It happened to me again the other night. I was at a party, chatting away to a couple of people I had just met. after about 20 min one of them says, “And what do you Ray?” At which I take a deep breath and plunge in, “I’m a minister with the Uniting Church”. Often at this point there is a comment that I personally take as a compliment, “You don’t look like one’. From there it can go in two directions. Either the person drops their eyes to the ground, notices their glass is empty and quickly makes for the bar, with the words, “Nice talking, think I’ll get a drink now” – or, and I think this is actually the more common response they say something like, or “I’ve been meaning to ask someone…. or “Gees, how did you end up doing that”. And then after about 5 minutes of that the conversation will often take another twist. Personal stories will emerge. I had this minister/youth leader/teacher when I was around 14 years old ….. My mother made me go to SS she had a really strong faith….. My grandfather was a lay preacher and he was a wonderful man…. I stopped going to church when I first heard about priests abusing children…
And I am amazed how often these people and their stories have something in common. There was a point when their faith went into the deep freeze. Might have been a specific incident with a SS teacher, youth group leader, abusive priest, but more often what happened was that the rest of them keep maturing and growing – their intellect, their capacity to make relationships, their knowledge of how the world works. But not their faith. It was like they walked to a giant fridge, opened the top compartment where the freezer is, took off their faith and dropped it in and have never opened that door since. Realising that science could not support a literal reading of the Genesis creation account or that terrible rotten things happen to good people in this world. At that point many people felt they no longer could hear God’s voice in this world. One of the most satisfying parts of my 33 years of ordained ministry is listening to these stories and maybe gently being able to raise the possibility that faith, all these years later, may still be able to be thawed out and some blood and breath and warmth may be brought their frozen cold faith.
Maybe it does not have to always be the way you thought it had to be. Maybe the 14 year old boy or girl saw it that way, experienced it that way, felt that way, but maybe you as an older person can now look with fresh eyes and understanding at this mysterious thing called faith. Maybe God is calling afresh to you. And it is devastating to think some people may, not through their own fault or wilfulness but just through circumstances of their life may never hear or know the call of God upon their them and their lives.
The first and great call that is the basis of all other calls – God calls to the universe – and remarkably, each individual’s name is spoken by God. When God call to the universe it is not just Hey universe, but every person’s name is called, every animal, every fish, every bird (sparrow does not fall to the ground but God knows and cares). Today in the reading from the prophet Jeremiah God says, I knew you from the womb, before you were even born. In the Creation story God speaks into the numbing desolate outer darkness and light appears. God has something to say. In the Christian story God has something to say and then the Word is incarnate, made flesh, and Jesus Christ is born. God has something to say and will not leave us humans alone, but comes seeking, speaking, hoping for restoration oneness and redemption. And paying the costly price. There is no other theme of the Bible.
The Bible loves a good call story – heaps of them – Moses, Abraham, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Paul –not forgetting the exquisite story of Mary, Jesus mother, and of course one of the most beloved by SS teachers the world over – call of Samuel the young boy.-
These call stories are often placed in a very specific historical context. God’s call does not waft around in some vague spiritual otherworldly existence but is rooted and grounded in the daily lives of people. Jeremiah, we are told, received YHWH’s word exactly in the thirteenth year of the reign of king Josiah who ruled over Judah from 640-609 B.C.E. Thus, Jeremiah began his prophetic career in 627 B.C.E. He spoke God’s word, this note says, through the reign of Josiah’s son, Jehoiakim, and right up until the exile of Israel to Babylon in the fifth month of 587 B.C.E., the eleventh year of the reign of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah.
It is good to be familiar with these Biblical call stories but dangerous in the sense that we may be tempted to hold too high these often spectacular accounts of burning bushes that are not consumed, visions of winged creatures in the temple, nocturnal audible voices. As someone has said they set the bar so high most of us walk around feeling short.
But the Christian gospel is not that we can have spectacular spiritual experiences, but that all of us are the called people. Each of us is called into the presence of God, is bought at immense price by God and God does not buy junk. Each and every one of us here today, each person in your household, in this city, in this country, on this globe we call earth, can say “My name is…. and I am a called person”. I am called into relationship with the Creator of all that is and all that ever will be.
The other sense of this term “call of God” refers to what you do with your life in response to God. It is a question of vocation – even wider than paid employment, but what excites you, what are you passionate about, where do you see you can make a difference. How to use your God-given gifts.
It is a question of Vocation – may be your paid employment; you are most fortunate then. May be what gives you that deep satisfaction, what do you believe in; how have you decided how to live.
Call of God – what is our congregation being called to? What is the way forward? Reached a critical time. I do not know what the future will unfold but know that it is essential we focus not upon ourselves, not upon past hurts or slights or perceived insults. We are charged with nothing less than being the bearers of Christ, the one called to partner with our Lord in bringing in the Kingdom.
A time management expert was doing a demonstration for a classroom full of students. He showed them a large glass jar. Then he put some large rocks in the jar until he couldn’t fit anymore. “Is the jar full?” he asked. “Yes,” said the students.
No” said the teacher. And he poured some gravel into the jar. When he shook the jar, the gravel settled into the spaces between the larger rocks. “Is it full now?” he asked. The class was pretty smart. They caught on quick. “Probably not,” said one student.
“Good,” said the teacher. And he poured some sand into the jar, and the sand trickled into the spaces left by the rocks and gravel. “How about now?” he asked. “No,” said the class in unison.
“Right,” said the teacher. And he poured water into the jar and filled up the remaining space. “What’s the lesson we learn from this?” he asked.
One of the students raised his hand, “No matter how full your schedule is, if you try hard enough you can always fit more in!”
“Wrong,” said the teacher. “The point is, you have to put the large rocks in first or you’ll never get them in at all.
Lets make sure we have the essentials in place and then we can build around upon those things.