Being ‘called’ by God is God’s extraordinary invitation to you and I to the vocation of disciple. In accepting the invitation, we also know it is not the ‘end in itself’.
This is not an invitation to join an acceptable social club into which we are being invited as entitled, privileged members because we somehow fit the known cultural rules and community laws, and look forward to becoming part of the establishment.
This is vastly different. God is calling us now. We are being called every day into a new life established for God’s purposes, given a new beginning to live as God desires us to live our lives and to follow actively as disciples, living in new ways.
The psalmist reminds us God’s call is personal for each of us:
You have searched me out and known me:
You have encompassed me behind and before: and have laid your hand upon me.
For you have created my inward parts: you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
You knew my soul, and my bones were not hidden from you: when I was formed in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
(Psalm 139:1,4,12, 14)
We hear such a personal call in the remarkable story of the child Samuel whom God calls by name in the middle of the night, as he serves in the temple, called at a young age into being a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1-10).
Paul highlights for us the quality and expectations of God’s call in his message to the Corinthians. God’s call had been obscured by those not wanting to change their lives and their habits. Paul reminds them and us God calls the whole person, every part of us into the relationship with God. (1 Cor. 6:12-20) Nothing is excluded and we cannot compartmentalise our lives to fit God in somewhere just a little.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Cor. 6:15)
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price…(1 Cor. 6:19-20)
As we come to understand our calling, we read in the early verses of John’s Gospel (1:19-36), how John the Baptiser shared in Jesus’ call as he gave witness to Jesus as the Messiah at his baptism, both to John’s own followers and to the authorities. John encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus, including Andrew who then called his brother Simon to come and meet with Jesus, Simon whom Jesus renamed Peter.
Then we hear about Jesus calling Philip, who urged his friend Nathanael to come and meet Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth, who Philip described as the Messiah about whom the prophets and Moses wrote. (John 1:43-51)
It is clear being called by God happens directly with each individual and the call can be encouraged by those around us. However, whatever the circumstances, the call happens.
The call to discipleship does not end with the calling either. We cannot sit comfortably in our pews and imagine we are disciples if all we do is enjoy the call on a Sunday morning in church and think we belong during the couple of hours we’re physically present.
Discipleship is an active way of being. It includes following Jesus, seeing and discerning his identity and role and believing in him. It means we make the decision to remain and stay with Jesus even when we are tempted away or ridiculed and in times when it becomes hard to sustain. It means witnessing to others and inviting them to meet Jesus in the way we live and engage with God. It means committing to and growing a new identity as a disciple, as a Jesus follower; and, also being visible as a Christian in the community in the way we live, engaging in learning about God on an ongoing basis. It means living as a disciple and growing in understanding and compassion, committed to sharing God’s love and justice with others, and joining a new community and gladly belonging to it as your new family.
Its quite a job description. It comes at a cost for many in the world. Stubborn resistance to change and not wanting to grow and be challenged, like some faith communities, is also not an option for a disciple. It means when we stumble, falter, doubt, turn our backs and are angry as disciples, we are still in God’s presence, loved and beloved of God while we work this through in our relationship with God and God’s family.
Psalm 139 reminds us of this understanding. God was present before us and all creation and God is present after us and will be there after creation. To imagine we can domesticate God and understand the mystery of God is, I think, hugely egotistical and speaks to our own need to control and manage our own fears and limit our risk.
To think we can stay the same is not what being a disciple means. There are those who want to limit God’s influence in their lives. I imagine we all go through these stages as we try to make sense of our discipleship journey and worry about its implications and the decisions we will need to make, rather than leaving this to God.
When I think about God calling each of us, I know it happens personally. It happens in ways which reveal God’s love for us, as our call into our vocation as a disciple is unique, extraordinary, disturbing, and perhaps shocking.
Sometimes it’s a gentle, quiet, steady faith slowly seeping into our spirit, mind and body, filling us up and taking us almost unawares.
Sometimes the calling happens like Saul’s, a committed faithful man of God. In his work for the religious authorities, he ensured the conviction and killing of Jesus’ followers, as with Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Saul’s conversion literally tumbled him off his horse and made him blind, so he could see afresh and he was given a new name, Paul.
Sometimes, like Samuel, God simply called him. Eli recognized God’s presence and showed Samuel the way to respond, like John the Baptist who pointed the way to Jesus with his disciples.
Sometimes, like Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael it was a combination of encouragement and invitation. The Samaritan woman debated with Jesus by the well, she was persuaded and she invited her village to meet Jesus too. The Centurion who was baptized by Peter, together with all his household had a dream from God. The stories are all different.
What is your calling story?
And once someone is called, how do we welcome new followers to our family? To the newly baptized, the seeker and the follower, how do we say: ‘come and join us. You are very welcome.’
Philip’s response to Nathanael is a good guide. He didn’t try to control the process, he said: come and meet Jesus. So many people’s faith journey is ended at the point of curiosity because their questions are seen as a threat, a refusal to believe, or a challenge to be answered with righteous indignation if they don’t believe as we believe.
Our job is not to think for people or keep them safe; it is rather to invite them into a closer relationship with God and support such growth and engagement. We need to leave God space to work with those who are seeking and growing.
And how do we know it is Jesus who is calling us? There are many voices and powers calling and tempting us with forces in our lives pulling us in different directions, seeking our loyalty and passion. Choosing Jesus is a significant step to take.
John’s answer in his Gospel is in the relationships in our lives; most of us first encounter Jesus in community. This is why we make promises at baptisms to help those being baptized to know who Jesus is, every day.
As Jesus invites us to ‘see him’, we must resist the temptation to reshape Jesus in our image, rather than reshape ourselves to fit Jesus’ image of us.
I hope we can copy Nathanael coming to know Jesus, as we too come, talk, listen and share. Thank God, Jesus continues to come into our world today, without waiting for our invitation, to disturb us, as he did for those first disciples and the early community of followers; without waiting for permission to follow our processes and rules. Jesus frees us to follow him.
The Lord be with you.