Friday, January 23, 2015

The Church's Calling

I hear Jesus calling.

Matthew 25:31-46

New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The 25th chapter of Matthew lays out for us three parables, with all of them touching upon end time variables.

The Parable of the Ten Virgins simply shows us that the time is short and that we have a limited supply of resources. We shouldn't waste what we have or be silly in spending it. Stay focused. Realize that the time is short and utilize the resources we have to make it through. 

The Parable of the Bags of Gold show us that we should looking towards the end of all things with a stark realism that we have been given a gift in which to use. Before it all ends, the master of the house will return and want to know what we have done with that gift. While some strive to make use of the gift and multiply it's worth, some will simply sit on theirs and do nothing. 

What Jesus shows his hearers in The Sheep and The Goats at the end of this chapter puts a face on the need and an actual place to spend the gold and burn the wick. There are people with needs that are to be met and we have the resources to meet those needs.

We are talking about having a "calling" today.
What is a calling? Well, I completely expected to have a "finger & thumb" up to the side of your head definition from Merriam-Webster. But, picking up the phone had nothing to do with the definition I found. In the deeply religious tone that Noah Webster would have thought about things come the exact kind of definition we read.

Definition of CALLING

1:  a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence
2:  the vocation or profession in which one customarily engages 
It's a noun, and it's only used as a noun. Meaning, it can be possessive.  It's your calling. It's something your were called to do. Nursing is more than just a career. It's a calling. Teaching it more than just a job. Such a career choice involves a feeling or a calling. This is what you are called to do with your life: to meet other peoples needs in such a way. 

There are different ways to think about having a calling.
When people hear the word they usually think about this job I'm doing.
If you're "called" into ministry then it must involve some sort of preaching or public speaking. This viewpoint usually leads people to shrink away from the thought of having a calling. Lots of folks don't want to be the central focus of people's attention. The bright lights and flashy thought of having a calling is where too many minds drift to when approaching the subject. I would suggest that we take a quieter approach to the matter at hand.

Another popular line of thought would suggest that having a calling means being called to a specific line of ministry. We need to debunk this way of thinking also. Back in my Course of Study days I had to read the book "The Preaching Life" by Barbara Brown Taylor. Rev Taylor went to school and became a fully ordained minister, but there was a patch where she struggled with what exactly she was called to do. She took some time away from school and the pulpit early in her life to search and retreat. She came away at the end of it with a sense of epiphany. God seemed to be showing her that she could do anything, and do it for Jesus. "Go pump gas in Idaho, and do it for Jesus." Hey, go deliver ice cream to Walgreen stores, and do it for Jesus. What kind of job is it that you do? Have you thought about the work that you do as a ministry? As a way of meeting people's needs? Isn't that what ministry is - "meeting people's needs"? Or, as our instructor, the Rev. Stan Ling put it in my very last class, "Theology and the Practice of Ministry"- ministry is simply "meeting people".

If I could do anything, and do it for Jesus, how then can I take what I do and also meet other people's needs? More pointedly, could this be our calling? According to this scripture from Matthew 25, the righteous, the people of God who wind up enjoying all the glory of God and come into eternal life, are the ones who are using their resources to meet others needs. Feeding. Clothing. Visiting. Look at this. People are meeting the basic needs of other people. There is no mountain top experience. There is no flashy, billboard sign. It's just people what they do. What they are called to do. It's what Jesus wants us to do.

Maybe having a calling involves God speaking to someone personally or privately. There is certainly plenty of scripture to suggest that. Maybe people have followed Jesus to a mountaintop and seen bright white. They feel like God has spoken mightily or with certainty. I'm willing to bet that most people don't want that sort of experience. There's some scripture to support that as well. How many Moses are listening right now? The stutterers. The quaint and quiet. Those who have gone out of their way to make sure that no one is looking for them. Yes, in certain cases there are burning bush moments to draw out those whom God needs for a specific cause. This kind of calling should not be made the norm. The kind of calling that Jesus wants us to recognize is to follow Him into the world. "Deny yourselves, pick up your cross, and follow me." That doesn't involve a grand showcase. It involves us simply responding to the need. "This is how they will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Have you heard the call of the unloved? Have you seen what it could be like if we thought of our "calling" as such?

What might our world look like if we took this seriously?
What might our church be like if we thought of our calling in such simple terms?
Feed people. Clothe people. Visit people. Be there to meet their basic needs. Treat other people like we want to be treated. That's is our calling. We are called to serve others. To forget about our own needs and wants. To think about what others need and put them first. You don't need a mountain top experience to see that. We simply need to see the needs and meet them.

I hear Jesus calling. Take thy cross, and follow me.

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