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The Call That Stretches
May 16, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

MATTHEW 28:16-20

How many of you have aspirations, have dreams of being great? I see about a dozen of you who want to be great. What do the rest of you want to be? Do you want to be mediocre? We've been conditioned all these years to think that it's selfish or proud to want to be great. But our calling is to be great. Let's talk about greatness this morning. 

What makes a person great? When history pronounces someone great, what criterion is used—a great baseball player, a great musician, a great statesman, a great Christian, a saint—what criterion is used? It seems to me that a person is great not so much for what he thinks, not so much for what he is as a person, or his morality, or his goodness. A person is judged “great” by what he or she achieves. Greatness is directly related to one's goal, to one's aim, to one's calling in life. 

We can also define greatness in terms of our own personal judgment about ourselves—a sense of fulfillment. We all desire and seek a sense of fulfillment, that good feeling that comes when we do well with what we have been given. A sense of fulfillment comes to us not so much by what we think, not so much by what we are, but by what we do with what we have been given. Directly related to our goal, to our focus, to our calling, greatness, a sense of fulfillment is dependent upon the calling that you receive. It is dependent upon the task, the goal, the purpose, the sense of mission that you have in your life. 

Greatness is dependent then on how great is your call, how noble, how vast is your call. For a noble calling, a high sense of mission and purpose in this life consumes you, it gets hold of you, it grabs on to you, it takes everything you've got, it elicits from you your very best, it purifies you, cleanses, burns out with a consuming passion all that's drivel, all that's mediocre, tedious and trivial in your life. All the garbage and crud is burned out by the consuming passion that fills you, depending upon the nobility, the greatness and the magnitude of your calling. Consider all the greatness that's been lost to the world because people have been satisfied with a with a low, unworthy calling. The ceiling of expectation that they've placed on themselves has been too low, too small, too narrow. A small, narrow, limited goal, a small calling, does not call forth the best from the person. It leaves all kinds of potential undeveloped and we get bored. Take a very popular calling—getting rich. The number one desire, the calling in their life is to be rich, to accumulate all those things that will make them rich. That’s too small a goal, too narrow, unworthy. Case study after case study have proven that many people who obtain the desire to get rich end up lonely, frustrated, unfulfilled because the calling wasn't worth all that effort. 

Or the desire to be popular, to be liked, to be happy. If your goal in life is to be happy, that is not worthy of you. It will not bring forth your best for happiness is selfish. And happiness is a byproduct. Happiness comes when we find fulfillment, meaning and purpose in life. Happiness is a byproduct, it's not something to be sought. When you're content with a small, low, narrow goal calling, your potential is undeveloped and you get bored. You try to fill up your life with all kinds of trivia. And when you get preoccupied with trivia, you become boring to those around you. Consider all the great noble thoughts, all the ideas, all the dreams that have been lost to the world because you've been preoccupied with trivia that doesn't amount to anything. People can get stale and stagnant. They seek desperately for fulfillment. They accumulate things, take chemicals, take drugs, take alcohol to anesthetize themselves to dull that nagging suspicion deep down that they are wasting their lives, dulling that desire that would compel them to higher and greater heights. 

I think this is what's happening in our nation. I think a major part of our problems as Americans today is that we do not have a sense of calling that is worthy of us as a nation. So crimes increases, drug use increases, emotional illness increases because we've lost our morale, we've lost our spirit, we don't have goals as a nation that consume us and that call the best from us. Who wants to give up their life to stockpile a weapon to protect us from communism? Who wants to die for a weapon in the ground somewhere that has a potential reality of destroying the world? That's not a goal worthy of us as a people. And who cares who owns the Panama Canal? Without a goal worthy of us as a people, what is calling us as a nation today is not worthy of us. It's not consuming us. And we're preoccupied with preserving our way of life, preserving our comfort, preserving our standard of living and that is not a noble enough calling for us as a people. 

Or take the church. How tragic is a church that has lost its calling! How tragic is a church that looks on itself as just another organization, just another club to belong to, to be with the kind of people that they like to be with. Balancing the budget and raising money is not worthy enough of our ultimate calling. Building buildings is not a call worthy enough of our blood, sweat and tears. Being just another club is not worthy of our devotion and our commitment. Mediocre small calls lead to unfulfillment, disillusionment, despair, frustration. Greatness and a sense of our own personal fulfillment are dependent on the kind of call that we set for ourselves. Greatness is dependent on how noble or how low, of how great or how mediocre is our life's pursuit, our vocation. Vocation is different from one's occupation. Vocation is different from one's job. One's job in life can get mundane and tedious. One's job in life expends our energy, takes our energy. But vocation is energy giving. And one through his job, through his or her occupation can glimpse the vocation every now and then, and it makes the job worthwhile. And if we can glimpse the vocation outside of our occupation, it makes living worthwhile. 

The good word this morning is a great word, are you ready? The good word is that God does not leave us alone. God refuses to quit meddling in our lives. God constantly is at work in our lives and in our church, constantly tugging at us, pulling at us, giving us a call that is worthy of our commitment. The description of this process has been most beautifully put by Kazantzakis as he likens what God does in our lives to what God did in creation as he brings the world into being. He writes, “Blowing through heaven and earth, and in our hearts and the heart of every living thing, is a gigantic breath - a great Cry - which we call God. Plant life wished to continue its motionless sleep next to stagnant waters, but the Cry leaped up within it and violently shook its roots: 'Away, let go of the earth, walk!' It shouted in this way for thousands of eons; and lo! as a result of desire and struggle, life escaped the motionless tree and was liberated. Animals appeared - worms - making themselves at home in water and mud. 'We're just fine here,' they said. 'We have peace and security; we're not budging!' But the terrible Cry hammered itself pitilessly into their loins. 'Leave the mud, stand up, give birth to your betters!' ... And lo! after thousands of eons, man emerged, trembling on his still unsolid legs. The human being is a centaur; his equine hoofs are planted in the ground, but his body from breast to head is worked on and tormented by the merciless Cry. He has been fighting again for thousands of eons to draw himself, like a sword, out of his animalistic scabbard. He is also fighting- this is his new struggle- to draw himself out of his human scabbard. Man calls in despair, 'Where can I go? I have reached the pinnacle, beyond is the abyss.' And the Cry answers, 'I am beyond. Stand up!' All things are centaurs. If this were not the case, the world would rot into inertness and sterility.”

Thank God who is at work in your life and my life, calling, crying, telling us to stand up. You can do what you think you can't do. You can do it. Think new thoughts, create new things, take chances, risk adventure, stand up, stand up and go. The call that God constantly puts in front of us, the call to which he challenges us is depicted in our window this morning—The Great Commission. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and gave them this commission. He gave this commission to the church and he gave this commission to you. It is a call worthy of our commitment. It is a call that elicits from us everything that we have. “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that I've commanded you, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” 

Go, move, get with it. God puts you on this earth to give something to the world. You were put here because the world needs what you have to give. You were put here because your neighbors need what you have to give. Go and do it. The ramifications, the scope is worldwide. “All nations,” he says. “The entire world is our parish,” said john Wesley. The world is our concern. The world in its hunger, in its disillusionment, in its warring, in its hating—that world is our concern. How much bigger a goal can you find in the whole world? 

And Jesus said, “Make disciples.” Make disciples is what the church is about. That's what you should be about—make disciples. Sometimes that word has been misunderstood, misinterpreted. Make does not mean enforce, make does not mean impose, make does not mean to lay trips on people. Jesus never did. Jesus never forced anything on anyone. Jesus loved. 

Make disciples means to care that people are hungry, to care that people are lonely, to care that people hurt, to care that people are discouraged and are all torn up, to care enough to tell them, to witness. Sometimes we hide behind the cop out, “Why should we as Christians go to good Buddhists? Why should we try to impose Christianity on Buddhists, or impose Christianity on Hindus? Or why should I go next door when my neighbor has chosen a style of life that does not include the church, that he has chosen a style of life that doesn't include God. Who am I to impose my faith on that person?” That's a cop out. Jesus didn't tell us to impose, to force. Jesus didn't tell us to judge. Jesus didn't tell us to tell any other religion that their religion is not as good as ours. Jesus said, “Feed the hungry, whatever their religion, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, love them.” 

And Jesus said, “Make disciples,” which to me means, “I don't force. I don't impose but because I care I tell you. I witness out of my own experience. I don't judge your life. I don't evaluate your style of life. I just tell you out of my own experience that the only truth I know is what I personally have experienced. And I tell you out of my experience, that Jesus Christ can save. Jesus Christ can give hope. Christ can give love. Christ can give life beyond our wildest comprehension. And I tell you that and I share that with you because I care.” 

That is an energy giving call for Jesus said, “Lo I'm with you always.” That's a call worthy of you. The call to go and tell the whole world, to go and make disciples, to go and love the whole world is a call that will consume you. It will take everything you've got. It will burn out within you all that's impure. The call will stimulate your mind. When it gets hold of you, when it grabs you, the call will motivate you, burn enthusiasm into you, lift you up when you droop, inspire you when you doubt, sustain you when you don't care, when you're tired and when you're worried. The call grabs you and will make you great as you serve him, as he put you here to serve.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris