|At Desert Aire, WA: November 2014|
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
The Highest Calling - Not a Job, But a New Creation
Preached on Sunday, November 2, 2014
Scripture reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
A six-year-old boy was whining because his three-year-old brother wanted him to play and wouldn’t leave him alone. Their mom was watching and listening, and she told the older boy to play with his brother. She said, “Always remember that God has put us here in this world for others.” The boy’s answer was, “Then what are the others here for?”
Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has a calling. Everyone has more than one calling.
These work on many levels. Sometimes we think these callings have to do with work or a job. We may be drawn to a certain kind of work so clearly that it is as if we were truly called. It is as if that work called us by name, or God called us to it because he knew it would be good for us and that we would be good to others through it. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word for calling.
God likes us to feel a calling to honest work. Paul wrote about this in a surprising way: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28) It’s almost funny. Imagine a congregation wringing it hands over the fact that one of them was a professional thief. What shall we do? Then Paul writes to this Christian thief, telling him that he needs to stop stealing and get a job. What a way to correct a thief! And there is the “we are here for others” idea again.
There is much more to a calling than work. There is a wise saying that goes like this: “Don’t live to work; work to live.” Work is good. God loves work because he loves life. Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
God, himself, became a carpenter in Jesus. (Mark 6:3) Maybe God was a jack-of-all-trades carpenter in Jesus: houses, and plows, and tables, and chairs, and wagons. God is a jack-of-all-trades, because he makes everything.
The creation is God’s work. Our salvation is God’s work, on the cross, and in the resurrection. Our growth in the image of Jesus is God’s work by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our serving Jesus is God’s work. (Ephesians 2:10) All the infinite preparations that have been going on in every human being through the ages, and in every part of creation since the beginning, getting ready for the new creation of the new heavens and the new earth are God’s work.
The calling to work is more than being employed or running a business. There are callings to the arts. There are callings to serve: medicine, education, emergency response, law enforcement, the armed forces, public service. Making a home, nurturing a marriage and family, being a neighbor, and serving a community: these are all callings.
I hope no one feels left out. The longer I worked on this list, the longer the list grew. These are just a few of the callings that make God’s world go round. Paul calls callings gifts. God’s callings are gifts from God to the people and to the world that he loves and cares for.
There are callings in the church. Paul especially calls these gifts. He gives us the titles to five callings in Ephesians. He has longer lists in other places. There is no reason to suppose that he ever tried, or was able, to list them all.
I have to tell you something about Paul’s short list of five gifts. I have to say that it is a strange list, a strange combination because it leaves important gifts out. I also feel odd about the list because I am on that list at least a couple of times.
The two gifts on the list that apply to me are pastor and teacher. The people who will tell me to my face what they think of me have told me that I am a good teacher and a good pastor.
I take nothing for granted. Being a pastor can be very scary; but, sometimes, I like it. I like teaching, but even that can be scary.
The two callings (pastor and teacher) go so much together. Pastor means shepherd. The ultimate shepherd is God. We say: “The Lord is my shepherd.” A shepherd is a guide, and protector, and healer. Any teacher, wherever they teach, must feel some kind of great responsibility in this way, to be a shepherd.
And isn’t a family really just the same? I remember, when I was four, feeling a responsibility for my parents, as well as for my sisters (I being the oldest child).
In a small church, the elders, the worship leaders, the musicians, the people who lead classes and fellowship groups, the people who take care of the kitchen and the rest of the buildings and grounds, the people who are the contacts with the congregations and the groups that use our buildings, our treasurer, and the recorder and keeper of our official records (whom we call the clerk) are all pastors.
This means that they are all shepherds. They are all guides, and protectors, and healers. Even the so-called non-leaders of any group (whether in a family or a small church) are the same. They are all pastors, shepherds. They are all guides, protectors, and healers. Whenever we think seriously about our common calling it is only right to feel amazed, and honored, and excited, and scared: and maybe even burdened.
Think of the responsibility. Also think of the question: exactly how many jobs do you want?
This may be one reason why the church is scary. The church sounds like a job and it is so easy to be offered a job that you know you won’t enjoy.
Even in the world of work and employment it is so easy to make a job into nothing more than a job, and to take the blessing out of work. There are people who do this to themselves. There are people who do this to others. It’s a terrible thing when a job becomes a job; when the calling goes out of it.
A real calling comes from a voice. Something, or someone, is speaking to you. A calling is not an order but an invitation. It is meant to be encouragement. I was first called to the ministry when I was a shy and bullied kid of twelve, and the church was pretty strange to me.
It scared me and I didn’t want to do it, and I avoided it as long as I could do it without breaking my own heart. I have told you the childhood part of that story and, in the telling of it, it was all I could do to keep from crying: not because it made me sad, but because I still remember that it was a voice of love that scared me. It was the work of God’s love that called me and scared me. I knew the words of “Jesus loves me, this I know,” and the call came from him.
Sometimes, in our serving (even in the church), we have forgotten that voice. Or, maybe, that voice didn’t call us to that thing at all. It’s possible that even the church has work that it thinks must be a calling because it used to be a calling and now it is simply a space to be filled. It’s a job that has been made into nothing more that a mere job.
There is no grace in it. Or the grace has gone out of it.
Big churches may work in terms of programs and jobs. But a small church has to know how to how to hear a calling. It needs to know how to take off the mask of our costume. We think that being a church requires us to dress up in a costume that makes us look like an organization, or even a club.
Churches often go year after year dressed up as something they are not. It’s as if every day was Halloween, and we wear a costume that makes us scary in a way that is not holy.
In the church we need to look deeper than the surface to see what God is truly calling us to: what God wants us to do and to be. We need to hear the voice of God calling to us: “Stop doing that. Stop doing that. Now try this instead. Try this.”
There is a calling. There is a voice talking to you about what to do and what to be. It is the voice of God speaking in his Word; in his Son Jesus. The calling comes from God’s own love calling. The calling is God’s own purpose for you, and for his people, and for his mission.
Paul wrote about this calling as a mystery, in his complicated way of putting everything. Paul wrote: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will….to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
When the first human beings sinned in the Garden of Eden if came from their desire to be in charge of themselves. The Bible describes it as the sin of trying to be “like God”. We have inherited this sin.
The very nature of humanity seems to carry a hereditary spiritual genetics. Our spiritual genetics makes us people who are all trying to be in charge, and we are not very pretty about it, even at our best.
Each one of us (no matter how sane we may be) has more than one set of voices speaking inside of us: conflicting motives. It is often very hard (even at our best) to be what those whom we love need us to be. It is much harder to be what those whom we do not love need us to be.
There is selfishness. There is pride. There is control. We see it in families, communities, nations, and in the whole world. We see the good and the bad of it working in every crisis. Sin has created a division of fear, anger, and conflict.
We all carry what Thomas Merton called “the seeds of destruction”. When God came to us in Jesus we see what the seeds of destruction can do. They can reject the love and forgiveness that God has for all people, and especially for those who are different, and for those whom we don’t accept as our neighbors.
The seeds of destruction came out of cover in order to hang Jesus on the cross. But Jesus took what sin did and used it against the sin of the whole world. Jesus defeated the seeds of destruction on the cross. He defeated the destructiveness carried in our human nature through his defeat of death itself in the resurrection.
By the humility and self abandonment that comes from faith in Christ the destructive seed is killed. The presence of Jesus in our lives, dealing with our sins and failures, is like having a contract with someone to spray the weeds in our yard with Roundup every week. His cross is the wholesome love and mercy that gives us life; and his cross is the poison that withers sin.
The calling of God is empowered by the cross, and the resurrection; and the Holy Spirit brings this power to us. The Spirit removes the conflict. The Spirit ties together, in peace and mercy, those who hear his call. This is the peace of a new creation. This is what will sprout under God’s care. It will flower in a new heaven and earth. But it begins with Jesus and us now.
Right now we are babies, but the power of God’s calling will create a tiny new creation in his people. If we nurture that new creation of God, we will grow up to live in that new world: but it begins in us now, together, through Christ.
It works if we nurture our calling in the way Paul tells us. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)
The other three gifts on Paul’s list of five are: apostles, prophets, and evangelists. I am not going to be a thorough scholar here, but a brief one. The word “apostle” (at its most basic) means someone who is sent: in this case sent by the Lord. A prophet is someone who speaks for the Lord. The word “evangelist” means a messenger bringing good news.
Some people will make it more complicated, but you all can carry all three combined into one. You can all be the people who are sent to speak and live God’s good news in the world that he loves. You are all sent to speak and live the good news for God.
This world does not see Christians or the church as the bringers of good news. But we are called to surprise them. Paul surprised people all the time, and his friends had him as their model. Paul did what had never been done before in a way that no one would ever have thought of.
The Lord showed him how. Paul was a prisoner of the Romans, but he never called himself that. He made it something new and surprising. He called himself a prisoner for the Lord, and he was.
Paul couldn’t do what he wanted to do, but he found a way to do what God wanted. He found that, as huge as his limitations were, he had perfect freedom to answer the call of Jesus to speak, and to do, and to be just as he was called. It was Paul’s experience that God empowered his people to be able to do this. “Make every effort,” Paul said.
There is a calling. There is a voice talking to you about what to do and what to be. It has nothing to do with you alone. You are not called alone, and the calling can only be answered when people serve each other, and the world, together.
It was never supposed to be the list of five special callings that got the work done. They are only examples of what every part is called to do and to be; each in their own way. The Holy Spirit is able to do this.
There’s a story about a man telling some friends about a group he had come across. It was actually a Bible study and it was surprisingly good. He said, “There was no leader. None of us knew anything, and we all taught each other.” It’s funny, but it can happen.
“From him (from Jesus) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)
God’s word is not something that God inspires in order to tell us what other people ought to do for us. God’s word speaks to us. It tells us what to do.
A lot of churches want other people to come and to do things that will build them up. Other people will see through this, no matter how that church tries to disguise it. It will never work.
They are not called to build us up. If anything, we are called to build them up. We are called to be the seed of the new creation in miniature. We are called to be Jesus to the world, and to save others under the real saving work of Jesus. Others are not called to come and save us.
Joining and membership make people think of clubs and organizations, but the church is the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. We get confused because a body has members and we have transferred that idea to organizations. An eye, a foot, or a hand, are members of a body, but they do not hold office or fill a vacancy. So it is with our calling in Christ.
Let’s learn to look past our jobs and hear God’s calling to us. Let us live as his people because the voice of crucified and resurrected love has claimed us. He is speaking to us every day.
Let us be shepherds: guiding, protecting, and healing others. Then we will find ourselves becoming what the world is looking for: a people of purpose who are sent with God’s good news.