moses was a murderer on the run, a stutterer with few obvious qualities for leadership and yet God set him aside as the one to defeat pharaoh and lead the Israelites from slavery into freedom. Samuel was just a boy when God called him to become a great prophet. And Jesus himself was never accepted by most people to be anything other than a troublesome preacher. After all, how could the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel, ever be the poor son of an uneducated carpenter? Even Nathanael in our gospel for today found it hard to believe that anything good could come out of a backwater town like Nazareth.
Still the truth of scripture seems to say that God see things in people we don t see. God sees beyond the trappings, or lack thereof, to see the heart of folks. In short, God loves to surprise us by finding the diamond in the rough by turning the sows ear into the silk purse.
Several times a week when I was at Yale I would walk down High Street and pass the windowless sanctuary of Skull and Bones. It is an imposing stone building sitting on a corner, a structure as famous as it is mysterious. Never did I see anyone coming or going from that place but it never failed to draw my attention. Presidents, captains of industry, the rich and famous including our last two presidential candidates all had in common their genesis at Skull and Bones.
They were all tapped because they had the pedigree, the raw potential that said they would make it big one day. I always chuckle to myself when I realize that, had they been contemporaries, all the heroes of the Bible I listed above would probably never have been considered for membership in such an august body. The ways of God and the ways of men are very different.
In my own life I know that the holiest people I have known were often the one s I least expected. My favorite professor in college, who I have mentioned before on a number of occasions, was on the surface one of the goofiest men I have ever met. I lovingly describe this beloved Old Testament scholar as Mr. Magoo with a German accent. As a young man he was a soldier for the Third Reich who fought for the wrong side on D Day and later spent several years in an Allied prison camp. None-the-less he was the person who revealed to me the boundless love of God. The folks God taps to do God s work are often the most unlikely sort.
What does this mean for you and me on the day before the holiday where we remember Martin Luther King – a great modern saint of the church who was also an infamous philanderer? It means that we shouldn t expect God to use someone else to do God s work just because we feel unworthy. We can t say I don t know enough, I am not holy enough, I am not faithful enough, I am not smart enough. The ones God picks aren t always the holy, the faithful, or the smart. At the moment they are tapped they seem to have few if any qualifications that would mark them as special. In fact, all they share in common is the willingness to go when called, the willingness to undertake the absurd, the willingness to trust that God can and will do something with them to bring a little bit more light into this very dark world.
In Friday s paper I read an article talking about Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his decision to skip his last year at USC to enter the NFL. Reggie s coach Pete Carroll described him as a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Be that as it may, the great mistake we make as Christians is to believe that Peter, James and John, Mary, Martha, and MLK were all once-in-a-lifetime talents. We believe they were exceptions to the rule, rare jewels never to be seen again. They were disciples – we are just believers. But that isn t how it works. When you are washed in the waters of baptism you aren t given the option to play second string, to sit on the bench. All of us who call ourselves Christians have been marked as Christ s own forever and that means God sees in us more potential than we might see in ourselves. And the object of the church, the goal of all that we do is to awaken the disciple in all of us.
If Jesus were here today he might well say to you and me Come unto me all you broken, awkward, hesitant and imperfect human beings. Come unto me all you who aren t very smart, very good-looking, very righteous, or very talented. You are my disciples; you are the ones I have chosen to do my work in the world. You have more greatness, more faithfulness, more courage in you than you can ever imagine. Just follow my lead, just pick up your cross, just walk behind me, and I will show you the way. For my yoke is easy, my burden is light and after all is said and done I promise you will find rest for your souls. Amen.