Version B 01/02/11
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,
When M. Scott Peck wrote his best-seller, The Road Less Traveled, friends said to him, "Scotty, it was so clever of you the way you disguised your Christianity in The Road Less Traveled to get the Christian message across to people." Peck replied, "Well, I didn't disguise my Christianity. I wasn't a Christian."
Peck became a Christian, however, and this is how he describes his calling: "One of the inner events of my journey occurred around age 30 when I read C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, a novel composed of letters of advice from Screwtape, a senior demon, to his nephew, Wormwood, whose task is to undermine the spiritual life of a young man. At one point, Screwtape advises Wormwood to make sure that the man, now a young Christian due to their combined bungling, to regard "his time as his time." This sentence, at first, made no sense to me. I read it three times. I wondered whether there might not be some typographical error. How else could anybody think of his time except as his own? Then it dawned on me that the possibility existed of my time belonging to a power higher than myself. For a good while, it was a most discomforting notion, and still today I am continuing to learn to submit my time to God's ownership. It wasn't until a dozen years later, however, that I actually submitted to being baptized as a Christian." [M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 157.]
The source of Peck’s call was a realization that he did not belong to himself. Let us talk today about Your Call. Sometimes the very thought that we have a call from God can be intimidating. In a "Peanuts" comic strip, Snoopy and Woodstock are sitting on top of Snoopy's doghouse. Snoopy says, "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be out somewhere sitting on a branch chirping. That's your job. People expect to hear birds chirping when they wake up in the morning." With that, Woodstock flies off to a nearby branch and belts out a single "chirp." Then he flies back to the doghouse. Snoopy says, "You chirped only once. You can't brighten someone's day with one chirp." So Woodstock flies back to the branch and belts out eight more chirps. And when the bird returns to the doghouse, Snoopy smiles and says, "There now! Didn't that give you a real feeling of satisfaction? The bad news is you're supposed to do that every morning, for the rest of your life." Whereupon Woodstock faints dead away off the doghouse roof. God never says he is going to call us to do something easy.
Years ago, Jack Kemp was quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. He had a long and successful career, but unfortunately, Kemp did not retire when he was ahead. His last season with the Bills was a fiasco. He was the most intercepted quarterback in the NFL. When he finally did retire, and announce that he was running for Congress, he admitted his misgivings. "If I do throw my hat into the ring," he said, "it'll probably be intercepted." Actually Kemp did go on to a successful political career, but he had some bumps and interruptions and interceptions with his call. We all do. A call is not easy. It is what it is.
Now it seems like some lucky people have always known what they are called to do. A few kids, even in first grade, already know just what they want to be when they grow up. Do you remember some kids like that? Remember that kid who wanted to be a doctor? He got junior chemistry sets, dissected earthworms, hung out at the science museum, took all the right classes, got summer jobs at labs and hospitals, and eventually happily trotted off to medical school.
Most of us spend some time shopping around before we finally find, or fall into, a profession that seems to suit our personality. If you ask kids about what they want to be, they reply a firefighter, football player, ballerina or an astronaut, but most adults do not wind up in those careers. Instead we "settle" for jobs that need to be done or are the most available. When is the last time you heard a kid dreaming about growing up to be an office manager or a banker or an electrical line repairer, but all those jobs must be done and done well by someone.
One career choice that, for good or ill, has always put a lot of emphasis on a "calling from God" is the pastorate. Some kids just always knew they were "called" to ministry. They were the kids who conducted all the pet funerals, organized fake weddings, or they stood in a chair and pretended to preach.
Others experience a much more dramatic "calling" as the result of a transforming Damascus-Road moment in their lives. I am in this category. I was in a perfectly normal career, fixing computers for a livelihood. If you had asked me, I would have said, "The one thing I will never be is a minister." Then, suddenly, I was brought up short by the command of Christ on my life. I should say that is where the calling began, because it has continued until this day.
In our lesson from Corinthians, Paul affirms the miracle of living life under the power of a distinctive and discernable "call," while at the same time he makes this "call" the common experience and guiding imperative of every believer.
In v17, Paul observes that Christ did not send him to "proclaim the gospel ... with eloquent wisdom" lest the "cross of Christ ... be emptied of its power." The implication is clear: Paul says, If you align yourself with me, you align yourself with someone who rejects the wisdom of the world and embraces the folly of the cross.
In the eyes of the world, the cross is weakness and foolishness, but Paul reveals that the power of the cross lies in its apparent folly. That which is perceived as foolish, is in fact powerful, and therefore wise; that which is apparently wise, is perniciously foolish and therefore weak as water.
Is Paul saying then that we should abandon the study of wisdom and knowledge? Are we to disregard philosophy and science? Early theologians (Clement of Alexandria, for one) were quick to defend Paul on this point, arguing that Paul, whose theology was enormously influenced by Greek philosophy, is not railing against philosophy, but against bad philosophy, particularly philosophy of the Epicurean and Stoic variety. In Acts 17, Paul himself quoted the philosophers to make his own theological point.
So Paul does not put down knowledge, but he is saying that knowledge of God is not found where we might think we would find it. It is found in the scandal of the gospel.
As if to drive the point home even further, Paul invites the Corinthians to consider their own calling. "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth" (v.26). Such a reminder was no doubt humbling; but that is precisely Paul's point. The cross is not about conventional wisdom. The picture of the cross appears as a reverse negative. What is deemed foolish is wise; but what is deemed wise is foolish. We can take comfort in the notion that God has chosen "what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (v. 27). The world's nobodies become God's somebodies; the world's somebodies are nobodies.
With that in mind then, Paul urges the Corinthians, after taking a long, hard look at the wisdom of the world, to "consider [their] call" (v. 26). It is your call, Paul says. You have a choice here. Follow this wisdom of the world, or follow the foolishness of the cross. There is no doubt about which path Paul has chosen. He says that the only call available to a Christian is to "proclaim the gospel."
This call, Paul maintains, is reserved for those whose life is "in Christ Jesus" (v. 30). The call to ministry which is extended to Christians is the call to be gathered together "in Christ." And if we are in Christ, we are empowered by Christ, who as Paul says in v30 "became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption."
You have a call. You are chosen material, though you might not know it. David, the youngest of many brothers, was tending sheep when summoned by Samuel. Abraham was minding his own business in Ur. Jeremiah was a shy and unwilling youth. God often calls us when we are running errands, doing the ordinary, thankless chores of life. When we least expect it, we are elected. Moses, hiding out on the back side of the Midian desert, was running an errand when a bush started burning that would not be consumed until he faced Pharaoh. Isaiah was somewhere in the temple, performing his regular priestly duties, when the heavens came down and God commissioned him to be God’s prophet in Israel. Ezekiel, performing his pastoral tasks in the Exile, was transported to a valley filled with dry bones. Amos was out herding sheep and keeping sycamore trees when God spoke. Andrew and Peter were fishing on the Sea of Galilee when the Master called.
A call comes to us in the midst of ordinary life, and it may even be to do something ordinary. Take a specific example. About 40 years ago my wife and I lived in Charleston. It was my custom at that time to go out and jog every morning about 8 o’clock. One morning I went jogging and came to a place where the sidewalk was cracked and jagged. I twisted my ankle really bad and fell. I was hurt so badly that I could not get up. Now many people are passing by on the way to work. None stopped. I know I did not look very upstanding. I had not shaved. I was wearing ragged old clothes. What else do you wear when you exercise? The point of exercise is to sweat not to look nice. In any case, what I needed was for someone to be Christ to me. I needed someone to help me up and let me lean on their shoulder while I limped home. In fact, no one helped me. I eventually staggered to my feet and hobbled home myself. In all those people that passed me by that day, someone had a call to help me, but they did not do it. That was a call that was not met. I suppose that there are many calls of Christ every day that are not met. There are opportunities to be Christ every day that go unheeded.
Often the call of Christ goes unheeded because we are expecting something very different from what it is. To fulfill our calling, it is necessary to do what French priest and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin called "sacramentalizing the mundane," or in other words, we must see the divine in the ordinary. What Teilhard said was that sometimes the call of Christ is to, "Chop wood, carry water." A call must be something that gets worked out in this world. God calls us to do something here and now.
Also a call is not a one-time thing that we think or experience or do, and then we go off and live our lives as if nothing ever happened. Your Call from God is an ongoing thing, a growth in discipleship. The mystical poet William Blake wrote: “I give you the end of a Golden String/ Only wind it into a ball,/ It will lead you in at Heaven's Gate/ Built in Jerusalem's Wall.” We first glimpse Blake's Golden String, glittering in the mud of our own sinfulness; if we stoop to pick it up, we begin our spiritual journey. If we wind up that golden string, if we live Christ as best we can, then in the end we shall find ourselves at Jerusalem's Wall with the gate to heaven built into it.
Mother Teresa was certainly someone who lived out a call of God on this earth. Malcolm Muggeridge speaks of the effect Mother Teresa had on him. He says, "Mother Teresa is herself a living conversion; it is impossible to be with her, to listen to her, to observe what she is doing and how she is doing it, without being in some degree converted. Her total dedication to Christ, her insistence that all our fellow human beings must be treated and helped and loved as though they were Christ, her simple presentation of the gospel and joy in receiving the sacraments, are quite irresistible. There is no book I've ever read, or discourse I've ever heard, or service I've ever attended, no human relationship or transcendental experience that has brought me nearer to Christ, or made me more aware of what the Incarnation signifies for us and requires of us." [Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1988), 15.]
That is what a call is supposed to do. It is supposed to present Christ. Let God work in you Let God present Christ through you.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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