Mark Cazelet, Nathaniel (asleep under the fig tree) from the Methodist Modern Art Collection © TMCP, used with permission. The Methodist Church in Britain.

Mark Cazelet, Nathaniel (asleep under the fig tree) from the Methodist Modern Art Collection © TMCP, used with permission. The Methodist Church in Britain.

Called to Lead:
Listening and Responding to Holy Invitation

Sixth Sunday of Easter • May 26, 2019
Scripture Lesson: Jeremiah 1:4-8
adapted from The Inclusive Bible)
& John 1:43-49 (The Inclusive Bible)
Rev. Doris K. Dalton,
guest preacher

My friends, I am honored and grateful for this invitation to be with you today. I have grown to love this congregation. I am continually impressed with your engagement in the work of authentically responding to the Gospel message of wholehearted and transforming love to, for and with the people God loves. I am thankful for the creative and prophetic work you do here in the Village and beyond, and I praise God for your witness and testimony as a progressive and radically inclusive community of faith.

The theme of my sermon is “Called to Lead: Listening and Responding to Holy Invitation.” We will talk about calling as an invitation from The One Who Calls. We will explore where we can hear this calling and the different ways we respond to this holy invitation.  

Before we begin our exploration together, I would like to share the story of my calling with you. There are some things you should know about me first.  I am a daughter of immigrants, and I grew up navigating between the worlds of my Chinese heritage and the United States culture. I also grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, surrounded by white Southerners with a smattering of people of color here and there. I give you this context to let you know that my childhood was often lonely. I was out of place, I was different, and I was bullied and teased a lot. I spent a lot of time longing for acceptance and intimate friendship. I was insecure and compared myself to others, dwelling on how I was “other” and not like my peers. In third grade I barely spoke to anyone and I was known as the quietest girl in the class. I did not speak up when I had something to share, I did not offer myself to anyone, and I certainly did not expect anyone to listen to me. No one would have pegged me as a “born leader.” Most of all, I felt lost, because I thought I needed someone outside of me to help me discover myself. I longed for something, but I didn’t know what it was.

Does any of this sound familiar to your experience? Can you resonate with this part of my story?

Something shifted as I grew older. My relationship with God began to develop, and I started to look inside of myself to discover who I am. As I looked inside of myself, I realized I had something to share, I had a voice, and I began to recognize the longing inside of myself had a purpose. When I was 14 years old, I was at a summer youth camp with my church. One evening during worship, I prayed silently, “O God, please help the people in the world who do not know your joy.”  I heard a voice speak directly into my ear, “Then Doris, why don’t you go and tell them?” I stopped praying, opened my eyes and looked around me. At that precise moment, I was completely alone, with no one standing within 20 feet of me in every direction. I knew then that I heard the voice of God speak to me, calling me and inviting me to serve.

How do you know when you hear God’s voice speaking to you? It is unusual to hear the audible voice of God speaking into your ear, but I think God did this because I was stubborn and stuck, and probably needed the added drama of an audible voice so I would pay attention. God has also spoken to me through other people, in my dreams, in my prayers, when I am in nature, in my quiet moments and when I am in worship. God’s voice has even caught me by surprise. No matter the context, I have developed a habit of listening for God’s voice, which speaks to the center of my being. It took practice and careful listening to tell the difference between God’s voice, the voice of my ego, the voice of my fears, and the voice of my desires. There are also competing voices outside of you, calling for you to lead. Your community calls you, the people and places that are hurting are calling out to you, the issues that outrage you are calling you. The world’s hurts and needs are constantly calling out for help, constantly calling out for response. Desperation can be disguised as a gold-embossed invitation, but it’s not an invitation that speaks to your center, it speaks to your guilt. It speaks to your frustration, it speaks to your anger and outrage. It may give you energy, but does it give you joy? The calling of God gives us peace and fills us with joy.

I have made mistakes, and followed the wrong voice many times. I know when I am in the wrong place because things don’t work out, I become dissatisfied, I am still restless, I do not have peace. I am thankful that God’s grace is abundant and never-ending. When I am wrong and I return to my center, God’s invitation to me is still there, waiting for me to respond.

Friends, take a moment and ask yourself: Do you know God’s voice when it calls to your deep center?  (PAUSE) Have you heard God’s voice calling you? (PAUSE)

Everything about my testimony told you that I was an awkward and out of place young woman. I was hurting and I was lonely. I did not embody a leader, I did not show signs of potential leadership, and I certainly did not SEE myself as a leader. The person I was then is the complete opposite of who I am today. I didn’t think I was good enough, so I often excused myself, excluded myself and did not SEE myself in any invitation to step up and be a leader. When I heard the voice of God call into my ear, I was in shock. Why me? I did not fit any of the models of leadership I saw around me. Yet, God did not call me according to what I was on the outside—my insecurity, my loneliness, my otherness. God spoke to who I really was on the inside, my authentic and whole self, which was yearning to be free. Accepting God’s invitation to lead allowed me to freely be my whole self.

God is the One who Calls, and the One who sees us for who we are.  The Jeremiah passage reminds us that before we were knit together in our mother’s womb, God knew us. Before we saw the light of day, God saw us. God knows who we are, God sees us for who we are and God loves us for all that we are.  The passage in John tells us that Jesus saw Nathanel and knew him before Nathanel met Jesus. Jesus saw him and called him. There are many other stories in the Bible that show us that God does not have a prescribed template of a leader to predetermine who can serve. Samuel was a servant boy in the temple, sleeping on the floor when he was called. David was a young shepherd, tending his father’s flock when he was called to be King. Saul was on the road to Damascus to kill more Jews when he was called. Lydia was a merchant, selling purple cloth when she was called. These stories remind us that God knows us, knows all of our faults and beautiful gifts, our disappointing personality traits and our remarkable talent, our mistakes and our failures, our successes and achievements, our inconsistencies and our growing edges … and yet. God still calls us. God still speaks to the deep center inside of us and invites us to become who we fully are.

How do we respond to God’s calling? Let’s go back to my 14 year old-shocked in my boots-self. I was shocked and stunned. I didn’t tell anyone because I thought people would not believe me, I could hardly believe it myself. Yet, I had a complete certainty that it was God who had called me to be a leader. So, I began to argue with God. If you recall, both Jeremiah and Nathanel initially protest against God’s invitation, questioning God’s intention and authority. I did the same thing. I went back and forth with God until it was late at night. I finally gave in with a “Yes, God.” However, since that “Yes,” I haven’t looked back, and God has held me all the entire way. I will admit, there have been times that I fought with God. I didn’t like the way I was being stretched and I doubted God. There have been times I wanted to be like other leaders, so I rejected God’s guidance and used shame, perfectionism and insecurity instead to be my guide. There have been other times I assumed God wanted me to do all of the leading and the following by myself at the same time. That led to an acute case of burn-out, depression and exhaustion.  

Here is what I have learned: that when I let go of loneliness, where I rely on others for meaning and purpose, and instead embrace solitude, where I rely on what I already have in the center of my being to fill me up, then I am able to listen and respond with my whole self to God’s marvelous invitation to leadership. When I do this, I am able to lead others to connect with God. Another way to put it is this: within my solitude, in my open and free space, I find solidarity with God and solidarity with the people I serve. Frederick Buechner says, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meets.” Where is your deep gladness? How does the world’s deep hunger meet your deep gladness?

Friends, God is speaking to your center, do you hear God’s voice calling you now? God is waiting for you to respond. What will you say?

We are going to practice responding to God’s voice right now. Please find a neighbor next to you. Let’s get into pairs. (PAUSE)

Tell your neighbor: God is speaking to you. Listen to God’s voice. How will you respond? Now, for the next 5 minutes, take turns telling each other how you hear God calling you this morning. (PAUSE 5 minutes)

Friends, God calls us. We can hear God speaking to our deep center. We can respond to God’s calling with a “yes.” My prayer is that you will give God your YES. Amen.

Copyright © 2019 by Doris K. Dalton
All rights reserved.