“Better Call Saul”
April 10, 2016
I recently heard another minister speak
of what she called “that moment of horror” that comes as she waits for a
response after she tells someone that she is a minister.
What will they think?
How will they react?
What will they say?
It’s an uneasy feeling known by many of
us who are clergy. The conversation was going so well and then someone casually
asks, “So, what do you do?”
How did we get into this situation in
which what we do is so often a source of awkwardness, leaving us wondering,
“What’s going to happen when they find out that I’m a minister?”
Sometimes people will ask me, “When did
you know that you wanted to be a minister.” There are times when I would like
to answer: “Well, certainly last week
I wasn’t too sure; but when I woke up this morning it seemed like a good idea.”
This, I think, is why on one occasion when someone learned of my profession,
they said, somewhat incredulously, that I was “too sarcastic to be a minister.”
We clergy often place the blame for this
embarrassing career decision on God.
his memoir Brother to a Dragonfly,
the late Will Campbell, a white Baptist minister in the South who was a strong
supporter of civil rights in the sixties and seventies, told of hunting with
Thad Garner, an older mentor whom Campbell regarded as “the most profane man”
he’d ever known, and asking him: “Thad, why did you ever decide to be a Baptist
preacher?” [Garner] looked puzzled and not just a little hurt. He pondered my
question for a long time,” Campbell wrote, “sighting and squinting down the
barrel of his shotgun. Finally he looked me straight in the eye and answered my
question: ‘’Cause I was called, you fool!’”
Garner’s language was a little more colorful, but I’m speaking from a pulpit
and without a gun.
love that story.
I was called.
I had no choice.
It’s not my fault. Blame the Creator of
the Universe, the Lord God Almighty.
Now here’s the surprising thing about
this line of defense: it has some validity—and I’ll come back to that.
This thing we speak of as a “call”—what
is it? A prompting of the heart? A sense of certainty wrapped up in great
doubt? An assurance that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing; doing
what fits you better than anything else?
Certainly for myself and those I know it
has nothing to do with visions or voices. And yet such stories help us in
thinking through the mysterious ways of the God who calls, who speaks to the
heart of each one of us.
For a few minutes I want to consider the
reality that God does do the most outrageous things; God does call the most
Moses is tending his flock, minding his
own business, when he sees what looks to be a bush on fire, but not consumed.
And out of that bright burning, a voice comes to him: “Moses, Moses.”
After the descendants of Abraham and
Sarah had been slaves in Egypt for over four hundred years, the Book of Exodus
says: “Out of the slavery their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning,
and God remembered his covenant…God looked upon the Israelites, and God took
notice of them.”
And noticing the Israelites, God does
something outrageous. Needing to confront the powerful leader of a powerful
nation, needing someone who will speak boldly and lead wisely, God decides:
“Better call Moses.”
Moses, a hothead who, while raised in
the house of Pharaoh, had fled to the hinterlands after killing an Egyptian.
Moses, who is certain that the Hebrew people will not follow him and will not
believe that he speaks for the God of their ancestors. Moses, who by his own
admission is “slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
God calls the most unlikely people.
As the early Christians are facing
various threats to their existence from both outside and inside their
communities, when God needs someone to be, as the Book of Acts puts it, “an
instrument…to bring God’s name before the Gentiles and kings,” God decides:
“Better call Saul.”
Saul, a devoutly religious man whose
zeal makes him what we might consider a religious fanatic; Saul, who is “still
breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord:” Saul, who is
on his way to Damascus to capture and bind any followers of the Way that he can
The author of the Gospel of Luke and the
Book of Acts always leans toward the spectacular, writing of heavenly hosts
singing at the birth of Jesus, of the Spirit of God coming like wind and fire
at Pentecost. And in this story that borrows from Old Testament accounts of the
call of God, we see Saul, blinded by a light, falling to the ground and hearing
a voice that must have sounded a lot like the voice that called “Moses, Moses,”
this time saying: “Saul, Saul.”
God does the most outrageous things.
God calls the most unlikely people.
Now, I realize that you did not come
here this morning to hear about me and my life, or even—let’s be honest—to hear
about Moses or Saul.
You came here thinking about your own
life, your own passions, your own work—whether it is paid or unpaid. You came
here thinking about the things that are important to you. This is to say, in
one way or another you came here this morning thinking about your call.
Yes, like the title character in the TV
show, Better Call Saul, you probably
recognize that even though you might be less hypocritical than those you
associate with, your life isn’t perfect, you might be filled with regret, or
your “morals and ambitions often clash.” Still, you might be just the person to
call. You might be just the unlikely person needed.
And, yes, if you want, you, too, can put
the blame on the living God for the particular and peculiar life in which you
After all, for most of us—maybe all of
us—life has not gone as planned. Indeed as John Lennon suggested, “Life is what
happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
Yes, sometimes we do just what we
planned to do. We developed just the skills we wanted to. Or we find ourselves in unexpected situations and places, using our
abilities, our gifts in unplanned
ways. Either way, we find that we have been called.
Faith tells us that God calls each one of us.
Our tradition speaks of God's speaking. And in doing so, our faith
offers a different message than we usually hear.
Certainly most of the messages that we hear—loud and clear—tell us that
we live an uncalled life.
That there will be no intrusions
into our ordinary lives by the Holy.
That we can go on our
way, doing as we please and God will not disrupt us.
in times of despair or weakness or indecision we are on our own.
Remember the title of the James Baldwin book? Nobody Knows My Name. In a world in which we are more and more
anonymous, more and more a number, it often seems like he might be right.
But in scripture we encounter again and again the God who speaks—and calls
us by name.
There is good news here.
In spite of the great loneliness that so many people feel,
in spite of the
crushing isolation of modern life,
Someone does know your name—and calls to you.
Certainly we listen with a very human ear. What we hear is often faint
Still, when we stop to listen with the ear of faith, we can hear the
divine voice that calls each one of us by name.
The God who calls is a passionate God.
This is not One who stands off, unmoved by our human condition. This is
a Creator who is vitally interested in the creature. This is a God who, out of
deep compassion, calls us to lives that are fruitful and effective. This is a
God who wants the best for us.
Keep listening. God's action in the world depends on us.
Moses stands listening and hears the voice of God: "Come, I will
send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people."
Saul looks up from the ground listening and hears: “Get up and you will
be told what to do.”
Moses is not changed, he is called.
Saul is not converted, he is called.
God only calls us to be who we are. By God's gift, our deepest identity
is not really to be or to do anything but love. We are, each one
of us, the uniquely individual bearer of God's love.
So God calls each one of us—not simply to some activity or to some
particular form of employment but to a way of life. This is a way of life
suited to who you are, because above all, it is a call to be yourself, the
unique individual created in God's image that you are.
God calls out the best in us. And that gives us some idea of what the
church is to be—a community of people calling out the best in each other, a community of people supporting each other to live lives of faith, virtue, knowledge,
mutual affection, and love.
God needs us in order to act in the world. And by saying that, I’m not
just offering the old chestnut that we are the hands and feet of God, acting
out some purpose whether we like it or not. God's purposes are fulfilled as
each one of us fully lives out who we are. We are co-creators, working with God
to create the good.
And, of course, God’s call naturally meets with human resistance.
What was the name of the play? Your
Arms Are Too Short to Box with God. Probably so. But from Moses onward, the
scriptures tell of people arguing with God—and sometimes winning. You even get
the sense that God actually enjoys this—enjoys hearing our doubts, our
misgivings, our frustrations with and anger toward the Almighty. At least then
the relationship seems real.
It continues to this day and we confess: “You, O God, call, but we don't
listen. We walk away.”
Yes, our arms are too short
to box with God. But still, we hear the promise: “I will be with you.” I will
be with you as you live out your calling. I will be with you as you become whom
you are called to be.
If that is the case,
there is strength in
the place where we are weak,
courage at the times when we are fearful,
is love made possible when we would hate.
But you know that, don’t you? You’ve experienced that.
It is the God of infinite possibilities who calls us into a life filled
with choices and chances, filled with options and opportunity.
The voice that calls is one voice—
these days usually speaking softly,
us to join in the conversation,
inviting us to follow on the way
that leads to life, on the way that is life.
Until we stop to listen,
we will never become
all that we are meant to be.
We will never find
what we're looking for.
We will not be aware that the ground
we stand on is holy, that the neighbor whom we see is in the image of the one
who calls us.
And when we listen we will gain knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of
God. We will gain the wisdom that comes from knowing ourselves in conversation
with our creator who calls.
We hear, once more, the Spirit's refrain: Trust God and begin again.