This past Sunday I announced that I am leaving my position at the church as of September 1.
Here is an excerpt from the sermon. At this point I was talking about sacred stories of unexpected personalities in ministerial roles...
What I love about these stories is the strange cast of characters all playing holy roles. There are bandits and gamblers, fishermen and farmers, mothers and nuns and they all have these risky attributes. They are the Huckleberry Finns of Scripture. Imagine Nicholas Cage, Parker Posey and Kanye West playing them in the movie versions.
The prophet Amos of Hebrew Scriptures is my favorite example. Amos is not on the greatest hits list of Hebrew prophets. His is a short book of prophecy. Dated to the era 786-746 BCE, the action of Amos takes place during the reign of Jeroboam II who was king of Israel.
You don’t have to know biblical history for this one. Let me just say that there were two kingdoms – Israel in the north, Judah in the South. Jeroboam was king in the north and Amos is a prophet from Judah the South, but his prophecies are all about Israel. You can imagine how well this went down. People always enjoy it when someone from another country comes rolling in to tell them how to do things, don't they? So it was for Amos.
Amos has all kinds of dire prophecies for Israel he sets forth (strange ministry, but there it is.) What I love about Amos is not these acts of his ministry, but his call to ministry, how he got that strange job. Amos reveals this call when he is verbally attacked and told to head on home by Jeroboam’s priest, Amaziah.
This is the response of Amos: I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a trimmer of sycamore figs. Yet God took me out from behind the herd and said to me, “Go. Prophesy to my people Israel.”
I can see you are underwhelmed. Remember I had to pore over these words for hours in seminary as they were an assignment we translated from the Hebrew. They made a huge impression on me. Let me rephrase in case they are not having the same effect on you. Imagine Amos saying this:
Look, Amaziah – you are chaplain to the king. Got your fancy robes, your world class degrees, your snazzy mustache. You look like a priest, you talk like a priest, all the world recognizes your power.
That is not me. I… I am not this. This is who I am now, because I am called to do it, but I did not seek it out. I’m not trying to get power or riches or fame. I work on a farm. I used to nap in a warm field after lunch before I had to lead the flock home. In Spring, I climbed trees to trim the blossoms so the figs would be fatter in the Fall. Up in the trees I would daydream, but in all my dreams never did I imagine myself here.
I have come because I had to come. There was something deep inside of me that was called to be here and I will do my job, am honored to speak this prophesy. But that is not all of me. I am not comfortable in this skin. I have things I have been called to say, but once said, I will move on. I will go back home. I can never be just a farmer or a tree trimmer again, but so too, I will not remain the prophet to Israel.
My reasons for sharing Amos and his story with you are two-fold. (I have edited out part 1 for space reasons here.)
...My other reason for telling you his story is because it is my story, has always been my story.
I seem to keep finding myself the farmer strolling into the royal court.
Now after a long time, I find that the flock and the sycamore figs have called me back.
That is not me. I… I am not this. This is who I am now, because I am called to do it, but I did not seek it out. I’m not trying to get power or riches or fame. I was sitting on my warm front porch in 2003 playing with my toddler son when I was called, in my case it was on a phone, by this church. “We need you. Just for six months, we really need YOU,” you told me.
I have come because I had to come. There was something deep inside of me that was called to be here and I have done my job, am honored to be your minister. But that is not all of me. I am not comfortable in this skin. I have things I have been called to say, a ministry that I treasure… but I am not Amaziah.
I am Amos.
I hope you will understand how I can love you and still leave.
They teach you a lot in seminary including how to live with being hated. No one ever taught me how to live with being loved. How can I say no to love? How can I give just 25 hours a week to the love of hundreds of people, some of whom I have known all of my life? How can I say – this job description, what my role has become... is not what I do; am called to do?
I don’t know. I don’t know how to say these things and my greatest regret is that I have not known how to accept the breadth of your love without driving myself into the ground with work.
So, like Amos, before me, I will head back to a place that is not here. I do not know what my next role will be.
But I do know this – when I came this congregation was smaller, was hurting, was wary of strangers. I was brought in because you knew me. You trusted me. And although I did not want to be the minister of a church, I didn’t mind being your minister.
That mutual trust has served us both well. Now we are healthier, and friendlier, and you let me bring all kinds of people in here to talk to you, to play music for you, to do all kinds of worship with you. You are good ministers: to Richmond, to each other, to me, to our children.
You will continue our ministry after I leave in September. Trust one another. Bring your best intentions and your hopes for making sense out of life. Please don’t turn any of the Huckleberry Finns, Eddie Haskells, Oscar the Grouches, or Billie Hollidays away at the door. They’re friends of mine. I told them they could trust you.
And know that for every day of ministry I give, I receive two in return.
May you be so blessed in your ministry, as well.
I love you. Peace be with you always.
I will continue blogging, but I have no idea what direction it will take. I have six and a half months of work left, so more of the same for now. (Whatever "the same" has ever been for me...)