THE GOD WHO CALLS
GOD IS CALLING YOU
TEXT: Isaiah 6:1-8; Mt. 4:18-22
- If you have ever ignored a ringing phone because you knew who it was, sit down.
2. If you have ever picked up the phone and said something stupid because you thought you knew who it was, sit down.
3. If you’ve ever tried to imitate a bird call, sit down.
4. If you’ve ever lost your religion over the call of an umpire or referee, sit down.
5. If you’ve ever fallen or dropped something trying to get to a ringing phone, sit down.
6. If you’ve ever stayed home from some place you really wanted to go because you were expecting an important call, sit down.
7. If you’ve ever sat by the phone waiting for someone to call, sit down.
I took you through that just as a reminder of the different kinds of calls that we hear, and just how important a call can be. We’ve all experienced one sort of call or another, and the call of God to Isaiah in chapter 6 is one of the more famous ones in Scripture.
Isaiah’s call comes in the form of a vision, where he sees God way up high on a throne and God’s kingly robe is so huge that the hem of it completely fills the temple. There are all these strange beasts with lots of wings who were attending to God and proclaiming God’s holiness with such power that the temple shook and filled with smoke. Now, most of us can’t claim to have had such an experience, but for those of us who choose to pay attention to our spiritual lives, we can often point to several “aha” moments on the spiritual journey.
The initial one of those, the one that usually propels us to begin the spiritual walk in the first place, is usually the realization that the existence of God is a very real possibility. Maybe we hadn’t really considered that before, but something happens that makes us say there might actually be a God, in which case I had better pay attention. We might not be sure at that point. We might not know anything about the nature of that God. But God suddenly becomes real enough that we feel compelled to investigate further.
We often move from there to a conviction that there is a God, and unfortunately a lot of people stop their spiritual journey right there. They figure that they’ve reached the destination of believing in God, they sit down on a bench by the side of the road, and never take another step. Sometimes they don’t go further because they think that’s all there is and, frankly, it seems a bit dull. If the first experience of God is more powerful, some might not continue for the same reason Isaiah stops in his tracks. God seems too overwhelming or scary or holy and it seems like a safer idea to keep God at arm’s length.
After all the shaking and smoking in Isaiah’s vision, he cries out “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” When confronted with the glory of God, the first thing that Isaiah becomes aware of is his own sinfulness…both individually and in the nation to which he belongs. And he’s scared. He doesn’t think there’s even a chance for repentance. When he beholds the full glory of God, his first thought is, “That’s it. I’m toast.”
Of course he isn’t, and neither are we. Whether we’re bored or scared, if you have reached the point of a basic belief in God, you that you haven’t even left the spiritual driveway yet. If you’ll pull out onto the road for just a minute, I’ll tell you about the second “aha” moment in the spiritual journey.
That moment is that the God that you just discovered is calling you, by name– your phone number, your address, specifically you. That’s the place where I want to focus for this first sermon this morning. Next week we’ll look at the ways that God heals us and equips us when we answer that call, but none of that will matter unless we first realize that God is calling us in the first place.
So for today, the one realization that I want you to take home is, “God is calling me.” It’s not that God has put out a general call and I can respond if I please. It’s not that God is calling a pay phone and whoever happens to walk by can answer it. God is calling you, personally, at home, on your cell. Isaiah’s vision is not being played in theaters across Israel. It is only Isaiah who sees, and one of the seraphs with all those wings is touching his lips and no one else’s.
Often when we in the church talk about calling we tend to focus on the work that God calls us to do. In the ordained ministry especially, we are always talking about “my call,” which is synonymous with talking about the particular work that I do, my vocation. Even the word “vocation” comes from the Latin word for “call.” But calling is only secondarily about work and about vocation. Calling is not so much about what you do as about whom you do it for. Calling makes no sense without their first being a Caller. We are first and foremost called to be in relationship with God. If you want a business and work metaphor, you can say that calling is not about your job title. It’s about your employer. God is the employer who wants to have you on the company team.
God will provide all the training that you need. God will even start you out with a year or two of paid leave if you’re having a personal or family crisis that prevents you from starting work right away. You can discuss your actual job duties later. God just wants to make you a lifetime partner in the firm. Guaranteed employment — if it gets so that you can no longer do the first assignment, there’ll be another one that better suits your circumstances. You will never be laid off, fired, or forced to retire. You’re being called simply because God thinks you’re great, and wants to have you around.
If we make the mistake of equating calling with a specific line of work, we run the risk of a huge loss of purpose and meaning if our circumstances change and we can no longer do that task. I often say I’m called to preach the Word of God. And it’s true that being in the pulpit trying to make God’s Word accessible to people is my current job assignment from God. I have no doubt of that whatsoever. But it’s misleading to say that that is my calling. My calling is simply to say yes to God for relationship and then, across the course of my life, to do whatever specific tasks God asks me to do at whatever time.
One of the most common questions that I get as a pastor is some form of, “How do I know that God is speaking?” Unfortunately, the only way to really know God is speaking is by getting to know God personally. There isn’t an automatic caller ID on every message from God. We know it’s God’s voice because we have enough experience with God to recognize it. If I hear a voice in the hall, the only way I know who that voice is, is to go out and look. If the same voice is in that hall day after day, after several times of going to look, I’ll soon know without looking. I know when God is speaking to me because I recognize the voice from my experience.
When we are young, either physically or in our faith, and don’t have those kinds of experiences with God to draw from, we need to ask others. Wherever we are on the road, there’s always somebody behind us on the road and somebody ahead of us. No matter what stage we’re at, whether we’ve just pulled out of the driveway or we’re cruising down the interstate, we all need help and advice from those further along, and we all need to be available to help those who are not quite as far as we are.
If you haven’t heard God’s call on your life, it’s not because God isn’t calling. You just need to learn what the voice sounds like. Maybe you’re waiting for the phone to ring while God has been sending e-mails. Maybe the call was sitting in the Bible reading for today, but you didn’t pick it up and read it. Maybe you’re waiting for something that sounds great and powerful while your two-year old is bringing God’s message to you.
At this point in my Spiritual life I know God’s voice pretty well. My problems now don’t come because I don’t recognize the voice; they come because I know what the voice is likely to say and I don’t want to hear it. Isaiah was sure that if God spoke it would be his doom. But it wasn’t. God responded to Isaiah’s overweening guilt with a ritual cleansing and the words God spoke were not words of condemnation, but words of forgiveness. “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out,” says the seraph.
And then, it comes. Once Isaiah is ready to listen, the call is given. It is not a command, but an offer. “Whom shall I send,” asks God, “and who will go for us?” Isaiah steps up to the plate, and God gives him a message for the people…a message that will go on to include predictions of a suffering servant who will blot out the transgressions of Israel, just like the seraph blotted out Isaiah’s sins with a burning coal. God is calling you by name. Can you hear it? Will you hear it? It’s the call that will change your life and perhaps the lives of others. It won’t go away. If the line is busy, God will call back. If the phone is busy God will try the door or email. God is calling you. Have you ever really answered? Have you ever finally stopped and said, “Here am I, send me?” The purpose of your life is waiting to be fulfilled, and God can accomplish it whether you’re 10, 50, or 100 years old. God wants you on the team. What will your answer be? Amen.