Though I’ve never seen the film “Taken,” I have seen some delightful reels of action star Liam Neeson’s intense phone conversations that take place in the movie franchise.
This, alas, is a Neeson-free post (though everyone’s favorite northern Irishman has dabbled in the Divine, voicing the character of “Aslan” in the Narnia movies and providing a cameo as a hobo-esque Jesus in the British show “Rev”).
No, my thoughts are tugged towards a different kind of taken.
If you believe in an open universe, if you believe in the probability of an Unmoved Mover or Real Reality and you believe that that Being Greater Than Which Nothing Can Be Conceived exists, you might believe that that Being is involved the world. You might believe that that Being is a Triune Being and that each person of this Being is somehow active in the world that bears witness to a great deal of order, pattern and sequence. And if you do believe that there might be a more-than-natural First Cause who not only sustains the world but also has interest in it, to put it mildly, then you might believe that this Triune Being, in goodness, providence and infinite power, is greater than your understanding of space and time and what it means to have a past and a future. And that God (in case you hadn’t picked up on who we were talking about) not only communicates through and with creation and creatures, but might even communicate the idea that it would be good for you to do something with your life that communicates about this Being to the world in which you live.
In other words, to be a Christian likely means you have some idea of the notion that God calls humans to serve himself and others, and that God calls some humans in particular to bear special responsibility for what one might call “Christian ministry.”
In further words, to be a Christian likely means that at some point you have or you will allow yourself to listen to a sermon, and that you have or will hear a sermon that pops the question:
“Is God calling you into full-time ministry?”
Accounts of various saints’ calls and experiences reach pretty far back into church history: St. Augustine among the most notable. No one is questioning the important role of communicating these stories to the faithful.
But what about the times when followers of God find themselves less “called” and more “taken”? Sometimes a call to ministry bears the stamp of a certain luxury: the luxury of unfettered response.
There is no biblical account of Joseph “feeling called to go to Egypt and minister there.” No, he certainly had valuable – if poorly handled – dreams: dreams that revealed a future beyond his comprehension. The thing is, no one follows their dreams by being kidnapped, sold, and confined in enforced servitude. That’s not how we “pursue our God-given destiny.” No adviser or mentor suggests this as a route to vocational success. Bound for greatness? Become a slave! Find your passion in 10 easy steps!
No – Joseph was taken to Egypt, not called to go there. There was no beautiful Ruth-and-Naomi moment: “where you go, I will go.” It was not a pretty picture. He was ripped from loved ones, taken at the height and strength of youth, carried to an unknown place by unknown people, suffered for his virtue, left to rot in prison to battle his thoughts of what kind of man he must have been to make his brothers hate him so much.
Friends, sometimes what they meant for evil, God means for good. And you may find yourself where you don’t want to be:
An early widower with young children.
A new citizen of an unfamiliar state due to layoffs, recession and foreclosure.
An employee suffering because of choices not to gossip, backstab and maneuver with ambition.
A divorcee grieving the smoldering ruins of a marriage begun in bright hope.
A normal person working a normal job with a sudden, devastating cancer diagnosis still ringing in your stunned ears.
A loving elder forced by frailty to depend on others, wondering if God has forgotten you after years of faithfully serving him.
A young person with a gritty work ethic, love of family – and no state documentation, through no fault of your own.
An artist wondering if you’ll have to choose between your love of creating and a roof over your head.
How often we are taken to Egypt, in shock and utterly alone, the landscape of our homeland receding in the distance with only the smell of wretched camel to accompany us on the journey. The food is different, the language is different, the traditions are different.
Your soul is homesick, and when you hear people talk about God’s calling, the words sound mocking.
“Called? God called you? That’s fantastic, really great for you. I had dreams, too. Visions for the future. Now I’m working three jobs, dealing with a chronic illness and regularly get passed over for promotion because I’m not willing to lie. Maybe I imagined those dreams. God calls some people, I have faith in that. I’m just not sure how I’m fulfilling my calling by working as a customer service rep during the holidays…Maybe I was mistaken about God’s big plans for my life.”
I’m here to remind you today that you didn’t imagine those dreams. You didn’t imagine that vision. And God has not forgotten you. Perhaps you’ve been taken where you never wished to go. Maybe life has seemed all detour, no destination. Maybe you think that you’ve gone beyond the reach of God’s purposes, serving no useful role in any way that amounts to much.
The truth is that sometimes people are called, and sometimes people are taken. I’ve become more and more convinced that the real growth happens in those circumstances over which you have no control. It’s one thing to bounce up, exclaiming, “here I am! Send me!” It’s quite another to say, “though he slay me, yet will I trust him,” and, “the Lord gives, the Lord takes away – blessed be the name of the Lord…”
Though I end up five states away from my relatives, yet will I trust him.
Though I spend Valentine’s with the aftereffects of chemo, blessed be the name of the Lord.
Though the job my heart yearned for disappeared from my hands, yet will I trust him.
Though a stroke has landed me in a care facility where I share a room with a woman who can’t remember how many children she has, blessed be the name of the Lord.
When you’re taken instead of offered the bright promise of freedom to respond to a call, remember where you’re actually headed; where you’ll actually end up.
The taken always make their way to the lap of Jesus.
You’re not just taken; you’re taken to Christ. You’re not just detoured from your real purpose; those detours from purpose are shortcuts to the face of Jesus. You’re not just removed from the life of your dreams; you’re removed to the presence of Christ, who wipes away every tear.
Jesus was taken – led away, tied up, beat up, spit on.
And Jesus will take you home.