A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

The Call of God

Vocation of the Apostles by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1481-1482)
 by Andrij Vynnychok 

Pentecost + 3 – The Call of God
Rev. Doug Floyd
Exodus 19:1-8, Psalm 100, Romans 5:1-11, Matthew 9:35-10:15

What does it mean to be called of God? I grew up around stories of being called by God. These were usually dramatic stories. In fact, I remember people saying, “He’s running from the call” about someone they knew was called of God. When I worked at a church in the little town of Westmoreland in 1986, I remember folks telling me about a local man who was a drunk. They would say, “He was called to be a preacher but he backslid and now he thinks God won’t forgive him, so he’s takin’ to drinkin.”

Scripture has some dramatic stories of being called by God. An angel of the Lord appears to Manoah and his wife to tell them that their soon to come baby boy Samson will be called from birth. Or the boy Samuel is living at the Temple and he keeps hearing someone call him in the night. The priest Eli tells Samuel to say, “Speak Lord for your servant hears.” Samuel ends up hearing about God’s judgment on Israel and Eli. Isaiah and Ezekiel both have dramatic encounters with the holiness of God, which play a role in their calling.

There was a sense in my youth that to be a preacher, you needed one of these pretty dramatic stories in your life. I decided that I didn’t want to be called. I wanted to make movies, and I told folks that I would be happy to give some of my earnings to missionaries. My sense of call was undramatic. In college, I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit on a mission trip. After that, I fell into various leadership positions. I started a drama team, which also became a prayer group. We would take our dramas to places, and I would MC the show and usually offers a few thoughts during the evening. Then I remember being at a Billy Sprague concert at Aslan’s Lair down at the UT area one night. As he was performing, I thought, I’d like to be up there preaching, and it seemed I instantly heard someone say to me, “The time is not yet.” Somehow that so resonated within me that I knew I would spend my life in ministry.

Today in our texts, we read about the call of Israel, and the call of the disciples. As we consider the call of Israel in light of Jesus Christ, we might begin to understand the notion of calling slightly differently. In our Exodus reading God has rescued Israel from Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai. Through His servant Moses, He tells them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”[1]

I love how the Lord uses this image of eagles’ wings to talk about how He rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai. He has brought them to Himself. I think of the Hobbit when the Eagles appear and rescue Bilbo and the Dwarves from the Goblins. Eagles appear both in “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” as rescuers who assist in the battle against evil. Did Tolkien take his idea from Exodus? Certainly in Exodus, eagles’ wings is a metaphor for God’s dramatic redemptive activity. Many years later, Isaiah will use this imagery to speak of God’s rescue,

31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. [2]

The Lord rescues the Hebrew slaves and makes them into the nation of Israel. He makes them His treasured possession. He calls them to Himself and He delights in them. Not for anything they have done, but because He created them. He called their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He revealed Himself to them and through their prodigy He raises up a nation to Himself. He delights in this people even though they are rebellious and sin and fail to live up to the call.

Years later the prophet Zephaniah will prophecy of God’s absolute delight over His people, He writes,

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. [3]

When we think of the call of God on Israel, we begin with God’s loving delight. He calls them because He created them and He loves them and takes delight in them. This is another way of speaking of calling or election. He has chosen this people and poured our His love upon them.

In our Exodus reading, He calls them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. While Israel will have priests who serve in the Temple, the entire nation is called to be a kingdom of priests. In one sense, each Israelite family brings their sacrifices to the Temple. The priest instructs the father how to sacrifice the animal or how to offer the various sacrifices before the Lord. The priest in the Temple is serving the priestly families as they come before the Lord to ask for forgiveness, to give thanks, to ask for a healthy crop, and once again to primarily give thanks and praise. This is a priestly nation. In so doing, Israel will become a people who will stand in the gap on behalf of the nations. They will intercede for the nations or families of the earth.

This was promise given to Abraham. Through him, all families of the earth will be blessed. We see glimpses of this in stories like that of Namaan commander who is suffering from leprosy. One of his servants is a girl from Israel. She tells him about the prophet Elisha. He goes to Elisha and ends up getting healed of leprosy. The blessing of God is extending to the nations through the people of God.

God will work through His covenant people to redeem the world suffering in sin and death. The calling on Israel is brought to perfection in and through Jesus Christ. He is the Israel of God who breaks the bonds of sin and death and makes a way for the families of the earth to be reconciled to God.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus reveals the kingdom of God by proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, healing every kind of disease, and pouring out His compassion upon the people. Our text says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”[4]  This word compassion speaks of the bowels. When Jesus saw the crowds, he felt their brokenness deep within His bowels. He moves and heals and loves from this deep identification with their fallen condition. He identifies with us in our absolute brokenness and extends His healing grace to us.

After displaying His redeeming actions, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” [5] They are called to pray for laborers to go out into the harvest, and then immediately in chapter 10 we are told, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”[6]

They are called to answer the very prayer they just prayed. Be ready when you pray. The Lord may call you to play a role in answering the prayer. Because Jesus calls out the twelve, we tend to transfer the notion of calling from Israel as a people to the apostles as individuals, but I would suggest that ultimately the apostles serve to raise up a people called by God. There is a sense in which calling applies to individuals but it is primarily about a people, a community, a new family.

Through the apostles, Jesus calls out a community. Ecclesia is the word we translate into church, but it literally means an assembly that has been summoned. God has called out His people into a community, a family that reveals the goodness of God. Calling first and foremost is about being called into this assembly. In 1 Peter 2:4-5, we see how the language applied to ancient Israel has been applied to the church. He writes, 4 “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[7]

God is building a building. It is a Temple made up of people whom the world rejects but He has loved. He consider the people of this building, this Temple, this church to be chosen and precious. He delights in His people just as He delighted in ancient Israel. He calls this people a house of the spirit or a family of the spirit who together serve as a holy priesthood.

Just as ancient Israel was called to God first and foremost because He loved them and delighted in them, we as the church have been called from all races to people a new people, a new family loved by the Lord. He pours our His love upon us and we in turn reveal His love to the world around us. When we gather on Sundays, we perform a priestly action together. Through our praises, Scriptures, sermon, creed and prayers, we are serving together as God’s holy priesthood. Our prayers together are not simply words but Spirit filled intercession for the nations. Then we rehearse the covenant Christ made with us in His body and His blood. He meets us in the Eucharist to strengthen and prepare us as food for the life of the world.

We go out from here are God’s called people to reveal His lovingkindess, His promise of redemption to the world. Now here is where individual calling comes in. The church has understood that vocation or calling is not simply about being a priest. All the people of God are called by virtue of entering the called out community, the church. The late Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that priests are called to serve the vocation of every person in their community. Because every person is like a seed planted in the world by the Lord. We take all forms. We are physically different: big, little, black, white. Each person has all sorts of interests and talents. Martin Luther emphasized that all our individual lives from farmers to lawyers to librarians bring glory to God.

So today as we go out from this place, I encourage each of you to remember that first and foremost God created you and takes delight in you. Secondly, He has called you into this Spirit family, this holy priesthood. Lastly, He sends you out from this place with His blessing. He is revealing His glory through you. Through your particular interests and jobs. It’s not about trying to be spiritual in a way that is somehow distinct from your daily life. Rather, your daily life is an offering of praise to Him. We offer thanks in all things from a good meal to a good novel to our delight in raising gardens, planting flowers or watching films. Every details of our life is lived in a and through Jesus Christ, and we give thanks and rejoice in Him in all things.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ex 19:4–6.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 40:31.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Zep 3:17.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 9:36.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 9:37–38.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 10:1.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 2:4–5.

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