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Our Calling…

August 1, 2015

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The past two months have been a flurry of activities and at times, my head and heart have quite literally been spinning. It is August (yikes! where did the summer go?) and this is the month that I will transition from being the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of DeFuniak Springs, Florida to the pastor of Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies. I thought the summer Denise and I got married (31 August will be our second anniversary) was hectic… this is even more so! But, it is hectic in a good way. Transitions are never easy as my 21 years in the Air Force can attest to. Nine moves in 21 years of Active service with the record for shortest time being a year and the longest being four years… yes, they are never as easy as folks would lead you to believe. We will leave behind some very dear friends in the greater Florida Panhandle and South Alabama area, including family. I will be leaving the church where I made my transition from the military chaplaincy back to the parish. I will be leaving a Presbytery that has been a place of challenge and blessing as I figured out once more what it means to be a part of our connectional family.

Since the first weekend of June, Denise and I have made three trips out to Estes Park, Colorado. The first was to meet face-to-face with the Pastor Nominating Committee (search committee) and preach in what we call a “neutral pulpit” in another city where the Committee heard me preach “live”. The second trip was to meet the congregation and lead worship in Estes Park where they voted to extend the call to be their pastor to me. The third trip was to search for a new place to call our home. In between all of that, we were preparing our house for sale and putting it on the market. Now we are making final preparations and repairs for the closing this month.

In the midst of all the rushing around, it is easy to forget why we do what we do. It is easy to get caught up in the rush of moves and new jobs. It would have been incredibly easy to get lost in the midst of the past few months. Interestingly enough, it was on this last trip that I was able to take a few moments to simply be still and know… The picture at the top of this blog was taken from the back patio of the hotel we stayed at during our house-hunting trip this week. The picture below is of our “sentinel” or “concierge” at the Aspen Winds Hotel where we stayed.

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This Bull Elk was seated and chewing his cud when we drove back from a day of house-hunting and he looked right at home. As I took some pictures (with the lights from the car shining ahead) he complied. It was sort of surreal listening to him chewing and simply looking at me. After we had taken some pictures, he snorted as if to say that was enough. I thanked him (yes, I did audibly) and got back into the car to head to our room.

So, Padre, what do moving, house-hunting, house-selling, Elk and the beauty of the Rocky Mountains have to do with Ephesians 4:1-16? Actually, they all do tie together. Paul shares the following words with the church at Ephesus: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” (Ephesians 4:1) Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… Chew on that phrase for a minute… to which you have been called…

As I looked at the majestic elk sitting in the yard across from the hotel I sensed calm and peace. He knew exactly where he was and was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. He wasn’t threatened by our presence and he was content to peacefully co-exist with his human neighbors. Denise and I were exactly where we were supposed to be as well. Following God’s call we found ourselves in Estes Park, Colorado. In that precise moment, as we stood in awe simply enjoying the elk’s presence, we were quite literally in the presence of the God who created the heavens and the earth. In the words of Mordecai to Esther, we were all at that very spot “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)

We are all called, dear reader, to live a life worthy of our calling. Why? Because, I believe, God calls each one of us to a particular purpose and life in this world. “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3) Just as the elk and I had a distinct understanding of our places in that moment (respecting boundaries yet peacefully co-existing), so too are we called to live together with one another in the bond of peace.

These days it seems, I see less and less peace and love and more and more hate speech and actions. Whether it is people being racially profiled or singled out with hateful words and actions because of their sexual identity; there is too often precious little love and peace shared. Recently I came under fire, along with another clergy colleague of mine, for speaking out to have the “Stars and Bars” removed from the Courthouse lawn where they had been raised in 1964 as a “response” to Integration and Civil Rights. The same people who would sing hymns and raise their bibles on Sunday were hurling epithets and spewing hate at us on Friday. Why? Because we were joining fellow residents of Walton County who were asking that a symbol of hate, segregation, and slavery be removed from public property. You see, on that same public property, the descendants of slaves had to pass by the “flag” on their way to conduct business at the Courthouse. Those of us who raised our voices were simply trying to make a change that would encourage harmony, love, and peace.

I could have kept my mouth shut as the effort began. Why get involved? I will be leaving my home of the past four years for a new location. What did it matter to me? Well, it mattered a whole lot to me. You see, I happen to believe in the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. Another clergy colleague of mine, Ronnie McBrayer, put it quite eloquently when he wrote about the fact that his son is a descendant of slaves and he is a descendant of slave owners. See his blog here: The Confederacy: My Take. He and his family have a personal stake in that dream. You see, the son of a former slave owner and the son of a former slave already sit together at the table of brotherhood.

Dr King said: “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

Paul the Apostle said: “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)

That my friends, is our calling. No where in that calling to I hear words of hatred, bigotry, or racism. What is your calling? My wife Denise realized at the age of nine during a time of introspection when she lived in Nigeria that her purpose was to love. Isn’t that a worthwhile calling? Isn’t that what Christ calls us to do and to be? In the words of St Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

Will you join with me, dear reader, in this sacred calling? In a time where hatred spews and battle lines are drawn on Social Media and in person, will you be the difference? Will you speak for the voiceless? Will you be instruments of God’s love and peace?

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