During the Children’s Time on Sunday, I was discussing with the kids the idea that people can change, and I used Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to help me illustrate the point. We talked about all the ways the main character wouldn’t eat the verdant dish: in a boat, on a train, with a fox, and with an orange (I threw that last one in there as a curveball, but the kids were onto me). I talked about how, in the end, the guy does try the green eggs and ham, and actually likes them. I used that to show people can change, even people who are mean to us or that we don’t like.
At the end of each Children’s Time, I invite the children to pray with me by repeating what I say. Sunday’s prayer went like this:
“Dear God” Dear God.
“We thank you for our friends.” We thank you for our friends.
“And we thank you for the people who are not our friends.” WHAT?!?
That’s what one little boy exclaimed, right in the middle of the prayer. I swear, Children’s Time is ministry without a net.
My young heckler’s reaction was actually spot-on. Sometimes God calls us to do things that simply make us scratch our heads. The sermon text for the day was the conversion of Paul in Acts 9, where God calls a guy named Ananias to go and lay hands on the recently-converted Paul, healing him and sending him on his mission. Since Ananias knew about Paul’s history of persecuting and arresting Christians, I would have to think his first thought was, “Oh, I’ll lay hands on him all right!” And yet, Ananias does what God says and launches the career of history’s greatest evangelist (sorry, Oral Roberts).
Sometimes Jesus says stuff that just makes you say, “What?!?” Things like “Love your enemy” and “Feed my sheep” and, well, pretty much everything else he says. Jesus didn’t do much pandering, telling his followers and the religious leaders what they wanted to hear. Jesus wasn’t worried about filling the pews or the coffers; he was more concerned with filling souls so they might live a full life. And he wasn’t particularly concerned what was in the soul that needed to be cleaned out first: greed, adultery, selfishness. Everybody qualified, even the people we don’t like. Jesus got his hands dirty in order to make people clean. Ministry without a net.
So I think “What!?!” is a very appropriate response to Jesus’ call in our lives. When he calls us to go to the Pauls of the world, the people who hate on us or demean us or categorize us, we should say, “What!?!” When he calls us to minister to those so unlike us, those who would eat green eggs and ham just to get a decent meal, those who are where they are because of their own bad decisions, we should say, “What!?!” If this isn’t our initial response to Jesus’ call in our lives, then we’re probably only hearing what we want to hear.
For Ananias, his “What!?!” reaction to God’s call is balanced by his obedient response. When God calls his name, Ananias responds, “Here I am, Lord.” He didn’t even know what God was going to ask him to do! Now that’s faith, folks. God could have said, “Go love on some porcupines” or “Stick your finger in a light socket,” and Ananias would have to do it, because he’d already agreed. I want to grab Ananias by his lapels and say, “What!?! How can you respond so blindly? Don’t you want to know the plan first? Maybe you should read the details of the contract before signing on the bottom line. It would be more prudent to know what you were getting into before you fully committed.”
But prudence and faith are, at the essence, antithetical. Ananias doesn’t say, “Yes God, I’m willing to listen to the terms of this agreement.” He says, “Here I am, Lord.” But Ananias trusts that God is not going to call him to do something he can’t do or that will cause him harm. That doesn’t mean he will like it, but liking what God calls him to do isn’t a criteria for doing it. What IS a criteria is that God has called, something needs to be done, and Ananias can do it. End of discussion. I wonder how our lives would be different if we started our responses to God, not with our laundry list of excuses, not with our rationalizations, not with our exclamations of “What!?!”, but with, “Here I am, Lord.”