Written by Pastor Ed
January 14, 2018
I Sam. 3: 1-10
John 1: 43-51
Can you imagine a stranger, or maybe even someone you’ve heard about but never met, walking up to you and inviting you to join them? “Follow me”, they say. What would you do?
One Spring day in 1970 I was sitting on the steps of the Art Museum in Dusseldorf, Germany. I had hoped to visit the museum and my friend, Irene, had dropped me off there while she ran some errands. However, the museum was closed since they were installing a new exhibit. As I sat there waiting for Irene to return, a man came out and struck up a conversation. Turns out his name was also Ed and he was from the US as well, had grown up on a wheat farm in Eastern Montana, and I discovered, he was the artist, Edward Keinholz, whose works were being installed. After we had chatted a bit about our backgrounds, etc. he lamented how hard it was to find good help for handling his work, which I later learned were large installation art pieces, and offered me a job – to travel with him around Europe and help him set up his art. I sometimes wonder what might have been different if I’d accepted! I certainly know what my parents and friends back home would have thought, especially the couple whose wedding I was supposed to be in that summer.
Amazingly, Phillip and Nathanael, along with others, when invited by Jesus to follow him, dropped what they were doing, or at least that’s the impression we get from the gospel telling, and walked off with Jesus. Did they have any idea what they were getting into? Were there second thoughts? Any guesses what their parents or business partners thought about the idea? We’re given a bit of insight in Nathanael’s comment, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Interestingly, that was a comment I got from someone when I told my home congregation that I had decided to go to seminary to prepare myself for work in the church. That was some 45 years ago, and almost 42 years ago I answered a call to serve as pastor of a small, rural congregation in southern Ontario. Over the next few weeks I like to share some reflections on these past years, as I have been reflecting as I sort through papers and think about the upcoming change.
Someone once said that you shouldn’t become a pastor unless you come to a place where you feel you can’t not be a pastor. But that’s not really the way it was for me. I did have other choices, yet I felt this was what God was calling me to do, with a little help from some other people.
Church had always been an important part of my life growing up. It was simply assumed that you would go to church activities, even though when I was small that meant driving 27 miles to the small mission church we attended; that was a long distance in those days. I was baptized and joined the church when it was expected that you did so, and was active in youth group, even taking on some leadership roles. And then one day, while I was at my pastor’s house mimeographing something, he said to me, “When could we talk about you doing church work with your life?” I was stunned and mumbled something about maybe thinking about it.
And then the idea kept popping up in other unusual places. I can’t say that I ever had an experience quite like Samuel’s. I never heard God speak directly to me, although that would have made it easier, I suppose. But a speaker at a gathering of 900 boys at Indiana University for Hoosier Boys’ State made some comments that seemed to be directed solely at me, and a “magician” in a high school assembly suggested that I was considering entering the ministry. And I continued to be active in church, even attending church conferences and mission board meetings and volunteering with Mennonite Disaster Service one summer in Gulfport, Mississippi. But I wasn’t convinced. And yet the call continued to be there and by the time I, or we by that time, had decided to enter seminary, it felt like the right thing to do.
But even then there were those other voices. There were some who warned me that seminary might make me lose my faith, and there was that question of whether any good thing could come from the backwaters of York Township. And even as I approached the end of my seminary studies, we were faced with a decision. I was offered a position with MCC to teach church history at the Mennonite Seminary in Indonesia. Now I love history, and church history. I had taken all the church history courses C.J. Dyck had offered at seminary, and it was he who recommended me for the position. And if you know anything about C.J. or his brother Peter and MCC, you know that all I had to do was say yes, and I would have been on my way. It was a very tempting prospect and we struggled long and hard.
Again it would have been easier if there had been a Samuel moment, some clear voice in the night with direction, but instead that voice came through Ralph Lebold, then Conference Minister in Ontario who we had lunch with one day as we were on our way to visit a congregation, our other option. Ralph, who died just a short time ago, was the voice that convinced me to choose pastoring over teaching. And so, through a variety of people, circumstances, and urgings, I ended up spending these past 42 years in some form of ministry, primarily as a pastor along with my 9 years as a conference minister.
Calls come to us in a variety of ways and to a variety of things. Being called to ministry is only one of the callings that God may have for us. All of us receive the call to follow Jesus, and even that can come in many ways. For some it may be a dramatic experience as it certainly was for Samuel. For others it is simply a step along the way and a decision that recognizes who Jesus is, as it was for Phillip and Nathanael. Answering that call to discipleship always involves some unknowns, and yes, can be a bit scary, although we might not recognize it at the time.
We never know when our decision to follow the way of Jesus will lead us into conflict or challenge us to remain true to that calling. I remember when the Gulf War began in the 80’s and suddenly younger people in the congregation were faced with decisions they hadn’t had to face previously. What did it mean to follow a Jesus who said we were to love our enemies? What does it mean today to follow Jesus in a world that seems full of racism and violence? Following Jesus is a call that each of us needs to answer, and we don’t know what all it may mean.
We are also called to other vocations, not just to pastoring. And those calls come in a variety of ways as well. In fact, you may be the voice that someone needs to hear in making that decision. 20 some years ago I preached one Sunday in a neighbouring congregation, filling in for the pastor. It was only later that I learned that that sermon had prompted a man to sell his farm and take on some volunteer roles with Habitat for Humanity, a decision he had been wrestling with for some time and heard God speaking to him that morning. A rather humbling experience.
Just this past week I felt a bit of pride, I guess that’s ok to admit, when a woman was named as a Conference Minister in Ontario (MCEC), a woman who had been in my youth group many years ago in Ontario and whose gifts I had encouraged toward ministry. We never know when our words of encouragement will be God speaking to others and leading them to whatever God has in store for them.
While answering God’s call on our lives may be scary, never knowing exactly where it might lead. The reality is that we don’t, indeed can’t, do it alone. Had it not been for Galen, Ralph and many others along the way, I might have ended up doing something else. I could have been an electrician, another option when I left seminary. We have models and mentors who have gone before us, showing us what it means to follow Jesus, and what it means to live our lives in service to God, no matter what our chosen vocation may be.
To follow that call, for me, has been both challenging and rewarding, and I’ll talk more about that next week. Whatever we are called to and when ever we hear that call, we are, like Samuel or Phillip and Nathanael, invited to respond and then to remain faithful to our calling no matter where it may lead us. If we do that, we, like the disciples, may be amazed at what we will see and do and where that path may lead us.
Will you come and follow me? The question remains for each of us to answer. It’s the question raised in our next hymn, STS #39 Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Jesus continues to meet us along the way and ask that question. May we be so bold as to say, “yes.”