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“Called To Serve”
Isaiah 43: 1-7
January 9, 2022
Officer Ordination and Installation
Do you remember the old movie, The Blues Brothers? Jake and Elwood, the characters played by John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, claimed to be on a mission from God. Despite their mishaps, flaws and failures, they persisted in trying to save the Christian children’s home where they were raised, and throughout the movie, they repeated to everyone they encountered, “We’re on a mission from God.” These fumbling, bumbling ex-cons had a clear sense that, despite their past sins and current imperfections, God had called them.
The farcical movie makes us laugh, but it does raise the question: Has God called you lately? And—did you answer?
Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, the day we remember not only the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, but our own baptisms. In baptism, we were both claimed and called---claimed as God’s children, and called to respond by serving the Lord. It is fitting that on this day we ordain and install our new church officers. These people have accepted a call from God to serve this church as Elders or Deacons. You as a congregation recognized in them gifts and abilities that are fitting for officers of the church. It is good and right to recognize that and to celebrate this milestone with them as they make their vows later in the service.
But this day also reminds us that all of us are called by God. One of the main tenets of our Reformed theology is that God elects people for service as well as salvation. For service as well as salvation. When God claims us as his own, God also calls us to serve. Not everyone is called to be an officer, but everyone is called to serve the Lord and his church and his people.
This month, using the PCUSA Vital Congregations initiative to reaffirm our own vitality as a church. The PCUSA studied churches that are vital---alive and thriving—and found that all of those churches shared seven characteristics. By focusing on those characteristics, other churches also can become more vital. The seven characteristics are
Today we are looking at the second characteristic, “Empowered Servant Leadership.”
The PCUSA has found that churches that are vital have empowered servant leadership, while those that are struggling see leadership as only the Pastor’s job, monopolized leadership, hiring the young energetic pastor, and relying on too few leaders so that they burn out good volunteers.
Instead of seeing leadership as just the job of the Pastor or of a select few, vital churches recognize that all Christians are called to be servant leaders. Vital churches empower those leaders, and the leaders are also empowered by the Holy Spirit.
This passage from Isaiah talks about God’s call. “But now thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
There are three parts to that statement that I think we should pay attention to. The first is that GOD calls us.
GOD calls us. The Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator of all that is, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Sovereign God, the one with all knowledge and all power, chooses to allow people to participate in God’s work. Think about that! What an awesome and incredible privilege!
Have you ever wondered if God can use you? Do you wonder if you are too old, or too young? Are you not educated enough, or are you over qualified? Do you lack the right skills, the right experience? Are you shy or self-conscious? Or are you too boisterous and proud?
Whatever your doubt, whatever your fear, whatever robs your confidence, have faith in this: God has a plan for your life, and God will use you, will use you with with your weaknesses, your faults, and your foolishness.
If you need something to reassure you, consider the list that someone compiled of those unlikely people God used in the Bible:
Abraham was too old,
David was too young,
Jacob was a liar,
Leah was considered ugly,
Rahab was a prostitute,
Jonah ran from God,
Martha worried about everything,
Peter denied Jesus,
And his three closest disciples fell asleep while praying!1
The Holy One chooses to use human beings, though we are far from perfect, and through us makes God’s love known in the world. Listen again to these words from Isaiah: “Bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made. . . . You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he.”
As we serve and bear witness to God, we bring God glory, and as we fulfill the purpose for which the Lord made us, we believe and understand who God is. It is God who calls us.
The second part of this passage we should pay attention to is that God CALLS us, with the emphasis on CALLS. The Almighty One speaks to us and tells us what to do.
I’ve always enjoyed the Family Circus cartoon strip. Bill Keane, the creator of cartoon, said that one time when he was drawing one of his cartoons, his son, Jeffy, said, “Daddy, how do you know what to draw?”
Keane replied, “God tells me.”
And Jeffy said, “Then why do you keep erasing parts of it?”2
Sometimes we have trouble hearing God speak. We have this image of rolling clouds and rumbling thunder, a voice from on high that speaks to us with unmistakable clarity. But that is not always the way God works.
In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells a story about a man sitting at a bar in Alaska. He tells the bartender about how he recently lost his faith in God after his twin-engine plane crashed in the tundra. “Yeah,” he says bitterly, “I lay there in the wreckage, hour after hour, nearly frozen to death, crying out to God to save me, praying for God to help with every ounce of my being, but he didn’t raise a finger to help. So I’m done with that whole charade.”
“But,” said the bartender, squinting an eye at him, “you’re here! You were saved!”
“Yeah, that’s right,” says the man, “because finally some Eskimo came along. . . .”3
Is it possible that we sometimes miss the way God works in our lives, because we are not paying attention?
It would be simple if God really did speak out of the clouds—or called us on the phone! But God does speak to us in other ways. And our responsibility is to pay attention, to be alert and aware so that we may hear God’s voice.
One of the ways God speaks is through the Bible. When we read scripture, we understand more about God’s nature, character, who God is and who God wants us to be. We see the example of Jesus, so that we may pattern our lives after him and follow his example of service. God calls us through the written word.
God also speaks to us through other people. A kindergarten teacher was watching her class while they worked on an art assignment. She was walking around to see what each child was drawing. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was. The girl replied, ‘I’m drawing God.”
The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
Without missing a beat, the little girl replied, “They will when I’m done.”4
God appears to us through other people who show us what God looks like. God speaks through people who have served as an example for us, whose lives exemplify service. God also speaks to us through people who affirm our gifts, who encourage us to do things we might not otherwise have done. God speaks through officer nominating committees and through others in the church who may ask you to serve, to serve as an usher or greeter, to sing in the choir or play bells, to help with Mission Ministries, to help with youth or children’s ministries or volunteer for a special project.
That person who says, “We could use your help,” may be the voice of God speaking to you.
God CALLS each and every one of us, so let us listen and respond to God’s call.
And finally, the last thing in this passage we should notice is that God calls us BY NAME. The Lord says through Isaiah, “I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Sometimes when we hear God’s call, we wonder, “God, have you really got this right? Are you sure you’re not calling on the wrong person? Isn’t there someone better for the job?” In my years of ministry, I’ve found that very often when people are called to be church officers, they’re just not sure if they’re really equipped for the task. Being called as an officer is humbling and a little frightening. But I always remind them that none of us, in and of ourselves, is God adequate. But thanks be to God, God gives us all that we need to fulfill that which he asks us to do. That is true for all of us! Someone once said, “God does not call the qualified; God qualifies the called.” God equips us for whatever he asks us to do.
Whether it is service in the church, or the work we are supposed to do in our vocational life, or the place we are supposed to live, or maybe it is an action we need to take—whatever it is that God asks of us, God empowers us to do.
And so we do not need to fear. The God who created us knows what is best for us. God does not make a mistake when God calls us; God calls us by name and promises us the Spirit’s presence.
One of my favorite preachers, Joanna Adams, remembered a theatre production in Atlanta of Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel. The actor Tom Keys played God, standing on a ladder on the stage to speak down from on high. In the scene where Jesus is baptized, Adams said, “God speaks in a voice loud enough to be heard all the way down Peachtree Street: ‘You are my boy, Jesus. I am so proud of you!’”
And Adams said, “I could feel in the marrow of my bones the exuberant love and approval in the actor’s voice, and I believe that something similar happens between God and us . . . ‘This one is mine!’ the Lord exclaims. ‘I see my image in her! Don’t you see my image in him? And here comes my Spirit, my Spirit to sustain and guide as you go about doing what I put you on earth to do.’”5
So listen for God’s voice: “You are my child, Joanne. You are my child, Mary. You are my child, Mike. Rebecca, you are mine, too! Sue you are mine, and Dave you are mine, and Pearl and Mark and ..... You all are my children, and I see my image in you.”
God is the one who calls us by name, because God loves us! So let us respond, and we will find our greatest joy in living as the people God created us to be. In the name of God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.