On Christmas Eve, you heard the words from Isaiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. These words were followed by verses 6 and 7 which promise of the birth of one called Emmanuel. This morning, however, we read the other verses that surround the one that has become so closely tied to our celebration of Christmas.
Psalm 27 VU#754
Psalm 27 is a psalm of absolute trust and confidence in God. God is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Many of Paul’s letters were written to address specific issues that had developed in the churches that he established. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul, after hearing reports of dissension, urges the people to set aside their differences and focus on the fact that they are all united under Christ.
Last week we read John’s version of the call of the first disciples. Today we hear Matthew’s version. Matthew stresses that Jesus only began his ministry after John the Baptist was jailed, unlike John who said it was John the Baptist that first pointed his own disciples to Jesus. Matthew tells the much more familiar story of the call of the first disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
Bloom Where You’re Planted
Sometimes I think the image of the disciples simply walking away from everything they know in order to follow Jesus can be a bit overwhelming. We try to imagine what it would be like for us to walk away from our jobs, our home, our families, our sense of security and everything else that we value in order to wander around the countryside following an itinerant preacher, having nothing but the clothes on our backs and relying entirely on the generosity of other to feed and shelter us. I don’t think that it would be a life-style that would appeal to very many people, and I think sometimes we have an uncomfortable feeling that we might not be very good disciples if we are not sure that we would be willing to give up everything and follow.
But when we get caught up in the question of what discipleship looks like, we forget that God does not call everyone to the same task. When I was in my early 20’s there was a saying going around that many people found very comforting and reassuring. It was “Bloom where you’re planted”. It was intended to encourage people to look around themselves and find opportunities to serve God where they were.
I have to admit that I really didn’t like that saying very much. I want to travel and explore the world. I wanted to head out, not even sure of where I was going, and find new adventures that didn’t involve staying in the small community I was in where I really didn’t feel like I belonged. Despite that, even back then, I did see a great deal of wisdom in this statement and today I think I can relate to it much better than I could in my 20’s.
I think that all too often we feel like what we do doesn’t really matter a lot in the overall picture of what we imagine God wants for our world. We feel like we can help and support those who are called to do amazing things, but we either feel we have never received such a call ourselves or perhaps we worry that we have been so busy with our own lives that we wouldn’t have recognized such a call even if it did come.
I do not, and never have believed, that everyone is called to leave their life behind when they are called to follow Christ. I believe that we have all been called but not every call is a sudden, life-altering transformation as it was for those first disciples. Some of us are called to involvement in our church through the principles and values that we learned from our parents or from Sunday school teachers. Some have been called through a friend inviting us to take part in a group, a worship service, a project, a charity, or some other form of service.
And sometimes the call is short term and temporary rather than a life-long commitment. Perhaps you find yourself in a situation where someone has asked you to fill in for a limited time to help out. Just because it doesn’t demand that you alter your entire life, it doesn’t mean that this isn’t God calling you through the voice of someone else.
Now I certainly don’t mean to downplay the call or the commitment of Jesus’ first disciples. Their call was to change their entire lives and to leave behind everything they knew in order to follow Jesus. It was a call that would consume their entire lives and would direct ever decision they made from that point on.
And they were not the only ones who received such a call. Saul’s life was completely altered by his encounter with Christ. Like the first disciples, he gave up everything and spent the rest of his life traveling around telling people about Jesus. And the same thing still does happen today. A young teacher is called to leave everything behind and travel to the far north to an isolated community where education has been sadly lacking. A doctor decides to volunteer in a remote clinic in Africa and ends up staying for years. An environmental activist, even one as young as Greta Thunberg, dedicates their entire life to bring attention to the state of our planet. There are still many people who feel God’s call to leave everything behind in order to follow.
But that is not the only call possible. The prophet Isaiah said, “Before I was born, the Lord chose me and appointed me to be his servant.” But Isaiah did not leave everything behind and walk away from the life he knew. Although we know very little about Isaiah’s personal life, we can also assume that, since his call to be a prophet came while he was praying at the altar in the temple it is very likely that Isaiah was a priest. It is also very likely that it was through his function as a priest that Isaiah was able to prophesy to the people.
I believe that God’s call comes in many different ways and that our own personal call comes in ways that are as unique and individual as we are. When I was a student at Queen’s Theological College, I took a Rural Ministry course that involved a weekend stay in a small community, speaking to local people about their hope and concern, learning from their wisdom, and meeting with those who had experience in the field of rural ministry.
One of the people we met with was the minister on the multi-point charge where we were staying. In one particular session, she informed us that to be effective in a rural ministry you needed to be out involved in the community every single night of the week. When I pointed out to her that as a single mother of two young children, I could not be out every night, she inform me that if God had really called me to rural ministry I would be willing to do exactly what she said and if I was not willing to do so, then perhaps I needed to re-evaluate my call.
My response to her was that I did feel that God was calling me to ministry but that I also believed that God had called me to be a good mother to my children and I did not believe that God would want to sacrifice one call for the sake of the other.
There is a wonderful definition of God’s call, and I am sorry I was unable to track down exactly where this came from, but the quote says “calling … is the process by which God shows us what we are to do with our lives … We can have many callings in a lifetime, as situations change and God gives direction.”
I think, for me, this is one of the best descriptions of the call to discipleship that I’ve ever heard. For some, it may be that sudden and life-altering call that leads them to a lifelong commitment to one particular cause. But I think for the majority of us, it is an ongoing series of calls that help to guide and direct our everyday lives.
Regardless of how or when God calls us, we must be open to listening for this call. It may come to us in a loud and startling way, but it may also come to us as a gentle nudge or in the quiet voice of a friend. It may be a huge life-altering experience, or it may be as simple as the urge to call someone on the phone for no particular reason. That urge to pick up the phone might just be God’s calling to you. Or perhaps it might mean getting involved in a cause that you feel truly passionate about. Perhaps that passion is God calling. Or your call might be as simple as saying yes when someone asks you to do something, no because you feel pressured, but because you feel it’s the right thing to do. Again, that feeling might just be God’s call to you.
Whatever it is that God is calling you to do, that is your call to discipleship. It is different from the call of every other person. It is uniquely yours. And it is up to you how you choose to respond. So in the words of that popular phrase from years ago, Bloom Where You’re Planted but I would like to add, remember to be open to the possibility of allowing God to transplant you if that is what is needed. Amen.