In the weeks between Easter and Pentecost, we will be spending some time considering the ways that God spoke to and summoned some of the folks in scripture…and what implications that has for God’s people today. On April 12, we considered the calls extended to Jeremiah and Zechariah, found in Jeremiah 1:4-8 and Luke 1:5-20, respectively.
By most accounts, I was doing all right. I mean, no, I wasn’t earning enough money to ensure the complete trust of my wife’s parents, but we had three squares a day and a nice place to live. I was employed as a youth worker, and I was enmeshed in a network of solid and sincere relationships, and there was sure plenty to do. I was doing some writing for a number of magazines, speaking at some regional youth ministry events, and familiar with the national ones. I had a nice placement on a college campus, and was doing a fair amount of traveling. Life was good.
And then I got the call to the pastorate.
I wish I could say that one day I stepped out of the house and was blinded by the sight of an angel of the Lord, a beautiful creature surrounded by daisies and kittens and unicorns and rainbows. I wish I could say that I was struck dumb by beauty and deafened by majestic music and overwhelmed by a sense of awe. If I was going to be called by God, that’s how I would have liked to be called.
In real life, though, it was different. An older man, a fellow Christian who had sought to encourage me from time to time, had invited me to a little dive called Kim’s Diner in the beautiful community of McKees Rocks. I was pretty busy, but I went because I thought that he was going to offer some money for one of the youth programs. As we sat down to our breakfast (2 eggs, over easy, wheat toast, and floppy bacon), he said, “All right, let me cut right to the chase. What the hell’s it gonna take for me to get your ass into seminary where you belong?”
That was it. No “Fear not” or “Gloria in excelsis Deo…” Just a couple of guys in a greasy spoon trying to be honest with ourselves and each other.
I don’t remember what I said that day, other than sputtering out a few excuses about how I didn’t have the money or the time for graduate school and I wasn’t sure that being a pastor really fit me, anyway.
Yet here I stand, thirty years later, wearing a white dress, a gray beard, and a deep appreciation for God’s calling on my life through that man.
Last week, we celebrated the resurrection of the Lord, and we pointed to the fact that God would not let even death stand in the way of extending the invitation to follow Jesus to a life that is fruitful and faithful. In the weeks following Easter, I’d like to suggest that we spend some time considering the nature of God’s calling to humanity.
Does God send out messages to people? If so, to whom? And how? And why?
Our scripture readings for this morning give us two pretty clear-cut descriptions of God’s calling to individuals. What can we learn from these readings?
Well, it would appear as though there is no age limit. Jeremiah is summoned to serve when he is just a child, and as he protests, he’s told that God knew him before he was born. While just a boy, Jeremiah is equipped for the task that God has in mind for him. On the other end of the spectrum, Zechariah is an old man when the angel Gabriel informs him that the last years of his life will be spent in a very different fashion than he might have imagined.
Not only that, but while Zechariah is playing in the big leagues – a priest serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, the first verse of the book of Jeremiah informs us that this kid is from the boondocks – Anathoth is really nowheresville when it comes to Israelite geography.
A quick glance at the people to whom God calls in the Bible will reveal that his invitation is not extended only to those who are particularly righteous. I was reminded of that some years ago when I heard a couple of the high school kids talking about their future. One of them said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about maybe being a minister.” His friend laughed and said, “Oh, no way! You are not anywhere near holy enough to be a pastor!” “What do you mean?”, the first kid said. “Look at Dave!”
The truth is that when God calls people, not everyone is called to do the same thing in the same place. The one thing for which you can be very grateful as you go to bed tonight is that you are not called to be me or the person sitting behind you. The call is extended to each person in his or her own life.
Another truth that comes out as we examine these call stories is this: saying “yes” to God can be very, well, inconvenient. It has often been said that the job of the church is to comfort the afflicted, and that’s true in many respects. Equally true, however, is the fact that when the Lord calls people, he often afflicts those who are comfortable!
Jeremiah, for instance, is probably pretty happy with his life. He gives absolutely no indication whatsoever that he is interested in being plucked from a lifetime of obscurity and thrust into the limelight that will wind up with him speaking before kings and generals, alternately loved and loathed by the people he is asked to serve.
And Zechariah, too, found the very cozy and predictable confines of his life to be drastically confounded when he was told to start building a nursery. I’m not saying that either one of these men would have wished for another experience – but the truth is that often the call to be God’s person is a call to a road that can be difficult and lonely, to say the least.
The good news in that regard, however, is that by its very nature the call implies some sort of companionship. One cannot be called into nothing. The fact that there is a call demonstrates that there is a caller. An invitation always comes from someone. Jeremiah heard this plainly when he was told, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
That, I think, is the essence of any call: The Lord, whose name is “I am”, invites us to be with him. To be for him. To be in him.
Even more than God’s calling Jeremiah to a career in prophecy, or Zechariah to the vocation of fatherhood, or smart-alecky Dave Carver to the office of the pastorate, we understand that God’s call is first and foremost from the place or station where we happen to be into closer company with him – and from there, to the next vocation or situation that God has for us.
As I have indicated, in the coming six weeks, we will be spending some time in worship considering various places in scripture and our world wherein God calls to God’s people.
There are two core truths that I would like you to anchor yourselves to in the time between now and Pentecost, then.
First, remember that God calls people. That is to say, we dare not think of a heavenly calling as something that used to happen, but does not occur any longer. We dare not lump the ongoing call of God into that category of things that we once experienced, but haven’t seen in a while:
- remember when Pittsburgh was the “smoky city”?
- Wasn’t it great before baseball had the designated hitter rule?
- Didn’t church used to end at noon?
No, the call of God is ongoing – it is in God’s very nature to be inviting, summoning and sending; it is in our very nature to be perceiving and responding.
And that leads to the other truth on which I’d like you to hang your hat this season: you are call-able. Right now. Right here. At this season of your life. I understand that may fill some of you with joy and others of you with anxiety. Still others of you may greet that phrase with a certain amount of skepticism, but I’m unwavering in my belief that if God can call to me in the depths of a diner in McKees Rocks, God can call to you where you are right now.
With that in mind, then, I’d like to invite you to entertain a serious question. If the God of the universe, of all ages, the God who was, who is, and who is to come – if That God is a calling God; and if you – the you who sits in the pews and rides the bus to school and packs your lunch for work and sneaks in too much caffeine and probably should exercise a little more and frankly worries a little too much… that is to say, if your you right now is call-able…
…then what might that God be saying to this you?
God is not finished calling people.
You are clearly not where you’re going to end up.
My money is on the likelihood that God is calling out to you right now.
So what is he saying?
How can you hear him?
Here’s what I’ll suggest: I’d like to invite you to put yourself in a place where you can be quiet – absolutely and utterly quiet – for a few moments each day. Turn off the phone and the TV. Close your eyes. Don’t think that you have to be reading some incredible theological work or contemplating some amazingly giant idea. Just be.
Oh, come on, Dave, you’ve been alone in your study too much! Do you know what my life is like? I can’t even go into the bathroom alone! Do you know what it’s like to have four kids?
No, I don’t know what it’s like to be you. But I do know that if you seek it, you will find four or five moments during the day where you can just be. I often find mine just as I wake up, or while I’m waiting for sleep to come in the night.
And when you are in that alone and quiet place, breathe. Breathe in as much as you can, and then exhale as gently and as slowly as you can. When you breathe in, simply say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit.” And as you exhale, think “out with worry…away with fear or distraction…” That’s it. Don’t pray “for” anyone or anything. Just be. Every day, for a few moments, just be.
And once a week, be here. Zechariah found himself called in worship, and maybe you will be, too. Practice coming on Sunday morning as a means by which you can be available to the One who calls. I know, you’ve got softball practice coming up, and the dance recital, and graduation parties. But I bet that you can choose to be here if you want to. Want to. This is a way that you can shape yourself as one who is receptive to the call.
And lastly, I know that there are those present who have some sort of a call story already. If you have experienced something of being summoned by the one who rearranged Jeremiah and Zachariah’s lives, then please honor me by sharing that story with me.
So let’s be. Let’s be present. And let’s remember that we – each of us – is call-able. Thanks be to God. Amen.