Let’s Get Personal: The Call of Grace

Scripture: Matthew 13: 24 – 30
By Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 16, 2015

At age 15, I received the spontaneous call to go into the ministry while reading the book, Let Go and Let God on the porch of my house.  It was a hot August day – like today.  As I read the book, I became excited and thought, “I want to tell people about the incredible love of God.”  The call was irresistible, compelling, gripping, impulsive.  I ran into the house where Mom was cooking dinner.  “Mom,” I said with great enthusiasm, “I am going to be a minister.”  Mom laughed, not really believing me and said, “That’s nice, honey.”  

“Really!” I said.

And the next few years that followed, I met with Richard Blakely on a regular basis to talk about ministry.  I didn’t know anything about it.   All I knew was that I had been called.  Jesus said, “Follow me,” and I acted impulsively, without all the facts, stumbling after this radical, wild, mysterious God.  Just like the first disciples who were called on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Seven years later, as my mom and I sat in the airport, and I was getting ready to fly out to Yale Divinity School, Mom said, “I guess you are serious about being a minister.”  And then she tried to talk me out of it.  “Jill, are you sure you want to be a minister?  There are a lot of headaches in ministry.  It is demanding.  It is exhausting.  You have to deal with all kinds of people, including strong- minded, opinionated people like me. People who you can’t fire because they are volunteers in the church.  Personally, I think it would be much more rational for you to go into the field of mathematics.  That is your strength.  You could to be an accountant, an engineer, a math teacher.”  And I said, “Mom, you are right.  It would be a much more rational decision to go into the field of mathematics, but it is not my passion.  The call of ministry is persistent and irresistible.”  And Mom would finally say, “Well, if it is your call, then you got to follow it.  And if it is your call then you will be able to get through even the most difficult of days.”

After I graduated from seminary, my mother was living with cancer and was told that she had about a year left to live.  I decided to spend the last year of her precious life living with her and my father.  I moved back home.  And guess what I did for a living?  I worked as a math teacher, teaching Geometry, at Arrowhead Christian Academy.  After all, math was my strength.  It seemed like a rational decision.  And I failed miserably as a geometry teacher.  Imagine spit wads on the walls, a few paper airplanes sailing through the air, candy wrappers on the floor, some students discussing plans for the Friday night football game, other students falling asleep, all while I tried to teach geometry.  I tried to face excitement about the Pythagorean theory, the circumference of a circle, an obtuse angel.  But the students saw right through it.  If geometry wasn’t my passion, they questioned, then why should it be theirs?  I went home every night in tears.  I was stuck teaching math when I really wanted to take those same students on a wild, life-changing, risk-taking journey with Christ.

Please don’t get me wrong – some are called to teach math; some are called to be accountants and engineers; it’s just that I am not one of them.  To thine own self be true.  When we are not true to the call in our lives, life becomes somber and paralyzing.  Life becomes flat.  But when we are true to Christ’s call, when we honor the fire that burns in our bones, the zeal that captures our hearts, the joy that dances in our souls and we are able to get through even the most difficult of days, as my mother said.

I have had some difficult days.  In my pursuit of following my call, I have made some embarrassing mistakes.  It was not all smooth sailing.  During my third year in seminary, I worked as a student intern at one of the local churches there in New Haven.  And during that year, I made mistake after mistake after mistake.  Let me give you a few examples.  On Halloween, the youth group wanted to put on a haunted house for the children in the church.  Great idea, I said.   Since we were in New England and it was October there were leaves everywhere.  And one of the children got the idea to get bags full of leaves for the ground of the Haunted House so that it would feel like a cemetery.  And so the youth group and I got bags and bags of leaves — we must have had 50 trash bags of leaves and we poured them all over the floor of the Christian Ed building for the haunted house.  It was a huge success, except that we couldn’t clean up all of the leaves by Sunday morning — there were just too many of them.  And so, of course, that morning, I heard all about the messy leaves stuck in between chairs and in the crevices of the floor in the older adult’s Sunday school classroom.  It didn’t help when I tried to explain to them that the leaves in their classroom were an important effect for Dracula’s grave.

And then there was Lent and the minister thought it would be neat to have a cross with 7 candles on it.  And a candle was to be extinguished each Sunday until Good Friday — when all of the candles would be extinguished.  And we would find ourselves in complete darkness.  And I told the minister that I would be happy to be in charge of this Lenten cross with 7 candles.  I was trying to get on her good side.  And so I created this Lenten cross out of wood, but it ended up not being very durable.  And as I walked to church on that first Sunday of Lent, I slipped on the ice on the sidewalk and accidentally dropped the Lenten cross and it broke in several different pieces.  At this point I knew that I had one hour until worship began to create this Lenten cross.  And I had some Styrofoam in my office.   And so I took the Styrofoam and tried to cut a cross out of it and then I stuck seven candles in it.  At this point there was 3 minutes until worship.  I came flying into the sanctuary just in time to put the cross on the table for worship.  Well, the minister later told me that she had multiple complaints about that “sorry-looking piece of liturgical art on the communion table.”

There were times in which I frantically chased wild children around the sanctuary during Children’s Church disrupting the worship service.  There were times in which I accidentally left my lapel microphone on in Children’s Church which took place during the worship service while having a heated argument with a child.  The people in the congregation said, “Jill, the adults in the congregation do not understand your Children’s sermons — how in the world do you expect the children to understand them?”  

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg; I have a horror story for each Sunday of the year.  Every time I saw the minister, my stomach was in knots and hers probably was too.  I just wanted to crawl into a hole and escape from the world.  But I continued to pursue the ministry because I believed it was my calling.

And my mistakes didn’t just happen as an intern.  In my last pastorate, I made my fair share of mistakes, too.  Just to name a few. A man by the name of Kenny Reese was the very first person I ever baptized.  In the Disciples of Christ, where I served, they baptize by immersion.  It was an exciting day for me – my first baptism!  I got him under the water o.k., it’s just that I couldn’t seem to get him back up out of the water.  And there he was slipping and sliding and splashing, grasping for the side of the baptistery, and gasping for air.   

Then, there was the time I was helping one of the children light the Advent candle.  I picked her up to light the candle, and somehow my hair caught on fire!  Yes, there was a pile of my burnt hair at the bottom of the Advent wreath and the smell through the rest of the service was horrendous – the smell of burnt hair.

And then there was the time I almost lost of our youth on a work trip…

These are just a few stories.  I have 20 years’ worth of stories – embarrassing moments, moments when I said things I shouldn’t have said, and I remained silent when I should have spoken up.  I did things I shouldn’t have left and left other things undone that I should have done.  And I am the one your Search Committee called to serve as your pastor!  I bet you are having second thoughts now… I will certainly make mistakes here, too – which is why is why I think it is important to be reminded, early on in my ministry at RUCC, about the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  One of my favorite parables.        

There was a field with wheat growing alongside weeds.  And so the servants ask, “Master, do you want us to take the weeds out?”  It is a natural impulse.  Get rid of the weeds, pull ‘em up.  But the Master responded by saying, “Leave the weeds alone.”  What?  “Just leave the weeds in there with the wheat?  Isn’t there any such thing as right and wrong, good and evil, true and false?  We need to take a stand.  We need to draw the line.    We need to say, ‘You stay and you go.  You’re out and you’re in.’ I mean, after all, what are we here for?  But the boss said, “Leave the weeds alone.”  “But they’re cluttering the ground, they’re taking –“  “Leave the weeds alone.”  Why? “Because we will do more harm than good.  If we start pulling on those weeds, we are going to pull up the wheat.  Leave the weeds alone.”

For 2000 years the Christian Church has been pulling up weeds.  Making quick judgments about who is in and who is out, who is good and who is bad.  But I have witnessed a grace in the United Church of Christ that allows the wheat to grow alongside the weeds and trusts God be the judge.  Our more judgmental brothers and sisters have protested over the years and said, “You have to draw the line somewhere.”  And UCC says, “Sure, let’s draw the line somewhere; let’s draw the line where Jesus draws the line.  Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”  That is where the United Church of Christ draws the line.  After all, our role as the servants in this parable is simply to let the wheat and weeds grow together – to offer lavish, radical, excessive, wasteful grace.

It is the theme found in the Bible over and over again.  Jacob deceived and cheated his brother, (he was a real weed) but God did not give up on him and trusted that there was some wheat in him, too and he became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  David was an adulterer and a murderer, but God did not give up on him, and David became the greatest king Israel ever knew.    Peter denied Jesus three times around a charcoal fire, but Jesus did not give up on Peter. There is no three strikes and you are out, instead Peter becomes the head of the Church! Saul was a murderer of the Christians.  He was a real weed!  But God believed that there was some wheat in him, too. And Saul became Paul, the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known.

The message in this parable is clear.  Do not go around pulling up weeds, for we may pull up wheat in the process.  In all honesty, like Jacob, David, Peter and Paul there is a lot of cross-pollination going on – each of us a hybrid of wheat and weeds.  Yes, there are times when we will act like a weed, but God trusts that there is some wheat in us, too. I am grateful that in following my call to ministry, I have discovered a greater call – the call of grace.   “Amazing Grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch (a weed) like me.  I once was lost, but now I’m found.  Was blind but now, now I see.”  Amen.