I spent a day last week on an interview team talking and listening to individuals who are either candidates for ordination or working as local pastors in the United Methodist Church. The interviews are meant to be part of a discernment process for each candidate over several years’ time as they prepare themselves for ordained ministry. The process involves healthy doses of both self-reflection and the assessments of others, and it takes into consideration all the ways we measure health – psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational. Candidates are expected to be able to clearly articulate the movement of God in their lives that has led them to believe that God is calling them into ordained ministry. It is their personal “Call Story.”
Most of us on the interview team are ordained ministers who have served the church for many years. We remember sitting in the same seat once and doing our best to bring the mystery of God’s gracious activity in our lives to speech. We know it is daunting to be where these candidates are sitting and it gives us a measure of empathy.
As I listen to others tell their call stories I also recall some of the call stories in scripture, especially the one of God calling Moses. It begins when as an infant his life is spared through the courageous actions of his mother and sister. He grows up among his Hebrew people under the oppressive thumb of the Egyptians. He witnesses the brutal treatment of his people but never imagines that he will be called upon to do anything about it.
Then one day Moses leads his father-in-law Jethro’s flock of sheep out into the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God. There he sees a bush that is blazing but is not consumed, and when he turns aside to look more closely God calls to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Moses replies, “Here I am.” Then God says, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Then we are told that Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:1-6).
It will always be a fearful thing to encounter God! God strips away all the self-protective layers of an ego-inflated life and addresses the core of who you are as a human being. There is no hiding from God. The very ground upon which you and I live our lives is holy ground. Even our abuse of the earth does not diminish its glorious nature. Even our neglect of our own bodies does not lessen their temple-like quality. God blazes in bushes all around us and within us. Just because we fail to notice them doesn’t make God’s presence less real.
I think back over the years to the time I first felt the stirring of God’s call within me. I remember that, like Moses, I had plenty of reasons why God was making a big mistake in calling me. I, too, asked, “Who am I that I should go?” I, too, wondered, “What shall I say to them?” I, too, worried, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” I, too, objected, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now.”
All these years later I still do not know why God would call someone like me to lead a congregation. I can think of all kinds of ways that I am not qualified. I struggle with the human condition. I experience doubts. I have more questions than answers. I worry that in my weakness I am letting people down, or worse, letting God down. For these reasons and more, I am aware every day of the need to take off my shoes!