Read text 2 Corinthians 3:17-4:1. When I first heard the language of being called to ministry, I thought it strange. I was not accustomed to this language. I believed that my choice to be a minister was simply a choice of a career no different than choosing to be a lawyer, an engineer, or a banker. When some would ask me how I was called to ministry I did not understand what they meant. Well, one of my professors from the Bible college called me before I moved there. Is that what you mean? No, thats not what they meant.
My uneasiness with a sense of calling was due to the fact that I wasnt exposed to such a way of describing things, but also because I had an aversion to seeing my life as a minister as somehow different and distinct from those who chose another vocation. But I am no longer uneasy talking about a calling. In fact, I think this way of describing ministry and vocation is much better than the secular way we use a very spiritual word.
What is vocation? This word is now associated with business and career. We tend to think of vocation as ones chosen career. I recall hearing this word as a teenager in reference to the vocation technical program at my school. That program was designed to teach skills that could lead to a career.
But the word vocation comes from the same root word from which we get the word vocal, as in voice a voice that calls out. Before our language and culture was split up into secular and spiritual components, ones vocation was the same as ones calling. A vocation is a calling by someone and toward someone or something. A vocation is not just a career choice, it is a career that is chosen for us. And the implication behind the word is that God has chosen the occupation for us. What do we mean when we say that someone has missed their calling? We mean that this person has chosen to follow one vocation when they are obviously called to another. We mean that a person is not living out the life God has envisioned for him or her.
Who Follows Gods Call? I am no longer uneasy talking about calling because in rediscovering the meaning of the word I am convinced that calling is not just for clergy. The term calling has been used in a restricted way and limited to ministers, missionaries, and other church leaders. Everyone else is left to a secular career. But thats not an accurate. In the truest sense of the word vocation, everyone is called by God to follow God. It is true for ministers, missionaries, doctors, lawyers, millwrights, welders, teachers, plumbers, and police officers. Everyone is called to follow God even non-Christians are called to follow God, they are simply missing their calling.
I am no longer uneasy talking about calling because the word is vital to understanding what church is all about. The entire church, as a community of people, has been called to follow God. In the text we read, Paul is clear that we have this ministry because of Gods mercy. It isnt something that we choose. We do not take a test to qualify. God calls us to participate in his mission because of his mercy.
The Hebrew term translated to call is used to describe the people of God who are summoned to participate in Gods purposes for the world. The Greek terms used in the NT describe calling as a summons to holy living and service to others. In fact, the term calling is rooted in the word for church the ekklesia which is the called out. The church is called and sent by God so it is right for us to say that the church has a vocation.
Questions We Ask So That We May Follow Gods Call (Our Vocation): We understand the churchs vocation in general terms easily enough. We follow Gods call by participating in his mission. But how shall we be faithful to that vocation in our immediate circumstances? That is a little more challenging, but it isnt hopeless.
Our situation is similar to Robert Scott and his team of explorers searching for the South Pole. At one point in their journey the weather was so bad that the white haze blended with the falling snow so that the horizon was no longer visible. They had a compass to show them which direction was south, but they could not aim toward a fixed point. They thought they were going forward but soon found they were traveling in a circle when they came upon their own tracks. Their solution was to use the compass to tell them which direction to throw snowballs out in front of them. The snowball gave them a fixed point to head toward. After more aiming, throwing, and following their artificial horizon point, they made it to the South Pole.
We might discern what it means for us to follow Gods call by using our general understanding of the churchs vocation to follow the fixed points we cast out ahead of us in our surroundings. To do this we need to ask four questions and determine how we should answer these in a way that keeps us faithful to the mission of God.
Where Are We? We need to be aware of our local setting. We expect that missionaries in Vietnam and Laos must be thoughtful in how they follow Gods call in those nations. But we also have to be thoughtful. Where are we? What does it mean for us to be faithful in our location? We are across the street from a growing university. We are in the most culturally diverse region in Arkansas. Our city and the surrounding cities are challenged by increasing poverty. How do we follow Gods call and live out our vocation in this place?
When Are We? Of course we need to qualify this place with at this time. Anyone who has lived in this area for very long will tell you that a lot has changed. And no doubt there will be many more changes ahead. It is irresponsible for us to come up with a single response to how we shall be faithful to Gods call in this place and assume that will last forever. Think about the historical roots of this congregation. Before there was a West-Ark congregation there was Park Hill, then Midland, then Windsor Drive and College Terrace and then those merged to form West-Ark. Decisions were made at various stages to respond to changing times. Would the members of Midland Blvd ever have foreseen that there would need to be an Iglesia de Cristo? Maybe not, but they knew how to be faithful to their vocation in their time and those who are part of this congregation now know that our WHEN is in the 21st century when the Hispanic population in this area is growing at an astonishing rate.
Who Are We? All of this change over time and place may make us anxious that we are somehow tampering with the gospel truth. Its good to think about that, but lets not get overly anxious. A clay jar from Mexico in the 18th century may look very different from a first century B.C. Greek clay jar but we recognize them as clay jars. Remember that we are conformed to a pattern and are not a reproduction. We look to the first century church for wisdom, but we are not the first century church. That was a different where and when. We are the 21st century church in Western Arkansas. And we are Gods people. Each generation, including our own, must reflect on our identity in Christ. We are baptized and we worship and partake of the Lords Supper. We are shaped by these traditions, but we must adopt them as our own if we are going to be faithful. And the generation after us must do the same.
Why Are We? Bring the other three questions together causes us to reflect on WHY we follow Gods call. God has a purpose for us. One of the reasons that the Purpose-Driven material as been so successful, I think is because it addresses purpose thats a powerful concept. Too often we amble through church-life without purpose and uncritically accept things as they are. But joy and hope will carry us through even the toughest times if we have a purpose that gives us passion.
In the text we read that as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more. We are following a path to become more like Christ. We have a vocation thanks to Gods mercy. Why do we live like we do? Because we are following Gods call and he is calling us to become more like the treasure he has placed within our clay jar lives.
Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Two: Pattern 1 Feb. 19, 2006
Following Gods Call
What is this lesson all about?
Searching the Word:
Making It Real: Exploration and Response
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