Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
One of the interesting things about Sir Winston Churchill was that his early life was comparatively undistinguished. He was slow at school and in 1915 his political career was brought to ruin by the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. He lost office and joined the army and served as an officer on the western front.
He had been a journalist who got into scrapes in Africa and in the 1920s his financial management, again in government, also led to employers reducing wages and hence the general strike.
This is not the stuff of national salvation, and he was in his 60s when he was recalled to government in 1940. The rest, we know.
Equally, when we look at leaders in the bible we find that Gideon was the weakling in the smallest family in the smallest clan in the smallest tribe of Israel. This in not where you normally look for national heroes.
In the same way, even though David came from a well-established family of the largest tribe, Judah, he was still the runt of the family (I speak as the youngest of 4) and his father had been reluctant to let the prophet Samuel see him. Again, the rest we know.
God has a track record of calling the people He wants for the purposes that He has already devised, and considerations of race, rank, education or past achievements do not apply. He certainly does not use modern recruitment techniques.
Our Old Testament reading can be read as applying to both the prophet Isaiah, and to the nation of Israel. Both callings are true and neither has been revoked. Both have been called to places of suffering and distress, when they seriously wondered what it was all about.
Isaiah has certainly left us with collections of prophecies of great authority which we still read today and in which we still find encouragement and rebuke.
Similarly, the nation of Israel, which many had thought to be extinct as a political reality, has refused to go down as the nations of the world had hoped and remains determined to proclaim its faith and its existence. And many still find this troubling as if they should just have gone quietly into the night.
God’s purposes for Israel have not been overcome by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire or by the Nazi destruction of the 1930s and 1940s, or indeed the Communist and nationalist inspired assaults of the mid and late 20th century.
We may not be able to fathom the purposes of God in the politics of our times and neither can we probe them in our own lives.
Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul also points to his own calling by God to proclaim the gospel to the nations outside Israel, and he used his education and Roman citizenship in this to great advantage.
But he really points to the calling of God to the church in Corinth as a whole and to its individual members and families. God had called them and would not abandon them.
He would equip and teach them so that they could be more effective as His disciples. He would enrich their understanding and He would train them in right and holy living, so that as a community they might be distinct from those around them. He would give them the Holy Spirit to be their tutor, their guide, their correction, their inspiration, their heart and their life. They would know Him personally and they would know Him together, so that they could encourage and edify one another, whether in times of distress or of joy.
What was going on them is still going on in the church today as it comes under more and more pressure to accept and to endorse the agendas of the present age.
In accepting His first disciples from John, Jesus was also acting with great simplicity. John had reluctantly baptized Him and was already pointing Him out to his own disciples. In this John was not being possessive or territorial: indeed he was encouraging them to approach Jesus for themselves, and to let events take their course.
Aspiring disciples would ask their teacher where he lived and if he told them then this was regarded as an acceptance of them as disciples.
In this case, Jesus gave them the rest of the day, but the episode also marked a turning point in His own ministry. On one hand He was of an age and aptitude that would have marked Him out as a possible rabbi and leader of the synagogue. He could have stayed in the established structure and gained prominence within it. His first two disciples therefore pointed to possibilities in this respect.
In fact the Spirit given at His baptism led Jesus out into the desert, there to pray and to ponder. Jesus was also to face alternatives and His temptation in the wilderness tells of it.
For us, nobody is beyond receiving a call or of accepting it. When God calls, it may be in any number of ways, and it is likely to be quiet but persistent,
One thing is sure however: the call is to serve Him above and beyond all considerations of position or prestige or prominence.
It may lead to perplexity, confusion or doubt, to rejection, grief or suffering.
But one thing is certain: that when He calls, He is certain to provide all that we need to sustain us in the work before us. We may not get all that we desire, but we will certainly get all that we need.