Monday, June 20, 2022

Sermon: "Ring, Ring", Psalm 139:1-10/Romans 8:28-30, 35-39 (June 19, 2022 - Rev. TJ Remaley's Installation)


I’m going to take this opportunity to admit something that many of you may have already noticed by now: I am willing to go to great lengths in order to avoid preaching at Presbytery events. I’m not entirely sure why; it started because I hate having to come up with multiple sermons in one week, but at this point it’s as much about keeping my streak going as it is about anything else. However, when my good friend TJ asked me to preach on this important day, I said, “UGGGGGH, FINE!!” (which, you should know, truly is the highest form of praise coming from someone who hasn’t preached at a Presbytery event in 7 years.)

I did have some conditions, though. I stipulated that if I were going to preach, TJ needed to provide me with the texts to work from. He, of course, being the uncooperative person that he is, refused. He gave me some vague answers about “calling” and “gospel” and what have you, so I did the only thing a person in my position could do: I threatened to just use the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s 2009 hit, “Telephone” as the sermon.

TJ, you did this to yourself. 

“Hello, hello, baby, you called, I can’t hear a thing. I have got no service in the club, you see, see. Wha-wha-wha did you say, oh, you’re breaking up on me. Sorry, I cannot hear you, I’m kinda busy. Stop calling, stop calling, I don’t wanna think anymore; I got my head and my heart on the dance floor. Stop calling, stop calling, I don’t wanna talk anymore; I got my head and my heart on the dance floor.”

Now, unfortunately, my pastoral integrity requires that I tie this into scripture somehow, so strap in.

Lady Gaga herself has said that this song is about her fear of being smothered or kept from being herself by external obligations. In the song, she wants to ignore whoever’s calling out of fear that answering would force her into a situation that would be life-draining rather than life-giving. Dance club setting notwithstanding, that’s a pretty universal fear. We all feel the push and pull between our desire for personal autonomy and our responsibilities towards others. Those of us involved in ministry, whether clergy or not, can especially relate. It’s hard enough to avoid burnout when it’s a person calling again and again, like a congregant asking you to bake a few hundred cookies for a reception the next day, but what about when the one calling is God asking you to start a new ministry? How are you supposed to respond to that?

The apostle Paul can definitely relate. I doubt he had to do much baking over the course of his ministry, but he absolutely knew what it was like to be worn out from the call. “We are being put to death all day long for your sake,” he says, “we are treated like sheep for slaughter.” Pretty dramatic, but to be honest, most of us in the Church have probably felt similarly at one point or another. Whether God has called us to take on one responsibility more than we’d like, or to do something that’s outside of our comfort zone, or to try again when our first attempt failed, it can be tempting to try and pull a Lady Gaga: “What’s that, God? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you; you’re breaking up. I’ll call you back when I need you.”

But I think we all know that that’s not how God’s call works. We may be able to fool others by faking a bad connection, but not God. Psalm 139 assures us (or threatens us, depending on your perspective) that God knows us so completely, so intimately, that there is nowhere we can go and nothing we can do to escape God’s call. If “Telephone” had been written some 30-odd centuries ago, perhaps the Psalm would read, “Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I silenced my cell phone, still, you would be there. If I went to the club and was sipping that bubb, even then you would be with me.” (For those of you who may be a little lost, that’s another line from later in the song.) Whether we’re on the dance floor, safely in our comfort zone, or wrapped up in our own plans, it’s impossible to escape from God’s call on our lives.

Sometimes – especially if we’ve been burned when answering God’s call in the past – this doesn’t sound like good news at all. But Paul reminds us, in spite of our fear, that it is, because “God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to [God’s] purpose.” Sometimes this can be difficult to see, and sometimes it takes a while to get there, but God’s call is never ultimately a call to self-destruction; it’s always call to new life. And nothing, neither angels or rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor difficult seasons or hurtful people, nor ending ministries or cross-country moves, nor loud dance clubs or bad reception, can separate us from God’s call or God’s love in Christ Jesus.

We have all encountered moments when God’s call is a difficult one to answer, but thankfully, joyfully, today we get to celebrate a moment of God clearly working all things together for good. We get to celebrate the fact that Southminster and TJ both were willing to explore what God was calling them to, even if it wasn’t exactly what they expected, and we celebrate that they both enthusiastically said “yes” to God’s call. We are grateful for the love that they already have for one another, and for the ways that they’ll help each other – and all of us in this Presbytery – to grow in wisdom, justice, mercy, and grace. God is faithful, and today we bear witness to that fact. Today we celebrate the call, and the ones who are brave enough to answer it. May we all find the courage to do so.

God is calling – can you hear? Amen.

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