When two disciples heard John declare Jesus to be the Lamb of God, something about him compelled them to go with Jesus. Do we also feel that compelling tug? Let’s talk about individuals and congregations. As you can imagine, other pastors and I regularly receive news from our synod headquarters in Salisbury. We have news about fellow pastors, about ordination for graduating seniors who have accepted calls, about health concerns for ailing pastors, deaths in our ranks.
We also learn of congregations doing great things, or of congregations that are coming to the end of their ministry. We are not told which congregations are in deep trouble, often with the pastor being the flashpoint of controversy.
Those situations come to our attention via the grapevine express that happens anytime where two or three pastors may gather. Sometimes, the bishop may tell a pastor to seek another call, or try to grapple with whatever is going wrong in their present situation. For instance, there was a particular congregation that could not agree on who should be allowed or even not allowed, to attend worship. Some members were so loyal to the first pastor that they would not work with the new pastor. Some members were taking others to court over the least thing. I’m not making this up. And some were openly promiscuous, sexual perverts, alcoholics, con artists, and general lowlife.
Their situation was so bad that when communion was being prepared by the altar guild, some came early, got into the communion wine and then disrupted the service. After the first pastor moved on and heard such reports, he wrote them a long letter. He began: “I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”
“Thanks to God,” he wrote. You can read Paul’s letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Greece about the year 45. Today we would call him the mission developer. Before he dealt with that bad situation, he tackled the catalog of problems by first thanking God for their partnership in the Gospel, reminding them that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift.
Division, factions, lawsuits, adultery, cheating, drunkenness — if ever a congregation deserved bring closed — but Paul did not preach that sermon.
With their faults and failures, no one said the Corinthians reached for their haloes every morning. No one said they were soldiers of the cross. Paul called them saints and gave thanks to God for their partnership in the Gospel, said they were not lacking in any spiritual gift.
Then, there was a congregation in West Virginia that came to my attention because of a controversy over who could be baptized.. Some people in the community who did not belong to any church asked the pastor about becoming members. He told them that if any of them repented of their sins and got the spirit, and wanted to be baptized and then join the church, “we’d take’em in,” he reported. Lutherans and Catholics and other expressions of the church would not agree. We’d say the sequence of his expectations was wrong.
To expect an adult to repent, and get the Spirit without the support of a congregation naturally ruled out baptism for infants as well as adults who were honest seekers. A judgment had to be made whether a person had repented before getting the spirit.
All three lessons on this day illustrate that God is reckless in calling people to be his people, and he keeps his promises. Isaiah was a scholar, a man of substance. God called him from the time he was conceived.
When Isaiah thought to fulfill God’s purposes by preaching only to the tribes of Jacob and restoring the faithful of Israel, God said he was being narrow-minded. “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
This is quite a lineup. God called them all and charged each of them to help work out his plan for the world. Some were not called more than others. Each was called according to God’s grace. It’s easy to see how natural it was for Isaiah or Jesus to accept God’s call. And it’s easy to believe God called the disciples to special leadership.
Paul did not tell the Corinthians they should leave the church until they mended their ways. No, he said they were already the people of God. They already shared the grace of God and the fellowship of his son. They were in Christ, were part of the Kingdom with every spiritual gift. Even with all those sins, God would not go back on his own word. God is faithful. And the Corinthians — bless their wicked hearts — Paul assured them that God who called them would go right on loving the unlovely.
God gave each of them a particular place in his plan for the world. Each of us can ask, “Did God call you—or me?” I keep going back to those people of Corinth whom God called with a call equal to that of the most devout and pious believer, past, present or future. They were backsliders, apathetic, scheming, spiteful, overcome with unmentionable sins. (I’m not encouraging all that, you understand.)
Nevertheless, they were called to be saints, part of those people we mention in one of our prayers over the Bread and Wine. “Send now, we pray, your Holy Spirit, (and) Join our prayers with those of your servants of every time and place,” which means those called in any age who come together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is it not ridiculous, even past our understanding, that God is so lavish with his mercy, with his gifts, with his love, with his promise of eternal life?
In the wideness of God’s mercy, he dreams that we might grow into his vision of what we ought to be. In God’s reckless mercy, he’s willing to spend his nickel recklessly in one place, sending his spirit into our hearts so that we can follow Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.
Spotless and unblemished is He, therefore so totally acceptable to God that we can be carried through the pearly gates on his coattails. God has proven his love for us a thousand times over.
“We can’t do anything to make God love us more – and we won’t do anything to make him love us less.”
We can come to only one conclusion. When God calls us, he gives us the grace and power to follow Jesus. Now grace is not strength of will or determination of spirit, or even perseverance in trying again and again after failure.
Grace is at work when God says we have done something that in fact we have not done.
He judges us followers of Jesus and gives us the will, the spirit, and the strength to become disciples. God loves the unlovely, even those who are unresponsive. He rewards those who deserve condemnation.
Like a shepherd with a lamb in his arms, he takes into his fellowship those who call on him the least. Would any of us come close to that category?
Can it be said of us like those who first heard his voice that we have found the Messiah? Can we say it with some enthusiasm and excitement?
Are we not breathless with our urgency and sense of being God’s people?
Yes, because in God’s mercy, he is calling each one of us to become more and more the gathering of his people in this fellowship of his son.
Our Lord Jesus Christ calls every last one of us by name here and now.
Are we saying, “Yes, I want to be a disciple of Jesus?”