the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: March, 2014


As I make my way back to the east coast from the great Pacific Northwest, I want to share my initial reflections of my retreat experience, as both participant and leader. Callings is a new retreat focused on young adults and our journeys of faith and life as we discern what it is God may be calling us to do in our lives. Now, it is impossible to figure this out in one weekend, but the point of emphasis for us was not that you should have all the answers by the end of your time with us, but rather, you will have been shown aspects of yourself that were lying in wait, ready for you to discover. From there the new tools you learn coupled with these discoveries will enable you to better communicate with and listen to God’s calling for your life.

For me, vocational discernment has been a vital part of my formation, mainly because it was a required piece of my vocational call to the priesthood. Discernment in a church setting is believed to mean that someone is interested in pursuing the ordained ministry, and for the most part, that is precisely what it has meant. This is not because discernment is only for those interested in a call to ordination, but rather, we as a church have only energized and promoted vocational discernment for those among us called to lead in an ordained capacity. This is unfortunate because it keeps a vital resource from those same people who could benefit from it. Vocational discernment is not just about whether or not you want to be a priest, it is discerning what God has called you to do in your life for the service and glory of God’s kingdom.

Callings presents one such chance to break out of this mold or assumption that discernment is only for the wanna-be clergy types. Through the sharing of our own personal stories, and the confidence to show the vulnerability that oftentimes we don’t know where God is calling us at this precise moment, each of the participants this weekend are leaving with a renewed sense that they are not alone in their journeys, their struggles, or their triumphs. There exists a wider community of people just like them that want to live a faithful life in a secular field, and want to do this through the utilization of the spiritual gifts that they have been given by God.

What further excites me about Callings, and the practice of vocational discernment in general, is that it doesn’t end. As we progress through our lives it is vital that we leave that open line of communication to God, because our calls can and do change. When we have the tools to be listening for this call, even though we may be caught off guard, we can proceed with the confidence that our support will come from God, and that God will be encouraging us every step of the way.

So where do we go from here?

For me, this weekend has meant a reaffirmation of my sense of call, and has filled me with a level of confidence that I am truly being prepared through seminary for ordained ministry. Now, I have the unenviable task of discerning where I am called to begin my new life in ordained ministry, I am excited for this next step, and while the final decision won’t come for another year (or so), I can begin to discern what I am seeking in a placement post-graduation.

For the participants of Callings, my hope is that this weekend has created for them a sense that they have the means necessary to discern their calling in life, and that they have the confidence to seek out further discernment both individually and with groups.

For the church, I hope that vocational discernment for the laity will become the norm rather than the exception. Seeing both how powerful discernment can be, and the hunger that our young adults (and “older” adults too) have for discernment, it is clear to me that this is a vital ministry that we must be offering. It is for the benefit of our church that we empower all people in the church with the ability to discern what God’s call for them is, because it is through this discernment that we can promote healthy, faith-filled lives that turn to God for answers, confident that these answers will come.

For you, seek out God’s call for you in your life. Seek out opportunities to discern what God has given you, and seek out those opportunities that offer you a chance to learn new skills, sharpen old skills, and be surprised by what you can learn from being in community, even if just for a weekend.

a sermon for the third sunday of lent

Yesterday we had a taste of spring, tomorrow winter will give us its last best shot, but soon enough the warming temperatures will not fluctuate so dramatically and we will begin to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine as it warms up our region. Eventually, these cold days of winter will hopefully be a distant memory as the temperatures continue to creep up and up, touching 90, even 100, and with it the humidity will also climb. You may even find yourself wishing that these temperatures of early spring make a one-day comeback to give you a respite from the heat…

One day this summer, you will find yourself walking about, enjoying the heat, sweating because the air is as thick as water, and thirsty, thirsty for a cool clear drink of water, something that will quench your thirst and give you the energy to continue on with your day. The birds are out singing, a gentle (but somehow unpleasant) breeze is blowing across fields as you walk through a park, trying to take advantage of some much needed time outside, tired of being cooped up each and every nice day of the year in an office. You are determined to make the most of this time outside, even if it means some slight uncomfort, because the cold that kept you cooped up inside all winter is not all that distant in your memory. However, you’ve forgotten how much this heat can drain you, how the humidity can sap your energy, and leave you thirsty, thirsty for anything that you can get your hands on to relieve some of this discomfort.

Up ahead you see a water fountain, and lo-and-behold it’s actually a clean water fountain. You are excited, uplifted, and relieved to find something to quench some of that thirst, take the edge off of this suppressive heat, and give you the energy you need to enjoy the rest of this beautiful day. But, something is amiss. There at the water fountain is a man, but he doesn’t look like he’s from around here. You’ve never seen him before in this park, and something about him sticks out like a sore thumb.

As you approach the fountain, you realize that this man is not just a stranger, but a tourist, not someone of this place. But unlike every other tourist you’ve encountered throughout your time in the city (and unlike any time you’ve been a tourist somewhere foreign to you) this man seems eager to engage with those who are coming to the fountain, but not because he’s lost or seeking directions, but he actually wants to engage in a real, honest conversation…

“Can you help me fill my water bottle?” He asks of you as you approach.

Who doesn’t know how to fill a water bottle you think to yourself as you respond “Who are you to ask me to fill your water bottle, don’t you have water fountains where you come from, why would you need me to fill that for you, don’t you know that I am no tourist!” For it is known that locals do not share things with tourists…

Now, normally, this would be enough to shake off a pesky tourist, even one with the gall to make such a request. So, you turn to the water fountain to take your long sip of water, but you notice that the man has not turned away, in fact he is patiently waiting for you to finish. You take your last slurp and slowly come up from the fountain and turn to face this man, curious about his unceasing attention to you, and somewhat leery about what will come next, your fight-or-flight senses beginning to fire and your body tensing, then the man begins to speak…

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Living water, you think to yourself, where have I heard that before, have I heard that before…

“But…” you stammer, looking around nervously and noticing something amiss, “you have no bottle to fill, do you expect me to just conjure up something for you, cup my hands for you to drink out of? And this living water you speak of? Is that so great that my thirst will still be quenched an hour from now, two hours, a day?”

And the man, who has patiently listened to your argument, speaks in a soft tone, just loud enough for you to hear only if you lean in ever so slightly…

“Everyone who drinks of this water fountain will be thirsty again, that is true, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

And with these simple words, your life, my life, our lives have been transformed.

Jesus has come to us for not only is his hour coming, but it is now here, for He is the one that is to be called Christ, and he is the one who is speaking to us, today and everyday.

And now, as we come together again to hear these words of Christ, this message stands both as a reminder and a challenge to us today. This challenge is put to the disciples, and yet they (as it often seems to be) do not quite grasp the concept. Rather than accepting the divine identity of Christ, the disciples concern themselves with the human aspects of Christ, begging him to eat some food.

Jesus rebukes them saying that the only food he needs is to do the will God who has sent him to complete God’s work. And then he puts that same challenge to us.

“But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting”

We are charged with going out and reaping the fields that have been sowed by God. It is our charge to build upon the labor that has been done before, the labor of Christ’s death and resurrection. The labor that remains for us is simple compared to the preparations that have already been made, we just have to simply walk out into the fields and collect the harvest, a harvest that up to this point you have had no hand in preparing. The charge is clear and the task simple, but, as you think to yourself, you start to realize that, wait, this is all well-and-good but I have never harvested anything (except for maybe doing some apple picking out in the Shenandoah…). So, how are we supposed to go out in the fields and collect this harvest that Jesus has so vigorously worked towards?

The answer lies in the actions of the Samaritan woman who has heard this same message today. We are told that “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.” “Because of the woman’s testimony” This speaks to the conviction that the woman is portraying. It is not enough that she tells her friends and neighbors “He told me everything I have ever done” but she does it with a fervor and passion that is undeniable. We are not people that are willing to listen to someone who comes in with a meek and mild voice, with little conviction, and apathy towards what they are presenting. Rather, we respond to those people who are willing to speak with a passion and a fire, people who excite, challenge, and inspire us, because of their conviction and confidence that they are presenting something that is worth hearing. It is this conviction and confidence that we must in turn utilize as we head out into the fields. For if we refuse to speak with passion about our belief in the Christ that has come to us today, no one will listen to the Christ that we are trying to present to the world.

Now the Samaritans have a unique advantage, for after believing the woman and rushing out to Jesus they convince him to stay. From this personal encounter, many more believe because of his word and some even say to the woman “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” Unfortunately, we cannot bring people to the feet of Jesus and hear his word preached to us…or can we?

We have all the necessary tools we need right here in the scripture so that the people may “hear for themselves” the words of Jesus. It is in the scripture that we both gain our confidence and voice, and where we should lead those who are thirsty, to drink of the water of everlasting life. If we bring the scriptures with us, and bring those whom we harvest to the scriptures for themselves, then we can be assured that they will believe because of his word. It is through our conviction and passion, mirroring the example of the Samaritan woman, that we can influence our friends and neighbors, and grow this church in the everlasting life that is found in Jesus Christ.

Let us go back to that water fountain, and enjoy the relief that is realized in committing yourself to Christ. Let us step across that boundary between tourist and local, stranger and neighbor, friend and enemy, and let us have our thirst forever quenched by the living water that is found in Jesus Christ, a promise that is inviting us into an eternal life of fulfillment and joy.