Being Called To Service

We’ve now had two Sundays exploring what it means to be called by God into service.  I’ve discovered over the years that there are two misconceptions about that, and they both have a certain basis in scripture. The first is that God has a particular plan for our lives, and that finding and living into that plan is one of the primary tasks of a Christian.  One never hears if God has a particular plan for non-Christians, but that’s for another time.  The second is that a call to be of some special service to God, as the disciples were called by Christ to follow him, must mean a dramatic change of life in almost every way.  Do you realize how many otherwise good people have agonized themselves into a paralyzing tizzy over that stuff?

It never seems to occur to those seeking God’s plan for their lives that what God might actually be saying is that wherever you are and in whatever you are doing, there is a more Christ like way to be, and that that is what God’s plan is all about.   It’s not about finding the right path so much as being more Christ like on the path you are already on.

The same goes for the apparently more explicit call to follow Christ into some kind of specially assigned service.  Didn’t Jesus say to his disciples something like, “Look around you.  The field we are standing in is the one ripe for harvest.”?  There are, to be sure, those who are called to extraordinary work in extraordinary places, but it seems to me that God most often calls us to do particular work in the places we already are among the people we already encounter.

In fact, I think that what God most often does is give us the work of opening our eyes to a larger horizon of more opportunities to be accomplished in new ways that challenge us to actually become that new creation we keep hearing about.  I just don’t think God tells us to do it his way or walk the plank.  I think he lays before us opportunities without number, and, if we let him, engages with us, participates with us, in the decisions we are perfectly free to make.

You might wonder if I, as a priest, am not waffling a bit on this. After all, was I not called to the particular ministry of ordained clergy?  Yes, I think I was.  Being the slow learner that I am, it took me a long time to become prepared for that call, but even then, I don’t think God said, “OK here’s what were going to do.  We’re going to start you off in one of the largest churches in one of the largest cities and then work your way down to a congregation of 20 in rural Washington.  How’s that for a plan?”  Rather, I can hear God saying, “Steve, you have made some unusual choices in your ministry, not quite what one might expect, but it’s been fun hasn’t it, and we’ve had a great time doing it together.  I’ve got  some ides about what you might do next, but you haven’t done too bad making your own decisions.  Let’s see what you have in mind and we will keep working together.”

11 thoughts on “Being Called To Service”

  1. I think you\’ve hit it quite nicely. If our only idea of \’service\’ is to those poor people \”over there\” then we\’ve missed the point. The whole world needs the Gospel, not just the people \”over there.\” Our mission from God today might be ridiculously simple- tell someone that you and God care for them deeply. Or it might be to challenge political systems which disenfranchise and oppress others. We go where we are called to embody God\’s love. And we embody God\’s love wherever we go (or so we should). If we\’re not open for God to make use of us where we are right now, then we\’re always assuming that there\’s some kind of \’destiny\’ which is written in a book in heaven or something, that God has foreordained li\’l ol\’ me for some super special task. Our destiny is to surround God\’s throne forever and ever with praises, but there\’s a whole journey to walk in Christ\’s love. God\’s with us, but he\’ll tell us how to walk, not where to walk.

  2. I so agree with you CP. Following the call comes up often in my head and in my heart. For me being still and even listening is a hard thing to do. But I believe God calls me during those quiet times when I\’m taken to listening. I was called this week to just be still and in that stillness to remember I\’m NOT the judge here on earth – not the judge of me and not the judge of any of my fellow travelers. It\’s hard to hear that as I do enjoy a good lecture under my breath to myself about the \”other.\” I\’m trying to be still, listen, and follow the directions – I mean the call!!

  3. I appreciate your comment about misconceptions. That giant notion, of mythological proportions, that \”God has a plan for you\” is the kind of idea that has thinking adults leaving the church in droves. If only more people could understand their call in the ways you\’ve described, I think we\’d all feel a great surge of Spirit in the world.

  4. You wrote: \”I think he lays before us opportunities without number, and, if we let him, engages with us, participates with us, in the decisions we are perfectly free to make.\”Yes, I agree, but then just what does \”let\” mean in \”if we let him\”? And just how heretical is that \”letting\” if we are \”perfectly free\” to let ourselves respond or not? For doesn\’t whatever agency there is in that letting reside, somehow, in us and not in God? And if so, wouldn\’t that then make grace somehow cooperative between us rather than solely God\’s own act?Again: I agree with this letting that leads to a cooperatively yet ever still surprising grace between us and God. But again: just how theological heretical is such a configuration of grace? Or does that make a difference? (To whom, one might ask?)

  5. Beautiful, Steve. Thanks so much for your deep listening. I gave this sermon on Epiphany III. Makes me appropriately proud (and hopeful that your spouse is still onboard with all this).

  6. Thanks all, and especially for Tom\’s \”slow motion\” thinking. I believe that agency of letting does reside in us, and therefore there is something of a cooperative relationship between God\’s grace, that is his alone, and our benefitting from it. Consider the abundance of grace present in the scene between the woman who was a sinner in the city, Simon and Jesus. Simon\’s problem, at least for the moment, was that he would not allow himself to be a participant in that grace. And for the others, this is a subject of exploration that Tom and I have been engaged in for some time now. CP

  7. Just BE.I read somewhere about a concentration camp survivor who, when asked if they still believed in God, replied \”yes\”, the interview went on, and for me, the most powerful part was when the interviewer asked,\”What do you think God says to people, like the guards who did such terrible things, and allowed such terrible things to happen?\” The person being interviewed said \”I think it will be the same question we will all be asked, \”Why wouldn\’t you be who I made you?\”\”They then went on to explain how the most noble and courageous acts they saw, experienced where while in the camp, and that these were acts of everyday living, encountering and caring for each other, a guard who ignored a prisoners falling thus saving their life, an \”accidental\” larger portion of food put on an ill child\’s plate, three days in a row, two people climbing in a bunk with a person with a terrible cough, to share their body warmth on a cold night, all things that go against preservation of self. She talked about how we make rules and laws, how we teach all to the goal of self preservation, things that only make sense as a living being. She said, \”those simple acts, split second, non pre-decided acts, of caring in the place of our current circumstance, when we rise above the fear of what might be the consequence for our own selves, to alleviate the fear of another. When our actions are the result not of any potential gain or loss, but rather, because we recognize the humanness of the other, it is then we are who God made us, nothing else matters\”

  8. CP, Bruno, and all – what powerful words you have shared with us all. I\’m glad to have been around to read CP\’s words and the other powerful comments that have surfaced from his post.

  9. There are those who face great danger, disease, and death with courage only because they feel that God has a plan for their lives. Like stoics they simply go with the flow and leave it up to God. They are servivers.

  10. Anon,Perhaps. I\’ve certainly heard those words often enough. As for me, the words to St. Patrick\’s Breastplate speak of a stronger presence of God in one\’s life. A portion of one version reads: \”Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.\”

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