Sermon: Called by God (expect the unexpected)

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Sermon for Williamstown

19th of January 2014

John 1:29-42

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

 In a couple of previous sermons I’ve mentioned the Revised Common Lectionary, which gives churches four Bible readings for each Sunday and is used by Anglican and Lutheran and Methodist and Presbyterian and Uniting churches all around the world. Sometimes there’s a conflict between lectionary and what might be happening in a congregation, and the preacher will have to choose between, for example, ANZAC Day and the second Sunday of Easter. But at other times everything works together and the lectionary readings fit perfectly with what else is happening in a service. Today, like last Sunday, is one of those days. For the second week in a row the congregation here at Electra Street is celebrating a baptism and, for the second week in a row, the lectionary readings are talking to us about baptism and being called by God. Today, as Jamie and Nancy respond to God’s call to Stephanie by bringing her to be baptised, we hear again about Jesus’ baptism, and we then hear about the calling of Jesus’ first disciples. We hear the beginning of the story into which Stephanie will be baptised; the story of the Church – the community and body of Christ.

In today’s gospel reading God calls several different people. The first person whose call we observe is John the Baptiser. One of the things that becomes clear in today’s reading is that while John knows that he has been called by God, and knows what it is that God wants him to do, he doesn’t know the wider implications of his call, what his calling will lead to. John knows that he has been sent to baptise with water for the repentance of sins, and he engages in this ministry in profound obedience. It’s as he carries it out that the deeper purpose of his ministry is revealed. John is the one called to testify to the Lamb of God. It is John who sees the dove descend on Jesus, who knows that Jesus is the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is the Son of God. It’s John who reveals Jesus to Israel, even though, as John says twice, he didn’t know him. John answers the call from God to baptise with water, and finds that by doing this he becomes a witness to the Messiah.

John’s faithful obedience to his call includes accepting that he must decrease so that Jesus may increase. John describes Jesus as ‘the one who comes after me’, which would usually be the way a teacher describes a disciple, but in this case John recognises and testifies that the one coming after him is the one who is greater, the one who was before him. Then, when John is standing with two of his own disciples, he sends his disciples to follow Jesus, gladly relinquishing them.

John has proclaimed that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Son of God. He sends his disciples to Jesus because he knows who Jesus is. But the disciples, while they leave John and follow Jesus, don’t yet have that same insight. They call Jesus Rabbi, teacher. They’ve followed one teacher, now they’re looking for another. They ask Jesus: ‘Where are you staying?’ They want to know where it is that this teacher teaches, and Jesus answers, ‘Come and see’.  We don’t know what happens after that. All we do know is that after spending time with Jesus, Andrew goes looking for his brother and tells him that they have found the Messiah. John’s proclamation sent the disciples looking for a teacher; their own encounter with Jesus, their acceptance of his invitation to ‘come and see,’ leads them to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah.

Like John, Andrew himself will in a sense decrease. According to this story, Andrew is one of the first two disciples to follow Jesus after his baptism. His response is to go and seek out his brother, and call him to follow Jesus too. And Andrew’s brother is Simon, who will become Peter, the rock on whom Jesus will build his Church and in many ways the most important of Jesus’ disciples. Andrew will remain part of the inner group of disciples, but he won’t be as important as the brother he himself brings to faith.

Neither John, nor Andrew and the other disciple, nor Simon who will become Peter, knew what answering their call from God would lead to. John did not know that by baptising with water he would reveal the Lamb of God to Israel. Andrew and the other disciple did not know that by seeking out a new teacher they would find the Messiah. Peter did not know that by agreeing to accompany his brother to Jesus his entire world would be turned upside down; that he would follow Jesus; betray him; be forgiven and commissioned by the resurrected Christ; and then glorify God by a martyr’s death. Answering God’s call can lead to very unexpected places.

Today, God has called Stephanie, and we respond to God’s call by baptising her into the faith and family of Jesus Christ. In doing this, we acknowledge that it is God who calls us, and we who respond. God chooses us, and we then choose God. This is why we baptise babies like Stephanie without asking them to make any promises. In baptism, as in all else, the initiative lies with God. Then, when they have grown, we ask those first baptised as children to also make their own response in faith and love, because the relationship goes both ways. Today as we respond to God’s call to Stephanie, we hope that she will grow to maturity in Christ and follow Andrew and Simon Peter in answering God’s call, by claiming the faith of Jesus Christ as her own. But that lies in Stephanie’s future. Today all Stephanie has to do is be loved.

We don’t know where Stephanie’s call from God will lead her. That’s something none of us can predict. But it’s probable that it will lead her to unexpected and life-changing places. So, as she grows, she will undoubtedly need the reassurance that Paul gives the church in Corinth. God offers us, Paul tells the Corinthians, everything we need to answer God’s call. Paul assures the Corinthians that they have been enriched in speech and knowledge of every kind *so that they’re not lacking any spiritual gift. The Corinthians can rely on this, Paul writes, because God is faithful and it was by God that they were called into the fellowship of his Son. When we are called by God, we are given by God the gifts and graces we need to answer the call.

We’re also given the assurance that we don’t have to answer the call alone, or even as a single congregation. Paul’s greeting to the Corinthians, that small group of Christians gathered in a house church, includes with them ‘all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord* and ours’. We are part of the worldwide communion of saints that exists throughout time. We are united with all those of every time and place who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Later, as part of the baptismal liturgy, we will stand and say the Apostle’s Creed together. It is one way in which we are joined to Church throughout time and space, confessing together the faith that that Church holds. Another way is through the very act of baptism. All those who are baptised with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are connected to everyone else who has ever been baptised in that way. Through baptism we become part of the community made up of every Christian who has ever lived. Today Stephanie will join that community. Wherever Stephanie’s call may lead her in the future, she can be sure that she will never be alone.

So much is happening for Stephanie today as she is called by God to be baptised. In her baptism, as the baptismal liturgy will tell her, Stephanie will become a new creation, cleansed of her sins, welcomed into the Church community, acknowledged as God’s beloved child, alive in Christ. But, despite today’s importance, Stephanie won’t remember any of this happening. It’s up to us, those gathered here, family, friends and congregation, to remember for her; to remind her of her baptism and what that means about who she is. So today and always, let’s celebrate Stephanie’s call from God and her baptism in response to that call, and let’s give thanks for it. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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