Isaiah 49:1b-7 (abridged)
…The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.
3 And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4 But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God. God has become my strength.”
5 And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
“I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
29 The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” ///// 35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
The picture on the front of the bulletin was painted by Gary Bunt. I forgot to include this information in the bulletin, and I’m sorry. Gary calls this painting “Some People Following Jesus.” Just regular everyday people. Pulling grocery carts, carrying purses, sporting work overalls, and walking the dog. Heading slightly up hill together. And I have been thinking, how fun would it be to paint something like this on the walls in Bethany Hall? With each of us in the picture wearing our favorite color, holding some symbol of what we do, or used to do, or dream to do, walking along, together, following Jesus. And I wonder, if we painted such a picture in the Hall, what color would you be wearing and what would you be carrying, or pulling along?
Last Sunday, Preaching Elder Rob got us thinking on the theme of calling and vocation, with the stories of Jesus’ baptism by John and this text from Isaiah who says he was called by God to be a prophet before he was born. We are with this theme of calling again this morning. Not only from the Biblical stories we heard, but also because we are ordaining and installing elders and deacons who have been called by God and this congregation to serve us. And, this afternoon, we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., a mighty prophet called by God to call this nation into racial equality and beloved community. It is an understatement to say that the lives of these people—Isaiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Dr. King are big lives. Their callings, their lives, their labors are intense and impactful in the grand schemes of God’s plans for the world. And then there are people like us, like the ones in Gary Bunt’s painting. Relatively speaking, in the grand scheme of things, not having huge impacts. But just the same responding to God’s call and fulfilling our vocation in a huge variety of ways.
We all share one calling, one vocation. We are created in God’s image and called to be human beings. We are created to enjoy communion with God the source of all being, and in communion with our own selves, with other human beings, and with the whole creation. And we are created to create. Before any of us was born, while we were being formed in our mother’s wombs, and from forever before that, God was blessing us, and calling us to be fruitful, and to multiply, to cherish and fill the earth—to receive and nurture all of creation’s potential, and to name and nurture each other’s potential.
And what potential! What a roomy world! What incredible possibilities human beings have realized. Just look at this space with its intricate beauty. And think about the music we sing. And pianos, organs, and guitars. Gold paint and delicate paint brushes. The red velvet cushions we sit on and the sewing machines that sewed them. The lights. The flavorful food we will eat together after worship. Forks and spoons. Zippers. Toilets that flush. Door hinges. Smart phones. Cars. Jet planes. And before all of these marvelous things there are the babies, all the babies formed in their mothers’ wombs and born into this world full of potential. The world is chock full of the fruits of human creation, imagination, and invention. On and on it goes.
And I wonder, if we were to create a painting of all of us in Bethany Hall, what color would you be wearing, and what would you be carrying or pulling along that symbolizes your particular calling within the human vocation to live in communion and to create and be fruitful? It isn’t just one thing for any of us. Our callings are multiple. We are sons and daughters, parents and grandparents, partners and neighbors, singers and songwriters, homemakers and artists, shepherds and teachers, knitters and number crunchers, real estate agents and cartoonists, certified alcohol counselors and hospitality managers, furniture makers and computer repairers, health insurance experts and policy makers. Our gifts and abilities are multiple. We are created in God’s image and blessed to do many, many different things over our life times, and often in the very same day. But, we live in a culture that is obsessed about doing and productivity and success. Often the first question we are asked or that we ask when we meet someone new is: “What do you do?” What we do matters. It is how we bless the world.
But before our doing there is the crucial matter of our being. Our human being—which is, before all else, about our being in communion, with the source of our lives, with ourselves, with one another, and with creation. And our human being in communion is broken, at every level. Not completely. And not irreparably. But communion is surely broken, within our own selves, in our families, with our neighbors, within and between nations, and with God’s self and God’s good creation. And because of these breaks in communion, some of what we create—either materially, or by way of structures and systems—causes harm. It pollutes. Poisons. Promotes human inequities. Chokes human potential. Literally takes lives and sucks the joy out of living.
And so God creates, calls, and comes to us in prophets who call us back to the core of our being in communion. Isaiah, John the Baptist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And God comes to the world fully in Jesus, the One John calls the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Before time began, before he floated in the waters of Mary’s womb, Jesus was destined to restore the world’s being in communion. Before Jesus shows up to be baptized by John, he was probably a carpenter like his father Joseph, carrying a hammer and a saw. Then, after his baptism, on a quite ordinary day, a couple of quite regular folk with regular jobs, were drawn to Jesus, and they followed him to the place he was staying, and they kept on following him, day by day, seeing and hearing what it looks like to be a human being in restored communion. And from those first guys we get the story of Jesus and of what it means to be human. And from the Spirit of Jesus poured out on Pentecost, we get a gathering of quite regular folk, who have all kinds of daily callings, who are following Jesus together, and answering God’s call to live as co-creators in deep communion. We are those people. And we call deacons and elders, who have all kinds of daily callings, to be our faithful servants, to lead and support us in becoming who we are born to be. People blessed, gifted, called, and sent to create and commune, and be God’s light in the world.