Last Sunday I asked you to remember your baptism. Today I ask you to remember your calling. Today we heard these words from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God….. God is faithful;
by God you were called into the fellowship of the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Remember that you have been called into the fellowship of Christ.
Last night my wife took me to a dinner party at the home of one of her social worker friends. There I was in a room full of social workers, eating chili. Next to the bowl of chili there was a bowl of hot green peppers. I love hot peppers. But every time I eat hot peppers at some point I forget that I’ve been eating hot peppers, and I rub my eyes. Sure enough, last night I rubbed my eye and my eyeball went on fire.
Instead of getting up, I said, “I just rubbed hot chili into my eye, but I know that since I’m in this room full of social workers, all I have to do is sit here and some compassionate social worker is going to fetch a warm wet cloth and soothe my aching eyeball.” The social workers replied, ” You need a nurse for that, but we will listen to you, if you would like to tell us how it is for you to have hot chili in your eye.”
I had a long talk last night with one of the social workers who works with cancer patients. He described how impossible his job is. He has to respond to twenty-five new clients per week, and each week he has to follow up on the twenty-five people who called for help the previous week. All of these people are calling with profound problems and great needs. If nothing else, they need someone to stop and really listen to them. But most of the time he can’t stop long enough to listen as he wants to listen and as they need to be listened to.
It was clear though that he feels a calling to his work, even though he cannot give each person the time they need. In those brief encounters he brings compassion and love. He said, “It’s so crazy; there is no way I can respond adequately to all these people’s needs. Every person who calls has some combination of major health, financial, emotional and family problems.” But then he said, “Even though my job is so crazy, there is one thing it does for me: it makes me realize that very few things really matter. I just can’t get so upset about all the things that used to bother me.”
A calling is something that clarifies for you what really matters. I am inviting you today to remember your calling. A calling is something that focuses your life, and it comes with a new sense of purpose and happiness.
Remember that you are part of the body of Christ. What ever else is going on in your life – regardless of the work you do, or where you were born, or what your problems are, or anything else particular to your life, you have been called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus. And as part of that body you have some special gifts which you are called to discover and to use to the glory of God.
We are all doing our best, day in and day out, to cope with everything life throws at us. Surviving and coping and managing all life’s crazy twists and turns is a full-time job. But in the Christian life there is always something more than just coping and surviving. Each of us has some sacred work to do. Each of us is called; and each of us is gifted by God.
Martin Luther King Jr. would have celebrated his 79th birthday this past week had he lived. As I was reading and listening this week to the familiar stories of Dr. King’s life, there were two things that struck me in a fresh way. I was struck by how young he was. I was struck also by how he wrestled with his calling at a very critical time. Ultimately it was only because he had a sense of calling that he was able to accomplish what he did.
He was so young when he was in the thick of the civil rights. He was the age my children are now. He graduated high school at the age of fifteen. He graduated from college at the age of nineteen and had his divinity degree the age of twenty-two. He became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama at the age of twenty-four and had his doctoral degree at the age of twenty-six.
He was only twenty-six years old when Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on that Montgomery bus to a white man. He was twenty-six years old when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. He was thirty-four years old when he wrote his letter from the Birmingham Jail and when he proclaimed, “I have a dream,” to the hundreds of thousands gathered at the March on Washington. He was thirty-five years old when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to have been awarded that honor.
He was thirty-nine years old when he was shot dead in 1968.
Such a young man in such a short time had such a great impact on the nation. The year 1955 is particularly significant. That is the year Rosa Parks would not give up her seat, and that was the year this young precocious pastor with prestigious academic credentials left the relative comfort and security of his position as a leading pastor to put his life on the line. Twenty-six years old – awfully young be taking the weight of history on one’s shoulders.
He later wrote concerning the Montgomery bus boycott, “When I went to Montgomery as a pastor, I had not the slightest idea that I would later become involved in a crisis …. I simply responded to the call of the people for a spokesman.” He simply responded to a call.
But when that movement provoked an ugly and violent counterattack, King began looking for a way to slide out of the leadership role in the civil rights movement. He was scared. He was afraid for himself and he was afraid for his family. He hoped he could find a dignified way to step aside.
Then came that agonizing night at the kitchen table, where he prayed aloud, cried out his fears, and in the morning heard what he called an inner voice saying, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And I will be with you, even until the end of the world.” …I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared.”
Here we are fifty-some years later, in the process of electing a president, and at this point that President may be a white man, may be a woman, may be the son of an African father and Anglo mother. The very fact that all these possibilities are present today has some relationship to God’s calling upon the young African-American man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.
I invite you today to consider your calling.
“Calling” – that’s of an odd word; we don’t use that word much in ordinary conversation. It’s a Biblical word. It is one of the most important words used by Paul in his letters.
“Paul, called to be apostle of Christ Jesus.”
In the Greek it is even more succinct: Paulos klaytos apostolos Christou Jesu.
It was Paul’s whole identity to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. Paul reminds all of the members of the church at Corinth that they also have a calling that joins them together as the body of Christ. Individually each has a calling to use their gifts of God to the glory of God.
I have a close friend about my age who is currently serving a church in Brooklyn. He is married with two kids. He has a calling. He has spoken with the bishop and various leaders of the New York Conference about his calling, which is to leave the four walls of his church building and the office desk and file cabinets – to leave the established congregation and start a new church somewhere in the New York City area. He has received encouragement and some financial support for this project. I have heard him talk about this idea for several years, and now he is set to pursue his calling and take a leap of faith into the unknown. He feels called to plant a new church.
I invite you to consider your calling.
Your calling is not to be confused with me calling you on the phone. I may call you, or some other leader of the church may call you, and we may say, “I would like you to consider being a member of such and such committee,” or, “I wonder if you might wish to serve in such and such a ministry.” I do such calling all the time and must do so as part of my ministry, but a phone call from me is not to be confused with your calling.
Sometimes I call someone up and I say, “Would you consider…?” and I sense on the other end of the line a burst of enthusiasm, excitement and eagerness. This doesn’t happen every day, but it happens. It sometimes happens that a call from somebody else can touch within us the sense of a greater calling that we have, a greater claim upon our lives from God. A true calling comes with a sense of joy, a sense of anticipation, and the sense of something that is profoundly right.
I have all kinds of ideas about what I’d like a lot of you to be doing, and I will keep poking and prodding and suggesting and requesting things from you. But this is not a substitute for your self-exploration before God – you seeking to know the how it is that God would have you use your life to God’s glory.
You may be looking for some great big thing, while God may be calling you to some humble and inconspicuous thing. Or you may be thinking way too small, and your calling may be to undertake something greater than you imagined was within you.
Each of us has some holy work to do, some sacred work to do. Consider your calling, and whatever it is, don’t sit on it – don’t wait ten years to do something about it – don’t keep it to yourself. Use your gifts and answer the calling of God upon your life to give glory to God and to give joy and purpose your existence.
Grace and peace to all of you.