Saying is believing
One of the things I most appreciate about the call stories in the Bible
is that there is no single template. When Peter, Andrew, James and John
are summoned by Jesus to leave their nets to follow him, “immediately”
they do just that (Luke 4:18-22). When God calls Jonah to go to
Ninevah, he also gets going immediately—but in the exact opposite
direction (Jonah 1:1-3).
In this week's Old Testament passage,
Jeremiah at first protests God's call, in part for the same reason
Moses does (Ex. 4:10)—because he is not a good speaker. Then there is
the rich young ruler who, when called by Jesus to sell his possessions
and follow him, responds only with sadness (Luke 18:22-23). We hear
nothing more about him, presumably because he simply walked away.
stunning variety of these call stories testifies both to the ingenuity
of God, who has more than one means of working in our lives, and to
human freedom, which allows for more than one possible response.
is important to remember that these accounts are all written in
retrospect. Jeremiah, writing as a grown man, traces his call to an
experience as a 14-year-old. Whether the full meaning and import of
that experience was known fully when he was only 14 may be another
This should not be surprising. In my tradition today,
candidates for ordination are asked to tell the story of their own call
to ministry, often over and over again, both on paper and verbally
before different church bodies. In recent years I have had occasion to
hear candidates give the story of their calls at different junctures in
ordination process. Often the story changes with each telling, usually
becoming sharper and more focused, accompanied by an extra measure of
There are different ways to interpret this evolution.
The cynical interpretation would be that, as candidates proceed through
the ordination process, they learn more about what various
ecclesiastical bodies want to hear and simply deliver it to them. But
most often, I don't think that this is the case. Another possible
interpretation might be that candidates just get better at telling
their stories with the continual retelling. I am sure this is a partial
explanation in many instances.
But there is a third
possibility—that a candidate for ordination, by retelling his or her
story of call, actually sees with greater clarity what God was up to at
certain junctures. Sometimes you don’t see something until you say it.
And sometimes saying is believing.
Additional lectionary columns by Copenhaver
appear in the August 10 issue of the Century—click here to subscribe.