Over these past months of Transformation, one question has come up again and again: “How do we recognize the call of God?” The creator of the universe is not prone to cell phone or email conversation, and only rarely resorts to inscribing things on stone tablets or giving grand visions where everything is all laid out—and none of these things seem to be happening to us. So how are we supposed to know what God has in mind for us as a community or as individual people?
We’ve been reading the Book of Acts together every Sunday morning. Actually, we’re on our second time through—having come to the end of the book at the beginning of summer and realizing that we need another run at it. It’s a great and thought provoking book—even the second time (maybe even more so). It’s an incredible (and dramatic) story, and those of us who have been delving into it are coming to realize that it has a message for us and what God is calling us to—even if the specifics on that aren’t entirely clear. Acts is itself a story about the call of God and those who respond to it—and it is chock full of transformation. So I think it’s a good place to start in answering the question “How do we recognize the call of God?”
First, we’ve got to start in prayer. Prayer is a constant activity in Acts—and especially as the disciples of Jesus faced hard, difficult, or confusing decisions. And we’re not talking merely memorized recitations here; in Acts the disciples “devote” themselves to prayer. And through prayer, transformation begins.
Next, it’s about telling the story. Again and again, even when faced with persecution or death, the followers of Jesus tell the story. They tell anyone who will listen (and even some who don’t want to hear it) about Jesus, and how he brings forgiveness, and how his message of wholeness is meant for all people. And they tell their own stories, stories of the amazing and often strange ways God has worked in their lives. Through the telling of the story, not only the hearers, but the tellers of the story are transformed.
Then, we’ve got to be sure to listen for the Holy Spirit and be willing to follow where the Spirit leads. Paul, Peter, James, Barnabas, Stephen—they all found themselves in places they never expected to be, telling about Jesus to people they never expected to encounter, and doing things they never thought possible. And when things got difficult, they listened to the Spirit and went about it some other way—and through this, God led them into ministry they never even dreamed of.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? One could almost write a whole self-help book on these three principles: pray, tell the story, and listen for the Holy Spirit. Just do these three simple steps, and you’ll know for sure where God is calling you. But this morning in Bible study something profound hit me. Most of the time, the disciples in Acts had no idea what was going on. From our perspective it looks so clear: “And the Holy Spirit called Paul to thus and so” but as the things were taking place, I’m pretty convinced they were fumbling around just like we do. Paul got knocked off his horse and spent several days blind before some gracious soul came to tell him what the heck was going on. Peter was released from prison by an angel, but thought he was dreaming until he found himself standing outside by himself. Again and again the disciples of Jesus bumble around until they find the place that the message will take hold—trying and failing again and again until God gives a resounding “You’re on to something!” and things work out.
In the coming months, we will be working hard on developing some guiding principles—praying, telling the story, and listening together to get those hints as to who God is calling us to be. We will seek to figure out and articulate what lies a the core of who we are, those things that make Bethlehem Lutheran Bethlehem Lutheran and will give us a clearer picture of where we may be called to go next. Part of this process will be several “cottage meetings” where we will gather in small groups around food or other activities to talk about what it is that God wants our neighbors and the world to know is true about us. I hope you will make an effort to be a part of one or more of these meetings, and participate in the shaping of our future ministry.
Maybe someday when someone writes “The Acts of Bethlehem Lutheran Church” the unfolding of God’s call will be crystal clear, and we will see what God has been leading us to all along. But in the mean time, we’ve got to bumble around like the disciples in Acts—deep in prayer, continuing to tell the story of Jesus and our own stories, and listening for the Holy Spirit for where we are to go next. If we do this, and seek to live faithfully in the mean time, I believe our calling as a people will begin to get clearer and clearer, like it did in Acts as they discovered that the Good News about Jesus was just too good to keep to themselves. God is calling us to find a place in his vision and mission in the world, too.