Friday, February 15, 2008

It’s for You

Lent has begun, and the focus of my Lent this year will be “call.” Right now the calls most of us are getting are recorded messages from or on behalf of Presidential candidates. That’s not the kind of call I’m talking about.
I’ve started reading the book of Acts, also known as the Acts of the Apostles. The reason I wanted to read this book is because it contains the story of the conversion of Saul. Perhaps you’ve heard this story, but I’ll go over it for those of you who are a little fuzzy on your Bible.
In first century Palestine there was a man, Saul of Tarsus, who took it upon himself to persecute the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. He imprisoned many people in Jerusalem, and then he thought he’d do the same in Damascus, so he headed there with a few friends.
But something happened on the way to Damascus. “Suddenly, a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell on the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’” –Acts 9:3-4, NRSV
It does not say in the Bible that Saul was riding a donkey, so I can’t say the Lord knocked him off his ass in order to knock him on his ass, but there, I worked it in.
Anyway, Saul was pretty freaked out lying there in the dust, not least of all because he realized he was now blind. “Who are you?” he yelled. The voice replied, “Why, I’m Jesus, the one you’ve been persecuting.”
Saul’s friends saw him fall and heard the voice speak to him. I get the impression they were standing with their mouths hanging open. The voice told Saul to get up and continue to Damascus, where he would be told what to do. His companions took him by the hand and led him to Damascus, where he waited for three days in the house of Judas (no, not the traitor Judas, another Judas) for further instructions.
In Damascus a Christian named Ananias laid hands on Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately “the scales fell from his eyes,” Saul could see, and he got up, was baptized, and had dinner. He changed his name from Saul to Paul and went on to quite a career preaching, teaching, and writing, including the letters that make up much of what we call the New Testament. You may have heard of him.
That’s a pretty dramatic call. Most of us don’t get knocked to the ground or blinded when we’re called. Most of us don’t hear a voice giving us instructions, but all of us are called.
The universal call is to become the best version of whom you were created to be, but during your life you are called to do specific things, like make a CD of Celtic hymns, for example. Answering your call is what leads you to do things that might not seem reasonable to someone else, or even to you.
There’s usually not much money in answering a call. Paul supported himself making tents. He thought it was important not to be a financial burden to anybody. So answering a call may not make a lot of practical sense, but it does make great spiritual sense.
What value can you place on encouraging people, or lifting their hearts along the way? At the end of your life do you want to look back and say, “I never did anything I didn’t get paid for,” or, “I sang one song for one person that helped her that day.” I know most people would vote for the money, but some of us will always come down on the side of the song.
How do you discern the difference between being called, and being crazy? Well, a call might tell you to give your life to God and do good in the world. Craziness might tell you to do violence to yourself or others. That’s a basic difference. You need to check out your call with a sane spiritual advisor. It is best not to tackle these things alone. It’s too easy to get lost without more perspective than your own.
You might have a hard time thinking there is something greater than yourself that wants you to stop being such a self-centered doofus and do your part, however small or large, to be a better person and make the world a better place. Sometimes God knocks you on your ass, or to your knees, or shows up where you least expect to be found, and you can’t explain it but you know your number is up, and you have been called. Try to be graceful, and go forward one step at a time. You may never know what effect you have, but what you are called to be is faithful, and that’s all you need to know.
Here. It’s for you.

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