I have always said that I entered ministry in the oddball way. That is, my path was quite unconventional.
When I entered seminary, I had no intention of getting a Master of Divinity degree, let alone actually become a minister. When I decided to get the M.Div. it was for personal not vocational reasons. When I began preaching in rural New Mexico, with babies in tow, it was to keep my theological skills sharp, not to become a preacher. After all, I have never taken a worship and preaching class, and frankly, speaking in public scared me down to my toes.
I put off approaching my session, the equivalent of your vestry, to take me under care as a candidate for the ministry because the thought of preaching before presbytery terrified me. When I did finally become a candidate for the ministry, I was sent back to school to pick up classes in biblical Hebrew and Reformed Theology, two subjects I did not take the first time around because I was not going into the ministry. I took the written ordination exams as the only seminary graduate in my testing group. And I did my Clinical Pastoral Education and church practicums long after I had graduated.
From the time I entered seminary until the day of my ordination, 18 years had passed—truly the path of an oddball.
I tell you this story now to demonstrate God’s incredible sense of humor in choosing the most unlikely people to serve him and his people—oddballs in modern parlance—to do his work.
By any standard, John the Baptist was an oddball. His father, Zechariah, had been part of the religious establishment as a priest in the Jerusalem temple, and his mother, Elizabeth, was descended from a noble priestly family. But John fled the comforts and corruptions of the city for the loneliness of the desert.
There he dressed in animal skins, ate insects and wild honey, and preached. Living on the margins of society, both literally and figuratively, he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which is to say that he condemned people for unrighteousness and invited them to confess and change their lives. Contrary to what we might have expected from such a man with such a message, the Gospels say that people flocked to John. His preaching lit the fires of their faith and they dived into the river to be baptized. God had use for this oddball who turned his back on his privileged life, who lived in poverty and solitude, driven to proclaim a message that would lose him his head. John may have been a member of the apocalyptic Jewish sect of Essenes who opposed the temple in Jerusalem and retreated to the desert to wait for the end of the world. At least this much is clear—John the Baptizer was a prophet of radical dissent; an oddball in the wilderness.
The center of John’ message was that another was coming after him, one who would preach and baptize and prophesy and challenge the political and religious order far more than John did. The baptism that John preached centered on recognition and confession of sin. Going under the water was submission to the judgment of God through which sin was washed away and the sinner could begin again. Now here comes Jesus, the one John spoke of, preaching an even more radical baptism, one that would mean that, through the Holy Spirit, people would be drawn into spiritual communion with God. It moves beyond confession and forgiveness to dying to the old life of sin and rising to new life in Christ. It is a new order of baptism brought by the Son of God himself. But for him to do that, Jesus first did an oddball thing—he submitted himself to John to be baptized himself.
From the beginning of time, God has called the most unusual, least likely people to serve his purpose. Noah built a boat in the middle of the desert. Moses had a speech impediment and killed an Egyptian. Joseph was a self-centered young man who pranced around in a funny looking coat. Deborah was a woman, set over the entire nation of Israel to judge it. David was the youngest brother of a large family of brothers who played his harp to his flock of sheep. Hosea walked around in an ox yoke. Peter could not hold onto his faith for more than five minutes at a time. Paul actively pursued Christians and saw that they were stoned to death.
The history of the church is filled with unlikely prophets and teachers and preachers and mystics who did not believe in themselves, from whom no one expected much of anything, who were far from the worldly view of whom God should call.
I mean, look at Jesus. Jesus himself was not born into the opulence of the palace but in a stinky manger surrounded by shepherds, in a quiet small town far away from political and economic power. What an oddball way for a king to enter the world.
In this post-modern day and time, those of us who commit ourselves to serving Christ and dedicate our lives to serving his people in his church are a most sacred company of oddballs. None of us are political power brokers, movers and shakers in world economics, skilled orators or charismatic mystics. We are just ordinary oddballs who follow in a long line of ordinary oddballs whom God calls to do the work of church. There is nothing magical or special about us. God just needs us to do his work here in Galveston, Texas. And God always sees something in us that we cannot see in ourselves, something that we also miss in other people.
It is not just those currently serving on the vestry or on boards who are called to be God’s oddballs. All of you who are not actively serving in office this time are still God’s oddball worker bees. The folks on the vestry should not, will not, cannot do all the work alone. Nor can Julie or me either. We are all called by God to do the work of the church. Everyone has a calling, so put aside all the reasons why you cannot help out and listen for the voice of one crying in the wilderness, calling you to be open to the odd workings of our Living God. This oddball named John came from the wilderness to call the people to repentance and the radical newness of life in Christ. That call was for a new way of doing things, because God was about to do a new thing.
God is doing a new thing here, in this time of transition. Through you, he has called a search committee to bring the person God has already chosen for you to be your next settled pastor.
In this interim time, open your eyes and your ears to the workings of the Holy Spirit in the life of First Lutheran Church. It is there for all of us oddballs to discern and obey.
To God be the glory. Amen.
~ Interim Pastor Helen Rose Moore