This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. The reading I preached on was 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. I also referred to Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters!
In our second reading today, Paul writes to the church at Corinth, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters!”
So today I say that to you. Consider your own call, my brothers, my sisters, my siblings in Christ. Consider your own call.
Do you know what your call is? Or your calling? You know, that is something we’re really good at talking about in the church, at least when it comes to pastors. You probably know that you did not hire me as your pastor. You called me as your pastor. I also have a “letter of call” on my office wall attesting to this. At seminary, we get really good at talking about our “call stories,” how we first heard God’s call to become a pastor, and usually how we fought against it for so long. My call story is dramatic, and I often refer to the prophet Jonah when I share it, as both Jonah and I ran away from God for w while, until God caught us both in an unexpected place, Jonah in the belly of a whale, and me in a convent in New Jersey.
But the point is that I am called to this ministry of Word and Sacrament. And it is so important sometimes to be reminded of that. There are days when I become disheartened, days when I become distraught, heck days when I become bored, and I need to be reminded that I am called.
And today I am reminding you that you are called.
Because you are all called by God. Each and every one of you. The church is good at talking about calls when it comes to clergy, but not so much when it comes to the rest of you. So let’s practice. I’d like you to turn to someone next to you, and tell them, “You are called.” Go ahead.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “consider your own call. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
Now don’t misunderstand! Paul isn’t saying that the Corinthians were foolish or weak or low or despised. Well, maybe he was. I don’t know. But that’s not the point. The point is this: God does not call only the ones who are top of their class. God does not call only the ones with the 6-figure salaries. God does not call only the ones who have received particular spiritual gifts. And God does not call only the clergy. God calls you. In fact, God already called you. And your call story is every bit as dramatic as mine.
One thing we learn about call stories in the Bible is that when God calls you, God shows up. God always comes to people in some way or another when calling them. God showed up and called you. And here’s what it looked like when that happened.
There is an image contained in Saint Johns Bible, called “Creation, Covenant, Shekinah, Kingdom.” It is made up of four panels. Each panel is a part of your call story.
Creation. This artwork reflects the story of creation in Genesis. Each vertical strip might represent one of the days of creation. Note the light shining in the darkness. Note the humans there on the right, and the serpent on the bottom, keeping watch. Note the bird; it might represent the Spirit of God that swept over the face of the waters of creation. You too were created. You are part of this creation. God made you, and in making you gave you skills and gifts and passions. Let’s remind each other of that. Turn to someone next to you and say, “God created you.”
Covenant. I see here a dove with an olive branch, which I think might symbolize the covenant God made with Noah, the covenant to sustain and protect life. God made covenants throughout scripture, with Abraham, with Israel, with David. All these covenants were God’s promise to be with the people, to love them, and to call them to a particular life, a particular way of living. Covenants are two-way – God makes a promise, and calls you to do something as well. You too have received a covenant with God. God made a promise to be with you, and God called you to a particular life. Let’s remind each other! Turn to someone next to you and say, “God made a covenant with you.”
Shekinah. This is an ancient Hebrew word that means something like “God’s presence.” In this image, I see an explosion of red, which reminds me of Pentecost, the time when God’s presence was made so clear through the Holy Spirit. I see colors representing fire and flame, and absolutely no desire to stay within the lines. To me, that’s the presence of God. Energy and light and color and life and breaking through all the boundaries. That’s Shekinah. You too have received God’s presence. God has dwelled with you. Maybe it didn’t look like this, or maybe it did, but God has been with you. Turn to someone next to you and say, “Shekinah – God is with you.”
Kingdom. This serene image shows us, I think, an image of the promised land, the kingdom of God on earth that was promised to the Israelites. Birds and fish abound, and trees and buildings beckon us. I think this reminds us that the kingdom of God is not waiting for us in the afterlife – Jesus announced that the kingdom of God has come near! And we pray that the kingdom will come on earth every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. You have received the kingdom. Turn to someone next to you and say, “Yours is the kingdom of God.”
Now, you might be wondering, “When did all this happen? When did I experience creation, or covenant, or Shekinah, or the kingdom?” Well, for me it happened forty-seven years and four days ago. That was the day I was baptized.
It happened to you the day you were baptized.
When you were baptized, God made you a new creation.
When you were baptized, God made a covenant with you, promising to always be with you, and to give you a calling.
When you were baptized, as a pastor poured that water on your head, God poured the Holy Spirit upon you. That Spirit dwelt within you and around you, overflowing. In that moment you experienced Shekinah.
When you were baptized, you were promised a place in the kingdom. And you have glimpsed that kingdom throughout your life, every time you have known God’s peace. Every time you have felt God’s comfort and hope. In your baptism, God gave you the kingdom.
And so if God has been with you in this most spectacular way, then God has called you to a most spectacular calling. And this means you. Not just me. Not just the person next to you. You. But we all need to be reminded of this sometimes. So tell the person next to you, “You are the one who has been called.”
You are the one who has been called to what Jesus proclaimed in the gospel reading today, called to be meek and merciful and pure in heart. You are the one who has been called to hunger and thirst for righteousness. You are the one who has been called to be a peacemaker.
You are the one who has been called to what the prophet Micah talked about in the first reading, called to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Not someone else. You. Tell someone next to you, “You are the one.”
You are the one who has been called to make a difference in your family. In your workplace. In your school.
You are the one who has been called to stand out from the crowd. To stand up for the oppressed and the bullied. You are the one who has been called to seek and serve God in all people. You are the one who has been called to use everything you are, everything you have, to do God’s work.
You are the one who has been called to do God’s work as part of this congregation. You are the one called to join in the work as our Task Force leads us in how to be the church differently going forward. You are the one who is called to prayerfully and seriously consider your commitment to the church, both in time and in money. You are the one called to prayerfully and seriously consider how you will complete your financial commitment card for next week.
Not someone else. You. You are the one.
God has created you, covenanted with you, dwelt with you, and welcomed you into the kingdom. And God has called you. You are baptized.
Let’s keep reminding one another of this. Turn to someone near you, and say this: “You are baptized. God has called you.”
Now, how will you answer that call?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay