Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 January 2020.
• Old Testament: Isaiah 49: 1-7 (God’s call and promises renewed)
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9 (God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ)
• Gospel: John 1: 29-42 (John’s word about Jesus)
I believe that the author John Buchan, apart from being a very able and ambitious man, liked to be in control of all aspects of his life. I think that he was said to have mapped out his career long in advance with certain milestones to be achieved by certain ages.
And yes, none of us likes the uncertainty of being held at the whim and pleasure of another person. We all like to feel that we are also in control of our lives even if we do not control all their circumstances.
But our lessons are about times and situations when life has been turned around and new perspectives have been offered.
This is the sense in which Isaiah speaks of what is perhaps both his personal ministry and also the destiny of his people, the people of Israel.
The calling was there for both and both the individual and the nation were being called by God into a new form of service and commitment.
Whatever Israel had hoped for, God had a greater picture. If Israel wanted to be delivered from the great powers of Egypt and Assyria or Babylon, then God wanted them to be a light to shine with His glory among all the nations of the world.
Being able to tell the great powers where to go and what to do with themselves may be satisfying, but no Israel’s chariots and tanks were never going to rule the world.
But the story of Israel and her election and protection by God down the ages, even under the direst persecution and pogrom, might resonate differently and be heard in the furthest parts of the world.
The assurance that even the greatest and wealthiest, the most opulent and best armed rulers, were still answerable to God and were equally subject to being overthrown would perhaps give those rulers pause for thought and their people pause for hope.
This may not be the stuff of palaces and skyscrapers, but it is the stuff of law and hope.
Then there was the calling of Paul which he writes of to the church in Corinth.
He also had thought that he was in control of events when travelling to Damascus, armed not with swords or spears but letters of authority to arrest and imprison.
Little did he know that his own future would feature arrest, imprisonment, beatings and worse.
And yet here was writing to the Corinthian church, called by God to be saints of every kind and variety.
Paul was called by God so that the Corinthians may also be called by God. He was to be there calling them into a new kind of life and worship where their relations with one another would be changed.
He was there to call them into finding themselves in ways that they had never imagined and in doing so in serving God in ways far outwith the bounds of normal pagan temple worship.
But then there was Jesus, still by the river Jordan, and now acclaimed by John the Baptist. John was willing to lose his own disciples to Jesus and was not being possessive of his ministry or of his disciples.
He was willing to decrease so that Jesus might increase. He was willing to see his following dwindle while the stories of Jesus spread and while Jesus’ miracles and teaching became ever better known.
John would not fall into apathy or resentment, even when arrested and imprisoned.
Yet John’s disciples took the hint and went with Jesus, and we are told that one of them was Andrew – not Simon Peter. Only later did Andrew bring Peter to Jesus.
And no doubt this was the precursor to Jesus own lakeside walk when this time He would take the initiative.
Then Jesus would be doing the calling as He called Peter and Andrew, James and John.
Perhaps this is the time to reflect on how God is calling us. Whatever we were doing may be fine but there is more to come.
Whatever we thought and understood and had learned may be fine but again there is more to come.
God calls us from the ordinary into His mystery of faith. He calls us from being in control to being subject to His direction and plans.
He calls us from what we were used to into what is new and unfamiliar. Lands not mapped and seas not charted. Relations with people we never knew, commitments we never expected, possible sacrifices that we had never imagined.
But just as Isaiah was proclaiming his confidence in God’s provision for Israel to be a light to lighten the nations, so Paul was setting out the same confidence in the gifts and the ministries of the Holy Spirit in the church.
And yes the Holy Spirit would also be there to cultivate the fruits of the spirit, the personal and moral qualities that were there in Jesus, within the body of Christ.
All of this is part of God’s calling to us. Just as Jesus would walk along the lakeside saying ‘Follow Me’ so He is also meeting us and saying also ‘Follow Me into the land which I will show you.’