1 April 10, 2016 Called? To Life Rev. Dr. John Ross Bible Reference: Acts 9:1-9 This past Wednesday, both at worship and then at Bible for Dummies, and continuing this morning, we re launching a six week worship and learning series, the whole topic of what it means to be called to something. And the main reason we re going into this, I think, is because there s of a lot of confusion about what that is, what that means and what that looks like. For example, it was Mark Twain who said, The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. In other words, he s saying there is one kind of call over our lives, and it becomes clear unto us all in one day. But then on the other hand, there is the recent Ted Talk, the one named Emily Wapnick, and she suggests that we are all what she calls multipotentialites. The etymologists in the room know what that means multi-potential-ites. We all have multiple potentials. We might all have many calls, not the one that Twain was talking about. So, we re a little confused. Then we remember a guy named Scott Dinsmore, Scott Dinsmore with his live your legend movement talks about work and says, We all need to find the job that we can t not do. You get it? He s basically saying there s a job that we can t not do, and that s our calling, and that s how we should spend all of our time. It s like a full-time venture. But then, we meet a woman named Candy Chang, a remarkable young woman, who has, in her own grief in the death of a close friend taken to transforming public places into areas where people can have public discourse just in their anonymous, hand written responses. She uses post-it notes and little name tags. She uses stencils. And in fact, she converted an entire abandoned house not far from Biloxi - she converted an entire abandoned house into a huge chalkboard. She applied that paint to the outside of this whole house with the simple question, or a simple line to be finished, Before I die, I want to (fill in the blank), and passersby write in the things that they want to do before they die. I put that on a white board out in Founders Hall yesterday afternoon for you to do the same thing: Before you die, you want to. Put it on the board. Let s have some fun with that this week. But if you compare Dinsmore who says that our call is a full-time venture. It s what we re supposed to be doing all the day every day, but compare that to Candy Chang, who says, you know, this is just sort of a hobby of mine. It s not how she makes her living. It s not what she does full time, but it is her calling to engage people in meaningful conversation and discourse out in public places. So, which is it? We re confused again. And then there s Rick Warren The Purpose Driven Life. In that the core question that he asks is, Why on earth am I here? There s real uncertainty. But Why am I here? And at the same time we hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah who says that the Lord says, I have a plan for you, a plan to prosper you and not harm you plans to give you a future. So, one respected source says, What on earth am I doing here? and another one says, God has a plan for hope and a future, and it s very specific. And so we re confused. Over the next several weeks, we want to move from that state of confusion to some measure of clarify. Whatever your age and stage, we are all called, and so we want to move in that direction, from total confusion to some source of clarity.
2 And, I guess if we re going to talk about calling, it might not be a bad thing for me to begin by just at least telling you briefly my call story because it occurred to me this past week that I ve never shared it publicly here. I m sure I shared it a lot in Columbus, Ohio, from whence I came because that s when it sort of began for me. But my call story, um, is simply this. Here s a young guy in his early to mid-20 s chasing the almighty dollar and doing a pretty good job of it with a medical sales job in Dallas, Texas, living a great post-college life single, plenty of time, plenty of money lying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon, and here comes the call. The telephone which was nailed to the wall in the other room, the telephone rang. My call, I m sorry to disappoint was a telephone call. It was a telephone call. It came from my youth minister on a Sunday afternoon right in the middle of the Dallas Cowboy game. I m enjoying the game. I m lying on the couch. The phone rings, and it s that guy up there on the top row right next to the organ, Dick Flynn (turns and point at Dick.) He was my youth minister. Dick called to tell me that he was wrapping up his ministry and it was time for me to drop this ridiculous pursuit that I was in, enroll in seminary and get to work for the church. No lightning bolts, no bright shining light, no voice from God, just a phone call from Dick Flynn. You know sometimes I really wish God were a lot more direct and a lot more obvious and a lot more sort of a sledge-hammerover-the-head than God is. (A voice from the congregation calls): John! John! God is more direct than that. Okay? (The voice belongs to Allen Hilton.) Okay, so imagine you re just minding your business, tending sheep and all of a sudden a bush lights up and a voice starts coming out of it. John: I see where you re going. He s going all Biblical on us. Allen: They re all over in the Bible, right? You ve got Moses and the burning bush, right? You got Mary. Every Christmas, we talk about how she s just in the house sweeping or talking to her mother or doing something, and this teenage girl gets an angel s voice that first freaks her and then she realizes, you know what I know now what I m supposed to do, right? And then, don t even get me started with the Apostle Paul, right? John: So you got Moses? Allen: You got Moses. John: And you got Mary? Allen: You got Mary. You got a burning bush and an angel. John: And probably many others. Allen: And here we go. You got Paul coming on, and I could go on all day, but you think we ought to read it instead? John: No, let s let Katherine read it, and you just sit down and be quiet. Allen: Okay. (Goes and sits back down.) John: We don t call him Bible Boy for nothing.
3 (Katherine Poindexter reads Acts 9:1-9 the story of Saul s conversion, after which the choir, made up mostly of the students and adults who recently got back from their mission trip to Biloxi sing Multiplied. ) John continues the sermon, talking to the choir: Sweet Lord of Mercy, I have surrendered to your design. Did I get that right? Sweet Lord of Mercy, I have surrendered to your design. To hear someone say that, especially some young people, to sing those words, again, I ve got this jealousy in me because if you know God s design, you are blessed, and you are ready to answer that call. You re ready to go from call to calling. But has every body surrendered to God s design? More importantly, does every one in the room know God s design for them? Let s see a quick show of hands. No, let s not do that yet. Let s do this: We heard about the burning bush, and the angel that came to Mary, and in both the voice of God. We heard in scripture the blinding light that knocked Paul to the ground. By a show of hands, how many of you have had that kind of call experience in your life? By a show of hands, how many in this room have heard the voice of God, or what you believed to be the voice of God, in your life, instructing you on what to go and do, revealing to you God s design in your life? How many of you are there? I want to see the hands, high and proud. I know there s some in here. Put them up and keep them up. I need to do a quick glance around the room cause I knew there d be a bunch of you. I mean, come on, we are people of faith. We are people who believe very much in God. Why wouldn t we expect to hear God s voice? There are lots of hands in the air, and again, I ve got a certain sense of jealousy around that because I told you what my call was, all due respect to my good friend Dick Flynn. (Laughs) No, keep your money. So, a whole bunch of hands went up. You heard the audible voice of God, right? You heard the audible voice of God, and there s a whole lot more of you who have not. So, what are we to do? Well, one thing I know for sure we shouldn t do is compare ourselves to others. That is just a dead end road for sure because every call is truly unique, and every call comes to each of us just as differently as our eyes are created different one from another. So, let s not go down that road of comparing to others or what Allen and I joked about this week being call envy. Let s just get serious about discernment and acknowledging that call and then see where that call then becomes calling. From the voice of God to the work that we re called to go and do. I would submit to you that there are some themes that run through these experiences that could help all of us on the matter of what sense of call we have or don t have, and no matter what age or stage of life we re in, there are some themes that are instructive to us, to take whether it s an extraordinary burning-bush-angel-come-down-from-on-high sort of moment, or if it is just a whisper in your ear in the middle of the night. What are the themes across those stories that can be instructive to us? The first of which I would say is that for many of these that are called, both in scripture and in every day life, there is a significant life event that happens. Allen stands up again: John, I got you covered. I got you covered. John (continuing his previous thought): Something significant.
4 Allen: Got you covered. (Rests his hand on the St. John s Bible.) John: You going Bible again? Allen: Yeah. I m going Bible. John: Alright. I ll give you 38 seconds. (Looks at this watch.) Allen: So, the ones we heard are the spectacular ones that we think are Biblical, but there are a ton of callings in the Bible that aren t spectacular, right? Isaiah the prophet who went on to we sang Prince of Peace earlier went on to give us those words along with all kinds of beautiful other words. Isaiah was probably a devout Jewish guy, but he didn t open his eyes to see what he ought to do until and then this is the thing in the Bible it ways that it was the year after King Uzziah died. Isaiah says, It was the year after King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord high and lifted up. It wasn t something you wanted to have happen, but the king died, and somehow it made him stop and ask, What s important? Right? John: Yeah. That s good. Stay up here. I may need you again in a minute. Scripture reveals things to us, but the ongoing story of God, the ongoing scripture of our lives, is sitting out here in the pews and among us, and I know there are life-events here in this room that have been very formative and shaping of people s lives in this room. Just last Sunday, Leslie Nuegent shared the powerful testimony of her experience along with her husband and her other son of the birth of their son J.J. who was born with Down Syndrome. That life event became a call on here life, a call, a design that she surrendered to, and here we are these many years later with an absolutely burgeoning ministry of families that have to deal day in and day out with special needs. I think about life events that are both joyful but also those that are just filled with great tragedy. Last Sunday I got a call that I certainly would never have wanted to receive from a member of this congregation, whose son, after a 10 year battle with addiction, overdosed on heroin. We are planning the second such service in this sanctuary in less than 5 weeks. This active and engaged and lovely family, this husband and wife, who will bury their son next Saturday, have experienced this life event as a call. More than two years ago, they established a support group for families that are suffering the ravages of children and family members with narcotics, opiates and other things, and that call is coming full circle now to bless them, as this Wednesday they will sit among others who have experience the worst that life can bring them. Life events have a powerful call over our lives but only when we pay attention. Now, that theme of life events leads me to the second theme, and that second theme of call is that when we are able to see a need with clarity, when we see a need, we are called. And that need may well be in our own lives. That need may be in the lives of others or in the world, but in that need we are called. I think once again right here on the grounds to my good friend John Estrem. I don t know if he is in the room or not, but 33 years ago, John Estrem in the west parking lot of this church met a guy named Bill Albertson, and Bill saw in John, and eventually John saw in himself, the need for change, and at that time, John Estrem joined this church staff, he became clean and sober and this past Saturday morning, he received his 33 year medallion for a clean and sober life. (Congregation applauds.)
5 Allen: John, I can Bible you there. John: Okay. You can Bible me, but wait, wait. I have one more. You guys. You guys. (Points to group that just returned from Biloxi.) You saw a need in a place called Biloxi, a place where the rest of the country kind of forgot about, right? You saw a need and at the hands of your leaders, you went and served. That s a call that became a calling. Couldn t miss Biloxi. Allen: No, No. I got em both Bibled. The Estrem guy who comes to me in scripture is Zacchaeus, the wee little man. We think of him as the tax collector who climbed a tree and then went and had lunch with Jesus. He was a tax collector. He made his money by cheating other people. So, my question is, What made him climb the tree? I think he was empty. I think he didn t feel like his life was going in a direction that he wanted, and he ran into that, and I mean in an Estrem way. He ran into that, and so he said, If this Jesus is coming to town, I m going to listen to him. And then for Biloxi. I was thinking of Philip the apostle, who looks in a chariot and sees a guy who looks confused about God, and so he runs along beside the chariot and helps the guy figure out the Book of Isaiah, what s going on with this stuff? So John (Estrem) sees a need in himself that s like the need Zacchaeus saw, and Biloxi is a need in the world just like Philip saw, right? John: Yeah. The need. When we see the need, it becomes a call. So, we can see it in ourselves. We can see it in the world. That might in and of itself be a life event, but there are life events. There are needs. The last theme that I want to lift up is as much a reminder as it is a theme, and the reminder is simply this that there are no big deals left to be done in the world, just big love to be shared. That s a corruption of the Mother Teresa saying that many of you have heard, but at the heart of it is that this doesn t have to be big deals. I mean Zacchaeus climbed a tree then climbed back down and went and changed his business practices. Philip, you know Philip, he just asked some guy if he needed some help reading the Bible. These aren t big deals, but Big Love. And there s, again, story after story right here at home about those kinds of things. A woman named Karen Weyrauch - I hope Karen s here this morning because we never celebrated her publicly, but you know each month our church council recognizes people with a Spirit Award, people who just quietly behind the scenes are doing little deeds with great love. Karen was one of the first recipients because for years she baked with her own hands every loaf of bread that we broke for communion. Little deeds with big, big love. There s a call and a calling in that. Allen: Karen s like Lydia. Paul takes the message of the Gospel for the first time to a European town, Philippi, in Northern Greece, and when he gets there, he tells people about the good news, and a woman named Lydia, who s a successful merchant, when he gets done talking, she s just lit up at this and she wonders what do I do, and she says, Well, I could host this guy and his people at my house. So, she says, Come on over. And there in Lydia s living room, the little act of hospitality started the European Christian Church. Small thing. Big outcome. John: Now, I know you want to keep going. Allen: I do. I do.
6 John: (Turning to the congregation.) And I really, I genuinely, hope you want to keep going, too. Wednesdays in Bible for Dummies, Allen s going to be bringing scripture to life in and around calling. Every Sunday for the next several weeks, we re going to be worshipping around the idea of calling. We re going to look at what it means to be called to humility and to work and to play and to family and to the world lots of different things because there is confusion. We ve got Mark Twain in one ear and Emily Wapnick in another. We ve got Scott Dinsmore in one ear, and we ve got Candy Chang in the other ear. We ve got Rick Warren telling us about the Purpose Driven Life, and we ve got the prophet Jeremiah making prophecies. And in the midst of it all, we want to do this and work on this together. Allen: And we ve also got those life events like Leslie and like Isaiah. We ve got the sense that something is off in us, a need in us or a need out there in the world. And we ve got this recognition that we don t need to use neon signs to do what God calls us to. Somehow little things just add up. The next right thing adds up to another right thing. John: So, from confusion to clarity, maybe together over the coming weeks each step along the way we can also remember and declare that (John and Allen together): Whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. Allen: Amen? John: Amen. Allen: Amen.