Following the Call of God

Following the Call of God
Pentecost +2 2017
Rev. Doug Floyd

Jesus calls and in His call is the power to respond, to say yes, to obey, to go forth. He calls and as He calls, His Spirit goes forth with power to bring life to dead bones, dead hearts, dead souls.

As we worship and seek to obey because His call, His Spirit compels us even as He compelled the disciples.

In today’s Gospel, “Jesus goes throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (Mt 9:35).

Jesus goes and as He goes, He teaches, proclaims, and heals. He goes into the wilderness of men’s souls with an abundant spring of life. Created in the image of God, man and woman turn away, walk away, and experience the pain of cursed ground, of thorns and thistles. The soul like the like a thirsty desert dries up, returning to dust.

As the generations pass, each age of humans turns to created things instead of the Creator. They become like what they worship: deaf, blind and dumb. Ears deaf to the word of the Father’s blessings, eyes blind to the love of God, surrounding them in each step. Mouth dumb and lips sealed to the praises of God. The images of God become a habitation of demons, a waste place with great wickedness and hearts turned toward evil intentions.

The call of Abraham, and of Israel, to be the people of blessing, the nation of priests and kings was call to participate with God in the restoration of all things. This hope, this restoration was slowly unveiled in broken human families and across multiple generations until the fullness of time in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we behold the Word made Flesh, the Kingdom Come, the Good News of Great Joy as God dwells among us, enters our broken estate, bears our sin and death, and raises us up to new life.

As we behold the ministry of Jesus, we behold streams in the desert, the wilderness restored to a garden of life. Jesus goes forth teaching, proclaiming, and restoring the image of God. Driving out the evil spirits of the wasteland, He restores the souls of men and women blinded and corrupted by sin and death. As He beholds the crowds, we behold His heart of love. He has compassion on these harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. He cries out and invites the disciples to cry out with Him, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:38).

In Matthew 10, we see the power of the call take shape in His disciples. He sends them out to Israel to proclaim the Kingdom come and to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. They go forth with His call and His power to restore the image of God in the life and men and women wasting away in the wilderness of sin.

As we read this Good News of human restoration in today’s Gospel, we read it in the second week after Pentecost. Three weeks ago, we celebrated the outpouring of the Spirit in Pentecost. And in some sense, our Ordinary Time is now ordered in that story until Advent. In the Ordinary Time after Pentecost, we are retelling the story the church, of the people of God, filled with the Spirit and Power from on high.

Today’s story is set prior to the resurrection and prior the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. And yet, we see the disciples proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick and casting out demons. As they obey the call of Christ, they go forth in His power and His Spirit to reveal His kingdom. So what is difference from today’s story and the story of the disciples after Pentecost?

One clear difference, is the limitation in today’s text to go only to the house of Israel. After the resurrection, Jesus will tell them to go forth into all nations, anticipating the outpouring of the Spirit. The Pentecostal power gives them grace to extend the Good News beyond the borders of Israel. But surely the only difference is not geographical.

The disciples preach and participate at some level in miracle stories before and after the Pentecost. The miracles look slightly different in Acts. There are healing miracles, some dramatic rescue miracles, judgment miracles, and even a divine transportation miracle as Philip is translated from one place to another. The similarities and differences in miracles between the Gospels and the Acts are interesting and worthy of more study. In our short time this morning, it might be difficult to explore all those differences. But I am still wondering how the outpouring of the Spirit differs from the miracles, power and preaching prior to the resurrection.

I see at least one other fairly dramatic difference between the pre-Pentecost stories and the post-Pentecost stories. In the Gospels, the disciples are called to follow Jesus. They eat with Him, sit under His teaching, pray with Him, go on short mission trips with His message and power, and they become a group of disciples, a new family of sorts.

At the end of Matthew, as Jesus is preparing to ascend, the disciples are sent. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the disciples gathered in prayer, but then sent out, going forth. At first slowly, but then more and more disciples begin going forth. Not as a single group, but as individuals, in pairs, in small teams.

It appears that one aspect of outpouring of the Spirit is connected specifically with sending out the disciples and to raising up a church. This link between the coming of the Spirit and the raising up of the church appears in Acts and even appears in our creed. When we recite the creed, we confess our belief in the Spirit immediately before we proclaim that we believe in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Through the coming of the Spirit, Jesus continues to call disciples, form them into a new family, and send them out in His power and presence.

In the Gospels, the disciples follow the guidance and express direction of Jesus, who says that He is only doing what He see the Father doing. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the disciples pausing to pray for direction and help. As they learn to follow Jesus in this new era, we see the disciples sometimes disagreeing or at least struggling to agree on the nature of the Gentile mission. We see Paul and Barnabas serve together and then decide to split apart and serve with others. In Paul’s letters, He defends His ministry to the churches, before the church at Jerusalem, and even in the face of direct confrontation from other groups.

The church in Jerusalem looks very different than the churches that Paul plants in the Gentile regions. Some of the situations look pretty messy. People are getting drunk during communion at Corinth. Jews refuse to eat with Gentiles in Galatia. Even Peter refuses. Some people are leaving John’s churches and then actively working to undermine them. In the Revelation, John addresses churches that are facing idolatry, immorality, persecution, doctrinal confusion and more.

The Holy Spirit has not abandoned these churches, He is working in the midst of the messiness. He is addressing them through the Apostles. He is instructing and leading God’s people to truth. He has been given to God’s people as they are sent out to plant a church, to be a church, to live and grow and thrive as a called-out community, as the body of Christ. This community is growing from city to city and continues growing from age to age. And yet, in each city and each age, we see people struggle to understand how the Spirit is leading, struggle to articulate the faith, struggle to overcome moral and doctrinal issues.

When the people of God are baptized into the church and filled with the Holy Spirit, they do not enter a timeless realm where all the problems of life go away. Rather, by the Spirit, God continues to dwell among His people in the struggles of life, in the day to day challenges. We are a historical people. He dwells among in our weaknesses, but He is leading us to fullness.

As He leads us and sends us and empowers us, He teaches and forms each of us individually and all of us together as a community. We don’t always agree, and yet we are united by our faith in Christ as expressed in our creeds. As JC Ryle once wrote,

You cannot understand your brother or sister in some things. You could not do as they do, speak as they speak, act as they act, laugh as they laugh, admire what they admire. Oh, be not hasty to condemn them! Make them not offenders for a word. Set them not down in a low place because they and you have little sympathy, few harmonizing and responding strings in your hearts,—because you soon come to a standstill in communing with them, and discover that they and you have only a limited extent of ground in common! Write it down on the tablets of your heart, that there are many schools, orders, classes, diversities of Christians. You may all be in the Lord’s garden, and be united on grand doctrines; and yet for all that, the Lord’s garden is made up of various sorts of flowers. All His flowers are useful: none must be despised. And yet His garden contains widely different sorts.[1]

These differences sometimes result in deep disagreements. Anglicanism has had its share of struggle. Historian and theologian Mark Chapman has said that “conflict is the normal state of ‘Anglican’ theology through history.”[2] In addressing a divided church, Richard Hooker pointed to Scripture, Reason, and Tradition as tools that helps us to navigate difficult issues. This summer, I thought it might be helpful to explore both the historical and practical outworking of these themes in church history and our lives.

For this morning, I might briefly reflect on the role of Scripture.  Over the summer, I hope myself and others can develop more of a reflection on how God has leading his people across the ages.

Obeying the Lord can be as clear as obeying His command to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. And loving as neighbor as ourselves. Obeying the Lord can be as clear as reading His Word, praying, and following His clear guidance in the Ten Commandments and in other passages.

But obeying Him is not simply interacting with the Biblical texts whether they are in stone, on paper or even online. He calls us into a life of communion, a life of seeking Him, praying and relying on His presence, growing more deeply in relationship with Him.  Scripture is not simply rulebook or playbook for the Christian life. It is God’s inspired Word to His people. We come before the Word in prayer as we listen and seek His face.

Even in the Old Testament, we see that obedience involves submission to commands but also trusting in God’s faithfulness. As people seek to trust in God, they sometimes struggle to understand and struggle to follow. Abraham puzzles over the long-awaited promise. The Psalmist puzzles over the success of the wicked. Job puzzles over his own suffering. Following the call of God can seem confusing. It often involves waiting, seeking, listening, and even resting.

Part of the confusion is bound up with the brokenness in human hearts and lives. When the Hebrews are rescued from slavery, they still struggle to see beyond their own enslaved mindsets. The only life they’ve known is a life of subservience to Egyptian power and gods.

All of Scripture is a record of the Lord’s engagement with His people across time. In the messiness of daily events. In the face of threats from without (enemies who seek to harm God’s people) and threat from within (sins and foolish ways that lead into captivity). We behold the mercy and grace of God, as He leads, redeems and even judges His people who turn away. He does not ultimately abandon, but is seeking to restore and lead His people into fullness of faith and truth. Into the way of holiness and life.

Even as the Word of God tells the story of ancient Israel, it reveals our story and the story of humanity. As we read the stories, songs, letters and more, we are hearing God speak to us and guide us and call us to obedience.

I’ll end with a reflection from Hans Urs Von Balthasar on God’s Word,

“Prayer is a conversation in which God’s Word has the initiative and we, for the moment, can be nothing more than listeners. The essential thing for us is to hear God’s word and discover from it how to respond to him. His Word is truth opened up for us. For there is no ultimate, unquestionable truth in man; he knows this, as, full of questionings, he looks up to God and sets toward Him. God’s Word is His invitation to us to be with Him in the truth. We are in danger of drowning on the open sea, and God’s word is the rope ladder thrown down to us so that we can climb up into the rescuing vessel. It is the carpet, rolled out toward us so that we can walk along it to the Father’s throne. It is the lantern which shines in the darkness of the world (A world which keeps silence and refuses to reveal its own nature); it casts a softer light on the riddles, which torment us and encourages us to keep going. Finally, God’s Word is Himself, His most vital, his innermost self; his only begotten Son, of the same nature as himself, sent into the world to bring it home, back to him. And so God speaks to us from heaven and commends us to His Word, dwelling on earth for a while; “This is my beloved Son: listen to Him.’”[3]

Notes

[1]  J. C. Ryle, The Upper Room (London: William Hunt and Company, 1888), 276.
[2] Chapman, Mark (2012-02-02). Anglican Theology (Doing Theology) (p. 7). Continuum UK. Kindle Edition.
[3] Balthasar, Hans Urs Von, Prayer, p. 15.

Image by alexmerwin13 (used by permission via Creative Commons).

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