Calling and Being Called

19 01 2008

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; I Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1: 29-42

What is calling? What do we mean when we say vocation? Is it part of identity? Is it part of mission? Or should we speak of it in the context of a gift? When we speak of calling or vocation we usually mean a calling to ordained ministry or to religious life, such as being a monk or a nun. But in the first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul does not stop there. He refers to those who are called to be saints, and that is the entire people of God…including you and me. My good friend Pisco talks about his becoming a Christian not as a conversion, but “God was calling me to become a Christian.” St. Paul’s introduction to his letter speaks to his most fundamental convictions. We are called to be in Christ. We who carry the name of Christ are called into fellowship with each other and into a common mission. I have thought of the Church in Corinth as the Pentecostals/Charismatics of their day, for they had an abundance of spiritual gifts. But Paul, in his talk about these gifts, is more concerned about how they are used as opposed to the expression of the gifts themselves.

Our call, our vocation of being a Christian is one of fellowship. Factionalism and splintering or schism means a denial of that fellowship. All members of the community belong to the God who called them into fellowship with Christ. Where does this call come from? The beginning of our call into fellowship, like all senses of vocation is a revelation from God, a gift. In the Gospel of John, St John the Baptist say, “I did not know him then, but I know him now!” This perception of our calling as a Christian might be gradual, like a sunrise, or abrupt like a lightning bolt, but regardless of how the revelation or gift happens it does not come from reason alone, or even intuition or any human perception. It comes from God and is a gift of grace. As a result of our revelation, it gives birth to witness or mission. Our call as Christians are not meant to be private possessions, but we are to share this gift with others. Indeed, as we grow and mature as followers of Jesus, we cannot help but be living witnesses of God’s grace as we respond to his call of fellowship.

What kind of witness should our calling manifest? The ultimate test is whether or not the witness points to Christ, and not the one who witnesses. I’m reminded of the cults of personality that have developed around the televangelists and senior pastors of megachurches or anyone who might be identified with the religious right. For all the good they might do, does their witness really point to Christ or to themselves? In contrast, consider the witness of St. John the Baptist. John speaks, his disciples hear his message … and then run off to follow Jesus.

John identifies Jesus by two names. The first one is “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is the one who breaks the dominating power of sin in Creation. Instead of bondage, rejection, disenfranchisement, Jesus brings freedom, belonging acceptance and liberation. Indeed, Jesus says later in the Gospel, “If the Son makes you free, then you are free indeed.” His other name is the “Son of God.” By this we mean that Jesus is God’s unique revelation to humanity. One way to look at it is comparing the Father and the Son to thought and speech. God the Father is thought and Jesus is the Word that makes the thought of God known. He is the manifestation, the Incarnation of deity. So, what we are shown by the John’s identifying Jesus as Lamb and Son of God is not a God who remains aloof and distant, but one who saves and liberates. Human wisdom, even the great wisdom of the Enlightenment period whose ideals formed the basis of the ideals and governance of the United States is hopelessly ensnared in bondage to sin. But, the revelation of God in Jesus brings freedom. The brokenness and fallenness of humanity cannot be removed by anyone other than the unique Son of God. And we profess that this revelation, this idea does not come from our own wisdom, but a gift that is given by God’s initiative.

In the book of Isaiah, our passage for the week speaks of a servant that is also has this divine empowerment and call. He realizes his own strength is futile, but paradoxically enough realizes that his real strength may be found in God. This is given in the midst of living out the servant’s vocation and mission, which in this context is about bringing the exiles of Israel home. But once the exiles of Israel and Judah have returned to their homeland, the servant sees a much bigger scope, a much bigger agenda … for the return of the exiles to Israel and Judah are not just for the natives, it’s for all of the nations. This servant of God, who was once despised and abhorred by those nations, finds himself among and honored by kings and princes. One of the great themes of the Gospel is that of a reversal, where what is deemed important to the world is turned on its head. Even today, there are subtle shifts of this. The fact that the US Democratic party presidential nominee is someone who is not a white heterosexual male is a sign of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. Those who were put down (women) or made to be not human (African-Americans) by law, are now exalted.

As Isaiah says, the scope of redemption is worldwide. We as Christians cannot act like a privileged community, saying that we have experienced salvation, we have come home and everyone else is condemned. Jesus’ mission, his calling, his vocation is redemptive and restorative for everyone. Our vocation of fellowship with Christ makes his mission our mission. Like Christ we are called to be a force for healing and reconciliation and catalysts for the work of redemption to take place.

Amen

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5 responses

19 01 2008
Pisco Sours

I think you put into words what I was experiencing on that fateful day!

21 01 2008
Grandmère Mimi

RB, I hope that this was a sermon delivered. It demonstrates mature insight into the reality of the Christian call to follow the way of Jesus. Very fine, my friend, very fine.

21 01 2008
Reverend boy

Well, thank you very much GM, that is a wonderful compliment. 😀

My reflections/sermons are really only delivered online. I have yet to actually preach, though I do hope I will be a good one.

21 01 2008
Doorman-Priest

I think you have a gift here my friend. I look forward to hearing that the church recognises it too.

22 01 2008
Personal Atheist

Great sermon. I just have one comment:

The fact that the US Democratic party presidential nominee is someone who is not a white heterosexual male is a sign of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. Those who were put down (women) or made to be not human (African-Americans) by law, are now exalted.

I find it interesting (and maybe somewhat ironic) that you see Obama’s and Clinton’s candidacy in this light. The Christian scriptures were used for millennia to justify putting down women and non-whites, after all. If anything, I would say their candidacy is only made possible due to Christianity’s weakened hold on this country, which is partly due to the current administration’s association with the religious right.

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