May 1, 2005
A Sermon for Seekers Church
by Marjory Zoet Bankson
The Colors of Call
Scripture: John 14:15-21
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees her or knows her….
The setting for our gospel reading for today is the upper room, soon after Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples to show them the kind of love he was talking about. There they sat, their toes still tingling, hearts open to the shadows swirling around the room. Judas has left already. Peter has been told that “before the cock crows, you will deny me thrice.” Then Jesus has begun his farewell address. Let not your hearts be troubled, he began, knowing that indeed they were terrified!
Why? Because he was leaving them. He was preparing them for a new round of call that was not so dependent upon his physical presence. Like a good parent, Jesus was preparing them for independence, weaning them from his constant support and explanation. I will not leave you orphaned, he continues, promising them the “Spirit of truth” that will continue to reveal the meaning of Jesus’ way to them.
How lucky they were to have walked and talked with Jesus. To have been challenged, rebuffed, teased, amazed…. At least they would have their own experience to rely on when the Spirit actually arrived to continue the revelation that Jesus had begun.
Nevertheless, we have only the biblical story…and our own experience. How reliable is that?
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
Cycle of Call
The language of call is not new at Seekers, but the question of leaving one form of call (as the disciples were doing) to embark on a new one is not something we’ve paid much attention to. It is easy to forget how bumpy the ride can be…or how long the transition lasts some times. I will not leave you orphaned, Jesus says, but sometimes it feels that way.
I would color the first stage of call Red, like a stoplight, because you are likely to feel stopped in your tracks. The teacher is going away. A dear friend dies. The founder moves. Your job ends. Whatever situation held your sense of call is gone and God seems silent on the other end of the line.
Nothing in our culture prepares us for this stage. We call it depression…and take a pill. We get angry or forgetful. We lose our bearings and we are swept up in the cultural madness of overwork and busyness. It is easy to do where such behavior is admired and rewarded.
We can be in the Red Zone and not even know it…because we are not thinking about call at all. We are just thinking about getting the right job…or the right house…or the right car. However, our bodies betray the hunger in our souls….
We eat too much…or drink too much.
We blame others at lot…or dump on ourselves.
We buy things we do not need…or want things we cannot afford.
Elizabeth O’Connor quotes Eric Hoffer as saying, “We can never get enough of what we don’t really need.”
If we know we are in the Red Zone, a spiritual community can help if you stay connected. That is the rub. Our culture says, “Drop out!” Our faith says, “Stay with it. The Spirit’s here already.” That is why Jesus spoke to the gathered disciples: Love one another, he said, as I have loved you...when you could not see your way or hear your call or see the next step, I loved you.
Our spiritual disciplines can help to reconnect us with God’s call instead of the cultural frenzy that never does really fill our souls:
We go on silent retreat…or spend a retreat day at home.
We confess to a spiritual director…and promise to hold each other in prayer.
We volunteer for something entirely different…just to shake up our patterns.
We cling to the promise of Jesus…and watch for the Advocate.
Unfortunately knowing about the Red Zone does not mean that you get through it any faster. Like the disciples, we hate to let go of the past because the future seems so uncertain.
As many of you know, I left Learners & Teachers mission group as we prepared to move to this location. I joined a new mission group in Virginia, laid my call to teach on the altar and turned to writing the Seekers story. After getting a rough draft of the book about Seekers done and preaching about “Ten Things to Take with Us” a year ago, I screeched to a halt. Nothing worked to get me moving!
I took a detour and rewrote two of my books for publication by Augsburg Press.
I bumped around, trying to find my rhythm with a new spiritual director.
I tried to simplify my travel schedule and pay attention to dreams, but nothing went smoothly.
I have been feeling like an orphan way too long! Maybe you have too. Being in the Red Zone feels like it will go on forever…but the good news is that Jesus promised not to leave us there!
The second stage of call I would color Yellow, for caution. When a stoplight turns yellow, I do not know about you…but I put my foot on the gas! I want to move along, get where I am going.
Yes, but where is that? If I am not sure of my call, does it make sense to hurry through the Yellow Zone?
Jesus says to his disciples, “You know (the Sprit) because s/he abides with you, and will be in you.” Abiding takes time and attention. Webster says abide means “to stand fast, remain, reside or stay.”
Some of you know the old song, “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.” As though the Spirit has not been there all along, abiding…waiting…sustaining. I like to sing that old song like this:
Spirit of the living God, move afresh in me…etc.
I like to think we need to stir up our awareness of the Spirit, but assume that it is here already, waiting to be noticed.
In the Yellow Zone of call, we begin to look around for the Advocate. We notice our dreams. We pay attention to synchronicities: a book falls open to a certain page, a note falls out of your purse, someone speaks “just so” and tears spring up. Those are the signs of Spirit that I have experienced recently. When I am feeling lost and alone, as if nobody sees me for who I really am, somebody does see. The Spirit abides with us always, but we have to slow down in order to notice!
It has taken me a year to get back to the School of Christian Living. Now that I have learned a way to get here and can often ride with Peter instead of driving by myself, I have been able to let go of my resistance to that call and pick it up again.
It has been a wonderful experience! Half the class is new to Seekers. People have done their homework. The written assignments have been rich and probing, allowing us the kind of written conversation that makes spiritual reports a life-giving dialogue when they are taken seriously. Moreover, it looks like some will want to continue via email assignments and monthly meetings. I was hoping that this kind of creative solution to busy schedules might develop out of our classes.
Spirit of the living God, move afresh in us…
In the Yellow Zone, we trust that the Spirit is right here with us because sometimes we find footprints, see blossoms falling or catch sight someone watching with eyes full of love.
That takes me to the third stage of call, the Green Stage — the Go stage.
Our culture expects us to move from one “Go” stage to the next, without taking the time to integrate change from the inside out.
The tragic result of this cultural pattern is that we tend to dissociate what we are doing in the world from the inner life fed by Spirit. We move from one good activity to the next, one important work to the next, but do not abide with the Spirit long enough or deeply enough to know that its source is God’s call.
Right now, I am hoping that teaching in the School of Christian Living will open my heart even wider so I can get back to writing the Seekers story. I am hoping that a year is long enough to get to Go again.
God’s call is truly a mysterious wellspring of creativity, waiting to pour newness and freshness into a weary, frenzied world thru us.
- We know the roadmap, because Jesus showed us the way…to love, to serve, to surrender the little goals that we hold onto so tightly in favor of the larger call that is waiting to quicken our souls.
- We know the path, because Jesus walked that way with his disciples.
- And we can trust his words: I will not leave you orphaned. I will send the Spirit of truth, to reveal myself to you.
The next time you are driving down the street and the stoplight turns Red, let it be a reminder of your spiritual journey, your hunger for God’s call.
Because it is only when the Spirit of the Living God moves afresh in us that we will be satisfied with the simple ways of serving life right where we are that truly make us happy.