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Uniquely You
January 15, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto

1 CORINTHIANS 1:1-2, 26-29

What makes you uniquely you—beyond your appearance and your personality? God has given you a gift that makes you unique, that separates you from everyone else. It is not something you purchase or earn or deserve. It is not because of your color or family or ethnic identity; it is not based on skill or luck or merit. It is a gift, and is what gives you your uniqueness, purpose, direction, and confidence. Paul had it. The Old Testament prophets had it. And you have it!

I'm talking about a "calling." Do you realize you have a call? I believe God has a special plan, a call 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 or online this morning. God called you here for you to consider your call.

The call gives purpose. A lighthouse-keeper who lived 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.

Many people 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." Energy follows intention, purpose.

Secondly, a call gives credibility. Even Paul needed credibility, needed credentials. The Scripture lesson this morning is the opening section of Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth. It is not 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 because the church was torn by divisiveness. Some were listening to other voices than his, deviating from the gospel he had given them.

Paul had something to say and his concern was: how should he say it? How will they listen to hm? 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 his letter, 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. And you've been called, we have been called to be saints together." God’s call gives you purpose, credibility, a sense of authority and certainty.

Thirdly, God’s call gives you a sense of worth and self-esteem. The culture in which we live emphasizes personal achievement. From infancy on, we 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. Their eyes are usually fixed on those just ahead of them, no matter how few they may be, while the many behind them are ignored, or not even considered. In a society so competitive and achievement-oriented, few of us feel we are performing adequately, and so we become infected with a pervasive doubt about our worthiness.

Today, I bring you good news. You have a call that is different from what the world 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 doing something far more important than how you measure up to your so-called competition. You are called, you have a ministry, you are chosen.

How do you 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."

The call may come through situations, through circumstances. When you see injustice, when people are in need, when things are wrong, when people are hurt, the situation cries out, "Help! Make a difference!”

Some people experience urges. Tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King Day. He said, “My call to the ministry was not a miraculous or supernatural something. On the contrary it was an inner urge calling me to serve humanity.”.

How do you recognize a call? How do you differentiate between a call and your own agenda? The author Kazantzakis conjectures, “One day St. Francis said to his companion Brother Leo, “Joy, real joy in living is finding and doing God's will. For the will of God is really what we want to do deep down within ourselves. And to discover that and to do it is joy.” Brother Leo asked, “But Francis, how do you know what is the will of God? When you have conflicting desires, when you have all kinds of things coming in on you, how do you know what God really wants you to do?” And Francis replied, “Whichever is the most difficult is the will of God.”

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 by shutting one door and opening another. Martin Luther King, Jr. was certainly called by God but the call wasn’t immediately heard. When he received his doctorate from the Boston University School of Theology, a Methodist seminary, 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 Martin Luther King, Jr. was called by God to lead a crusade that eventually tore down the 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.

 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… A call, even if one is not successful in fully attaining it, has its own rewards.”

Our grandson, Tyler who sang a duet with his sister a couple of weeks ago, turned 18 last November. I told him that when I turned 18 in April, in September I was pastor of two churches. I asked him what he would do if he were called to pastor two churches. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I would try.” In other words, echoing his grandpa, “I’ll go!”

I believe you have a call from God, perhaps several over the years, but I can't tell you what they are. No one can tell you. You do your own listening, and your own responding. What is your call? Will you respond with “Here I am, Lord. I will go.”

© 2023 Douglas I. Norris