Hearing God’s Call–Away 5th Sunday of Easter Pastor Pat Mecham
Acts 11: 1-18 May 15, 2022 John 13: 31-35
There once was a farmer who loved God and wanted to serve God. One day, while looking up at the sky, the farmer saw some clouds that clearly formed two letters: P and C. He just knew God was telling him to Preach Christ. He abandoned his farming and began going from place to place, talking to anyone who would listen, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. But it seems that preaching was not his gift, and people ran from him instead of flocking to hear the good news. He kept trying until his dying day.
When he arrived in heaven, he went straight to God and asked, “Why did you tell me to Preach Christ? I saw the PC in the clouds!” And God looked at him with compassion and said, “Well, that meant ‘plant corn’!”
Yes, I know it’s a terrible joke—but it illustrates one of the problems we have, that of hearing God’s call clearly. How do we discern what God is calling us to do? How do we set aside our own desires, and listen for God’s voice?
When I first looked at our scripture texts for today, I saw a theme emerging—that of following God’s call. But I also saw another wrinkle that pertains directly to my own situation. You know, I prepared for years to respond to my sense of call to the ministry. I studied Greek and counseling while I was in college. I went to seminary and got an M.Div., and for 42 years of ministry I have done my best to listen to God—especially when discerning a call to a new place of ministry.
But now I am coming to the end of this phase of ministry—retiring in a few months—and I feel led to share with you the different experience of being called away.
In our Gospel text, Jesus is starting to say goodbye to his disciples. (In next week’s Gospel reading, he will explain things more clearly.) Then, in our passage from Acts, we see Peter being called away from a ministry among Jewish Christians, into a mysterious new direction.
Let’s examine these texts and see what God might be saying to each of us as we respond to God’s call.
With You Only a Little Longer
Jesus had been living, day in and day out, with these disciples, doing whatever he could to help them understand how God’s Kingdom works. Now he had his last chance to make sure they got his message of love. He gave them a new commandment—to LOVE one another with a Godly love. Then he rephrased it, saying, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
That’s raising the bar a little bit! Asking us to love as selflessly, as completely as Jesus does—well, that raises some issues:
- How can I love others the way Jesus loves us?
- How do I get beyond my self-centered love—the love that asks, “What’s in it for me?”
Then he re-stated it another way: “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, IF you have love for one another.”
Jesus was not only doing some last-minute teaching. He was also trying to get them ready to take over his ministry—to step up and take leadership in taking the Good News to the world!
[In Acts 1, after the resurrection, he tells them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We’ll get to that on Pentecost Sunday, June 5!]
But now, during his final moments with them (before the cross), the most important thing he can discuss with them is love, Godly love. Perhaps Jesus knew that, if they got THAT right, then the rest would follow. The Apostle Paul seemed to think so. He told the Corinthians, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Called into the Unknown
In our reading from Acts, we see the Christian faith moving into a whole new realm. Up to this time, the leadership viewed the faith as a subset of Judaism—a fresh way of interpreting the faith they had received from their ancestors—a redirecting of the faith back to God. Even though Jesus had told them that they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, they were surprised to find out that God had plans to include non-Jews! Sure, Jesus had led them into Gentile territories, and had had interactions with non-Jews, showing love for them. SADLY, THEY DIDN’T GET IT!
But God told Ananias that Saul would be an instrument that God chose to bring God’s name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. And God showed Peter a vision of many kinds of animals (some kosher and others not) and said, “Kill and eat.” And when Peter protested that he had never eaten anything unclean, God said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane (or unclean).” And God’s Spirit moved him to accompany some Gentiles to go and speak to a bunch more Gentiles—and it became obvious that God had given (even to Gentiles!) the repentance that leads to life!
Wherever they went in their missionary travels, they always went first to the synagogues to make an appeal to Jews—then they broadened their ministry to all the non-Jews in the area. Their call was not away from Judaism, but it was a call into a much wider ministry! TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH!
Discerning God’s Will
IF we are trying to hear what God is saying to us, to receive God’s guidance—then we have to be willing to let go of some things we think we know!
- The Disciples expected Jesus to become King, and that they would be members of his cabinet;
- He had to make it clear that he was leaving them—and that they would be empowered to carry on;
- Peter had to let go of the notion that the Good News was only for the Jews;
- The rest of the leadership of the early church had to wrap their minds around the reality that “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
- A couple of weeks ago, we saw Saul of Tarsus being set on a new path—instead of persecuting the Christians, now becoming a follower of Jesus himself and taking the good news to Gentiles, to kings, and to the people of Israel!
Opening our minds to God’s Spirit, to God’s leading, is an act of faith. We must trust that God has a plan for us, even if we don’t see what it is!
[This is a comfort to me, as I try to gaze into the great unknown of retirement! I am choosing to trust that God is going to lead me in a new direction, because I am certain that God is leading me away from that which is most familiar and comfortable for me! Our Men’s Fellowship is studying a book entitled If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. I am being challenged to take this step and then depend on God’s dream for the rest of my life.]
As we struggle to discern God’s will, we will take some steps in the wrong direction. But we can be CERTAIN that God will keep guiding us back onto the path when we stray! We will try to let go of some things we only think we know.
I’ll finish today with a story about a man named Mike Frezon, a man who had enjoyed an exciting 30-year career hosting radio and television programs with state lawmakers in New York. When he retired, he faced the great abyss, worrying that he would lose the sense of purpose and identity he had felt in his profession.
His wife, Peg, gave him his first assignment—cleaning the garage! As he picked his way through its contents, he asked, “God, is this what it’s come to? Do you still have a use for me?” Then he found an old tin, covered with dust, apparently left behind by the previous owners. In it, he found some seeds and a letter from 1940. “I am sending you the seeds of the hibiscus you admired when you stopped at our tourist home last year.”
Huh—80-year-old-seeds. Not much chance they would grow. But he planted them anyway. For six weeks, nothing happened. But, finally, one of them sprouted! It put on broad, healthy leaves. He showed his granddaughters, “Look, girls, even something this old can still grow and be pretty cool, right? Just like your papa!” And he knew that, like the little hibiscus that could, with God’s help he would keep growing, too.
That’s an encouraging thought!