What did you give up to be here? I’ll never forget the time a district superintendent asked me that question. It was the fall of 2012, maybe spring 2013, and I was just starting my journey into ordained ministry. Part of that journey and process is going through several layers of boards and committees. The overall process to become fully ordained in The United Methodist Church take a minimum of 6-7 years and includes all of those boards/committees, getting a masters degree, internship, residency, lots of things. Early on you meet with the District Committee on Ministry and that committee asks you questions about grace, how you have experienced God, and why you believe God is calling you into ordained ministry. And at that meeting my district superintendent in Dallas asked me, what did you give up to be here, to pursue ministry? I felt so taken a back by that question. What had I given up. What had I given up? How could I in a neat compact answer talk about how my entire identity had been wrapped up in being an orchestra teacher? I had taught state championship winning string and full orchestras. I had conducted Wagner, Shostakovich, Elgar, and Dvorak. How could I convey what it felt like to be part of a child’s journey with music, to see them make their first sound and learn their first song? To see a fifth graders face light up when, after trying instrument after instrument, they finally found the one that they were meant to play. What had I given up? I answered by describing how just because God was calling me to be a pastor didn’t mean I hated teaching or hated orchestra and music. Music and teaching are and will always be a part of who God made me to be. It just happens that my season of life as an orchestra teacher was just that, a season. All of us, in one way or another, will encounter times of change, when new directions open up in our life. For some of y’all, it may be a new direction similar to what I just described. A shift in vocation, in what we believe we are called to. Sometimes that shift happens because we decide and sometimes change and new directions happens to us or are thrust upon us. I feel like my new direction into ministry was a little of both. Sometimes a change or new direction means leaving a toxic, harmful situation for a healthy and life giving one. Sometimes it means going from one good thing to a better thing. Maybe it isn’t even about good or bad or healthy or unhealthy, maybe you have simply recognized a holy nudge or pull. To a particular job or career. To become a foster parent, to ask your partner to marry you, to say yes when your partner proposes, to move across the country. In one way or another we each encounter opportunities for change and God can bring beautiful things out of change and new directions.
In our scripture today we encounter Abram and Sarai. Well, mostly Abram but Sarai is around, or how we commonly know them, Abraham and Sarah. Like the song? Except this is their origin story, they are not yet Abraham and Sarah. They have not yet begotten nations up on nations. They start off as Abram and Sarai, a couple God calls to go in a new direction.
God called Abram to leave behind everything he knew, journey to a foreign land he had never been to before, and make a new home there. And Abram did! He took his wife and his nephew Lot and traveled to the land of Canaan where God spoke to him again and said this is the land that I will give you. And if you’re thinking, umm Abram agreed to that almost too easily, scripture is filled with examples of changes and new directions.
Moses – Moses was living as a simple shepherd after running away from his Egyptian palace life. Then, unexpectedly, God speaks to him from a burning bush telling Moses that he will be the one to release God’s people from bondage. And Moses hemmed, hawed, argued, questioned, until finally God was like fine, fine, Aaron can go with you but you are doing the thing. And out of that change for Moses, that new direction, God brought liberation and freedom to the Hebrew people.
The disciples – the story of most of the earliest disciples is that they were simply going about their usual work day, when Jesus said, come and follow me, and they did. And out of those earliest disciples, God brought every disciple, brought us today.
God can bring beautiful things from change and new directions. From Abram and Sarai, God brought all of this, the entirety of scripture. And sure, in these pages are pain and heartache and mistakes. Change and new directions, even when they are something we choose and not a sudden unexpected layoff or diagnosis or family situation, change and new directions are hard. But the story of scripture and the story of our lives are more than the pain and difficulties we experience. These pages and our lives are also about grace, love, forgiveness, compassion, joy, triumph, salvation, redemption, resurrection, and life. The opportunities of shift and change we experience may not be easy and you may not have chosen them on your own, but God can and will bring beautiful things from them.
If you told me in 2002 when I graduated high school that twenty years later I would be a pastor in Omaha Nebraska I would have said, where is Nebraska? I did not grow up going to church and actively avoided church for a long time. I never wanted to leave Austin but ended up teaching and then going to seminary in Dallas. Some of those changes were made joyfully, some came through tears. But looking back, I recognize God’s presence, God’s love, God’s guidance, and God’s grace. In the midst of shifting and pivoting, look for God’s presence and care. Look for the beautiful things God is trying to bring from your changes and new directions.