Series: What on Earth am I Here For?
Sermon: Partners In A Heavenly Calling
Scripture: Romans 8:28
Date: September 25, 2016
Ok. I need to know if you’re packing. Cell phones that is. If you have a Cell Phone this morning, would you take it out and wave it in the air. I’d say about 80-90 % of you have a phone with you today. And even several years into this digital/cell phone revolution, it still amazes me just how much these little devices have changed our world. It has changed the way that we communicate with one another and with the world. There is more computing power in this little phone then there was in the Apollo space craft that first landed on the moon. You can pick it up and take it with you wherever you go. And depending on your plan you can make long distance calls any time, talk all you want, for no additional charge. That is perhaps the most amazing thing to me. Because I can remember growing up and the cost of a long distance call was so high that we had to carefully plan our calls to my grandparents. Only around major holidays. Never at peak times. In fact, usually on Sunday evenings after 7:00 because that’s when the rates went down. And because my parents wanted to limit our time, my brothers and I had to almost write up a script of what we wanted to say so we wouldn’t waste any time. And we would anticipate the moment all day but then most of the time, the circuits were busy on the first attempt and so we would wait a few minutes and then my Dad would try again. Occasionally we wouldn’t be able to get through at all before it was time to go to bed and so we would have to try the next day in prime time which meant limiting our time even more. I can remember the first time that I made a long distance call on my own. I saved up my change for weeks and went to a pay phone and called and we talked until my change was all gone – pausing frequently as the operator instructed me to insert so much for three more minutes. And even making in town calls was not always easy. My mother was constantly cramping my style by saying rather loudly “You need to get off now. Someone might be trying to get through.” And when the phone rang, it was an exciting time. We ran to answer it because there was no voice mail or answering machines or caller id and no telemarketers or robo calls. Every call was important. But all that has changed. Free long distance. Unlimited minutes. In her later years we got my Mom a cell phone but she never really believed that she could call us long distance without additional charges. And she never figured out her voice mail. From time to time we would have to sit her down and let her listen to the messages that people had left for her, even though some were several weeks old. And we can do so much with cell phones. Email, text, snapchat (though I’ve never mastered that), take pictures, play games, do business. In fact, the irony is that the thing that most of us do the least on our phones is make or receive phone calls. The more accessible phones have become, the more we don’t really use them as phones. And our land lines have become the playground of telemarketers. I don’t know how it is for you, but probably 90% of the calls we get on our home phone are from telemarketers. Even if you are on the “no call” list. When I was a kid, we couldn’t have ever imagined the concept of a “no call” list. Why would you not want to answer every time someone called? We would have spent most of our time wondering what important calls we were missing. “I’ll call you” was just about the greatest thing you could promise someone. We waited with great excitement for the phone to ring. But today we almost hope it doesn’t ring and if it does we often let it go to voice mail, rather than answer it. Calling is a lost art for many of us. The cell phone has changed so much, including I think our understanding of calling and being called. Put your phones away
And so here we have Paul saying to the Romans: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. A great statement of hope. So far so good. But Paul’s thought does not end there. He completes it with these words: who have been called according to His purpose. Which adds a whole new perspective on the matter, doesn’t it? This morning I want us to concentrate on those two words: “called” and “purpose”. In Paul’s mind the two are inseparably linked, and they cannot be separated from the “good” work that God wants to do in our lives. In a sense, “calling” and “purpose” unleashes God’s good will in our lives. But in the midst of all the technological advancements we have somehow diminished that sense of calling – and the excitement, even the anticipation of being called. The problem often is that even when the calls come, our first assumption is that it is not someone we want to talk to and so we are content to let them go to voice mail. We choose not to answer.
But the Biblical story is the story of God calling. When Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit, the story teller says that God walked through the garden in the evening and “called out to them.” And scripture tells us that God called Noah and Abraham and Moses and King David and the prophets. And the Gospels use the same term for Jesus “calling” the Disciples to follow Him. This book is the story of God calling people. All kinds of people. All people. Now the Greek word for calling is the word “kaleo”. So we can see how the English word calling evolved from that. But the Latin word for calling is “vocation”. So we often confuse our “calling” with our job, or career. But that is not what Paul intends. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that our career or job is what we do, but our calling is who we are. And neither should we equate calling and the other word that Paul uses here which is “purpose” because though the two words are closely linked, they are not the same. Purpose has to do with God’s plan for our lives. Calling is the invitation to live our lives according to that plan. This study that we are starting today in classes and small groups called “What On Earth Am I Here For” is a quest for each one of us to discover our Biblical purpose and that is good. But I think the first step is to understand that each one of us is called by God according to His purpose for us. Paul wrote this to the Church at Ephesus: My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and that you will understand the hope that was given to you when God called you. Then you will discover the glorious blessing of being together with all God’s people.
So before we unpack this word “calling” a little more, let’s pray.
Now when Paul talks about God calling each one of us, what is it that he would want us to know.
First, that God’s call on our lives is a gift. Now I have to confess that when I first sensed God calling me into the ministry, 40 years ago, I didn’t at first see it as a gift. (now for those who are hung up on the math – “He says he’s 29 but yet God called him 40 years ago, that math doesn’t work” – let me remind you that Jeremiah says that God called him before he was born. So maybe it does work.) But here’s my point. When God first called me, I perceived it more as a burden, rather than a gift. In fact, I spent several years trying to not answer, or at least redirect, His call. “I know that you want me to serve you as a pastor, but can’t I serve you in this way rather than be a pastor?” I spent several years arguing with God about His call. “You don’t really want me to be a pastor, do you?” (I’m guessing that there are some here today who are wishing I would have won that argument.) But in time, I came to see what an incredible gift God’s call really is. That our great God would know me and love me enough to formulate a plan just for my life really continues to be a thought that is far removed from my human understanding, and the fact that it is true is truly an incredible gift. So now after more than 30 years of responding to His call daily, I can’t imagine my life in any other way. To the Galatians, Paul wrote: God, by His grace through Christ, has called you. Think about that. God has a plan for each of our lives. We don’t do anything to earn it. Or deserve it. We don’t work for it. Or even seek it. It is God’s gift to us because He loves us so. A gift of grace. He wants us to be the best that we were created to be and so He calls each one of us according to His purpose for our lives. But here’s the thing we need to see. God’s plan for each one of our lives, is just a part of His overall plan for all of creation. And so, His overall plan cannot be completed until each one of us responds to His call on our lives. I think when Paul says that we are “called according to His purpose” Paul has both an individual and a corporate purpose in mind. So, now don’t miss this, even though He has an individual plan for your life, your calling is also to be a part of the whole. Think again about what Paul says to the Galatians. Not only does he say that by His grace He has called you – that’s the individual call on our lives – but he goes on to say that we are called to become His people. When Christ calls us to follow Him, He is calling us into relationship with Him, but He is also calling us to take our place in God’s family, into relationship with all His people. If that were not true then there would be no need for the church. You see, those who say I don’t need the church to be a Christian are probably right. But that’s only responding to a part of God’s call on your life. Where we need the church is when we respond to God’s call to become a part of His people. This summer, Karen and I celebrated our 39th wedding Anniversary. At least from my perspective, we’ve had 39 great years together. (Karen might have a different perspective.) But here’s the thing. When I asked Karen to marry me, I was doing more than just calling on her to spend her life with me. I was calling on her to be a part of my family too. A great marriage does not exist in isolation. It reaches its greatest fulfillment as a part of a larger family. Parents, and brother and sisters, and even children of your own. All of that becomes the total gift of marriage. So it is with God’s call on our lives. Each one of us are called for a purpose which finds its total fulfillment as part of the whole of God’s people, His family. What an amazing gift that is. God’s call is a great gift for each one of us.
And then the second thing that I think Paul would have us know about this matter of God calling is that He calls each one of us to be a part of His plan – according to our purpose. Sometimes, when things aren’t going according to our own plan, we might start thinking that God doesn’t care about me, that there’s no place for me in His church, that I don’t fit into the plan. Sure He calls ministers and teachers and church leaders, but why would He bother with me. What possible difference can I make for the Kingdom. I don’t have anything worthwhile to add to the family of God. But scripture tells us just the opposite. Scripture tells us that God calls each one of us to an important and essential purpose in His Kingdom. Paul affirms this when he writes to the divided church at Corinth: The body of Christ is a unit that is made up of many parts. We are all one in the Spirit, no matter who we are – Gentile or Jew. The Body is not made up of one part, but of many. And if one part suffers, then every part suffers. And if one part is honored, then every part rejoices with it. The church is the Body of Christ and each individual is a part of it. I don’t know that there is a better description of the church, and each one’s place in it, then Paul’s words here. And lest we think that God is making this up as we go, that God’s purpose for your life is somehow a changing or shifting target, and you sometimes think about trying to go back to some beginning point, scripture tells us that the purpose to which we are called is set for us before we are born. Paul writes to the Galatians: It pleases God to choose me and call me even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! And to Jeremiah God says: Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. And to Isaiah He says: I am your creator. You were in my care even before you were born. What an awesome thought. That when we are born into this world, we already have a place and a purpose in God’s Kingdom. That He is caring for us and already calling us according to His purpose for our life. It is a promise and assurance that he makes to each one of us. So here’s what we need to see. Many of us spend a great deal of time searching for our purpose. In my experience I called it a search but it was really just my attempt to renegotiate the plan that God had for me all along. To convince God and myself that I somehow knew better than my creator how my life should unfold. Now I said before that many often confuse purpose with profession or job. We think our vocation is our Godly purpose. And it is great when our profession or job fits into our calling but here’s the thing – Jobs and professions are temporary and ever changing. I read the other day that most people have three or more professions that they experience in a life time. And even within a single profession there can be many job changes. But God’s purpose to which we are called is permanent and eternal. In a world that is often filled with questions and uncertainties, one thing is certain. God has a plan a purpose for your life. No matter how hard we may try, we can’t change His purpose for our lives. And no matter how many times we choose not to answer, God will never stop calling each one of us. Paul says to the Romans: God’s gifts and His calling are irrevocable. Now some of you may be thinking, I have so messed up my life, I’m sure that God no longer wants me to be a part of His plan. But there is nothing we can do that will change God’s purpose for our life. Nothing that will make Him stop calling. But you can’t settle for email, or texting, or snapchat. When God calls, you must answer. Rick Warren, the author of our Church Wide Study, says this: My sins and mistakes don’t change God’s call for my life. It doesn’t matter how messed up your life has been. Whether you messed it up or somebody messed it up for you. No matter how many dumb decisions you’ve made . . it hasn’t changed God’s call on your life at all. Think for a moment about what we know about the Apostle Paul. Persecutor of the church, hater and hated, and yet through it all God was not dissuaded from His purpose for Paul’s life and kept calling him until on the road to Damascus, Paul stopped running and finally heard the voice of God calling And many years later he shared this reflection with his young protégé Timothy: By calling me into His service Jesus judged me trustworthy even though I used to be a blasphemer and persecutor and contemptuous.
And then the third thing that Paul wants us to know about the purpose to which we are called, and that is that God empowers those who are faithful to His call on their life. Here’s how that works. Once we commit to God’s calling on our life, once we answer His call, God commits to us the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to accomplish our purpose. You see, ultimately God’s call is a call to live the life He’s planned for us. Rick Warren writes: Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.”
Paul writes to the church at Ephesus: I urge you to live the life to which God called you. And how does the Holy Spirit empower us to do that. Well, in part, that’s what this church wide study is all about. So spoiler alert, God empowers us to live a life of purpose, through Worship, and Fellowship, and Prayer, and Discipleship, and service, and witness. Because though God has a unique plan for each one of us, that plan is expressed through our connections with one another. God’s purpose for us is intended to be lived out in community with one another. Every piece working together to worship God, and pray to God, and serve God. We are empowered by God’s Holy Spirit through the church. That’s what Pentecost was all about. The Spirit empowering the church. Through the church we become partners in God’s purpose. Though we don’t know for sure who wrote the book of Hebrews, we do know that it was written in the midst of an intense persecution of the church that threatened to rip it apart. And in the midst of that the writer wrote: No matter how bad things might get do not forget – Brothers and sisters you are partners in a heavenly calling. We are empowered to live a life of purpose through our connection to one another – through the church. And for the next few weeks in Sunday School Classes and a Wednesday night study and worship we are going to be talking about how God brings good to all who love Him and are called according to His purpose. And God is calling you today. So come and join us. It will change your life forever.