January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10
Psalm 139:1-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51


The most recent issue of the WMS magazine, “Glad Tidings” is focussed on the theme of vocation. When I asked one group earlier this week what “vocation” means, someone said, “It’s what you do.” And more specifically than that, it’s what you are called to do. The word, “vocation” comes from the Latin “vocare” meaning “to call,” and our scripture readings this morning and next week also, are filled with stories of people being called by God to various ministries.

Although people who become ministers like me, and maybe even people who become Christian educators like Martha and the others we commissioned this morning, quickly get used to the idea that we are called to a particular ministry in the church. Sometimes we can recall times when people noticed our gifts or our potential for a certain ministry, and even if we didn’t hear God’s voice calling to us directly like Samuel did… we certainly heard it through the voices of others in the Christian community.

One of the things that was very interesting about the last issue of “Glad Tidings” was that it wasn’t a bunch of stories about ministers or missionaries being called by God. Instead, it was filled with stories of a variety of Christian women who were called to a variety of vocations – women called to different professional roles, inside and outside the church, women called to be parents, and women called to more than one vocation.

One of the articles was written by a member of our congregation. Allyssa de Bruijn wrote about her calling to the professional practice of acupuncture. She explained how this work, which she has only just begun recently here in Saskatoon, is how she feels called to use her gifts and care for and serve others in the community. She takes her Christian faith with her into her daily life – and without preaching at her patients, she strives to share God’s love with them in word and action.

Allyssa serves in the church too, of course. She sings in the choir, and she serves on the Outreach Committee, and when I call and ask if she would like to be a shepherd on Christmas Eve, she says Yes! But no matter what we may be doing inside the church, what we are doing outside of it is so very important. And God is calling us to use all our gifts and talents and time and energy for God’s glory and God’s good purposes in the world.

In the reading from 1 Corinthians this morning, we heard Paul advising the Christians at Corinth about how they should be living. Specifically, he was advising them about their sex lives, and encouraging them not to enter into superficial, meaningless sexual relationships as if what they did with their bodies didn’t matter. He reminded them that their bodies do matter because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul explains that as followers of Jesus, we are not bound by the Law – we are not stuck following a set of difficult rules that we must follow perfectly in order to be saved. In one translation, Paul writes: “I have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful.”

What a gift that is!… The freedom to do anything with our lives! And what a challenge and a responsibility that is… to discern what God is calling us to do… to figure out how God is calling us to follow Jesus in the church, and in our daily work, and in our relationships and family life. We have the freedom to do just about anything, but we want to listen for God’s voice and God’s direction so we can choose what God is calling us to do… what is helpful, what is beneficial, what is best.

Some of you are probably thinking that today’s sermon would be good for the younger people among us… those who are still trying to figure out what they are going to do with their lives. What courses should I take in school? What degree should I strive for? What training program should I sign up for? Which company should I apply to work for? And certainly, I hope that those of you at that stage of life will carefully consider what God may be calling you to choose.

But it’s not a sermon only for young people… partly because at any stage of life God may decide to call you to something new. Just as an example, when I was in seminary in my mid to late twenties, the average age of the students in my year was 42! There were quite a few people there who had discerned a call to something new when they weren’t fresh out of high school.

The other reason is that even if you have been in the same occupation for years, or even if your role as a spouse, parent, grandparent, friend, or neighbour is long-held and well-established, it’s not too late to start thinking about it as a vocation.

When you do what you do every day, how does God use you to make one small part of the world a little more like the Kingdom of God? When you do what you do every day, how does God use you to share God’s love in word or in action with one or more of God’s beloved children?

Because you have the Spirit of God living within you, you have the power to be the presence of Christ to your children, to your co-workers, to your customers, your students, your patients, your neighbours. Of course, you could just go about your work and get things done, and put your pay cheque in the bank… You have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful… not everything is what God is calling you to do… not everything is your vocation.

One of the things I noticed in the Gospel reading this week was the unusual reaction of Nathanael when he met Jesus for the first time. At first, the story sounds like many others from the Gospel. Jesus is going along at the beginning of his ministry and he’s calling people to follow him. Some are dropping their fishing nets to go out on the road with an itinerant preacher. Others are leaving behind other occupations for a new vocation with Jesus.

In the town of Galilee, Jesus comes across Philip. Jesus says to him, “Follow me,” and he does. But first he goes and finds his friend Nathanael and tells him about Jesus. Philip says, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”

Nathanael is skeptical when he hears that Jesus is from the back-water town of Nazareth, but he decides to “come and see” what Philip is so excited about. But when Jesus sees Nathanael coming towards him, he doesn’t just say “Follow me” this time, as he did to Philip. Instead, Jesus says, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Jesus basically looks at Nathanael and declares that he knows Nathanael is a good man. And Nathanael is confused. “How do you know me?” he asks. “How do you know that I’m not deceitful?” Jesus explains that he had the opportunity to observe Nathanael’s behaviour before Philip called him, and Nathanael is amazed. Jesus tells Nathanael that knowing him is just the beginning: “You will see greater things than these!” Jesus declares.

The Psalmist reminds us this morning that God knows us completely also: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up… Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely… For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

God knows our gifts. God knows what we struggle with. God knows what makes us anxious and worried. God knows our full potential.

Today, wherever you are at on your journey, remember that God knows you, and God loves you. God has plans for you, and God will call you. May all our ears be open to hear, and all our hearts be open to respond in joyful obedience. Amen.