Twenty-four years ago I knelt in the beautiful Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary. I was alone and the chapel was dark except for the lights streaming in the stained glass windows. I wasn’t particularly happy to be there, or perhaps I was just in shock to find myself there. Me… a religious neophyte, clueless, naïve, overwhelmed… what was I thinking?
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I’d answered “the call” to become a pastor, but it was surreal. Who was I to be in seminary with all these folks who’d grown up in the church? My atheist background left me sorely lacking in the realm of Biblical and church knowledge. Who was I to think I could lead or guide anyone? I was 26 years old, married and with a child on the way, had buried my mother and grandparents, but how much life experience did I really have to help others? And who was I to proclaim a God I didn’t even understand? Or follow a guy named Jesus that I only knew in passing? I’d never taken a Sunday School class, a confirmation class or read much of the Bible.
As I sat there pondering my unworthiness and what now felt like a crazy path, my eyes were drawn to a stained glass window of Jesus with his hands on the head of someone kneeling in front of him. I suddenly had this inexplicable urge to cry. And as tears welled up, a song popped into my head that I’d sung numerous times at Marquette with the man who wrote it:
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
By the grace of God I somehow got from “who am I?” to “here I am.” I could not have imagined the crazy, twisted road surrendering to that call would take me on.
It reminds me of the story of Moses. Moses ran away from Egypt because he’d killed another Egyptian for beating a Hebrew man, one of Moses’ kindred (so the scripture says). He settled in the wilderness of Midian, eventually met the priest of Midian, was invited to settle there and help the priest with his flocks. After some years he married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah and they had two children. Life was pretty good for Moses.
Then one day he was out tending the flock when he saw a bush on fire, but not being consumed. Then he heard his name. “I am here,” Moses answers. He’s directed to take off his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. The god Yahweh then tells him that there is something Moses must do… he must go back to Egypt and free the Hebrew people from slavery and oppression there.
Moses isn’t quite on board with this great plan. And I’m sure he felt completely unworthy, like I did. So, he hedges… maybe he can change God’s mind??
Who am I, he wants to know, that I should go to Pharoah and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt??
(Under his breath I imagine him saying: Are you nuts? There’s probably a price on my head. I have a wife and two kids. I have flocks to tend to. And, frankly, while I know the people suffer, but I’m pretty happy here and I’m not convinced I can be helpful. Who am I that you’re asking me to do this thing?)
God doesn’t even answer the question, basically just says, “no worries, mate, I’ll be with you.” (For some reason God sounds a little like Crocodile Dundee in my head right now.)
Moses isn’t giving in so quickly, “But Yahweh, how will they know you sent me? And why would they believe me? And who am I do to this when I am slow of speech and stutter”
Sure enough, Yahweh had an answer for everything and before he knew it Moses was taking a leave of absence and packing up his wife and kids to head to Egypt.
By the grace (or sheer stubbornness) of God, Moses got from “who am I?” to “here I am.” He could not have imagined the crazy, twisted road surrendering to the call would take him on.
Here’s the crux of the matter: how do we get from “who am I?” to “here I am”? How do we get from “I’m not worthy” to “I’m surrendering to my path”? How do we get from “I’m happy with my life as it is” to “I trust where I’m being led”?
This reading comes up in the lectionary rotation every three years. The last time I used it was six years ago at our first weekly Sacred Journey’s service. Somehow we went from “Who were we to start a new church?” and “Who was I to be pastoring it?” to “Here we are God… use us” and “Here I am God… I’ll try again.”
How do we get from “who am I?” to “here I am”?
Fear is the biggest reason we question the calls and nudges we receive from the Divine. Fear is why we ask “who am I?” and “why me?”
I know some of you were probably taught by the church you grew up in to fear God. But now that we’re older and wiser, do you truly believe you need to fear the Divine? Or do you believe the Spirit always has our highest good, and the highest good of others, in mind? I hope so, because this is the God I know and believe in.
So, if it is not God we fear, then it must be something else. Maybe we are afraid of change, being uncomfortable, doing something new, giving something up, or not being good enough. Maybe we afraid of failing… or succeeding.
I realize in this blog I’ve only talked about big, life-changing decisions. But I would suggest that the Spirit doesn’t just move in big let’s-start-a-church-become-a-pastor-move-to-Egypt sort of ways. I know when folks think about following the Spirit, or the Divine, or the energy of the Universe, somehow we’re all afraid that if we say yes, surrender, say “here I am,” that we’ll end up a missionary in Africa. If this were the case you’d think there’d be a lot more missionaries in Africa! Doesn’t the Divine nudge us in small ways all the time?
Maybe we’re nudged to call someone, to say you’re sorry, to mend fences, to say thank you, to apply for a job, to volunteer, to give to a cause, to open a door, to smile, to do something you normally wouldn’t do, to take your umbrella with you, clean out your closets, risk being in a relationship, Look for a new job, go back to school.
The chances of coming across a burning bush anytime soon are slim. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t looking to get our attention and send us on our own mission, or nudge us to be the hands and arms and voices of love in the world.
What is required of us is to be open, to trust, to watch, to listen, to let go of the “who am I to be doing this?” questions and to respond “here I am God.”
Love & Light!