My call story involves an Amy Grant song and Route 128 in Massachusetts.
I was already enrolled in a graduate program in Pastoral Ministry. I had been thinking of it as a useful prelude to what I thought I wanted to do: study Jungian psychotherapy. Then, one fall day I found myself driving to the South Shore to interview with the first woman pastor I would ever laid eyes on. (Grew up Roman Catholic.) As I drove I sang along loudly with Amy:
“Lead me on, lead me on, to the place where the river runs into your keeping.”
And then I had my own personal “road-to-Damascus” moment. I was not struck blind (which is good, since I was driving). But I did experience something like a lightning bolt to the chest: This was it. This woman I was about to meet. I wanted to do what she was doing. I wanted to be ordained. Or it (ordination) wanted me. There was some way in which this was inevitable, inexorable. God was calling.
God is calling in all this Sunday’s texts from the Revised Common Lectionary. In the Isaiah passage (49:1-7), God’s community Israel is imaged as a servant, telling his own call story.
“The Lord called me before I was born; while I was in my mother’s womb
he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword…” ~Isaiah 49:1b-2a
God’s servant is filled with doubt, but God, in addition to calling, encourages, lifts up, promises that Israel will be a “light to the nations.”
Paul plans to address serious challenges in the life of the congregation at Corinth in his letter to them. But first (1 Corinthians 1:1-9) he reminds the church that he bas been called to be an apostle; and then, that they, too, have been called and equipped for ministry.
“…in every way you have been enriched in [Christ], in speech and knowledge of every kind…” (v. 5)
“…you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…” (v. 7)
“He will also strengthen you to the end…” (v. 8)
“God is faithful; by him you were called…” (v. 9)
The gospel lesson (John 1:29-42) gives us a glimpse of the lived out calling of John the Baptist—called, not to be the light, but to give witness to the light that is Jesus Christ.
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” ~ John 1:29
We’re periodic visitors to the gospel of John in every year of the Revised Common Lectionary. The identification of Jesus as “Lamb of God” reveals a more fully formed theology of sacrificial atonement in this gospel than that which is hinted at in Matthew, our main gospel of Year A. (See the Holy Week cycle, primarily, for Matthew’s take on this.)
The lamb is present throughout the Hebrew scriptures in rich and varied ways, primarily as an offering: in Exodus for the meal on the night on which the angel of death passes over the homes of the Hebrews; and in Leviticus, as a daily offering, as a sacrifice of well-being (burnt offering), and as sacrifice required for various occasions, including a guilt offering. Here is a recent “aha” for me: Its significant attributes are that it is a “child” (i.e., dependent on an adult), and that it can be (usually is) killed without protest.
Jesus is fully identified as the Word/ one with God/ present before the beginning in the prologue John’s gospel. By virtue of being called “lamb,” he is also identified as as “child”/ Son of God, the one who will submit to death meekly, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:7). John’s is the only gospel to develop this concept so fully, placing these words in John the Baptist’s mouth. It colors everything that follows.
Our passage also provides us with an introduction to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew that is unique in the New Testament. There is no mention of boats or nets or the fishing profession. Instead, we meet Andrew as one of John the Baptist’s disciples. They hear John’s rather astonishing description of Jesus as “Lamb of God,” and decide to follow Jesus. Jesus, taking note, asks them what their intentions are, to which they reply, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And the invitation goes out: “Come and see.” (John 1:38-39). Andrew, the younger brother, goes and finds Simon and brings him to Jesus. It is here, not later in the gospel, where Jesus gives him the name “Cephas,” Peter, Rock.
A few questions for reflection:
- Most pastors I know can tell their call story. I wonder if that is also true of the people in the pews? The many, varied ways in which call is noted and described here offer opportunities to explore with members of our congregations.
- The notion of Lamb of God is deeper and far more rich than I can begin to explore here. It could easily take up a series of sermons, and this Sunday offers an opportunity to open that conversation.
- Though each passage mentions call, it is certainly possible to focus on other themes. What does your congregation need? The encouragement of 1 Corinthians– that they have every spiritual gift they need? The consolation of Isaiah, for those who are discouraged? The sheer adventure of John, willingness to explore new understandings of God’s presence in our lives? The daring to respond to the invitation to “come and see”?
- What does it meant to you / your congregation to be “chosen” (as in the Isaiah reading in particular)? Is this an entirely comfortable notion?
- How might writing this particular sermon serve as an opportunity to look at our own sense of call as preachers and/ or congregational leaders?
Please join us in the comments! And blessings in the preparation and the proclamation of the Word this week!
Pat Raube has served as the pastor of Union Presbyterian Church in Endicott, New York since 2007. Pat is a graduate of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (MDiv). She is mother of two young adults (Ned and Joan) and happily partnered to Sherry. She loves swimming, reading, writing, and film. A native of the Jersey shore and in love with the New England coastline, she travels to the ocean every chance she gets.
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