2018-2-4 “Jesus’ Call … Our Call”

“Jesus’ Call…Our Call”

A meditation based on Isaiah 40:21-31;

1 Corinthians 9:16-23; and Mark 1:29-39

February 4, 2018

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Look at him go!  In the passage we have just heard, Jesus flits from synagogue to the house of a friend to a deserted place and then on to neighboring towns, all in the span of a day or two.  His activities vary from healing to teaching to praying to proclamation to casting out demons.  If we think our days are busy, just read this passage again to hear about a day in the life of Jesus!  His energy seems boundless, he bounces from activity to activity like the proverbial Tigger, and most amazingly, Jesus seems to keep balance enough to get up in the morning and repeat the hectic pattern.  Imagine: all of this without a smart phone to keep him on track!  Jesus moved where the needs were…he moved quickly and decisively and effectively …this was his call.

                   How did he do all that?  The easy, obvious, “Sunday School” answer is that he, after all, was the Son of God, imbued with special energy and given by God a special purpose.  Such a lofty position carries with it the energy and the resources to complete the job well.  Yet, Jesus himself says later in the gospel record that, though he has done great things—such as healing, teaching, casting out demons,   and the like—be assured, he says, that his followers will do even greater things.  Jesus seems to see his own activity level as a kind of microcosm of what all those called by his name will be doing—and that would include us.  So the most obvious answer to the question of how in the world did Jesus keep going cannot be seen as exclusive to only Jesus.  By his own account, you are called by God to do great things, to be people of intense and meaningful activity, and to somehow keep balance through it all.  So the question of how Jesus did all this, naturally extends to you…how do you fulfill your own call?

                   Along these lines, I think often of the words originally attributed to St. Teresa of Avila

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours;

yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion looks on the world,

yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good,

and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” 

Or, in a much abbreviated form, “Wherever We Are, Christ Is.”  And that, my sisters and brothers, is your call.

                   If, in fact and in truth, we are the feet and hands and eyes and body of Christ on earth, how in the world can we keep up?  How can we keep going?  I hear a couple of good responses to that question in the scriptures, both of which boil down to us getting ourselves and our egos out of the way, and inviting God to work through us. 

                   The Prophet Isaiah poetically and rhetorically declares the same:

“Have you not known?  Have you not heard? 

God is everlasting…Creator of the ends of the earth…

God does not faint or grow weary…

[In fact] God gives power to the faint, God strengthens the powerless. 

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

but all those who wait for God shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.”

                   Years ago, one of my good friends was telling me about some difficulties he was facing in his job.  Against the wishes of the bureaucracy for which he worked, he took a day off in the middle of the week.  Staying at home, he sat in the silence, the waiting space of which Isaiah speaks.  And slowly the painful images of the week that had been draining him, depleting him of energy, slowly those images began to surface and pass across the screen of his mind.  In the sacred space of silence, the images lost their power to disrupt.  And, after a couple of hours, my friend emerged from the waiting, the sacred silence, and he was refreshed for the work ahead.

                   Look again at Jesus in today’s reading, and we’ll see him doing much the same.  Out of the rush of people’s needs and the hectic schedule Jesus is keeping, he arises early in the morning and goes to a deserted place, and there he prays.  Away from the crowds, in a place and a space of self-isolation, Jesus opens his heart and his mind and his spirit and most especially his body to receive the power and energy that can come only from the One who does not grow weary, from the One who generously gives power to those who faint and strengthens the powerless. 

                   The more direct and truthful answer to the question of how Jesus keeps on keeping on, is that he regularly and persistently and mindfully returns to the presence of God, wherein lies his strength.

                   The approach of the Apostle Paul to this question of how to keep the energy going is somewhat different.  We see that in 1 Corinthians, chapter 9, where Paul consciously works to remove his own ego from the ministry he’s seeking to accomplish.  Listen to Paul in his own words:

“If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no grounds for boasting,

for it is an obligation that has been laid on me…

woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” 

That’s Paul’s call—to preach the gospel—and his practicing it is no reason for boasting.  He sees himself as simply following the call of God, specific to his own life.

                   Translated into your life and ministry through Community Congregational Church,

when you practice the radically inclusive and welcoming love of God, you have no reason to

boast, for this is the message that God has obligated you to proclaim.  This is your call from God, and might I add, you practice it very well.  Across party lines, across cultural dissimilarities, even across generations, you find ways to love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  You are remarkable—and quite humble—with how you practice this call!                         Here’s an example: as the topic of Open and Affirming has come to the forefront in the Pastoral Search process, I cannot tell you how many of you have commented to me over the last few weeks, that while you may not understand the spiritual needs of the GLBTQ community, or even necessarily agree, still you believe at your core that all are welcome here.  And friends, that is what ultimately matters most.  For scripture’s clear portrayal of the kingdom of God is one in which all are welcomed to the table of grace.  God’s table.  God issues the invitations.  All are invited.  Period.  Jesus teaches that, over and over again, in his eating and his drinking and his partying and in his outdoor classrooms, and through his healing of all sorts of maladies and people.  There are no boundaries where Christ is concerned…and no divisions that cannot be bridged. 

                   The Apostle Paul recognizes that, sadly and sometimes, our human egos get in the way of God’s vision becoming real.  And he addresses that ego intrusion this way.

He says that it is not his will or his plan that he is following, but it is the will of God.  Paul’s ego, enlarged as it appears in other places in his writing, takes a back seat in the passage I just read you.  In fact, Paul later says that he essentially becomes a chameleon, taking on the shape and color and demeanor of those he is serving in order to serve them all the better.  His ego is not invested in his ministry, but his heart is.  His mind is.  His spirit is certainly involved, and connects him to the source from whom all blessings come. 

                   A few weeks ago, we honored in worship the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and

today, let us remember the work of his spouse, Coretta Scott King.  Beginning the day after her husband was killed and continuing for the next nearly 40 years, Mrs. King worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor, she spoke throughout the country and the world to the issues of justice for all, she taught, she prayed, and in her living, she showed us all what forgiveness looks like.

We could ask of her life the same question we asked of Jesus: how did she keep up the pace of service?  I invite you to hear Mrs. King’s own words which respond eloquently to this question. 

“I believe that there is a plan and a purpose for each person’s life

and that there are forces working in the universe to bring about good

and to create a community of love and brotherhood. 

Those who can attune themselves to these forces—to God’s purpose—

can become special instruments of God’s will.”

Now, from my perspective, I do not hear Mrs. King suggesting one grand plan or divine design for each and every one of us.  Nor do I hear her saying that God’s will for us is immutable, unchanging from the beginning of time.  What I do hear her suggesting, no proclaiming, is that from her own life and experience, and from the story of scripture, it is clear that God has a will and a way to work through those who are willing to be vessels, channels of God’s creative and loving purposes.  I hear Mrs. King paraphrasing the scripture lessons this morning:

  • Sit mindfully in the presence of God each day. 
  • Align yourself with God, rather than trying to manipulate God to your desire. 
  • And when you are connected to the Divine, there will be more than enough energy to supply your needs.

The beauty of this simple step toward renewed strength is that it only takes a few minutes each day.  To wait for God’s strength and power does not require you to travel to far distant places or to read sophisticated spiritual texts for enlightenment.  In every major faith tradition, including our own Christianity, to receive the strength of that power beyond ourselves requires only that we cease the hectic pace for just a moment or two.  It invites us to attentively and mindfully sit or stand or walk into the presence of the holy.  We can do that right here. 

          Close your eyes with me if you will.  Take a few deep breaths.  As you breathe,

          listen to the pace of your breathing.  Whatever thoughts cross your mind, welcome them

          and invite them to depart for now.  Whatever images dance into your view, welcome them

          and invite them to take a recess for now.  Breathe in and out the Spirit of God which is within and without and over and under and all around you, embracing you with incredibly    Divine Love.  Breathe in to heal you and breathe out to serve others.  Breathing in and         breathing out, you receive power and strength.  For those who wait for God shall renew   their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary,

          they shall walk and not faint…

          Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up…And he cured many who were sick with    various diseases…And in the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out         to a deserted place, and there he prayed…And when his disciples found him, he said to          them, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns…for there is much work to be done…”

Prayer: Gracious One, you promise renewal, you promise strength, you promise that we will soar like an eagle, yet we admit that our dis-connect from you often leaves us weary and faint. 

Gently remind us, Dear God, that all we need is to stop for a moment and mindfully reconnect with you.  For the remainder of this day, and in this coming week, help us to breathe deeply of your power and strength, to breathe in and be healed and to breathe out in service and ministry to others.  There is much work to be done, and we humbly ask for your help; praying in the name of the One who mindfully sought you out in those many deserted places of his own soul, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.