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A Sermon

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					                                            A Sermon
                                The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
                                  West Acton Baptist Church
                                        January 8, 2012

                                       “Living Out the Call”

        And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well
                                                                              Mark 1:11i

        I believe God has called each one of us to ministry. Jesus had an advantage: a voice from
heaven. You and I? We have to work a little bit harder. It is my hope that this sermon will help
us both discover our call and do it.
        To start, I want to talk in a very straightforward fashion about being called. I can think of
no better example than when I yell upstairs for the kids to set the table for dinner. Sound
familiar? Over the course of my parenting career, I have heard many different responses. Let
me rank order them from favorite to lest.
        “Coming.” I like this one best.
        “Just a minute, I’m finishing my homework.” Well, that means I was heard, they intend
to come, and they are engaged in something I value.
        “Did you ask Fred?” (I don’t have a child named Fred. Just thought I would spare
singling anyone out so let’s pretend I do). Translated this can mean: “It isn’t fair to just ask me,”
or “I don’t want to do it and I know my brother doesn’t want to do it and here’s a chance to stick
it to him.”
        “Just a second, Dad. The game is almost over.” This is offered when they are sitting in
the family room playing a video game and is usually followed by my asking, “How long?”
Invariably the reply is, “It’s almost over. Not long.” Which is really no answer at all. They
usually need to be asked again.
        My least favorite? No response. Ever notice how our voice rises when we haven’t been
heard? I suppose that’s natural enough. You obviously need more volume, but my tone
changes. They should have heard me the first time so now not only has my volume increased,

                                                                                      “Living Out the Call”
                                                                                          January 8, 2012
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I’m angry. After all, we don’t live that far from Mt. Hope Cemetery, I’m yelling loud enough to
wake the dead and they can’t hear me?
       So those are the five typical responses. Let’s look at each and use them as metaphors for
how we respond to God. First, the one I am sure God likes best. When God calls, we reply,
“Coming.” We are all familiar with characters in the Bible who were less than excited to have
been greeted by a call from God. Moses tried to get out of going back to Egypt. Jonah never
wanted to go to Nineveh. Jeremiah wanted out. But there are those who, when called, stood
ready. Elisha wanted to be called when Elijah passed his mantel and elsewhere when God asks,
“Whom shall I send?” Isaiah raises his hand and says, “Here am I. Send me.”
       I don’t know why some people seem so open. Remember the story of the journalist who
watched as Mother Teresa dressed the wounds of a leaper? He said, “I wouldn’t do that for a
million dollars,” to which she responded, “Neither would I.” There are people for whom the
love of God burns so hot that when they hear the call, see the need, they stand. “Here am I.
Send me.” I suspect they have simply taken Jesus at His word and not tried to overcomplicate
the call. They live in a world that is busy slapping each other on the cheek and have refused to
say that turning the other cheek wont work.
       It might also be true that, like my children, on a particular day God called them, and they
were ready. Grace has a funny way of moving in the lives of people. Why did it take so long for
Rosa Parks to simply say, “Not today. Today, I will not move to the back of the bus.” On
December 1, 1955, she heard God’s call and said, “I’m coming, Lord.” It is not outside the
realm of possibility that we can do the same this very day.
       Or take my children’s response that they will be down in a minute. They are finishing up
their homework. Hard to be upset when that’s the response. And the truth of the matter is
sometimes we are finishing up one call before we can go to the next. I remember one of my
ministerial colleagues discussing her sense of call. She told of being conflicted between the
demands of her ministry and her duty as a mother. But then she reframed the issue and said, “I
was called to be a mother as much as I was called to be a pastor.” Sometimes, we have to finish
our homework before we can answer the next call.
       Let me warn you of a spiritual pitfall. It comes when we fail to see where we have been
planted and think we will do God’s work only when we are somewhere else. I tell you anyone
who has raised a child in love, has done his or her calling. You may be right. Perhaps God is

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                                                                                       January 8, 2012
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calling you to some new work, but I have heard many horror stories of people who have devoted
themselves to the Lord and forgotten the Lord’s devotion to their family. You may need to finish
your homework.
       Now we come to the more difficult responses. “Did you ask Fred?” At its worst, this is
more than “misery loves company.” This is, “I want to make Fred miserable.” It assumes that
setting the table wont be fun, so let’s make sure Fred doesn’t have any!
       First, we have to admit it may not be fun. Answering God’s call may interfere with what
you had planned, and it is important to remember that we are called to carry a cross, which by
any measure, isn’t fun. But it’s also a delaying tactic. Behind it is a budding argument. “Well,
if Fred doesn’t have to do it, then I shouldn’t have to either.” To which I invariably answer, “I
am not asking your brother. I’m asking you.” And we also have to make another admission.
It’s not an inappropriate question. His brother is also a member of this family and it isn’t fair for
his brother to do nothing. We often feel this as Christians. Why do about 20% of a church’s
membership end up doing 95% of the work? Aren’t we all called to help lift the load? So we,
too, say, “Have you asked Fred?” But God is asking you. It might be best if we let God worry
about Fred.
       And what about the response, “Okay, Dad. Just let me finish this game.” As I suggested
earlier, I wouldn’t mind if it was homework, but here they are shooting some alien foe in a video
game that for the life of me I can see no redeeming value in. Better to set the table and have it
ready so the food can be hot when it is served.
       I imagine God has a similar attitude towards our frivolous delays in answering the call.
There may even come a time God takes the same action I have been known to take. God turns
off the TV. There come moments in life when God seems to shatter our ease and demand our
attention. We often turn and pay attention when our pleasure has been interrupted.
       Finally, my least favorite response when I call  no response at all. The lack of a
response is almost always the result of the kids having earphones on listening to music or
watching a video on their computer. But it requires me to go upstairs, knock on their door
(which they usually don’t hear either) and get their attention. Maybe it’s because I have a look
of exasperation on my face, but they almost always pull out their earphones, hear me ask for the
third time for the table to be set and willingly come. It isn’t that they were not willing to do the
job. They simply didn’t hear the request.

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                                                                                          January 8, 2012
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        But notice in all of these examples I did not stop until the job was done. God doesn’t
either. In our lives we may find ourselves us in any one of these states  eager willingness,
doing our homework, making sure we aren’t the only one’s facing the burden, preoccupied by
our own pleasure, or simply not hearing the call. But God has work to be done and will never
stop seeking us out. George McCloud of the Iona Community helps us understand the task
before us:
        I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two
        candles; but on a cross between two thieves; on the town’s garbage heap; at a
        crossroad, so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and
        Greek... at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers
        gamble. Because that is where He died. And that is what He died about. That is where
        [the people of the church] ought to be and what [they] ought to be about."

The call is given. Are we coming?
  Mark 1:4-11
           John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were
going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was
clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He
proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and
untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy
          In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
   And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending
like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well

                                                                                         “Living Out the Call”
                                                                                             January 8, 2012
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