“Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection.” (Words from this week’s collect.)
I want us to consider two questions this morning, the first of which has to do with our being devoted to God with our whole being. The question is, how are we being faithful to God and more specifically how are we being faithful to God and what he has called us to do?
Throughout the morning’s lessons we hear of individuals’ responses and reactions to being given a task by God. That is what a call is—being given a message to deliver or another action to take on God’s behalf. We have heard about Ezekiel, St. Paul, the 12 disciples and Jesus himself in these lessons and what happened to them when they were faithful to what God asked them to do.So, let’s look at each of these characters as it relates to their call.
Just prior to today’s Old Testament passage we can read the magnificent vision that Ezekiel had. In words of beautiful poetry the prophet describes what he saw on a particular date in time. There was fire and wind and in the middle of a great cloud were four living creatures. These creatures looked like bronze men with faces of strong animals and wings that were beating. Perhaps this vision is best remembered because there were wheels with rims and spokes and eyes that allowed these creatures to move. What Ezekiel experienced was most spectacular. Not only did he stop, frozen by what he saw, he was so overcome by the presence of the Holy One that he fell on his face, an understandable reaction!
Today’s passage immediately follows and begins. “O mortal, stand up on your feet!” The Lord then told Ezekiel he was sending him to the people of Israel to speak to them. The Lord tells Ezekiel that the people are stubborn and perhaps will not listen to him but that is to be of no matter to Ezekiel. Whether the people listen or do not listen is not his concern. His concern is to be faithful to what God asked him to do.
St. Paul’s call to follow Jesus and to teach others about Jesus was dramatic. God got his attention by a burning bush and causing him to lose his sight for a period of time. In this morning’s reading Paul describes his vision of being caught up in Paradise and hearing things that are not to be told by a mortal.
While these experiences might have caused others to think Paul as better than they, and perhaps even for Paul to consider himself above others, Paul also writes that he has been kept humble in his ministry by what he describes as “a thorn in his flesh”. Many people have made supposition about what this thorn might have been. That is really beside the point, in my opinion.
Whatever it was, the purpose of this thorn was to remind Paul that the messages he has delivered, the work he has done, are God’s work, not his. And so he cannot be too proud of what he has accomplished. It is God’s power that has allowed him to teach and lead, not what Paul has done on his own. It is by God’s grace that Paul has participated in God’s work.
Both Ezekiel and Paul had wonderful spiritual visions from God. Perhaps we too have had such times. But note, from these men we learn that the vision or awareness of God’s presence is not where it ends. Such experiences of the holy one are wonderful moments but their purpose is to get our attention, to have us pause and pay attention. The call or the action God wants us to take, often follow such experiences and then we have a choice to make to be faithful to that call or not.
In the morning’s gospel, Jesus’ twelve disciples are given their first assignment away from their master. He sends them out in pairs and instructs them to take nothing with them. Through other people, God will provide for their needs. They are to remain faithful to what Jesus told them to do, which is to proclaim God’s message to repent, to turn back to God’s ways. In addition to this message, Jesus gave these disciples power to cast out demons and heal those who were sick along the way. These twelve followed Jesus’ instructions and had great success in their missions. In a later gospel reading, Mark says more about these experiences and their reporting back to Jesus. They too will learn that while the results are empowering, the outcome is not theirs to boast about. Rather, they are to be faithful to what Jesus asked them to do.
Jesus himself also has demonstrated his faithfulness to his mission in the reading today. Just as he had done for so many other places, Jesus brought the message of God’s grace and healing power to his hometown. But what happened was that the people did not listen to the message but rather scoffed and ridiculed the messenger.
In each of these cases, Ezekiel, St. Paul, the twelve disciples and even Jesus, God warned those he called that the words they spoke might not be accepted. In fact he warned that often the message would not be heard. There would be difficulties and while God did not cause those difficulties, he would be present to them even in those difficult times. They were not to concern themselves with the results of their work. Rather, what matters for the prophet, the one speaking on behalf of God, is to be faithful to what God has asked. They did not control the outcome or actions of others. Their concern was to follow what God had asked them to do.
So back to my first question of the morning, relating today’s scriptures to us in our time, “How are we being faithful to God and what he has called us to do? We learn from each of this morning’s readings the importance of our being faithful above all else.
This leads to my second question, “What is God calling us, you and me, to do?” These questions go hand in hand. What is God calling me to do and am I being faithful to what God has asked?
For some God’s call will be dramatic as it was for Ezekiel, and Paul. For others it may be more direct instruction as it was for Jesus’ twelve. And for others of us, it may not be as quickly understood. It may come as a vague feeling or a repeated thought. It may be as simple as thinking of a certain person over and over and then realizing that perhaps God is asking that you contact that person. That person might be having a rough time and a word of encouragement from you would make the difference for them. Or perhaps that one just needs an ear, someone to listen to them and God is offering that opportunity to you. We may overlook these “calls”, being too busy to realize what is right in front of us.
We might think, God wouldn’t ask anything of me. I am not important enough for that or skilled enough for that. I would not know what to say or how to say it. I certainly am not capable to be God’s messenger.
Let’s not be so quick to let ourselves off the hook. Each of us can tell another person about the God who has come to mean so much to us. We don’t need polished words or fine-tuned dogma to tell our own stories of what God has done for us. Sometimes it is not even a matter of using words. What another person may need is just our presence to remind them of the love that God has for them. Remember what God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness.” God uses our weaknesses for us to lean on His power.
Today, we also can learn from the people in Jesus’ hometown, the skeptics and scoffers. They could not see the miracles God was doing right in front of them. Maybe God is doing miracles right in front of us that we also miss. Sometimes the status quo keeps us unable to see God’s presence, unable to see God invitation to join in with his work.
What is God calling us to do and are we being faithful to that call?
While we might wait for a spectacular experience like Ezekiel or St. Paul to give our answer, we do not have to. We can make time to listen to God through reading scripture, through prayer, through quietly sitting with Him. This intentional space can help us to see that what is happening around us brings opportunities to know what God seeks from us. While other people cannot answer these questions for us, they may be able to help as we discern our answers.
So, two questions to ponder:
What is God calling us to do and are we being faithful to that call? A good beginning for today, coming in response to the morning’s lessons, is to ask ourselves these questions and to put them directly to God, in prayer.
“O God, Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection.” Amen.