You may have heard by now that y’all are sending Laurel and me somewhere new — at the end of September the Cathedral is sending us to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Park two and a half miles away. The Bishop had something to do with this new thing — as did Dean Penny — as did both of us — and as did others across the diocese and the wider church. We are sad to be leaving this faith community that has shaped us as Christians, partners, parents, and priests, and on our last day, September 25, we will have a chance to share a more personal reflection on our time at St. Paul’s and what it has meant to us.
In the meantime, Jeremiah’s call story from the Hebrew Scriptures that we heard this morning has had me considering what a call means to God and to each one of us. Laurel and I certainly feel called to this new adventure in North Park, but the path that led us here nearly ended months ago in Portland, Oregon and later in Washington, DC. We experienced heartbreak, relief, a lot of anxiety, moments of insight and the peaceful consolation, downright exhaustion, coincidences of timing that couldn’t have just been coincidences, exhilaration and joy. And we, like Jeremiah, can now report after-the-fact that God has been with us the whole time, leading us and guiding through all the ups and downs. But the journey was a rough one. I imagine many of you are in the midst of your own similar journeys of discernment — my prayer for you is that the clarity of resolution refreshes you soon. Have faith fellow travelers!
Of course, and thank God, my family and I haven’t arrived at some destination but rather have been invited to serve for several years at a waypoint on the side of the road. It feels great to know where we’ll be for a while, and we are deeply grateful that our move to St. Luke’s allows us to stay in San Diego, where my parents live, during this special time while our kids are so young.
This new call from God that has caught us up is not just ours to claim — it is a call from God to many of us in the diocese to explore together what else church can mean for people who are not here right now, and don’t plan to be at any church today. The folks at home right now reading the newspaper, or playing beach volleyball, or getting their first grader ready for her soccer game, or going on a hike, or sleeping in after a late night — the man who is driving to work for the day in the family’s only car, leaving his partner and kids with no way to get to church — the newly arrived refugee who is busy navigating the complexities of a culture we take for granted. Who are these folks? Are they too, like each of us, in need of God’s Good News? How might we share this Good News in a way that they can experience its goodness, so that they might realize they cannot live without it? Do these folks, like we do, struggle with despair and loneliness, existential confusion and loss, life-draining relationships and addictions that they can’t seem to shake? I think they do. What form of church might serve them?
That’s the call Laurel and I are hearing from God at St. Luke’s — pick a zip code, 92104, and figure out how to create brave and grace-filled spaces for the 44,590 residents of North Park, where the median age is 35 and where almost a third of those residents identifies as nonreligious or unchurched.
Now how to reach and share God’s Good News with those 12,000 unchurched folks across the park from us is a genuine question to which we have no easy answer. We’ve got some hunches and we’d love to hear yours. I admit that these days I’m oscillating between excitement and terror as I wonder this challenge through my mind. So please keep us in your prayers, and please begin to pray for those who have not heard Good News from God or anyone else lately.
I’ve found comfort in Jeremiah’s response to God’s call to him — “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” — you don’t mean me, right?! — hoping beyond hope the Almighty meant the message for the kid next to him. Jeremiah had no clue how he was going to serve as a “prophet to the nations,” but he muddled through and God provided what he needed for his task.
I wish I could say that God’s calls are reserved for prophets, but I’m no prophet — or for priests, but I was called to parenthood and marriage before my ordination. I get why Jeremiah tried to slip his way out of his call because our vocations tend to be life-changing — and who wants that sort of trouble in their lives?
The gift though, as you know, of living out our calls is that we can see and feel clearly that our lives matter, and that what we do with our lives matters. It is a great and satisfying feeling when we see our work coming to fruition — even if it’s as small as getting a kid ready for bed or taking our partner out for a surprise birthday dinner. We matter in the lives of others, especially when we are living out God’s dreams for us.
Here is what is so easy to forget in a society that reminds us every day that we are unworthy: not only do our lives and what we do with them matter to those around us, but our lives, each one of our lives, matters profoundly to God. And not just the fact that we’re breathing — God cares about how we are experiencing this life we have been given. God’s call to each of us is our personalized, unique, and utterly important invitation to become fully who each of us was created to be. Each day that we walk the particular path God has designed for us we are fed. Now our vocations are not easy — look at Jesus’! — but they are what we need for our souls to survive and thrive in this world.
I shared with y’all a couple months ago how I’d recently realized that justice work was central to my priestly vocation. As I’ve tried to start living this out it’s been a real pain –
rearranging my schedule for more night meetings is inconvenient, trying to figure out how I can best contribute is complicated, and speaking truth to power is downright scary. And yet it is how God designed me — doing this work makes me tick. It feeds me. It gives me that deep, deep joy that only comes when we are doing what God meant for us to do.
But really, the whole call process is a pain. Who wants their life changed?
God’s business is transformation — the death to self to make room for life with God. Discover how God made you, find out what makes you tick, and live it out as boldly as you can. You will be given what you need for the journey, though you may not know where you’re going or how to get there. And as you watch your life change carry this message of hope, this Good News, to the neighborhood around you.