Benediction Online

Sunday, January 19, 2014

What is God calling you to?

Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9

“What is God calling you to?”  “What is God calling us to?”  are two questions I frequently ask, and in fact the second “What is God calling us to?” is one of our Mutual Ministry Review questions this year.

The readings from Isaiah and from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians both begin with words about being called, about being set apart by God. In the first reading Isaiah says “The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me” and in the second, Paul declares himself, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.”

This focus on call fits right in with today’s section of John’s gospel, in which we hear his account of what is usually called “The Call of the First Disciples.” John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, decide to check out this Jesus guy, and end up abandoning John and going off with Jesus instead. It’s this call, the call of these first two disciples, that is the one we need to pay special attention to if we want to understand what it’s usually like to be called by God.

After all, this business of being called is a tricky and an important thing. It’s easy to get confused about it. We often imagine being called in terms of the language and context in 1 Corinthians and Isaiah. That is, with being told by God to do some specific thing, usually a pretty major thing. When I was a teenager and trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up, I was told that God’s will for my life was in the Bible, but I found reading the Bible a frustrating way to make a career choice. There was no chapter entitled “Which college you should go to” or “How to discern your major.” For most of us God’s call doesn’t come in big letters we can’t ignore and most of the time it isn’t a big thing at all. Which is why we should pay special attention to the account of these first two disciples.

What to do when we grow up is a secondary call question. The primary one is the call to follow Christ. The two followers of John the Baptist who Jesus asked to “come and see” were called exactly as we are called. They were called to be disciples – just as we are called to be disciples. They were called to be disciples in their place and in their time, for the sake of their generation.

One of the things this means is that we don’t have to imitate Andrew’s, or John’s, or Peter’s actions in order to see how their call is like the call of Christ to each of us, and to all of us. Notice that Jesus does not first, or primarily, call them to do a particular task or to fill a particular role or to follow a particular career path. Indeed, he didn’t ask them to do anything. Our call as Christians is not initially for us – as it was not, initially, for his first disciples – a call to tasks.

It is, instead, an invitation to relationship. Jesus does not say, “Do this”; he says, “Come and see.” Only later does he give specific content and direction to where that might lead. There’s a big difference between a call to a task and an invitation to relationship.

To respond to a call for relationship, for intimacy, is a very different thing from signing up to do a piece of work – in the same way that falling in love is very different from getting hired. To set out to do a job requires some clarity about what is involved, it’s negotiable, it has its limits, you know what it looks like when the job is over, and so on. To be called into relationship – to be called in love – this is an invitation to enter a mystery; it’s to move out, blindly, into uncharted waters.

When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is calling us first to himself – to a personal intimacy and a shared life. That’s what matters, that’s what is primary. Everything else is left behind; everything else becomes secondary.

Now, if we look at Jesus’ call from the perspective of what’s left behind, it’s a call to repent. But if we see that same call from the perspective of what comes next, then it’s a call to seek God first, to know her better and to move toward making that relationship the central focus of our lives.

It is not always easy. In fact there are often painful times, because an intimate relationship with God means breaking down some of the personality structures that we have put in the way. When everything falls apart in our lives this is often a sign that God is calling us into deeper intimacy, that we have heard God’s call on a new and more profound level. Without times of uncertainty and difficulty we might never have cause to really turn to God and throw ourselves upon God’s grace. The life of Jesus tells us that the intimate relationship with the all-compassionate God is not always easy and does not always lead to fame and fortune.

Yet it is from that primary relationship that the secondary question gets answered. Sometimes there is a deep inner knowing but more often the answer to “What is God calling me to?” is a simple “I don’t know.” Sometimes it is only as we look back across our life that we can see the call and the following. But that “I don’t know” is important because it opens us up to Spirit. As we continue to abide in God, living in ever-deepening relationship to the divine, and ask the question listening for the answer, we are open and ready for the Spirit to blow through us and use us and direct our paths.

It is a process full of inklings and wonderings and perhaps some false starts, rather than a clear unequivocal directive from heaven. I know at times many of us would rather get the telegram, “Your mission, if you choose to accept it is…” We would like God’s call to be big and obvious, a call to ordained ministry, a call to a specific job or a specific location. But more often we get to put one foot in front of the other trusting that as long as we keep asking, God will direct us unto his paths and will continue to call us along the road of our life’s unfolding.

This is what happened to those first disciples – they stayed close to Jesus. They learned what they could and came to know him a little. Each day they got up and did what was in front of them, always within the context of their growing relationship with him. Then, admittedly long before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them things to do. For some, these tasks were dramatic, for others they were quiet and invisible.

The call to Jesus will always, in one form or another, find expression in ministry. But the call comes first. There can be no real, abiding and sustaining ministry without relationship with Christ, without obedience to him as he calls us to himself.

We are called to be disciples. Each one of us. That call comes with our baptism, and the call to relationship and ministry will haunt us, and track us down; it will trouble our sleep and whisper in our ears at the worst possible times. It will grow stronger and weaker and stronger again. It may seem to go away, but it always comes back. Because finally, it’s God calling us to Godself. It’s his call to life, to joy and to true peace. It’s a call to all of us.

So let us both individually and as a community of faith say “Yes” to a life of intimacy with Christ. The psalm for St Benedict, our patron saint says “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8) Let us taste and see, and once we taste let us go on to feast on the love of Christ, and then we will find ourselves being called along the paths that he is creating for us. And we will look back with 20/20 hindsight and say, “This is what God was calling us to.”

With thanks to The Rev. James Leggitt and Sermons that Work.


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