Welcome again to this homecoming Sunday. Typically when we think about coming home, or in this case homecoming, the first story that we think about is that of the Prodigal Son. It’s about that long lost person returning to the fold. And that would have been too easy to go with today. But this is more about how we get into the place to come home.
As scary as it is to say out loud, it was nearly forty years ago that the journey to me standing in this pulpit on this morning began. And there was nothing anyone could have told me that would have made me believe that I would be standing here. How a kid from Central Los Angeles would wind up not only a member of the Church of the Brethren, and an alumnus of the University of La Verne, and a senior administrator at a top community college in the state and nation boggles the mind. Except to say that they were all my calling.
This morning’s scripture speaks of relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling. But what is a holy calling? What is our true calling and how do we know when it comes to us, and better yet, how do we know when and how to answer it.
So I go back to that idea of how I wound up here. Thirty-seven years ago, I received what I may now recognize as my first calling. Now some of you may know that when I speak of how I got to the ULV, I have often and regularly referred to it as divine intervention. I was not supposed to go there, here. In 1980 my cousin came to the University of La Verne. The next year, her sister joined her and suddenly there were two Leopards in the extended family. Ironically, because of their presence, the University of La Verne was the last place in the world I wanted or planned to attend college. I did not, under any circumstances, want my two oldest cousins interfering in my collegiate experience. I didn’t know what that experience would be but I knew I did not want them in my business.
I was to be an engineer. My high school chemistry and homeroom teacher had convinced all of us that engineering was the next great profession. And I was sold and planned to go to San Diego State. That’s where they made engineers. But low, and behold, that didn’t happen. That’s where I believe the first push toward my calling to be a Leopard happened. I never heard from them. After assuming I had not been accepted, I figured year’s later that likely my paperwork got lost. It might be hard to believe but at that point we had to fill out our applications with pen on paper and put them in the mail. Not only were there not online applications, there was no internet. Actually, there was no FedEx either.
So I did what anyone with my convictions did. I applied to the University of La Verne. But I held to some of my convictions as I also applied to Whittier, Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna. And with the help of Debbie Stanley, guess which school was the first to accept me.
The University of La Verne was my calling. It was my destiny. Maybe not the school itself, but the values and the people. The scripture also talks about God calling us, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose. So I guess my coming to the University of La Verne was God’s purpose.
As we celebrate our Homecoming Weekend, how many of us saw ULV as our last choice. How many of us, yours truly not included, are second, third, or even fourth generation University of La Verne attendees. That means you answered the call to be part of a community that has a foundation of humanity. How many of us answered a calling to be here, even against our wills.
It’s God’s purpose that puts us where we are. And we don’t always understand the who, what, or why of that calling. In many times we have fought against the calling and worked against God’s purpose to do what we want and the way we want it. I have come to find that I am where I am supposed to be most of the time. I can recall the spaces and places where I worked against all the signs and pushed an agenda that I was not ready for. More often than not I am shown that I was not supposed to be in that space and place. I mean, can you imagine me as an engineer? I can’t imagine that being my calling. Can you imagine me in a place where I do not interact with people on a daily basis or get to work in a way to affect their lives? Education is not only my vocation, but it is the call that I answered.
But what happens when we miss the call? I wonder if that is happening to us right now. The us to whom I am referring is humanity. Or maybe it’s U.S. Americans. Or could it be U.S. Christians? Or is it just us Brethren? Are we ignoring our calling to be a people of humanity? Are we ignoring our calling to be a people of compassion? Are we ignoring our calling to be peace and justice-makers?
I am in agreement with our denominational moderator, Paul Mundey, when he writes, “Frankly, we live in one of the most anxious, conﬂicted eras in modern church history. Numerous issues not only rumble among us, they threaten us, tugging at the very fabric of our denominational being.” While it is possible, and even likely, that we will not agree on all the solutions to rid ourselves of the anxiety or conflict, but we can all listen for the call where God is pushing us to engage.
Answering the call is about putting ourselves in God’s hands. It’s about having faith and believing in fate. Answering the call is about risk vs. reward with the knowledge that if it’s God’s will the reward will be great. But it can be risky and it can be hard. Some of us came to this community because it is what our family did and what was expected of us. And some of us came without knowing how or why we were called here. But we knew or came to find out that this community was part of an historic peace church. It was a community of justice and a community of people who exhibited their faith in their actions. We came because for some reason we likely cannot explain, God placed us here…. Here in this Church and here at this university. I have come to believe that in some cases, our callings are not about us. I believe at times we are called to spaces and places for others. Because if we are not right there at that time, someone who needed us would not have had access. If we are truly being Christians in faith and deed, then we always treat people in a humane way without fanfare or glory-seeking, because we may be standing in for God in that moment in that person’s life. And that might be where we make the difference without knowing. We may be called to just listen, or to give comfort, or to provide security, or to just help someone believe in themself.
I was given more grace and forgiveness than I could have ever imagined during my time in the midst of the University of La Verne during my reign there, so regardless of where I go and where I am, coming home will always be easy. You cannot always answer the call timidly. Sometimes it requires a bold and daring step. Sometimes answering the call requires sacrifice, small and large. As Paul reminds Timothy in his letter to him, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.”
I have been called to positions within the church and within society. This congregation has called me, my district and denomination have called me. I have not answered all of them, but many. And they have been scary and challenging and rewarding. I look forward to some of my next callings because I look forward to what God has in store for me.
I am honored to be a three-time graduate from the University of La Verne and having answered a call to become part of a church who seeks peace and justice. I am fulfilled to be part of a community who is willing to wear their Christianity on their sleeve and seek out the placements God has for us. As we seek to do right and be our best, we should recognize that the calls come on God’s terms and time, not always on ours. So as we celebrate the coming home of our Leopards who dared to answer the call, let us remember that answering the call is about a Spirit of Power, and of Love, and of Self-Discipline. Because God saved us and called us according to his own purpose.