(Read Matthew 4:18-22 and Matthew 28:16-20)
To be called (in the Christian sense of the word) is to be invited by Jesus to follow him, to be summoned by divine command. Our presence in this church on this morning is a sign that we have all been called by Jesus to follow him.
I am aware of three times in my life that Jesus has called me. The first was when I was 12 years old. I was attending a Baptist summer camp, and after a rather compelling sermon, the preacher invited those of us who would like to commit ourselves to Christ to remain in the chapel. I remained. A teenage counselor came over to me, and she had me recite some passages of Scripture. I can’t remember which ones they were, but I am sure they were proclamations that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that through him, I would receive eternal life. The date this happened was July 23, 1990. I know because I wrote it down in my bible. It was the first time I intentionally identified myself as a spiritual seeker.
The second time I received a divine summons was when I was 20 years old. I was living in London, and taking a course in world religions. The class had an even mixture of Christians, Jews and Muslims in it. Bessma was my best friend in the class, and she was a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. I recall praying in my bed one night, saying to God, “I am a Christian because I was born in 1978 in Ohio. If I had been born in Saudi Arabia, I would be Muslim. What should I believe God?” The next morning, the sun broke through my window, and I saw a great circle of light. That circle of light was the presence of Jesus, and he said to me, “I am the way for you. Follow me.” I remember my heart being captivated, and I said, “Okay, Lord. I will try. I will follow you.” This happened in the spring of 1998. I clearly remember, not only because I was studying abroad, but also because that was the year I celebrated Easter Sunday at Notre Dame in Paris.
In the spring of 2001, I received my third call. (God seems to speak to me in the springtime). I was worshipping at Christ United Methodist Church in Manhattan, and it was during the Lenton season. I was struggling with feeling happy and having a sense of purpose in my life. It was at this time that I heard God calling me into the ministry. I felt the Spirit tell me to quit my job selling luxury tile and stone, to move back to Ohio where I was raised, and from there, I would be directed down a new path. I did quit my job and move back to Ohio, and about a year later, after a stint in Los Angeles working in the film industry (which I will tell you more about later), I began my Master in Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary.
To answer the call requires a willingness on our part as God does not force us to be followers of Jesus. We need a willingness to follow, a willingness to leave something or someone behind, and a willingness to embark on a new journey. Simon Peter and Andrew said yes by leaving their nets behind; James and John said yes by leaving their boat and their father behind. All four of their lives changed dramatically as they went from fishing in Galilee to traveling throughout the towns and villages listening to Jesus proclaim that the kingdom of God has come to earth and watching him heal the sick.
You might ask yourself as a part of your own spiritual reflection: How has Jesus called me? Have I been willing to follow? Have I been willing to leave whatever is necessary behind? How does answering the call change my life?
The more we say “yes” to God when God calls, the richer our lives become. Because in saying “yes,” we are inviting God to be active and powerful in shaping our existence. In giving God permission to work and move in our lives, opportunities and possibilities that we don’t currently have and may never even have dreamed of begin to unfold before us. The Way opens before us.
First, we are called to follow Jesus, and then, for many, many years, as we follow, we are taught how to be like him. We learn the Christian virtues of repentance and forgiveness, of non-judgment and hospitality. We learn the Christian practices of worship, prayer, study the Word and sharing within community. We learn what Jesus meant when he said, “They shall have life and have it abundantly.”
As we grow in our knowledge and love of God, our call becomes a commission. To call others as we have already been called, to summon others as we have already been summoned, to invite others in the Way is what it means to be commissioned as a disciple.
Just as Jesus calls each of us to follow him, he also commissions or grants each of us the authority to go out into the world to call others to be his disciples.
In our Scriptures today, we started with chapter 4 when the disciples are called. By chapter 28, the last chapter of the Gospel, the disciples have followed Jesus “to the mountain which [he] had appointed for them.” Just like us, they had come to know and love him, they worshipped him, even while some doubted certain things in their hearts. This is comforting to know because we all have doubts even as we follow. But, our doubts do not prevent us from responding willingly and effectively to the call.
As someone who is commissioned, what you do is take what you have learned by God and teach it to others. As your minister, I will teach you what I have learned. As ministers, you will teach others what you have learned. Together, we will spread the Word of life, of love, of joy, of reconciliation, of peace. As we teach each other what we have been taught by God, we will transform the world.
Even though the disciples had fears and doubted, Jesus still commissioned them as ministers, saying “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 18-20). Even though we have fears and we doubt, God can work thorugh us and empower us to make a difference. There is a popular saying in the ministry: God does not call the equipped. God equips the called. We’ve all been called so we are all being equipped. Whatever the Lord asks you to do, the Lord will help you do.
What I have learned as one called and commissioned is that as long as I am thankful and loving, my efforts to pass on the Gospel will be received. The Holy Spirit works through all of us. You don’t have to be great, but be grateful. You don’t have to be loved by all, but be loving towards all. Simply pick the message that Jesus has made clear to you, the message that rings true in your heart, and proclaim it to others in a spirit of love and thanksgiving. This is your calling, all of our callings: to proclaim what we know to be true about God so that the people of the world are healed and the kingdom of heaven is established on earth.
This is something that Bishop Park taught all of us who went to Annual Conference in June. Turn to the person next to you and say to them, “God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” It’s true. No matter how much we sin, how rebellious we become, how imperfect we are, God loves us! As Scripture says, “Nothing, neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, not anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”
My friends, my brothers and sisters in the name of the Lord, I proclaim to you that you, like the first disciples, are called to become fishers of men and women. Jesus has granted all of us as his body the authority to: Go! And give the love you have known. Pass on the grace you have been given. Tell of your experiences and share your revelation. This world is hurting and broken. Be a source of compassion, a messenger of hope, and a healer among the nations!
Jesus will help us. As he said to his disciples, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” In him and by the Spirit’s power, it’s our turn to make a difference.