This sermon makes more sense if you read John 1:29-42.
Today we begin a three part sermon series during this season after the Epiphany. The sermon series is named: Called. Sent. Blessed. Each of the three gospel lessons talk about these three movement in our discipleship, our life of faith. Called. Sent. Blessed. These are the movements. God calls us through a deep longing in our heart to live and love in a different way, God calls us through a moment of curiosity, a moment of seeking, God calls to us in a moment of great pain when we’ve tried for the millionth time to fix it all ourselves, God calls to us when were in the midst of an ordinary day of fishing, Jesus calls to us and our lives can never be the same.
That call is deeply intimate and personal but it isn’t individualistic. In other words, God’s call to each of us bring us into a larger sense of community and sends us forth into the world not only to share the story of what God has done in our life, but to also be part of what God is doing in this world, to be part of building that bigger, better, more loving and just kingdom here in our neighborhood.
And God’s calling and this sending always leads us to a deeper understanding of God’s grace at work in our hearts and in this world. We come to understand on a new level that blessing which Jesus and the great faithful people of old talk about, that deep blessing where we know, even when things are tough, even when the world is falling apart around us, even when our journey following Jesus has led us to confront the hard truths of this world, racism, extreme poverty, oppression, the blessing we know from Jesus is that even in these moments God’s liberative spirit of unconditional love is at work.
We can say and know and feel, even then the presence of a God who is on the side of the weak and vulnerable, always working for the good. We can say that we are blessed.
These are the movements of a spiritual life. Being called. Going into the world. Receiving God’s blessing. Then coming back and hearing God’s call anew.
It’s a cycle. It never stops. No matter how long we’ve been following Jesus. No matter how old we are or young. God calls each of us. God send each of us. God blesses, each and every one of us.
So I’ll talk more today about calling, our brother Gerry will preach next week on sending and I’ll end with a sermon on blessing.
Let’s take a closer look at the gospel because as I was I was reading and preparing for today, I was struck by this commentary which pointed out this odd verse in the gospel that we read. Jesus is walking along when all of the sudden John the Baptist sees Jesus and says: ‘look it’s the Lamb of God.’ Then, two of John’s followers hear John say this and they turn to look at Jesus. Jesus then says this wonderfully cryptic question as they are looking at him, Jesus says, ‘what exactly are you looking for?’ In other words: what are you seeking?
They say ‘Rabbi, where are you staying,’ to which Jesus says, ‘come and see’ and they went with him and remained with him and this odd ball little verse and all of this happened at about 4 ‘ in the afternoon.
Let’s unpack this a little bit. One of the ways that we experience God’s calling to us is when we have that deep seated human desire to seek some sort of spiritual understanding for our life and our world.
Sometimes, by the way, that spiritual understanding could be non-spiritual in its origin, it could emanate from a ‘secular’ realm of our world, whether science, or humanist, but at some point along the way I think all of us are going to ask the question, what does it all mean? What is our purpose? How do I understand my place in the universe? What is my worldview? These are questions. Deep meaningful questions that call to us as we live this thing we call our life.
We are all at some point along the way a seeker. We are a seeker of truth and understanding , a seeker of wisdom or knowledge, a seeker of a purpose and reason for moving and having our being that is bigger and wider than us alone, that’s bigger than the things we desire in this world.
And, if we follow Jesus, if we live a spiritual life, if we are active in our discipleship, then that seeking, that questioning: it will never leave us.
Our journey following God’s unconditional love in Christ will open us up more and more to a bigger and wider and more inclusive understanding of our small but incredible part in the story of God’s saving love unfolding for the whole world.
Because this call we have from God, this curiosity that God places on our heart, these moments of undeniable grace where we can feel the Spirit of God holding us in mercy and guiding our feet in this world, they are never just a one and done. God’s calling is continual and relational and perpetual.
These disciples come to Jesus with this open mind and open heart. And Jesus says what are you seeking, and their first reply, at least as I read it is to say we want a rabbi, a teacher, someone to show us the way.
They wanted someone to learn from. A few years ago I had this Epiphany, this moment of revelation where God led me to this truth: it is awesome be a student. It is liberating to always be a student. If you are perfectionist like me, this is incredibly freeing because when you start to realize that ‘you’re not doing this right’, or if you make yet another mistake, you can always remember oh yeah, that’s right I’m a student, I am not a master, my spiritual life isn’t perfect but it’s moving in the right direction.
This is awesome. WE don’t have to be in control. We don’t have to be the one holding everything together. As one pastor says: there is a center of the universe and it isn’t us! We can live recognizing and celebrating our call but at the same time know that there is one from which we can learn and grow and follow.
In the story, Jesus then instead of giving them some sermon about what to believe or what to say or how to act, he invites them to come and live with him for a day. Where are you staying teacher? Why don’t you come and live with me, come and see, and all of this happened around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
I love that little throwaway verse. And all of this happened around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It just doesn’t seem all that important, not really all that significant, but at the same time it seems kind of strange that the writer would include such a detail in the midst of this story.
But, take a moment to think about this, what are those moments in your life where you know exactly what time it was when something extraordinary happened? Our lives are marked by these days, dates and time when something so incredible happened to us we couldn’t help but change the way we live and move and see this crazy world that we live in.
What was it in your life? The date and time when your child was born, the day and time your loved one took their last breath, that moment you let go of it all and finally decided to ask for help, the time you got married, the moment of that first kiss, the time you felt extremely small and yet cherished.
Maybe this happened around 10 in the morning, or 2 in the afternoon or at 12:29pm on Saturday August 2nd 2014, or Tuesday January 31st at 11:18pm. There are these indications that we hold onto, these moments where our life shifted and changed. We mark these moments and revisit these moments and this allows us to bring ourselves back to these sacred times and to re-center ourselves and remember who we really are…..
For these disciples meeting Jesus, the Lamb of God, was that moment for them, they knew that things wouldn’t ever be the same because once you’ve known unconditional love you can’t really ever go back.
These are moments where a call is realized. These are the moments when we recognize and understand if only for what seems like a fleeting moment, that we are about to embark or are in the midst of a new season in our life, these are the moments when those questions about who we are, what our life is about, where we are going and where God is in the midst of it, come to the forefront of our mind and Jesus says to us, come and stay with me, come and learn from me, come and be with me.
Called. You are called. God is speaking in your life. God is longing for you and with you to live a big and bold life in this world. God has given you everything you need to do what God is calling you to. And here’s the best part: you are not alone.
The spiritual practice of hearing God’s call is something we in the church call discernment. It’s a fancy word for prayerful listening. As a pastor I was in a process of discernment for ministry from the age of 23 until I got ordained at the age of 30. Seven years or praying, practicing ministry, reflecting on where God was working in and through me in the church.
Seven years of writing papers and being interviewed and then writing more papers and being interviewed again, and then writing more papers and being interviewed again. I share this just to say that some in the church have said that our discernment process, our ordination process is too long. There are too many hoops for pastors to jump through- especially young pastors, because well there just aren’t many of us going into ministry these days.
But I for one am grateful that the process was so long. I am grateful that there are parts of it that I didn’t like. I am grateful that the church made me rethink and reword and re-communicate this feeling that I’ve had deep within my heart for most of my life. Because in and through it all I have come to know this on a much deeper and experienced level, our call from God is a dynamic and wondrous and fluid thing. It changes and grows as you change and grow.
Alright, so here is what I want to end with. This is a very wonderful and doable spiritual practice of discerning what you are called to do by God. People will often ask me, pastor I think I might be called to this but how do I know its from God and not from me? That is a great question. Here is the practice. Take an inventory of your life. Think about where you are in your life, in your relationships, in this world. Then ask yourself: where is God giving you life? Where are you experiencing that fullness of an abundant life? Where are those places where you find yourself so energized and jazzed about the things you are experiencing that it just bubbles up and overflows from the deepest part of your being?
The other question to ask yourself, where is your heart breaking? Where in this life and this world do you see a longing and a yearning which just gets stuck right there in your chest. Where do you see a need that isn’t being met which could in some small way, offer hope and love to a vulnerable persons. That longing for justice, that heart that breaks for those in need, that anger you feel at a real injustice we experience in this world, those are moments of God calling us to participate in Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God, a place that doesn’t reflect our country or our world no matter how much people in power tell us it does.
This is the call of God to a prophetic witness in our world. This is the call of ordinary Christians and the giants of our faith like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On this weekend where we remember his life, it is always worth remembering that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian and a pastor. When he preached ‘I have a dream,’ he was capturing and articulating a vision of God’s kingdom here on earth. He is part of that great lineage of prophets who reflect for us that the way the world is, is not the way God longs for it to be.
His words continue to echo because they are so rooted in a truth of our experience that they bring to light the things most of us would rather ignore or turn away from. But God calls us to live in the truth of our faith, the truth of our gospel, that all people are created in the image of God, each person has sacred and inherent worth in this world, that each of us, no matter who we are, where we come from, what we look like, all of us matter to our God, that Jesus in his life death and resurrection breaks down all the barriers we place around ourselves with his unbelievable love.
Thank God for those who have said yes to God. Thank God that the spirit raises up people in our midst, right here in our congregation, no matter how small and ordinary we might feel, to lives of loving service. How is God calling you today? Right here and right now? Are you full of life and energy? Is your heart breaking? Its about 10:55 in the morning.
Thanks be to God. Amen.