Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sermon, "Singing the Story: Here I Am, Lord," Isaiah 6:1-8

Sermon 8/27/17
Isaiah 6:1-8

Singing the Story: Here I Am, Lord


Dan Schutte is a contemporary American composer. He was born in 1947 in Wisconsin. As a young man, he entered the Society of Jesus, a religious order in the Roman Catholic Church. Members of the Society of Jesus are known as Jesuits. Dan was a founding member of a group called the “St. Louis Jesuits,” comprised of a group of seminarians studying at St. Louis University who were interested in composing music for worship in a “contemporary folk style.”  Like Cesáreo Gabaráin, who we learned about last Sunday, Schutte began composing in the time of musical renewal after Vatican II in the Roman Catholic Church, when changes made allowed the Mass to be celebrated in the language of the people, and music to be more reflective of contemporary styles. Schutte is still composing, currently serving as Composer-in-Residence at the University of San Francisco. (1)
He is a prolific hymnist, but his most famous hymn, one that frequently tops lists of favorite hymns both in Catholic and Protestant worship music surveys (a rare feat!) is our focus today, “Here I Am, Lord,” written by Schutte in the 1980s. On his website, Schutte recounts the story of how he wrote the hymn:
When I was a young Jesuit, studying theology in Berkeley, California, a friend came to me one day asked me for a favor. "Dan, I know this is late notice, but I’m planning the diaconate ordination ceremony and need a piece of music set to the text of Isaiah chapter 6." He saw the look of shock on my face knowing I was well aware that the ceremony was only three days away. I told him that I was sick with an awful case of the flu and didn’t know if I could compose anything suitable in that short time. He encouraged me and I told him that at the very least I would try to complete something in time for the ordination.
I had always loved the particular Scripture passage (Isaiah 6) where God calls Isaiah to be his servant and messenger to the people and Isaiah responds with both hesitation and doubt, but also with a humble willingness to surrender to God. If it was going to work, it would have to be God's power and grace making it happen. Much like Isaiah I was not very sure that I could meet the request my friend had made, but I was willing to try.
I remember sitting at my desk with a blank music score in front of me and asking God to be my strength. As I sat there praying for help, I remembered also the call of Samuel, where God came calling in the middle of the night and asked Samuel to do something beyond what he thought he was capable of. I worked for two days on the piece and I remember being exhausted. I was making last minute changes to the score as I walked it over to my friend who lived several blocks away. I remember being very unsure of myself, but hoping that it would be what he had wanted for the ordination.
And it was ok. It was more than ok. From the very beginning, people loved the piece and clearly identified with the dialogue between God and us that is the core of the song. In the years following, so many have spoken to me or written how they had their own experience of God "calling in the night" and being given the courage to respond.
For me, the story of “Here I Am, Lord” tells of the God who overshadows us, giving power to our stumbling words and the simple works of our hands, and making them into something that can be a grace for people. The power God gives is far beyond what we could have planned or created. (2)
Much of renewal music in the Roman Catholic Church was constructed with a strong, singable refrain, and “Here I Am, Lord” is a great example of this practice. Sometimes, a worship leader would sing the verses, and the congregation would join on the refrain. “Here I Am, Lord” is unique in its alternating point of view. (3) We hear from God’s perspective in the verses, wondering, “Whom shall I send?” The refrain is the response from the people: “Here I am Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart!” 
As Schutte shared in his story of writing this hymn, the focus text is the passage we just shared from Isaiah 6. This text, coming early in the long book of Isaiah’s prophetic writings, is Isaiah’s call story. He tells us, in the vivid language of visions, how he got into this prophet role. The year is 742 BC. It is the year of the death of King Uzziah, known elsewhere in the scripture as King Aazriah. And Isaiah has a vision. He sees God sitting on a high and lofty throne. Seraphs are attending to God. Seraphs are these very strange creatures – it’s hard to describe them or imagine them from Isaiah’s description. But they are some kind of creature that has three sets of wings. Isaiah sees that one pair of wings on each seraph covers their eyes – throughout the Hebrew scriptures a repeated theme is that no one can look directly at the face of God – so one set of wings covers their eyes. Another set covers their lower bodies, a sign of their purity. And with the other set of wings, they fly around God’s throne. And they’re saying to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.” We take those words – “Holy, holy, holy” and incorporate them into our communion liturgy still today. The repeated word adds emphasis – God is all holiness, and rules over all people. The temple fills with smoke - another symbol of holiness. (4)
In the face of such an overwhelming vision, in the presence of God, Isaiah is overcome with a sense of his unworthiness. He says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah can’t believe that he is seeing God. And then one of the seraphs takes a live coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and touches it to Isaiah’s lips. This should burn, but in Isaiah’s vision, the fire isn’t destructive, it’s purifying. The seraph says, “now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” And Isaiah hears God’s voice asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And purified, forgiven, Isaiah answers, “Here am I; send me!” 
In the verses after our passage, God accepts Isaiah’s offer of service, and sets Isaiah as a messenger to the people of the kingdom of Judah. Isaiah must warn the people to change their ways. But God tells Isaiah up front: almost everyone is going to reject the message. Isaiah goes in knowing that he will be almost entirely unable to get people to listen to him. Yet, God says, a small number – which God calls the “stump” that is left over when a mighty tree has fallen – a stump, a remnant will remain faithful to God, and endure through the hard times ahead.
When I think about our reading last week, where Jesus calls Simon Peter and some others to become fishers of people, side by side with this text, where Isaiah responds to God’s call, I notice that for both Simon and Isaiah, their first response is to note: “I am not worthy.” Not worthy to be in God’s presence, not worthy to carry out God’s work. You may have found yourself having a similar response, when called on by God, or God’s messengers to serve in some way. Right now, our lay leadership team is in the process of calling on people to serve in various leadership roles in the life of the church. And sometimes, the first reaction we get from folks is something like this: There is no way that I’m the best person for that job. I don’t know enough. I don’t have enough experience. My discipleship is not strong enough. I’m not dedicated enough. Nope, not me.
And you know what? You’re right! We aren’t qualified, not on our own. We aren’t worthy, if worthiness to serve God means that we’ve achieved some state of holiness on our own merits. It is God who qualifies us, God who purifies us, God who prepares us and readies our hearts. Sometimes, I think the first step to serving God, answering God’s call is in fact our honest humility, saying, “I don’t think I can do this – I am a person of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” When Isaiah says this, God doesn’t argue with him. Instead, God just says, “Don’t worry: I am going to purify you, qualify you.” What Isaiah does is acknowledge his own sinfulness, his own lack of readiness, and then, when he realizes that God has qualified him, he stops hesitating and says “Me!” when God asks “Who will go?” Our honest, hesitating humility is an ok place to start when we answer God’s call, when we allow it to be the starting place of letting God prepare us to be a part of God’s plans. I think again of Schutte’s words about writing this hymn: “If it was going to work, it would have to be God's power and grace making it happen.” Thankfully, God offers power and grace in abundance.
After we answer “Here am I, send me,” the hard work isn’t done. God says to Isaiah: Hardly anyone is going to like what you have to say, and hardly anyone is going to really listen to you. But go anyway! What a pep talk, right? A few years back, I was really wrestling with God’s call and my ministry, trying to figure out where and how God wanted me to be serving. And nothing seemed to be working out. I was pretty miserable. My mom was talking to my Uncle Bill about it, saying something to him like, “Beth is trying so hard to be faithful. Why is it so hard?” And Uncle Bill reminded her, “Who ever said it’s going to be easy when we’re faithful?” She shared his response with me, and believe it or not, that reminder has given me a lot of strength since then. God makes many promises to us, including promises of blessings, faithfulness, love, and grace. But God never promises an easy path for us. In fact, God pretty much promises the opposite. Discipleship is hard. Answering God’s call: hard. Carrying it out day by day: also hard. But God who calls us also qualifies us. God who calls us also purifies our hearts and souls. And God who calls us goes with us, always. Whom shall God send? Who will go for God? “Here I am Lord, is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart!” Amen.





(3) C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘Here I Am, Lord,’”



Monday, August 21, 2017

Sermon, "Singing the Story: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore," Luke 5:1-11

Sermon 8/20/17
Luke 5:1-11

Singing the Story: Lord You Have Come to the Lakeshore

            “Lord, you have come to the lakeshore looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones. You only asked me to follow humbly. You know so well my possessions; my boat carries no gold and no weapons; You will find there my nets and labor. You need my hands, full of caring, through my labors to give others rest, and constant love that keeps on loving. You, who have fished other oceans ever longed-for by souls who are waiting, my loving friend, as thus you call me. O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling, have spoken my name. Now my boat's left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.” Cesáreo Gabaráin

Last month I asked you all to guess at my favorite hymn as part of the “Year 1” quiz I handed out, and I shared with you that Be Thou My Vision is top of my list. It’s long been my favorite hymn. But I have to tell you that another hymn has been creeping up my list and knocking on the door of first place, and that’s the focus of our sermon today: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore. For the last few weeks of summer, we’ll be looking at the stories behind some of our congregation’s favorite songs. About a year ago, I gave you all a congregational survey, and I’ve chosen some of the top hymns from that survey to explore in the next few weeks. Who wrote these hymns and why? What are the messages of faith the authors of these beloved texts are trying to convey?
            “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore” was written by Monseñor Cesáreo Gabaráin, a Spanish priest, born in 1936. Gabaráin studied music as a child in schools that were part of the local seminary, and he continued his studies both in music and theology, and was ordained to the priesthood when he was 23 years old. He served his ministry primarily as a chaplain, both at colleges in nursing homes, but eventually he served as part of a parish ministry as the head of religious education. He became known for his work with young people and with athletes, cyclists especially. He spent his summer vacations ministering to cyclists at the Tour de France, and connecting with well-known Spanish soccer players. (1)
            Some of the changes from the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic church opened the door for more creativity and flexibility in sacred music, and Gabaráin took advantage of that freedom. His hope was to share the good news through music and bring others into a relationship with God. Gabaráin said, “I went to seminary when I was very young – when I was eleven. The seminary was very musical and there I learned music very well. Later, when I was a priest, I was particularly involved with the children of several large schools. Then – out of necessity – I began to compose. I went to meet the children and they began bringing their guitars. I saw that with the old songs and Gregorian chants I would not be able to teach them much. So then I began to compose out of a pastor’s necessity, intending to share the things and ideas that I was trying to convey to the children.” (2)
            His most popular hymn is one of four of his in our United Methodist Hymnals, officially titled, “Pescador de Hombres”, or “Fishers of Men.” The translation of his hymn in our scripture is what we know as “Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore.” It was known to be a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II. The hymn is based on the stories in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that recount Jesus calling his first disciples. The melody calls to mind the gentle “rocking boat by the lakeshore.” (1)  Gabaráin said, “[When] you ask me what makes me most satisfied with a song, it is not that the popes like it. What interests me most, and is more important, is that a missionary deep in the jungle can tell me that a song has helped him to evangelize.” (2)
            He died of cancer in 1991 at just 55 years old. Gabaráin’s obituary shared that while he was travelling in the Holy Land, tour guides would sometimes claim that his hymn was composed on the Sea of Galilee, when in fact it was written in Madrid. But Gabaráin would simply smile to himself. (1)
            I think Gabaráin’s beautiful hymn brings our text from the gospel of Luke to life, and evokes in us a deep sense of need to respond to God’s persistent call. In our gospel lesson today, we find Jesus preaching and teaching, the crowd gathered, and the setting, the lake of Gennesaret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, where many fishermen would be busy at work. When the scene opens, we read that Jesus is standing by the lake and the crowds are “pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” What an image! They’re impatient – anxious – hungry to hear God’s word – that’s how excited they are about what Jesus has to say. They want the words that he’s about to speak. Have you ever been so eager to hear the Word of God?
            Now, in the chapter before this one, after his baptism, after spending 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus had just begun his ministry, marked by preaching and healing, including a woman described as the mother-in-law of Simon. But we haven’t yet met Simon, really, until this passage we read today. When Jesus encounters Simon Peter with his boat, he’s already connected with him through the act of healing. So, with the crowds pressing in, Jesus sees fishermen washing their nets and their boats nearby on the shore, and he gets into the boat of Simon Peter and asks him to put out a little way from the shore. This way, Jesus can comfortably teach the crowds from the boat without being smothered by them in their excitement. When he’s done teaching, he turns to Simon, and tells him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Not a suggestion – not a question – but a direction, an imperative. Peter responds in a way that I admire, since I think most of us wouldn’t respond so openly. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman; he was a carpenter, and now a teacher; Simon Peter was the fisherman. And Peter knew where to fish. And Peter knew that they had already been fishing all night without catching anything. But Simon Peter didn’t respond that he knew better than Jesus, or that they tried what he said already and it didn’t work, or that this new way wouldn’t work. He said instead, “Master, if you say we should try it, we’ll try it.”
            So they let down their nets, and begin to catch so many fish that their nets are breaking. They signal for help, and another boat comes, and still, there are so many fish that both boats are filled to the point that they can barely stay afloat. Peter, overwhelmed, falls on his knees before Jesus and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And with those strange words, Peter, along with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, partners with Simon, leave their boats and nets and everything, and they begin to follow Jesus.
            I think Jesus’ invitation – well, he doesn’t even really ask, does he? – his announcement that these fishermen will now be fishing for people is an invitation, an announcement that extends to us too. In church language, we call the work that we are called to do a vocation. But sometimes I think we do a disservice in the church when we leave people feeling that the only vocation we’re talking about is people becoming pastors. Some of you might have read my brother Tim’s facebook post this week. He’s always so thoughtful in complimenting me and my brothers – I’m a pastor. Todd’s an acting professor. Jim is a manager working with people with disabilities. Tim hasn’t ever felt that same tug toward a particular career. But God calls us in so many different ways. Fishing for people, the life of discipleship, that is simply committing to trying to follow the teachings and practices of Jesus as much as we can – this can take so many different forms. Remember, when we talked about Esther a couple of weeks ago. Was her calling to be a Queen? Maybe, or maybe not. But her calling was definitely speaking out against injustice, using her role as Queen to do so. Fishing for people is helping draw others closer to Jesus, inviting them to walk with Jesus. The ways that we can do that are endless, starting with the witness that we make in our own lives of discipleship.
            Jesus tells us how we do that – practice discipleship, and prepare ourselves for a life fishing for people alongside Jesus. We go to the deep waters, and we put down our nets, expecting a catch. Bishop Robert Wright says, “Some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to catch fish. When Jesus tells Simon, "Let's go to the deep water," he doesn't stop there.  He says, "...prepare for a catch."  What an encouragement. This is a word for us … who go to church regularly,” he says. “Week after week we go to the deep water of worship, but do we go preparing for a catch? Do we go believing that a blessing is just waiting for us?  … Expectations count with God. It's all over the Bible. Expectation is the first-born child of faith, "the substance of things hoped for." No expectation, no real faith. When we say we believe in God, we are not saying I am agreeing with some abstract idea; we're saying we expect the things that God has promised to us.”
Wright continues, “Some people think they know more about fish than God.  It happens to all of us sometimes. It's not that we actually think we know more than God; it's just that we behave that way. We hear God's instructions: Forgive a whole bunch. Bless those who curse you. Give abundantly. Visit the jails. Forget your life and you'll have a ball ... But we ignore God's invitation to abundance. We say to God by our actions: I know more about [life], more about healing, more about forgiveness, more about children, more about money than you do, God … Some people don't catch fish because they don't go to the deep water, and some people don't catch fish because they don't expect to. But some people don't catch fish because they know more about fish than God. People say that the net full of fish is the miracle of this story, but I disagree.  The real miracle of this story is that Simon decided that God was God and that he would live that way beginning immediately … Just look at what Simon says before the miracles begin to happen, "Yet, Lord if you say so...."”
Simon Peter wasn’t called to be a disciple because he was good at catching people, or fish for that matter. Simon was called because that’s what God does! God calls us because God demonstrates grace and love through our lives, because God can use even us, we, who like Simon, feel overwhelmed with how unqualified and worthy we are. We just need to let Jesus into our boat, and commit to going to the deep water again and again, commit to putting down our nets, commit to trusting God so that we’re expecting a catch. What are you doing to get to deep water in your faith life? What are you expecting God to do in your life?   
In Cesáreo Gabaráin’s hymn, we are reminded that God sees the humbleness of our boat, the lack of what we have to offer, and God smiles, and says, “Come, follow me. Let’s seek other seas together. And I will make you fish for people!” “O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me, and while smiling, have spoken my name. Now my boat's left on the shoreline behind me; by your side I will seek other seas.” Amen.

(1) C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore,” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-lord-you-have-come-to-the-lakeshore


(3) Rt. Rev. Robert Wright, “Deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us,” http://day1.org/1712-why_some_people_dont_catch_fish



Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon, "Women of the Bible: Vashti and Esther," Esther 1:1-2:4, Esther 4

Sermon 7/23/17
Esther 1:1-2:4, 4

Women of the Bible: Vashti and Esther


            Today we’re looking at the story of two women, two queens, Vashti and Esther. The book of Esther is a fairly short book, set in the time of exile. Remember, Israel had been conquered by foreign rulers, and many Israelites had been sent away from Israel to live in foreign lands. Some Jews find themselves living in the kingdom of Persia, under the rule of a man named King Ahasuerus, who is known elsewhere as King Xerxes. Persia is in the region we know today as Iran.
Esther is unique in being one of only two books of the Bible named for women – we read from the other, the book of Ruth, two weeks ago – but it is also one of only two book of the Bible that doesn’t explicitly mention God anywhere. (The other is Song of Songs.) So why is this book part of the scriptures you might wonder, if God isn’t mentioned? Today we’ll talk about this story of Esther, and see if we can see God woven throughout this text, even when God isn’t explicitly named.
Ahasuerus gives a banquet for the leaders of his government, including military figures and nobles of the region. The display of his wealth and splendor and pomp goes on for 6 straight months. And at the end of that lavish party, he gives another party, this one 7 days long, for all of the people present in the citadel – higher ups and regular folk. The scripture describes the extravagant decorations, food, and festivities in detail. We read that drinking was “without restraint,” and that the king ordered everyone to do just as they desired. At the same time, Vashti was giving a party for the women of the palace.
On the last day of festivities, Ahasuerus orders his servants to bring Queen Vashti before him and his guests, wearing her crown, so his officials can see her beauty. And Vashti refuses to come. We’re not told why. In fact, we never hear Vashti speak a word. Readers of the Bible have imagined a variety of possible reasons over the millennia for her refusal, including everything from her being ill, to being modest, to being unhappy with her appearance that day, to being simply stubborn. But to me, it seems pretty obvious why she doesn’t want to appear. She’s being ordered to present herself to be stared at by a large group of very drunk men. It feels like a demeaning command, and one that would leave her vulnerable. So she refuses. The king is enraged, and he seeks to impose the harshest punishment possible. For a woman in her time and context, her actions are actually illegal. She’s not allowed to refuse the king this way! And her bold refusal might stir up other women to question the commands of their husbands! So, Vashti is permanently banished from the king’s presence, and letters go out from the king declaring that “every man should be master in his own house.” And then, a group of young women are collected together to undergo beauty treatments, so one of them can be chosen as a new queen for Ahasuerus. Although we never hear Vashti speak, I can’t help but admire whatever led her to refuse the king. It seems it was the only power she had at her disposal, and she used it.
Her banishment paves the way for a young Jewish woman named Esther to be chosen as queen instead. Esther has been raised by her cousin, a man named Mordechai, because Esther was an orphan. She was raised as Mordechai’s own daughter. When Esther is made queen, Mordechai tells her not to reveal her Jewish identity, and she obeys. She is loved and admired by the king and his court, and showered with gifts. Mordechai somehow also uncovers a plot to kill the king, and through Esther, the king is warned, further putting Esther in the king’s good graces.
Eventually, though, Haman, a high-ranking official promoted by the king, is insulted by Mordechai, who fails to bow when Haman enters the city gates. Haman isn’t satisfied just to punish Mordecai though, so he decides that he will try to have all Jews in the whole kingdom put to death. He suggests to the king that it’s not right to have these people, these Jews, scattered through the kingdom who have different laws and practices than everyone else. “It is not appropriate for the king to tolerate them,” he says. Haman offers to pay a lot of money to the king for the right to have them all put to death, and the king agrees. A date for the execution of all the Jews, men, women, young and old is set.
When Mordechai hears what is happening, he puts on sackcloth and ashes, a sign of mourning. All the Jewish people fast and weep and lament. And Mordechai appeals to Esther to beg the king for mercy. But Esther is scared. No one goes to the king without being summoned. And look what happened to Vashti! She can’t risk it. She could be put to death! Mordechai speaks to her bluntly: “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Finally, she agrees to go. She asks Mordechai to fast on her behalf. And she says, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” Fortunately, she finds favor with the king, receives an audience, and saves her people from death.
            The book of Esther is about this moment of truth: when crisis comes our way, when conflict comes, what will we do? What is safe, or what is right? What is comfortable, or what is hard, but just? What protects ourselves, or what will serve God and serve others? It isn’t an easy question to answer. But we have to ask it of ourselves, again and again.
            Some of you may know the famous poem penned by Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller during World War II. He has a compelling story of transformation, and over time, he became more opposed to and more outspoken about Hitler and Nazism. He wrote about our tendency to not speak up for others as long as we ourselves are safe. He wrote, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
            I was thinking about Niemöller’s poem as I thought of Esther. It was so tempting to stay silent, even as her own people were being set up for slaughter, because speaking up might mean forfeiting her own life. What does it take for us to be moved to speak on behalf of someone else who is being wronged, hurt, threatened, mistreated? What does it take for us to speak up for what we believe is right, when doing so would put ourselves at risk? When by staying silent, we might be able to remain comfortable and safe? Esther could have stayed quiet and played it safe. I think perhaps a large part of her wanted to stay quiet. I know that would have been my impulse. Who could blame someone for wanting to protect their own life? Mordechai helps Esther see things differently. Perhaps Esther – a Jewish woman who somehow ended up as Queen of Persia – perhaps Esther is where she is when she is for just such a time as this, for just such a purpose as this – standing up for a whole people.  
            Remember earlier this summer, when we talked about Sarah and her long-awaited child, and about kairos, God’s right time for action? God’s right time, kairos time, is all over this story. Esther is in just the right place at just the right time to act for God, for others. So where has God placed you? Where are you now, in the right time and the right place to serve God? Who are you in just the right place at just the right time to serve?
            Is God explicitly mentioned in Esther? No. But God is all over Esther’s story, and working so clearly in Esther’s life. Is God’s work in our life so clear? Can we see God written all over the stories of our lives? Sometimes I hear Christians lamenting a diminishing of Christianity in the public sphere. People might mentioned prayer in public schools, or the separation of church and state, or settings becoming more secular that once seemed more steeped in religious language and practice. But I have to tell you, I’m not too worried about these things. Because I think that our lives can have God written all over them, like Esther’s life eventually does, when our actions are steeped in following God’s call. You might work and live and move in a “secular” setting, but your discipleship and faithfulness and openness to God’s call can be seen in all that you do. Your voice, speaking up for those who are in desperate need, is a voice of faith, a sign of God at work in the world, and at work in you.
            Who knows, friends, but that God has called you for just this time, and just this place? How will you answer that call? Amen.