Sunday, October 16, 2016
Zion Lutheran Church in Franklin, NE
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Good morning! Thank you all for the opportunity to be here with you this morning. It’s great to get to come back and preach in my home state of Nebraska.
My name is Day Hefner and I’m a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I just started my third year of classes, and I’m looking forward to finishing up my seminary education on internship next year.
It’s been an interesting journey going through the candidacy process along with other seminarians in Chicago and Nebraska and all over. I’ve gotten the chance to hear many people tell their different stories of how they each ended up where they are, of how they decided to become candidates for ministry in the ELCA.
And even though each person’s story is unique and different, a lot of them tend to share one similar narrative, which is this: “You know, I’ve been feeling a call for years, and I’ve done my best to ignore it – but God is so darn persistent that, well, here I am.”
A number of my seminary classmates left careers as teachers or lawyers or social workers after they realized that the call to ministry was just too strong to ignore. I personally left a career in musicology and non-profit work when I finally admitted that the church was where I was really meant to be. I have one seminary friend who made it so far as to be hired as a youth leader at his church, before he finally listened to the church members, youth, and family members who urged him to go to seminary to become a full-fledged pastor.
There are so many more stories like these. Something in us resists that call to be leaders in the church – whether we think that maybe it isn’t right for us, or we don’t have what it takes, or we think we already have our futures all planned out, or whatever the reason. But God is so persistent in calling us to use the gifts we have been given, that sooner or later, the call overcomes our resistance.
These themes of resistance and persistence show up strongly in our gospel text for today. Much like God’s persistence in calling seminarians to ministry, the widow calls out to the unjust judge repeatedly for justice. And like the judge, we resist for a while, but we’re just no match for that kind of persistence.
Luke presents this parable in order to underscore how important it is to be persistent in prayer. And it is definitely important that we be persistent in reaching out toward God in prayer. But what this parable doesn’t say explicitly is that when we are persistent in prayer, we are also being imitators of God, who is even more persistent in reaching out to us. This story is as much about who God is as it is about what God calls us to do.
God is persistent in calling us to live out our vocation. And vocation is not at all limited to those who are called to be leaders in the church. Every one of us is called to some kind of work – whether it fits neatly into a career or not – and each one of us is equipped with gifts to live out that call. In a way, vocation is linked to the promises made in baptism. God has claimed us and given us an identity as God’s children, and vocation adds purpose to that identity. God has work for us each to do. For some, that may be work as a pastor or a deacon, but for others, it may be farming to provide food for others, or nursing to care for the health of a community, or teaching or parenting to educate and shape a new generation of people with vocations of their own. God’s call to our many and varied vocations is an affirmation that each of us is a precious child of God, each of us is gifted in some way, and each of our lives has divine purpose.
As a church, we are also called to live out a vocation. One of the things that I love most about my seminary – LSTC – is that they are dedicated to discerning what that call might be, and responding to it. In that interest, they have totally redesigned their curriculum around the concept of “public church” – the idea that we are called to be church for the sake of the world. They have made a bold step of faith into a world of uncertainty, but it’s exactly the kind of boldness that gospel stories are made of. Just as the widow in our gospel story for today boldly called out to the judge to enact justice, LSTC has heard the call of God to work for justice in our context on the southside of Chicago. The oppressed and the marginalized are on our very doorstep in the form of homeless people, refugees, undocumented workers, victims of police brutality, and victims of domestic violence. These are people with whom the church is called to be in solidarity, and whose stories deeply shape our theology.
Another important aspect of the church’s vocation is actually what brings me here to be with you this weekend. We are called to lift one another up and encourage one another in our own daily vocations. But especially as the church, we are called to identify and lift up leaders from among us who have gifts for ministry. Whether young or old, if you see that someone has gifts for ministry, the greatest gift that you can give them – and the church – is to tell them so. For those of us already in seminary, when we heard God’s call to ministry, it was often from the mouths of church leaders and from people in the pews.
It’s hard to overstate just how much it means to hear from someone else that they think you have gifts for a vocation in ministry. I personally had never seriously thought about becoming a pastor until my pastor – at the church I joined as an adult – told me that I should think about going to seminary. I had always felt drawn to the church, but he was the first person ever to suggest that I might actually be called to leadership in ministry. And once I started thinking about it and discerning with others, my church was strongly affirming of my call. But if my pastor had never said anything, I may never have started down this path to ministry at all.
Vocation is a gift – to the church, and to each of us as children of God. Our joyous task is to listen for and respond to that call, and to help those experiencing a call to ministry to do the same. And, believe me, God’s call is persistent enough to overcome even our resistance. Just like the widow with the unjust judge, sooner or later, God will wear us out with the continual calling. And thank God for that!
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