You Are the
scripture from Isaiah is the prophetic proclamation of
Israel's election. Isaiah hears Yahweh's declaration, "I
created you," "I formed you" (43:1). Then, "I summoned you by
name, you are mine."
Israel has been called, commandeered, summoned by God for
service. The whole world will be blessed through the election
of this particular people. The well-known theologian Karl
Barth called the Doctrine of Election one of the peculiar,
distinguishing characteristics of Israel's God. Think about
it, our God blesses the whole world through the election of a
specific people. And God offers a promise of divine
assistance, "I will be with you." Not necessarily what many
would expect from a divine being.
When God calls, people respond in a variety of ways, and we've
talked about this recently, but I want to explore the idea of
call from a slightly different perspective today. On one end
of the spectrum some folks pursue ordination and on the other
end some folks just kind of exist, but the vast majority of
God's people live in the middle of this spectrum and seek to
answer God by changing how they live their lives.
Now this can sometimes be a frustrating experience, because
deciding what we're called to do means nothing less than
deciding what it means to be a Christian in a world where
being Christian is not revered, at least publicly. Is being a
Christian a matter of changing who we are - becoming a kinder,
more spiritual, or "religious" person? Is it a matter of
changing what we do - looking for a new job, becoming more
involved at church, or witnessing to the neighbors? What does
God want from us, and how can we comply?
I find it interesting that our scripture readings for today
focus us once again on God's calling us. I didn't select these
readings per se; these come from the lectionary, which assigns
specific scripture readings to every Sunday of the year. But I
do find it interesting that as the New Year begins we again
this week explore what it means to be called by God.
New years, probably more so than at any other time of the
year, is the time when people consider change and new
approaches to life, so it's very appropriate to consider how
God might want us to live out this year, whether that means
change, or continuing to do what we're already doing.
I find that in many ways, those of us who pursue ordination
take the easy way out. We choose a prescribed role that seems
to meet all the requirements, and take up full-time residence
in the ministry of the church. We forego the hard work of
straddling two different worlds for the most part, balancing
the demanding needs of the secular world with the call of God.
Those in the pulpit may know where they belong, but those of
you in the pews hold dual citizenship in many ways, and it's
not always easy.
When you come together as the church, the body of Christ, this
is where you belong - in God's country, which is governed by
love. But when you leave this place, you cross the border into
another country, governed by other, less forgiving laws - and
you live there too.
One man describes his dilemma this way. "On Sunday morning,"
he says, "I walk into a world that is the way God meant it to
be. People are considerate of one another. Strangers are
welcomed. We pray for justice and peace. Our sins are
forgiven. We all face in one direction, and we worship the
When it's over, I get in my car to drive home feeling so full
of love it's unbelievable, but by the time I've gone twenty
minutes down the road it's already begun to wear off. By
Monday morning it's all gone, and I've got another whole week
to wait until Sunday rolls around again."
How many of you feel like this sometimes? You come, get
filled, get fired up for Christ, your ready to take on the
world for Jesus sake, and then WAMMO, before the day is done
all that was experienced in one hour of worshipping God seems
to go out the window. And we all know that sometimes it
doesn't take a whole lot for the love to leave us, it can
happen as you try and pull out into the traffic as you leave
here, and someone cuts you off.
What I've come to understand as I observe and listen to people
talk about their lives is that many Christians are missing a
true sense of vocation in their lives. The word itself means a
call or summons, so that having a vocation means more than
simply having a job, and earning a paycheck. It means
answering a specific call; it means doing what one is meant to
do. It means doing what one is gifted to do.
In religious language, it means participating in the work of
God, something that few lay people believe they do. Immersed
in the corporate worlds of business and finance, and in the
domestic worlds of household and family, it's hard for some
people to see how their lives have anything to do with the
life of God, or even can.
From time to time these folks pay visits to their pastors,
confessing how they ache for more meaningful work, something
that yes will pay the bills, but also something that gives one
a sense of purpose. These folks are doing their jobs, but are
they doing the jobs they were born to do?
Are they using their God given gifts, or are they tolerating a
job that leads to stress and frustration for the sake of
earning a paycheck or reaching retirement? This is something
many folks struggle with, and it's not easy. Truthfully, we
have obligations and we have family to take care of. Balancing
this need with the desire to use our God given gifts can be
tough. I know myself when God laid his call to ordained
ministry on my heart, I struggled with the idea knowing the
paycheck I was getting, the perks and the potential retirement
I would receive were very different than what I would receive
as a Pastor.
But as I found out, by answering God's call, everything has
been taken care of by God, and I am a very happy, content, and
satisfied person. I wouldn't trade those feelings for all the
money in the world, because when I was making good money I
didn't have these feelings. I now know what I was missing.
Over the past several months I've spoken about call and
vocation on several occasions. I've done this purposely
because it's so important to living fulfilling lives. I spent
the month of September talking about our purpose in life, then
in November I addressed how we can be successful, and how we
develop a passion for Christ. And again last week I spoke of
Mary and her call. All of these messages have centered on a
summons from God.
God has a call on everyone's life and it's important to
discern what that call is, not so God can get his work done,
that will happen with or without us, but rather so we can be
content and satisfied in what we do. Satisfaction and
contentment ultimately lead to joy, low stress and a more
fulfilling life. Also, doing what one is called to do will
ultimately lead more people to Christ and eternal life, which
is God's ultimate goal. So what we have is the ultimate
win-win-win situation. " God gets his work done. " As we do
God's work we are blessed. " And others come to know Christ.
Somewhere along the way we've misplaced the ancient vision of
the church as being a priestly people - set apart for ministry
in baptism, confirmed and strengthened in worship, and lived
out in service to the world. Doesn't mean we're better than
others, but it does mean we have a special job to do. This
kind of vision is a foreign one to many church members these
days, who have learned that "minister" means the ordained
person in a congregation, while "lay person" means someone who
does not engage in full-time ministry.
Professionally speaking, that's fair enough - ordained people
make their livings in ministry, and lay people do not - but
speaking ecclesiastically, it's a disaster and counter to the
teachings of Jesus. Statements like that turn clergy into
vendors of religion and lay people into consumers, who shop
around for the church that offers them the best product. In
many ways we've turned faith into a commodity, and we go
shopping for the best deal. Where can I go to church and get
what I want out of the service, while putting the least amount
of effort into it, after all I work all week I don't need more
This consumer-driven attitude misses the whole point of
worship and serving God. Going to church isn't about us, it's
about God. We come to worship not to receive, although by
God's grace when we do worship we end up receiving.
In an upcoming article I've written for the Emmitsburg
Dispatch entitled, "Is the Church Really Relevant Anymore?" I
challenge the readers with the following statement:
"One of the problems we have as Christians is that we expect
the church to awaken us, to get us excited about Jesus, and to
motivate us to a new way of life. Well the truth is our faith
doesn't work that way. Following Jesus requires us to be
active participants in our spiritual growth by taking part in
the full life of the Church including the Spiritual
Disciplines. When we participate in the spiritual disciplines,
we begin to see and hear things in a different light. Words we
hear on Sunday morning, and receiving the sacraments, begin to
take on new meaning, and before you know it we are excited and
see the relevance of Jesus. Jesus never said following him
would be easy; but he did say the rewards would be great."
Affirming the ministry of a baptized Christian is not an idea
that appeals to many people these days. It sounds like more
work, and most folks have all the work they can handle. It
sounds like more responsibility, while most people are
staggering with burdens that are already too heavy. But for
the church to be relevant in the community, and for Jesus to
be relevant in our lives we need to be in ministry, all of us,
so that Christ and his church are an integral part of our
William Willimon tells of a woman who listened to his speech
entitled, "Ministry of the laity as God's best hope for the
world." She said afterwards, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to
be that important." Like her, many who attend churches around
the world today hear the invitation to ministry as an
invitation to do more - to lead the effort to collect
addresses for mailings, or fill shoeboxes for children
overseas, or teach vacation bible school.
Yet we need to hear the invitation to ministry as an
invitation to be more - to be more generous, more loving, more
spiritual, more Christ-centered. And please know, the ministry
your called to participate in might involve being just who you
already are, and doing what you're already doing, with one
difference: namely, that you understand yourself to be God's
person in and for the world, and that what you're doing brings
glory to God.
However simple it sounds, I suppose that invitation will
always frighten people, if for no other reason than the fact
they've heard such hair-raising tales about what happens to
God's followers. Following Jesus isn't always easy. Whether
you're reading the Bible or the newspaper, the bottom line is
the same: God's people tend to draw fire.
Let's face it; God's people are under fire today, especially
in the media. Yet it's interesting because as you hear and
read about some of these "media people" or "celebrities" when
they're away from the cameras, they are very much God-fearing
people to a certain degree, so they say. I call them closet
Christians. They're Christians when they're around other known
Christians, or when they feel they're livelihood isn't
threatened by those who harbor liberal secular bias'.
So my point is if they're Christian and if they're called by
God to be a media kind of person, then they ought to be
Christians in the media, meaning for example, they ought to
turn down jobs where Christian morals or ethics are
compromised. We ought to do the same.
As we go about our daily lives we are called to live out our
baptism, just as Jesus did. God reached out and touched Jesus
in a very special way. When the Holy Spirit descended upon
Jesus God was saying, you are the one. Even today it's the
nature of our God to reach out, to reach in, and to choose
people for his divine work.
It's in this way our lives have significance, not because of
who we are, but because of God's call upon our lives. We are
those who have been chosen, by a gracious God, to be in the
service of our God for the world.
As Jesus gave his life out of love for us, may we live each
day, out of love for him.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade