Monday, September 21, 2009

Calling

"Calling"

Journey of Faith - Part One

Genesis 12:1-5 The Call of Abram

Matthew 4:18-22 Jesus Calls the First Disciples

It all started with a phone call. How many stories in our lives could be started with that sentence? Sure, it sounds like an entry in a contest for bad opening lines for short stories, but I bet there are a lot of experiences in this room that can be traced to some source, some cause, some reaction or response to the actions of someone or something else.

For me, it was a phone call from one of my sister’s friends. I was 19 and had taken my first part time youth ministry position. I felt called into youth ministry by God the year before, and I was just beginning that part of my journey. April was not someone I knew well, but she and my sister had been friends for some time. I’ll never forget it though. “How’s your ministry?” she said. I was a little bit stunned, and I didn’t know what to say. I think I responded with something snarky like, “Well, really it’s Jesus’ ministry.” She said she would pray for me, and I thanked her. I figured it was some weird Baptist thing. She’s probably still praying for me over that one. I think that was my first real mistake in terms of understanding what it means to be a Christian. Because I was so steeped in the idea that I am a forgiven sinner and only God is good, I allowed myself to believe that I was not really involved with what God was doing. That’s the big cop out we all face from time to time. If I could just get a sign! If I could just know what God is up to, and what it has to do with me. If I could just know why the person I love is hurting or why nothing seems to matter some times.

There is a website asking people what questions they would ask God if they could call God on the phone. Here are some of the contributions:

-Why do we need fleas? They seem completely unimportant...

-Seriously, can't you get rid of the diseases?

-I would ask Him what was my purpose in life.

-I wouldn't ask him anything. I would thank him for saving me and having mercy on my soul.

-I'd ask Him, “What one sentence could I say to make everyone believe in you?”

-I would ask, WHY? If he is all knowing, and can do anything, why didn't he prevent sin from happening in the first place?

-Why did you take my baby son from me, and turn me into something, I should never have become. Thanks for asking; I had to get that out.

Some of our questions are simply unanswerable, and that leaves us with an abiding dissatisfaction. Sometimes we just have to get that out, so that we can hear God calling to us, comforting us, and even suffering with us. I wonder, what can the disciples teach us about this?

Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee and sees these fishermen. They are the low life of society. They carve out a hard existence in Galilee, a place known for unrest and discontent. Who would these people be today? Where would Jesus go in Savannah to find disciples? Picture someone in your mind that meets the description I just gave you. See, the beauty of these guys is that no one can say, “I could never be as smart, successful, or Biblically literate as those guys.” What about the people you thought of a few minutes ago in Savannah? It’s hard not to make a value judgment on others sometimes, but that’s exactly what we do.

So Jesus says, “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people.” And they quit their job and leave everything to follow Him. Wow. Now we get into some sticky stuff. Maybe they had nothing to loose. On second thought, James and John left their father, Zebadee in the boat! Does God want me to leave all that I have accumulated? Are we even comparing apples to apples here?

Maybe, but let’s look at the text. First off, what is Jesus doing? He’s proclaiming a gospel of repentance, of higher knowing, of turning your orientation from your own perspective to God’s. So, when he calls them, he is offering a relationship that makes it possible to do that. Not only that, the word for casting aside their nets is also used for setting aside sins. They are literally setting aside an old life to enter into a new one.

Wait, wait, wait…that’s all good and well for a few Galilean fisherman, but what about me? Am I supposed to quit school. or my job, or (heaven forbid) golf in order to wander around and tell people to repent? Maybe. Or maybe the opportunities you have in those places are the there for you to follow up on. I remember this kid in High School who I think was one of the bravest kids I ever met. He wasn’t an athlete, or a leader. He was rather mousy and shy, but every day at lunch he would sit at his table with a Bible next to him. Sometimes he would read to himself. He never said a word about it to anyone unless they asked. Funny thing is that hardly anyone would sit with him until all the other tables were full. The sad thing is that I didn’t sit with him either. Worse still, I have no idea who this kid was.

You know, the root of the word used for fisherman is the same as the root for salt. They were men of salt. Jesus called to them and said he would make them salt for men. Soon thereafter Jesus gives the sermon on the mount and calls for us to be as salt and light, two realities that can’t help but effect everything they come into contact with. None of us live in isolation. All of us have the ability to affect one person. We can’t do it alone, but through Christ we become (not can become – this is God’s choice and not our own) as salt and light.

So, how do we know when and where God is calling us? We know that God is offering us grace and forgiveness through Jesus and we want to respond, but how? I’d like to say there are three simple steps, but it’s not quite that easy. Faith is messier than that. Life is messier than that. I will tell you this, though. Step one is to set aside your nets. For a disciple of Christ, we have to know that repentance, turning away from ourselves and turning toward God, is a daily thing, sometimes we have to do it over and over in the same day. For we are not made perfect, but we are being perfected. We are perfectly forgiven, and we are free to follow Christ and join Him in the ministry of telling everyone about the freedom, and the healing, and the power over sin and death He offers us!

Once we have that down, there are a few aspects that I believe can guide us along the way. The first is a nudge, a gut feeling about something that is not quite right but could be and should be. The second is the recognition by others of gifts you have that might meet that need. And the third is that the opportunity avails itself. Now, we live in a culture that says, “If there is no door use the window; and if that does not work, make your own door.” That may be very practical, and sometimes even necessary, but it’s not good theology. For Jesus says, “Behold. I stand at the door, knocking.”

Now if that’s just too much to remember, Frederick Beuchner has a nice way of describing how you know that you are being called. He wrote, “The place God calls you to, is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep need are met.”

You know, phones aren’t what they used to be. We have so many more options these days. But the reality of a call is the same. You either respond or you don’t. So, People of the Way of Christ, Christians (or little representations of Christ, as it once meant), God is calling. Perhaps you are still mending your net, and you don’t consider yourself part of the community. Jesus is calling you into a relationship with him through this congregation. What is your answer? I’d love to hear about it after the service, as we join the journey of faith together. And to God be the glory, both now and always, Amen.
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