When do you notice God working through you? That question is central to today’s Good Courage devotion.
When I thought of the kind of moments when I have the sense that God is at work, through my actions, I realized they are closely tied to what I also recognize as things I feel “called” to do.
As a person in ordained minstry, there are three particular things to which I am “called”: Word (preaching, teaching, writing, speaking); Sacrament (presiding at Communion and Baptism, and other informal but also holy moments); Pastoral Care (being present with people and talking, and trying to listen deeply).
I feel very lucky that these are all things that I:
1) really like doing.
2) seem to have gifts to apply to the tasks.
This led me to thinking about a definition for “call” or vocation that I used recently in a learning time, and which has long been a touchstone for me. It’s by Frederick Buechner, who was an American Presbtyerian pastor and celebrated author of fiction and theology. I have room here to expand the quote to include some preamble from his book “Wishful Thinking”:
“IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a (person) is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
A few folks have mentioned they like it when I tie a song to the day’s theme. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, this is the song that touched that part of me that was trying to discern that to which I was “called”. I identified with the sense of being called or drawn somewhere that comes through, if not the particular destination:
I saw familiar faces when I went to the Portuguese Club this week to donate blood. My least favourite part is when they insert the needle into my vein. My most favourite is going to the snack table afterwards, to grab my crunchy salty snack.
The body uses salt to help it manage and retain fluid. Apparently the average person loses about 3 grams of salt with every blood donation.
I learned some things about salt, which is an electrolyte, when I trained for and ran marathons, and half-marathons. At every race there were people who were not careful enough with their intake of water and electrolytes, and had to be helped off the course, oftentimes carried off the course. My running partner for my second marathon beat me to the finish line, but ended up in the medical tent, and then in a hospital emergency ward.
Salt can be a matter of life or death. It is no exaggeration to say wars have been fought over access to salt.
Salt has also been used as part of non-violent efforts to make change.
When the Indian National Congress asked Mohandas Gandhi to organize non-violent civil disobedience to launch their campaign to end colonial rule in India, he chose to protest the Salt Laws, which the British created to give themselves exclusive right to produce, sell and impose tax on salt.
Even people who lived near the ocean were prohibited by law from doing what Gandhi proposed, which was to make salt by evaporating sea water. It’s the same kind of colonial control that was exercised here in Canada, which banned First Nations people from hunting, fishing, farming, leaving the reserve without permission of the Indian agent, and even speaking their own language.
Gandhi chose salt because it is basic to human life. It is needed by every person, rich and poor, Hindu or Muslim, Christian or Jew, or Sikh or Budddhist. Gandhi said,
“Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life.”
This common staple of life has been used for thousands of years to flavour and preserve food. Before the world became connected by ocean freighters and transport trucks, proximity to salt determined where people could live.
Some scholars think the word “salary” derives from the latin word salarium, which was an allowance paid to Roman soldiers to buy the basics, like food and salt, to live. It’s where we get that phrase about a person being “worth their salt”- are they doing enough to justify what they are paid, or is the salt wasted on them?
Salt is serious stuff. In the ancient world, they may not have had a scientific grasp of it’s nature and properties, but they knew that it was powerful, necessary, and almost magical in its powers.
That may help us understand why the reading from Leviticus made mention of including salt when a person places an offering on the altar for sacrifice. Salt was a gift from God, given back to God. Giving back something valuable was a way of expressing the magnitude of your gratitude.
We often encounter salt as tiny little crystals, but when Jesus told his disciples to be like salt, it was no small thing. He was telling them to remember that they had important, life and death work to do, that would change the world.
I mentioned Gandhi earlier. On March 12, 1930, Gandhi and about 80 others from his community set out, on foot, for the coastal village of Dandi. They walked a little over 10 miles a day, and reached the sea in 23 days. The route was planned to pass through many villages, towns and cities. They gathered more followers everywhere they went, and more attention was gained for their cause.
They did simple, basic human things. They walked, and talked to people. They slept when tired, and ate when they could.
When they reached the coast on April 6th Gandhi picked up a lump of mud and salt and boiled it in seawater to make the commodity which no Indian could legally produce — salt.
Gandhi and his followers did the simple human things they could do. They lived out their commitment and courage, and passion for the well-being of others. They were arrested for the crime of making salt. Many were attacked and beaten by soldiers under the command of the Viceroy, who acted to uphold not only the salt law, but the authority the British had claimed to rule, and control every aspect of the lives of their subjects, who were not granted the same dignity, respect, or rights as British citizens.
Gandhi’s followers were trained in non-violent protest. They did not resist when arrested, and did not retaliate when attacked. Their non-violent response underlined the brutality and injustice of British rule, and shone a bright light on the poor treatment of the people of India, and ultimately, on the legitimacy of the cause of independence. People around the world paid attention.
It is no small thing, to answer the call to be faithful, to do what is right, to do what you can, to make a difference in the world. To take a risk, to make a sacrifice, to go out of your way to help others. To give of yourself.
We aren’t all leaders and prophets, and profound teachers like Gandhi, and Jesus. But without followers, no matter how amazing, wise and divine the messenger is, not much happens.
For us, the question is not so much can we be amazing, and do something huge. For us, the question is, what can we do, that we probably already know how to do, that will help another person, help our church, help our community.
It might be making a valentine for a lonely person. It might be telling me you’d be willing to make a few phone calls every week, to check in on folks from the congregation we have not seen for a while. It might be making an extra donation to the church, because it’s been a hard few years, and now we have to fix the broken water line going into the building, and we need help. It might be giving blood next time they set up at the Portuguese Club. It might be something else.
Look around in your life, in your family, in this community. There is something that needs doing. You’ll find it, if you open your heart, your mind, your eyes, and take a look around. Anyone worth their salt, can find a way to help someone else.
Jesus’ call to be the salt of the earth comes from a collection of his teachings about what it means to be blessed, and to be a blessing to others. In some translations, the word “happy” is used instead of the word. “blessed”.
“Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!
“Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully!
“Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
In my message for the annual report I offered a quote from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister and author who lived to be about 96. He wrote about calling, and how we can get a sense of what God is asking of us. He said,
“By and large a good rule for finding out is this: the kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. … The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”.
It’s good to be reminded of the great joy, and purpose, meaning and actual happiness that comes, when we set ourselves aside, and do for others.