Friday, February 4, 2011

Consider Your Call

This past Sunday, I led worship and preached at Zion Lutheran Church, Baker, WV. The text I used is 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.


            Earlier this week, I was at a synod continuing education conference at Deep Creek. It was good to see everyone and to make new acquaintances and the educational presentations were great. Then we had our closing service with holy communion Tues. afternoon. This is something I always enjoy. The service we used was different. It was from the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that had been used by the churches in Jerusalem. That has a very meaningful connection for me. I served as a missionary in nearby Bethlehem for 6 ½ years in the 1980s. I worshipped at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. I know how meaningful the fellowship is between the churches. Before I knew it, the tears were flowing. I am still connected as part of the body of Christ to those people and that place. It is a time of my life and a relationship that I will forever be grateful for. In a tempestuous time politically and personally, we were there for each other. We were included in the family of God in that place.

            We all like being included in things, don’t we? No one enjoys being an outsider, being left out. Have you ever heard second hand about an event, a party for instance, that was going on that everyone had an invitation to but you? That can be very painful. But isn’t it wonderful when we receive an invitation to such an event? We feel privileged and included. I like invitations, don’t you?

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to consider, perceive, discover, find their call. What exactly is a “call?” It is something in seminary that we get used to telling over and over again—our “call” story. A call is an “invitation to experience of special privilege and responsibility… [an] invitation.” (BDAG). 

What is your call? Part of my call was that of a missionary. It’s one I had felt God was leading me to since I was 15. We all have at least one. I am a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, student, intern—the list goes on. This is true for every one of us. Part of my calling is to be a pastor. Yours may be that of banker, farmer, business person, secretary. God has given each and every one of us callings. Not one is any more important than any other, just different. We are all God’s beloved children and that is calling we received in the waters of baptism.

            We’re called in baptism, but what are we called to do? We hear these words in the baptismal liturgy, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 124). How do we do this? What is the message we’re to share? Paul speaks of the message of the cross, which is foolishness to unbelievers. In this short portion of scripture we just read, Paul uses the word foolishness 4 times. He refers to, “the foolishness of our proclamation” (v. 21), the proclamation of “Christ crucified… foolishness to Gentiles” (v.23), and “God's foolishness [being] wiser than human wisdom” (v.25). Why is Paul so intent on highlighting foolishness?

            In the verses from our second reading today, God confounds the issue through lowliness and weakness, through the cross; so that God may receive the glory. Paul poses 4 rhetorical questions to the Corinthians and perhaps to us: 1. “Where is the one who is wise? 2. Where is the scribe? 3. Where is the debater of this age? 4. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1Co 1:20 NRS). Paul makes it clear that God has “rejected and embarrassed the best and brightest of human efforts to understand, explain, and experience God” (Rick Carlson, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=3/15/2009&tab=3).  God dashes all elitist positions. There is no place for factionalism and infighting. One scholar puts it this way, “God has outsmarted and outmaneuvered human attempts to set the agenda regarding the who and the how of our getting to God (1:25)” (Rick Carlson, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=3/15/2009&tab=3).. It’s not a matter of being smart enough.

“Consider your own call” says Paul. To those in Corinth who thought they were so great, so wonderful, so wise, so gifted…Paul reminds them, “not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  27 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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1Co 1:26-28 NRS). Oh my, where does that leave room for pride? It doesn’t. Power and wisdom are important, but it is not human power; it is God’s power displayed in the cross of Christ.

The image of the cross is hard to embrace. God in flesh nailed there to die. God’s ways are so beyond us. If we do not keep the cross of Christ at the center of our faith, we might think we’re beginning to get a good handle on our understanding of God and faith. If this wasn’t God’s work, it would seem ridiculous.

            It is our call to bear the light of Christ, to share the message of the cross and beyond that, to embrace the cross in our lives. The way of the cross isn’t an attractive, sexy, or marketable way of life. To the Jews it was a “stumbling block” (v. 23) because it wasn’t what they anticipated for the Messiah. Jesus didn’t meet their expectations of being the strong worldly king who would deliver them from the Romans. He didn’t fit their preconceived profile.

            The message of the cross was “foolishness to [Greeks]” (v.23) because they considered themselves to be rational, enlightened. That God should enter our world in this way, die for His people, and expect them to present the cross as their message? They knew better.

            Do we encounter any stumbling blocks to fulfilling the call God has for us? Does what God ask of us sometimes seem foolish? I remember thinking it seemed foolish when I returned to school to complete my undergraduate degree in my 50s. I struggled most with the one math course I had to take. I don’t know how many times I sat in the den crying because it was so hard and I wondered what in the world I was doing at my age going back to school. But this is what had to be done so I could go to seminary in answer to God’s latest call to ministry.  What are your stumbling blocks? Some want to serve a god of wealth and prosperity, wanting an easy life on this earth. What seems foolish to you, but wise to God? Some want to understand everything before they can embrace it. But we can’t have God in the image of our desires, like a cosmic grandpa who gives everything we want. The message of the cross is hard stuff. We cannot rationally understand God or he wouldn’t be God—we would be.

            Our calling as God’s children, our invitation to bear the message of the cross began in the waters of baptism. We are to bear the light of Christ to a hurting world. In considering our callings, we need to remember who we are and whose we are. God’s way is not ours. “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; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (v.28). God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things so that they can’t take the credit for it and God is given the glory.Why is this? Why does God work this way? “… 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (v. 29).

            Please turn to hymn # 755 in With One Voice. We will read the text together:

We All are One in Mission
1 We all are one in mission,
We all are one in call,
Our varied gifts united
By Christ, the Lord of all.
A single, great commission
Compels us from above
To plan and work together
That all may know Christ's love.

2 We all are called for service
To witness in God's name;
Our ministries are different,
Our purpose is the same:
To touch the lives of others
With God's surprising grace
So ev'ry folk and nation
May feel God's warm embrace.

3 Now let us be united
And let our song be heard.
Now let us be a vessel
For God's redeeming word.
We all are one in mission,
We all are one in call,
Our varied gifts united
By Christ, the Lord of all.




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