God’s calling us (Part 1)

Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 25 August 2019

Readings were Jeremiah 1:4-19 and Matthew 4: 18-22

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What’s the meaning to life?  Why are we here? In other words what is our calling or purpose?

Whether we admit it or not I believe all of us, at times in our lives, ask these questions. Maybe you’re in a job that you hate or you find yourself in a place that no matter what you do, something seems to be missing.

Taken from the book The Call by Os Guiness, I share a story:

“As you know, I have been very fortunate in my career and I’ve made a lot of money – far more than I ever dreamed of, far more that I could ever spend, far more than my family needs.”

The speaker was a prominent businessman at a conference near Oxford University. The strength of his determination and character showed on his face, but a moment’s hesitation betrayed deeper emotions hidden behind the outward intensity.

A single tear rolled slowly down his well-tanned cheek.

“To be honest, one of my motives for making so much money was simple – to have the money to hire people to do what I don’t like doing.  But there’s one thing I’ve never been able to hire anyone to do for me: find my own sense of purpose and fulfilment.  I’d give anything to discover that.”

There is a deep and profound desire to know why we are here.

And I imagine this was the same for Jeremiah, prior to God’s call. Jeremiah was seeking purpose to the different elements of his life, a drawing together, we might say, of his family history, which seems to imply that he was descended from the family of Abiathar, King David’s High Priest. His knowledge that his family had been banished to the small town of Anathoth by King Solomon and the ongoing effects of that banishment, and the injustice he was presently witnessing at the hands of those in power – although many proclaimed loyalty to YAWEH they worshipped other gods, which at times led to the horrifying act of child sacrifice.

In this place of asking he was ripe to hear from the only one who could draw the threads together, to make sense of what had happened and what was happening. To be reminded of the God who called him, the one his family worshipped, and if he was willing, be involved in what God was going to do.

Which was to do all that was needed to bring His people back to Himself, even if it meant using the power of Babylon to do it.

I’m struck by the force of God’s words to Jeramiah. He’s told to get on with the call, even though it was going to be dangerous, difficult and at times painful – God reminded him that he had been known before he was born, that he has been prepared, and God would give him the words to speak. So he has no time to wait until he is older, or wiser, or better rehearsed, rather, God promises to give him what is needed at the time.

Ultimately this trusting God’s call is life giving, for himself and the nations.

We may not be called like Jeramiah to be a prophet, but I do believe God calls each and every one of us. Firstly, and we see this in the Gospel reading, our primary call is as followers of Christ by him, to him and for him. We are called to someone (God) not to something (such as being a parent, politics, or teaching) or to somewhere (such as Bluff or Port Villa in Vanuatu).

A secondary call is to think, speak, live and act for God wherever we are and in whatever we are doing. Os Guinness says this well:

Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.

This call, if we listened carefully, is just as forceful to us as it was to Jeramiah. We can come up with a whole lot of excuses but God won’t allow them to stop what God is doing – God will however give us what we need to do and be what is life giving, if we agree to follow the call.

So then what might this call look like for us?

One of the biggest issues when it comes to calls is that many Christians believe the best of the secondary call is a vocation in the Church. I can remember when I was studying at Bible College, being told that because I had been a missionary, I really didn’t need to study the bible, because I had made it. The ultimate of calls had been realised.

I’ve talked to a number of Christians who have said to me over the years that they don’t feel that they are serving God because they aren’t working in the church, they aren’t a minister or missionary. This is called the ‘Catholic Distortion’. This is in no way putting down the Catholic faith but rather it represents a time, when Catholic Church leaders and theologians, created a dualism where the spiritual was elevated above the secular.

Eusebius, the Bishop of Caesarea, argued that Christ gave ‘two ways of life’ to his Church. One is the ‘perfect life'; the other is ‘ permitted’. The perfect life is spiritual, dedicated to contemplation and reserved for priests, monks and nuns. The permitted life is secular, dedicated to action and open to such tasks as soldiering, governing, farming, trading, and raising families.

As strange as this might sound to our ears today, many Christians still hold to a form of this thinking. William Wilberforce almost gave into this thinking, considering full time service in the Church, and yet Wilberforce is a brilliant example of someone whose call, although lived out in the secular world, witnessed God’s answer to slavery, injustice and greed. The world might have been in a worse state if Wilberforce had become a monk.

Another thing we need to watch out for is ‘Protestant distortion’, which is pretty much the opposite of what we have just heard. Instead of the spiritual being elevated, it is the secular that becomes the most important. In other words our call becomes another term for work.

At the time of the Puritans, such words as, trade, work, employment and occupation came to be used interchangeably with calling and vocation. As this happened, the guidelines for callings shifted; instead of being directed by the commands of God, they were seen as directed by duties and roles in society. The original demand that each Christian should have a calling was boiled down to the demand that each person should have a job. Which if we think about it, puts into question who the caller is – God, the employer or society?

If we recognise we having a calling, for us, by God, then that must influence what we do, how we work, how we interact with others – the spiritual can’t be hidden away. There is no way, if we take our calling seriously, that we will simply live life without knowing God is with us. However, it may challenge us to think about some of the things we do – I don’t believe God would call any of us to choose to live or work in a way that destroys or oppresses others.

Also, our calling doesn’t mean our lives will be easy or without stress. But we will have lives that answer the question ‘what is our purpose?’

Next week we are going to expand on this a bit more and also reflect on how we can lead others to know the Calling God has for them. But today remember these three things:

  1. Like Jeramiah, we have all been called by God.
  2. And because of God’s call to us, we are to live, think and act for God with God, where ever we are and in whatever we are doing.
  3. And the only really way we can do this is by following Jesus, who not only is with us, and who makes it possible to live the call, but shows us what it looks like.

What might God’s call be for you?

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