One Should Have One
ISAIAH 49: 1-7, 1 CORINTHIANS 1: 1-9
Everyone should have one. You shouldn't leave home without one. It's not something you purchase, or earn; it's not dependent on your color or family or ethnic identity; it's not based on skill or luck or merit.
Actually, it's a gift, and it's what separates you from everyone else; it's what gives you your uniqueness, purpose, direction, and confidence. Everyone should have one. Paul had one. Isaiah had one.
I'm talking this morning about a "call." Do you have a call? I believe you do. Last week I told you every member is called to do the ministry of witnessing. We are called to witness, to tell others what God is doing in our lives. Beyond witnessing, I believe God has a special call, a special plan for you. I believe there is a reason you were born, a reason you are on this earth.
According to the Old Testament lesson today, God begins working in our lives even before we are born! God lays his claim upon us when we are still in our mother's womb! Isaiah wrote (49.1), "The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name." Jeremiah had a similar call. Jeremiah 1.4-5, "Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.'"
We are only beginning to understand the importance of life in the womb. Fortunate are those who heard laughter, words of love, singing, while yet in the womb. How blessed you were if your mother was a happy person and had a loving relationship with your father. We're understanding today the disastrous effects on a baby of a mother's alcohol or drug or nicotine habit, or if she was nervous, anxious, or afraid. Cocaine, crack children have such a difficult time. They are hyperactive, nervous, high-strung. They refuse to be held or touched.
If you were blessed with a happy, loving life in the womb, thank God. If you weren't so blessed, don't despair, because there in the womb, regardless of your mother's cooperation or lack of cooperation, the Lord spoke to you. The Lord said, "You are mine. You belong to me. I have a call for you. I have a task." We baptize infants to authenticate the claim of God on their lives.
In Methodist theology, we are talking about Prevenient Grace. John Wesley, our founder, believed that God's grace is working in our lives even before (the meaning of "pre") we are aware of God. As you look back, can you see how God has moved in your life, calling you, guiding you, bringing you to this day? Can you see how special you are, how God's prevenient grace was working in your life even before you were born?
I'm not saying that your life was predestined, that you were powerless to do or be anything different. Methodist theology does not accept predestination; but God does have plans for us, and when the call is ignored, God continues to work in our lives. When we choose to go down the wrong road, God goes ahead, prepares detours, and calls us to follow. God makes lemonade out of lemons. The call changes throughout our lives. Isn't that exciting! God never gives up on us. The adventure is always ahead. As someone said, "Life is a journey not a destination." How tragic when people feel they have arrived, sit on their accomplishments, face backwards, rot, and die!
God calls and God calls you. A call gives you a purpose for living. A lighthouse keeper whose days were spent on an isolated reef in the sea, was asked," Don't you feel like a prisoner out here?" Swift as a flash came the answer, "Not since I saved my first life!" He had a call! He knew what he was about. He knew his call was important, worth doing, and worthy of him.
A call gives you a sense of purpose; a call gives you confidence and credibility. Paul's call gave him credibility. The Epistle lesson this morning is the opening section of Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. It's not a letter in the usual sense. It is not a folksy letter, not a "Hi guys, how are going?" kind of letter. Paul had some tough stuff to tell those folks in Corinth, and he began the letter by establishing his credibility. Three times in the opening verses of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the world "called." In essence he is saying, "Listen to me, pay attention to me, heed my leadership, because I've been called by Jesus Christ."
I have the audacity to stand in this pulpit and preach the gospel because of my call. Who, especially me, would have believed that a boy raised on a small dairy farm in Minnesota during the Great Depression would be standing here today. Some of you might be thinking, "Who does he think he is? Who gave him the authority?" Like Paul, I claim my authority, my audacity, because I've been called by Jesus Christ.
God's call gives you a purpose in living, gives you confidence and credibility. God's call gives you persistence, determination to push on, to not give up. God's call gives you a sense of adequacy when you feel inadequate, when you feel you can't do much, or you have little talent.
As I worked on this sermon, I realized that I wouldn't have enough time this morning to cover the subject. Therefore, I will continue next week with the questions: how do I hear God? How do I know what the call is? Hear again the point of this sermon: you have a call; everyone should have one, and you have one.
Let me tell you about Helen, a woman with a keen sense of mission, a call to do children's ministry. Helen joined my last church while I was pastor. She teaches Sunday School and directs a children's choir, while accompanying the choir on the piano. You might be thinking: what's so special about Helen? Helen is totally blind, and suffers a severe hearing loss. Helen was a schoolteacher. When she began losing her sight, she studied Braille and when I met her, she had a guide dog named Foxie. And, I repeat, Helen teaches Sunday School and directs a children's choir.
She plays the piano for the choir and for her Sunday School class, with the guide dog lying on the floor. She learns new songs by listening to them on her tape recorder, and then plays them by ear on the piano. When the children sing in church, sighted persons lead the children to the chancel steps while Helen makes her way to the piano, following the dog's leading. Helen sits at the piano, and strikes various keys until she finds the correct key of the song. The children wait politely, start singing at the proper time, and give a rousing, loud song of praise to the Lord. They are taught to sing loudly so that Helen can hear them! We were in Merced six weeks ago, and heard her children sing. There were 40 singing that day, with hardly a dry eye in the house.
She begins both Sunday School and the Tuesday afternoon children's music session by calling the roll. She calls out names from memory, and learns by their response where each child is sitting. The sighted person who helps her in Sunday School is a male college professor. One Sunday during Sunday School, she stopped whatever she was doing and asked, "Where is William?" Max, the sighted teacher hadn't even missed William, but Helen knew he was not where he was supposed to be. Max found William hiding behind the piano! Helen may be blind, but she has eyes in the back of her head.
Helen lives about six blocks from the church, and often walks to the church. One day Foxie was attacked by another dog. Both Helen and Foxie were frightened. Our senior high youth group swung into action. They wrote letters to the Chief of Police and the newspaper, requesting that the leash laws be enforced. One Sunday afternoon, the youth gathered in Helen's house, and then walked her back to the church, praying all along the way that the route would be safe for Foxie and Helen. When they arrived at the church for the youth meeting, Helen stayed and spontaneously gave a moving, inspiring testimony to the power of prayer.
One day Helen and Foxie got on the train by themselves, rode to Oakland, took a bus over the Oakland Bridge to San Francisco, where a friend met them. They had lunch. Helen says her husband thinks she is crazy, but he learned years ago not to try to hold her back!
I blessed Foxie during a worship service, and when Foxie became sick, we prayed for Foxie; but the time came for her to be "put down." The guide dog people came from Santa Rosa and took Foxie back with them. I asked Helen if she would like me to be with her. Three of us gathered in Helen's kitchen at the time Foxie was "put down" in Santa Rosa. We prayed and talked about Foxie. The next Tuesday, I held a Memorial Service for Foxie, the first and only funeral I've held for a dog! We held it after the children's music time. Five guide dogs in training were there! Their trainers, most of whom were teenagers, brought the dogs to the chancel and introduced them. During the Sharing Time, children took turns coming up to the microphone to tell how they loved Foxie. Another day with no dry eyes in the house! Helen was then given a new dog which required her to go to Santa Rosa for a period of training, so that she and the new dog, Caper, could communicate.
Helen recognizes voices and whenever she hears mine, she says, "Give me a hug, pastor."
Helen loves to bake. She bakes delicious cookies and often walks over to the church with them to share during our morning coffee break. She told me she often burns herself, and at least once a day, breaks down and cries. But, she doesn't let her frustration stop her. She stopped going to the support group for the blind because she got tired of hearing the others complain, gripe and feel sorry for themselves.
I tell you about Helen because Helen had a choice, as you have a choice. She could have chosen to feel sorry for herself, roll herself up into the fetal position, whine and shrivel up to die. Instead, she chose to answer God's call to ministry with children. How she loves children! They know she loves them, and they love her. She became a woman with a mission, undeterred.
Whenever you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself and wonder, "Why me?" whenever you have the audacity to think you don't have a call, or there's nothing you can do, remember Helen. Helen uses what gifts God has given her. Helen refuses to accept defeat. Helen is resilient, resourceful, and faithful. Helen has a call. So do you! Continued next week.
© 2001 Douglas I. Norris