Sunday, January 17,2021
Saying yes to God
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, Texas 77493
Some Sundays I look at the lectionary readings and wonder what am I supposed to preach on since the passages are so challenging. Today I’m blessed with multiple wonderful scriptures. The Call of Samuel, a favorite of mine, Psalm 139 which is my favorite psalm and the calling of the first disciples. All of our readings today are about that deep relationship between God and us. Yes us, not just prophets and disciples, but with little old you and me.
Both the gospel and the Samuel stories are about God extending a call to follow and the response of the people called. Now many people today just blow these off thinking something along the lines of “Well sure this is the great prophet Samuel or one of the 12 disciples. I’m not like them, I’m not that good or not worthy of this kind of call.” Nothing my friends could be further from the truth. Samuel the longed-for child of Hannah who is born in response to Hannah’s and Eli’s prayers is just an ordinary young man who has grown up in the temple. The disciples were all fishermen, tax collectors and other common people. The difference is that they all responded to God’s call with a yes.
In the Samuel story the passage says that the word of the Lord was rare, visions were not widespread. We could say that about today’s world as well. However, that does not mean that God is not present with us in the mess, stress and conflict in today’s world. Ignatius teaches that when God seems most distant that is when we are most likely to have an encounter with God.
God is always present always calling. The big problem is most of the time we aren’t listening, or we don’t know how to listen, or for what to listen. Even when we are in trouble and seeking God’s help, and God is there, we are quick to tell God what we think we need. However, we tend to be slow to listen to what God has to say. We ask and then too often end the conversation. That is the real challenge for us.
However, there is something else out there and that is the depth at which God knows us and that is where we get to psalm 139. In this psalm we hear that God knows us from before we were born as we were knit together in our mother’s womb. That no matter where we go, God is there with us. We hear of a deep knowing in this psalm.
Part of that deep knowledge is contained in our collect for purity at the start of the service. Almighty God to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid” Now I will admit the first time I heard that it scared the daylights out of me, but that was because as a new person to the church I didn’t understand God or have any sort of relationship with God. Now I know that this is an invitation to relax, stop pretending because you can’t pretend with God.
This is part of the concept that we are co-creators with God of our lives and our world. This is very different from the idea that many have that God has a plan laid out for us. In an old lecture by The Rev. Martin Smith he says that many want a peek in the holy file cabinet to see what is in their folder. However they would be disappointed since the file stops at today. Listening to God is about trusting God to be a partner in our life and allowing that life to unfold in accordance with God’s great plan for creation.
Bishop Andy Doyle has a series of videos about the future of the church which are based on a book that he had written. I first came across this series several years ago. Someday we will look at it in Christian Formation. In one of the segments Bishop Doyle talks about discernment and call. He gave me a really interesting insight I want to share with all of you. Bishop Doyle said: “When I was going through the process to discern if I was called to be a bishop my spiritual director said, “Andy, God is not calling you to be a bishop. God is calling you to say yes to the process of discovering what God intends for your life.” Sometimes we get so far ahead that we think we need to say yes or no to that. God is not going to reveal the highs and the lows of the journey that lies before you, because you probably would never say yes. The process is to get you to say yes and then discover what this opportunity brings.”
I must say that this rings very true for me today and maybe for you as well. If anybody had told me what the challenges were going to be when I said yes to the call to ministry, I might truly have had second thoughts and stayed in Cleveland and become a flight instructor after retiring from public school teaching. That was my plan by the way. I had my private and instrument license with 500 hours of flight time. All I needed was a commercial license and an instructor’s license, but I said yes to an invitation from God.
Let me try to tie this all together by telling you about that yes. While I was discerning whether to go forward for ordination, I attended a weekend for prospective students at Virginia Seminary in Alexandria. We had the chance on Sunday to go to the National Cathedral and while I had sung there once as a high school student, I had never been there since becoming an Episcopalian. It was a beautiful service, the first Sunday of Lent with the Great litany sung in procession around the cathedral.
As I left the service, they had opened the doors in the back and there was a flood of people coming in to tour the cathedral. Probably more than had been there for the service. I had this incredible sense of a voice saying, “Mark do you see what’s wrong.” I thought, why aren’t these people here for the service? Then the sense was a message, “I want you to fill my church with followers not tourists.” That was when I knew what I had to do and I began the process.
What I did was not say yes to the call as a priest, but yes to a call to do the work that God wanted me to do. And a wild ride it has been ever since. I will say this, if anyone had told me in 2001 one I would be the rector of St. Paul’s in Katy I’m not sure I would have believed them, but here I am and grateful to be here.
So say yes to God. Say yes to the call to the adventure that God is offering you. Don’t worry about the details, just say yes and let God be in charge.