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Everyone Should Have One
ISAIAH 49:1-7, I CORINTHIANS 1:1-9
Everyone should have one. You shouldn't leave home without one. You are nobody 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. The servant about whom Isaiah preached had one.
I'm talking this morning about a "call." Do you have a call? I believe you do, 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, and a reason why you are here this morning. You are here to clarify your call.
Everyone should have one. Everyone needs a call. A call gives you a purpose for being. 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.
Some folks lack a sense of purpose in their lives. They are not sure where they are going. Sam Keen, theologian and writer, wrote, "Psychological and economic depression is the result of a destination crisis not an energy crisis. Energy follows intention. We have lost our ends, not our means. What is missing is a vision, a purpose for living, a sense of calling." Everyone should have a call, because everyone needs a purpose in being.
Secondly, a call gives one credibility. Even Paul needed credibility, needed credentials. The Epistle Lesson this morning is the opening section of Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. It is not quite a letter in the usual sense. It is not a folksy letter, not a "Hi guys, how are you doing?" kind of letter. Paul had much to say to the Corinthian Church. The church was torn by divisiveness. It was going off the deep end speaking in tongues. They weren't putting the speaking in tongues in its proper perspective. The church was listening to other voices than his, deviating from the gospel he gave them.
Paul had something to say and his concern was: how should he say it? How should he address the church? Paul decided he needed to establish his credibility with the congregation. He began the letter by presenting his credentials, appealing to his authority, by reminding them of his call! Three times in the opening verses of I Corinthians, 1-9, Paul uses the word "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've been called," Paul affirms. "And you've been called, we have been called to be saints together." Everyone needs a call, to know one's purpose in being, and to gain credibility, a sense of authority and certainty.
Thirdly, everyone needs a call for a sense of worth and self-esteem. The culture in which we live emphasizes personal achievement. From infancy on, our culture requires us to engage in a fierce, though often veiled, competition with our peers. Even those who experience a good deal of success are likely to feel insecure. Most of us have some idea of what we mean by succeeding. Our eyes are usually fixed on those just ahead of us, no matter how few they may be, while the many behind us are ignored, or not even considered. In a society so competitive and achievement-oriented, few feel they are performing adequately, and so our common life becomes infected with a pervasive doubt about our worthiness.
In such a context, I bring you good news. You have a call that is different from what our society deems important or noteworthy, different from what you are judged upon. If you feel inadequate when you compare yourself with your peers, or with whomever you are competing, forget it! You are about something far more important than how you measure up to your so-called competition. You are called, you have a ministry, you are chosen.
Everyone needs a call for a sense of purpose, credibility, authority, worth and self-esteem. How do we hear the call? How do you know when you've been called? Where do you look for the call? Like the guy said, "Just my luck, when my ship comes in, I'll probably be waiting at the bus depot."
According to the Old Testament lesson today, God calls you when you are yet in your mother's womb! "The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name." (Isaiah 49:1) Isaiah is writing about the servant, the servant who will be a light to the nations, that God's salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Scholars disagree as to the identity of the servant. Is the servant the king? Is the servant Isaiah himself? Is the servant the entire nation of Israel? Christians identify the servant passage with Jesus. Whomever the servant may be, what is interesting to us in this sermon is the nature of the call. The Lord called the servant before he was born. The Lord spoke to him while he was yet in his mother's womb.
What did the Lord say to you when you were in your mother's womb? We are only beginning today to understand the effect of life in the womb on a person's character and emotional well being. How was your life in the womb? Fortunate were you, blessed were you, if you heard laughter, words of love, and experienced gentleness and a calm disposition. How blessed you were if your mother sang, and the relationship she had with your father and the general environment was positive and happy. We're understanding today the disastrous effects on a baby of a mother's alcohol or drug or nicotine habit or AIDS or if she is nervous, anxious, and afraid. Cocaine children, children whose mother was on cocaine during her pregnancy, are untouchable. They are hyperactive, nervous, high-strung. They refuse to be held or touched. How will the schools handle them? How can they learn they are loved? How can they feel good about themselves?
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 called your name. The Lord said, "You are mine. You belong to me. I have a call for you. I have a task." Even there in the womb, before you were born, regardless of your mother's emotional state or addictions, there was a word of hope, a word of purpose, a call to give you credibility, direction, worth and self-esteem. God called you in the womb.
Secondly, the call may come through situations, through circumstances. A woman in the news currently, C. W. Roddy, a woman in East Palo Alto, has a call. She had enough of drugs and drug pushers ruining her neighborhood. She stood up to the pushers. Her call came from having enough! She has been threatened, harassed, and shot. Her car has been damaged, a molotov cocktail thrown on her lawn, but she won't give up. She has a call. Women have changed history many times with their determination, courage, calm, obstinate, resolute anger! When there is injustice, when people are in need, when things are wrong, when people are hurt, the very rocks will not be silent. The situation cries out to each of us, "Help! Make a difference!"
God calls through outward situations, through need, and, thirdly, God calls inwardly. God speaks to you through dreams, prayer, and meditation. Do you take everything to God in prayer? When you have a decision to make, when you are bewildered, when you make choices, do you take them to God in prayer? If you do, God will answer. God will lead you. God will call. Learn to listen. Learn to listen in prayer. Learn to listen in all that you do. Author Unknown wrote,
God's voice is not heard easily. People begin to listen when they work at their jobs, when they play, when they suffer, when they think, when they reach--with their whole body and mind and soul and listen. To hear the soft voice of God in a little child, or that awful Word of God in death, or that beautiful voice of God in love, or that comforting word of God in pain, requires nothing less than one's entire strength.
God calls you in the womb, through outward circumstances, and in the inner depths of your being.
Lest I make this sermon too simple, lest I leave you with the impression that a call is easily heard and followed, let me hasten to say: don't be discouraged when you aren't sure you are hearing or following the call. Don't be discouraged when doors shut. The Lord often calls you by shutting one door and opening another. Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. When Martin Luther King, Jr., received his doctorate from the Boston University School of Theology, a Methodist seminary from which Marvin Stuart, David Blackburn, and Renae Extrum-Fernandez also graduated, and where Dr. Houghton taught, he was asked to preach a trial sermon in the First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to see if the congregation wanted to invite him to be their pastor. Baptists do it differently than Methodists. The Chattanooga congregation heard Dr. King preach and turned him down. The door closed. I imagine he was disappointed. I imagine he was frustrated, wondering what God was calling him to do and where.
Then another door opened. Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, invited him to preach a trial sermon, and, after hearing him, invited him to be their pastor. What would have happened to the Civil Rights movement if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had gone to Chattanooga rather than Montgomery? For in Montgomery, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, and the black leadership of Montgomery turned to their newest orator to lead a crusade that eventually tore down the final walls of legal segregation.
Don't be discouraged when doors shut, when plans don't work out. Don't be discouraged when you don't seem to be succeeding in what you believe is your call. Does having a call mean you will succeed in what you give your life to doing? Glendon Harris answered the question,
What about those who never connect with their call--or what they feel they heard as their call? ..voice students who never make it to the Metropolitan Opera, actors who spend half their lives as waiters, community activists who give years trying to make a dent in the deterioration of a neighborhood, the Ahabs of the world relentlessly but unsuccessfully pursuing the whale that always swims beyond their harpoon? Did they misread--or mis-hear--their call? Were they just hearing things? Who can say? Perhaps the call is the journey more than the achievement, but at least they had direction, and maybe that's the important thing. It is better than to be like Stephen Leacock's famous rider who "flung himself upon his horse and rode off madly in all directions." A call, even if one is not successful in fully attaining it, has its own rewards.
Everyone should have one. Everyone should have a call. I believe you have one, but I can't tell you what it is. No one can tell you. You do your own listening, and your own responding. What is your call?
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris