You Are the ONE

Today's 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 same God.

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 to do.

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 lives.

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