January 19, 2020.
Come, see and remain!
Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
People of faith believe that God calls people. Somehow, God works in the hearts and minds of people to move them to be part of God’s plan for the world! One of our favorite hymns is “Here I am Lord” which implies that God calls and we respond. God asks: “Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?” And relying on the words of the Prophet Isaiah in Chapter 6:8 the answer is, “Here I am Lord, send me!” For some reason, the words of this hymn evoke an emotional response – for deep down we know that it is astounding that God calls people and uses people to become part of God’s work in this the world.
The Bible informs us that God since the beginning has called people to speak a Divine word of comfort to those who suffer, a prophetic word to those whose actions deny others fairness and justice, a warning to those who lack compassion and mercy and a word of forgiveness to those who are burdened by guilt. The God whom we worship is indeed a God, who for some mysterious reason, chooses to call and work with sinful and broken human beings.
Someone once said that God doesn’t need to call only competent people who are well-equipped. No, God chooses to call people who are willing and ready to say “here I am Lord.” And then when they answer God’s call, God equips them for their task!
The underlying truth is that God calls simple, weak and unpretentious people who are willing to say “here I am Lord”.
I have absolutely no doubt that God who called people in the past, still calls people today! And also, as in the past some people answer “here I am Lord” while others either don’t hear the call or refuse to answer.
In our Reformed tradition we believe that there is an external calling and an internal calling. The entire world in which we find ourselves and the circumstances in which we live belong to God.
God’s external calling comes to people of faith and to people who are not necessarily people of faith. One could say that God sensitizes some people to “see” a need or a danger for God’s creation and creatures and moves them to speak up or do something about it. These needs or dangers come in many shapes and forms: the way some treat our fragile earth, foolish actions by some that endanger the lives of many, the way the weak, the poor, the imprisoned and children are treated. God’s external calling moves people to speak up and do something. It is not only people of faith who oppose dangerous and life-destroying practices. It is not exclusively people of faith who answer God’s external calling, God’s voice comes to all!
It is important for us to know that God’s love, grace and majesty go beyond the circle of people of faith. Deuteronomy 10:14 states: “The heaven and earth with all that is it belong to the Lord.” And Psalm 89:11: “The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours, the world and all that is in it-you have founded them.”
I agree with Immanuel when he said in his installation sermon that we often think about God in a limiting way. God is the God of the universe and as such God is able to call all people, not only people of faith, to make a difference in the world!
We should acknowledge and celebrate that God also calls all people, people of faith and those without, to make a difference.
Reformed theology also identifies what is called an internal calling. Internal calling is the work of God’s Spirit in the heart and minds of people to bring about a transformation. God calls people from darkness to light, from death to life, from strangers to children of God. God’s internal calling opens people’s eyes to see God’s love and new life in Christ. God’s Spirit removes our hearts of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. God’s internal calling leads us to be people of faith!
It is true that God calls people who are not people of faith. And God calls us to be faithful disciples of Christ. God calls us to work with God in God’s world. God wants us to say: “Here I am Lord.”
God calls us to do big and small, holy and mundane things. God calls us to speak truth to power, words of encouragement to those who suffer, visit the sick, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. God calls us to listen to others, to help our neighbors and to be good citizens. And God calls us to bring the Good News of Jesus and of new life in him, words of liberation from sin and words of hope for the future to a despairing world.
John the Baptist and his contemporaries knew what I was talking about. They were aware that the world was broken and enslaved in sin. When John saw Jesus he said: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” And you know the story that John baptized Jesus and John says that he himself saw and testified that Jesus was the son of God.
The next day John said the same thing to two of his disciples: “There is the Lamb of God”. John could not keep the Good News to himself! And the disciples followed Jesus. They asked where he was staying and Jesus answered: “Come and see!” Let me again point out that the author of the Gospel of John had a special way to say things: there is always a deeper meaning. So, it is very possible that the words “come and see” did not simply mean “come and see where I live”, but rather “come and see who I am”. Or simply “come and follow me”.
The disciples who were looking for an answer to their questions about life and salvation, when they came and saw Jesus, immediately knew that He was the One for whom they had been waiting for. This is confirmed by Andrew’s words to Simon: “We have found the Messiah”. But when you read on you would see that it was not enough for Andrew and Peter to have found the Messiah. They had to do something else – they had to share it with others!
The Gospel is about God’s intervention in the world and about Jesus the Messiah. And this Good News needs to be shared. This was the task of ancient Israel the servant, this was the task of Jesus’ disciples. And this is our task, the church – we have a task that is as urgent now as it was in the past: we need to bring good news to people who are anxious, uncertain, worried and who are asking profound questions about God, about religion, about good and evil, about the purpose in life and how to be liberated from their sins! And let’s not make any mistake: there are many people who are asking these kinds of questions.
We learn more of God’s calling in Isaiah 49. This chapter is seen as the Second Servant Song. God calls a prophet. The context is now the Babylonian Exile. Claus Westermann points out that there are three stages in this calling. And I am convinced that each one of us can relate to these stages. Let me explain:
- Election, call and equipping of the servant (1-3): “The Lord called me before I was born. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, he made me a polish arrow.” God knows what God is doing- God knows you- God calls you! And God equips you for your calling. God has given each one of us a gift or gifts. Word of encouragement, perseverance, praying for others, caring, wisdom, working with finances, or welcoming people into this worship space by ushering, the ability to formulate a message so even children can understand it, creative ideas, serving on a committee and the list goes on and on! Yes! God calls you and God will give you what you need! How will you answer?
- His despondency (4) “I have labored in vain. I have spent my strength for nothing.” Being called in God’s service is not always easy. You spent hours helping someone and don’t not get a thank you, you do what you can do to make people aware of the destructive behavior and think you’ve succeeded – just to see a relapse. Disappointments and being desponded at times are part of living in the real world. And when we feel we cannot go on we are reminded of Jesus who did not give up but gave himself right to the end! Don’t give up when there are bumps or obstacles in the road.
- His new task (5-6) “I will give you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth.” God uses people to accomplish God’s goals. The NT says that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are the messengers, we are planting the seed; God is the one who lets the seed grow! We can only serve as well as we can! But we have to let our light shine in a dark world.
Yes, people of God! God calls us, God wants us to spread the Good News, to make a difference in the world. God calls us and gifts us with whatever we need to be God’s people! “Here I am Lord use me! Send me! Open my mouth, my heart, my eyes, my ears, my hands! Make me willing to serve you! ” Amen.