Chosen and Called

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Isaiah 49:1-7 & John 1:29-42
2nd Sunday of Epiphany
(19-1-14)

The notion of being called by God is not common nowadays. I’m often asked what made me come up here. People flinch when I say God brought me here!

When picking disciples Jesus didn’t appeal to their need for personal satisfaction, God’s call never accompanied by a guarantee of permanent happiness and fulfilment. Made it clear Christian life often difficult and demanding but offers a far deeper sense of spiritual fulfilment rather than a quick fix, which soon wears off. 

God never misleads us like adverts. His call may be challenging and demanding. It will certainly have a cost. It will be life transforming but we’ll never feel conned or disappointed if we respond to it.

Isaiah 49:1-7 2nd of 4 ‘servant songs’. Important here to note the big story at work in Isaiah. Israel, God’s chosen people are in exile and it is TERRIBLE. Are they still God’s people? Isaiah brings a message of hope.

He says that God has raised up a servant, a mysterious character: the one who acts on behalf of God towards the nation. God’s servant who will restore scattered Israel and cause nations to heed God.

But the servant is also hidden, an unknown, a nobody. From Rahab to David to Mary, the story of God’s people is full of unlikely servants raised up by God. The servant is called while still in the womb, hidden and invisible.

The servant doesn’t even know that he himself is an agent of God, not being able to believe that he could ever be used by God. He feels he is no good and confesses a life spent “for nothing and vanity”.

Yet we hear, this servant will be recognized by powerful and important people, because the Lord, “the Holy One of Israel, has chosen you” (v7). God calls the most unlikely servants and, more importantly, those servants do not usually recognize themselves. But no introspection is allowed the servant is called to show God to others!

God makes it clear that His promised deliverance of Israel is not just for them to exist for themselves alone. He says the servant, which is also Israel, is to be “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”. God’s story is always bigger than ours. He uses and holds our stories within His life, weaving them into the wide-open future.

You may find some of that confusing, who is the servant? Jesus – Israel - apostles (12 tribes/disciples) – us (church)  You? Are you that person, hidden, unknown, unsure that God wants to use?

“When, through the window of God’s revelation, you recognize the unique Servant, you will also glimpse your own reflection in the glass.” (Tom Wright)

God wants to use us to call others. This probably scares most of you witless! Possibly be because you may have been on the receiving end of someone else’s evangelism. “Have you accepted Jesus?” or “Do you know where you’re going when you die?”

Others may not be keen because of a conviction that religion isn’t something polite people talk about; or that one’s faith is private; or simply the desire not to be perceived as one of those people. If you fit into one of those categories then today’s reading could well be encouraging for you. This passage contains a second-hand account from the testimony of John the Baptist. It’s not the full-blown account of the Baptism that we heard from Matthew’s Gospel last week. John the Baptist has here only shared with the John the Gospel writer what he saw.

And when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, our primary job is to see and share. Not to intimidate, threaten or coerce, not even to woo, wheedle or plead. Simply to see and share. John the Baptist did just that. He saw the dove descend upon Jesus and told others what he saw. Simple as that. Later, Andrew does the same. He tells his brother what he and John’s other disciples saw - the person they believe is the Messiah - and invites Peter to come along and see for himself.

Could it be that simple? Noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing it with others, and inviting them to come and see for themselves?

It could be that simple, because it’s not only what John the Baptist and Andrew did it’s what Jesus did too. When He noticed some of John’s disciples following him, he asked what they’re looking for. They ask where he’s staying. He doesn’t give an answer or question further. All he does is make an invitation: “Come and see.”

When John the Baptist shared the wonder of what he saw, Jesus gained his first disciples, people who will carry his message to the ends of the earth. Andrew tells his brother he really ought to meet Jesus, and the rock upon whom Jesus will build his church falls into faith. Jesus invites them to come and see, and they leave their homes and families to embark upon God’s great adventure. From the very beginning of time God has delighted in taking little things, simple things, things the world decides are nothing and doing wonderful things through them.

Our first shaky attempts at telling others what we’ve seen and felt may feel weak and feeble, yet the God who brought light from darkness and raises the dead to life can do marvelous things through them.

All from three simple words, "Come and see." We often hear that the three most important words in life are "I love you," and they probably are. But when it comes to our lives of faith - and maybe even the future of the church - I suspect that the three second-most important words are "Come and see”. These three words are not a threat but an invitation: "Come and see." Not, "are you saved?", "Do you know where you are going when you die?" Rather just, "Come and see."

But at bottom line why should we even think about doing this? The answer to that is fundamental. We will only feel called to want to help others to come and see if we know that God has chosen us and thinks we’re really special. I suspect many are not aware of being chosen, called, special. But we are. And that should make it only natural to want to let others know about that for themselves doesn’t it? Sharing our faith can be natural, easy, pleasant even. Its all the easier when we’re aware that God has chosen us. 

Years ago, in a small fishing village in Holland, a young man taught the world about the rewards of unselfish service. Because the entire village revolved around the fishing industry, a volunteer rescue team was needed in cases of emergency. One night the winds raged, the clouds burst and a gale-force storm capsized a fishing boat at sea.

Stranded and in trouble, the crew sent out the SOS. The captain of the rescue rowboat team sounded the alarm and the villagers assembled in the town square overlooking the bay.

While the team launched their rowboat and fought their way through the wild waves, the villagers waited restlessly on the beach, holding lanterns to light the way back.

An hour later, the rescue boat reappeared through the fog and the cheering villagers ran to greet it. Falling exhausted on the sand, the volunteers reported that the rescue boat could not hold any more passengers and they had to leave one man behind. Even one more passenger would have surely capsized the rescue boat and all would have been lost.

Frantically, the captain called for another volunteer team to go after the lone survivor. Sixteen-year-old Hans stepped forward. His mother grabbed his arm, pleading, "Please don't go. Your father died in a shipwreck ten years ago and your older brother, Paul, has been lost at sea for three weeks. Hans, you are all I have left."

Hans replied, "Mother, I have to go. What if everyone said, 'I can't go, let someone else do it?' Mother, this time I have to do my duty. When the call for service comes, we all need to take our turn and do our part."

Hans kissed his mother, joined the team and disappeared into the night.

Another hour passed, which seemed to Hans' mother like an eternity. Finally the rescue boat darted through the fog, with Hans standing up in the bow.

Cupping his hands, the captain called, "Did you find the lost man?"

Barely able to contain himself, Hans excitedly yelled back, "Yes, we found him. Tell my mother it's my older brother, Paul!"

Themes: Atonement, Cross, Grief, Jesus - work of, Love, Reconciliation, Redeemed, Rescue, Sacrifice, Salvation, Substitution, Suffering.

Scriptures: Exodus 6:6; Psalms 77:14-15; Matthew 5:4; Mark 10:45; Luke 10:27; 24:21; John 1:29; 8:31-36; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 5:7; 6:19-20; 7:22-23; 13; 2 Corinthians 1 :3-4; Galatians 3:13; 4:4- 5; 5:1; Ephesians 1:7; 5: 2; Titus 2: 14; Hebrews 9: 15; 1 Peter 1: 18- 19; 1 John 2:2.

Adapted from Dan Clark in A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul: 101 More Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit, compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Deerfield Beach, Fla.: Health Communications, 1995).

Dear Matthew,

When I was in 6th Grade I was smart, witty, athletic, handsome and incredibly nice. Things went down hill fast after this but for this one year at least I had everything. Unfortunately, I also had Miss Owens for an assistant teacher. She helped Mr. Jenkins, our regular teacher. She knew that even though I was smart and incredibly nice, there was still a thing or two I could work on.

One of the things you were expected to do in grade school was learn to dance. My parents may have had some reservations at first, but since this was square dancing, it was okay.

Every time we went to work on our dancing, we did this terrible thing. The boys would all line up at the door of our classroom. Then, one at a time, each boy would pick a girl to be his partner. The girls all sat at their desks. As they were chosen, they left their desks and joined the snot-nosed kids who had honoured them with their favour.

Believe me, the boys did not like doing this - at least I didn't. But think about being one of those girls. Think about waiting to get picked. Think about seeing who was going to get picked before you. Think about worrying that you'd get picked by someone you couldn't stand. Think about worrying whether you were going to get picked at all!

Think if you were Mary. Mary sat near the front of the classroom on the right side. She wasn't pretty. She wasn't real smart. She wasn't witty. She was nice, but that wasn't enough in those days. And Mary certainly wasn't athletic. In fact, she'd had polio or something when she was younger; one of her arms was drawn up, and she had a bad leg, and to finish it off, she was kind of fat.

Here's where Miss Owens comes in. Miss Owens took me aside one day and said, "Dan, next time we have square dancing, I want you to choose Mary."

She may as well have told me to fly to Mars. It was an idea that was so new and inconceivable that I could barely hold it in my head. You mean pick someone other than the best, the most pretty, the most popular, when my turn came? That seemed like breaking a law of nature or something.

And then Miss Owens did a really rotten thing. She told me it was what a Christian should do. I knew immediately that I was doomed. I was doomed because I knew she was right. It was exactly the kind of thing Jesus would have done. I was surprised, in fact, that I hadn't seen it on a Sunday school flannel board yet: ‘Jesus choosing the lame girl for the Yeshiva dance.’ It was, bound to be somewhere in the Bible.

I agonized. Choosing Mary would go against all the coolness I had accumulated.

The day came when we were to square dance again. If God really loved me, I thought, He will make me last. Then picking Mary will cause no stir. I will have done the right thing, and it won't have cost me anything.

You can guess where I was instead. For whatever reason, Mr. Jenkins made me first in line. There I was, my heart pounding - now I knew how some of the girls must have felt. The faces of the girls were turned toward me, some smiling. I looked at Mary and saw that she was half-turned to the back of the room, her face staring down at her desk. Mr. Jenkins said, “Okay, Dan - choose your partner."

I remember feeling very far away. I heard my voice say, “I choose Mary."

Never has reluctant virtue been so rewarded. I still see her face undimmed in my memory. She lifted her head, and on her face, reddened with pleasure and surprise and embarrassment all at the same time, was the most genuine look of delight and even pride that I have ever seen, before or since. It was so pure that I had to look away because I knew I didn't deserve it.

Mary came and took my arm, as we had been instructed, and she walked beside me, bad leg and all, just like a princess.

Mary is my age now. I never saw her after that year. I don't know what her life's been like or what she's doing. But I'd like to think she has a fond memory of at least one day in sixth grade. I know I do.

Application: The good news of the Gospel is that we have been chosen by God. You are someone special in the eyes of God. You have the opportunity to choose to accept Christ as Saviour, but you have that privilege because He has chosen you first. "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last" (John 15:16).

Taken from Letters to My Children by Daniel Taylor. © 1989 by Daniel Taylor. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515