By Water & the Spirit: The Call

Editor’s Note: This is the second sermon in a series on baptism in the United Methodist tradition.

Have you gotten the call yet?

It’s a question that we ask often, in many different contexts.

Teenage girls and boys inquire of each other about whether so and so has called them yet, asking them out on a date or to the prom.

Business leaders quiz their co-workers to discern if that new contract is coming to fruition, or whether they will be looking for new employment soon.

Family members wait by the phone for news of their loved ones in Iraq, or the coming of a new family member into the world.

Calls can be joyous.

Calls can be tragic.

Calls can lead us to new opportunities, and calls can make us want to curl up in a fetal position in bed.

There is something significant about receiving a call, something that we both love and hate. To get a call is to know that life is about to change in some small way; to recognize that you are being given some new piece of information that will forever affect you and change the way that you relate to the world.

There are some callers who are more significant than others, aren’t there? In a “call waiting” world, we find ourselves rejecting some callers while embracing others. Some would have you believe that a call from the White House, with their special operators who take pride in finding the most obscure persons in the most obscure locations, is one of the most significant in the world. However it all depends on your perspective doesn’t it, for a call from a child that has been missing in a foreign country can and will seem a million times more significant that hearing the country drawl of the president. Receiving a call from the right person and the right time affects us deeply, and we will never be the same.

So, I ask again, have you gotten the call yet?

John the baptizer, Jesus’ cousin, had gotten his call. It happened early in life, before he was even born in fact, when God told his parents that he was destined for uniqueness. That call had been reaffirmed throughout his life – in his training as a boy, in his relationship with the Essene community (that group that lived by the Dead Sea and dedicated themselves to following God), and especially as he engaged in the ministry of preaching and baptizing, calling others to repent of their sins and turn back to God.

It was in the middle of that ministry that John experienced the ultimate expression of his call. As we talked about last week, it happened when his cousin Jesus came and asked to be baptized. As Jesus came out of the water, the phone rang and God said, “Here I am.”

“This is the one I have been telling you about,” God said, “the savior of the world, my son. So, go tell all that God’s glory has broken forth into the world in this man named Jesus.”

With that, God hung up the phone, and John knew what he had to do. You see, John understood that when we are called we don’t sit around on our hands and do nothing. No, when we receive a call we act accordingly. So John went out and began to tell others what he had seen and heard at Jesus’ baptism.

I ask again, have you gotten the call yet?

Then again, maybe what I need to ask is “Have you been baptized?”

You see, those of us who have been baptized in the waters of God’s love, those of us who have experienced the water running down our heads and enveloping our souls, those of us who have followed in the footsteps of Jesus by walking into the river of life have gotten a call. The call may be a faint memory or a hidden presence that we continue to try to ignore, but a fact of God’s kingdom is that those who are claimed by God as dearly loved children in their baptism have been called, just like John. The Holy Spirit has come upon us and we have no choice other than to go and tell that we have seen and experienced the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

There is a deep connection between baptism and the call of God in our lives. Baptism is not simply some meaningless ritual where we play with water because our moms and dads think that it’s cute, and it’s been a part of the family tradition for thousands of years. No, baptism has implications that go far beyond that day when we get wet, and one of those implications is that baptism represents a call from God. It is a call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to be his disciples and learn all we can about God’s special revelation to the world. It is likewise a call to take seriously the command that Jesus gave us at the end of his life, the command to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and teaching them to obey the commands of Christ.” In our baptism we are called to go. In our baptism we, like John, are called to tell. In our baptism, we are called to be disciples.

One of the great mistakes of the church throughout the years has been to think that God’s call is reserved for those who have been selected for vocational ministry – pastors, Bible teachers, etc. Certainly there are those of us who have been given certain gifts and have been called by God to assume certain responsibilities in the life of the church. However, that calling is secondary to the primary calling in our lives, the calling that comes through our baptism to all of us, every single one of us who has followed Jesus into the waters. To be baptized is to be called by God.

God’s call in baptism isn’t complicated. It’s a call to do what Jesus did. And what did Jesus do? He loved. He healed. He taught. And through all of those things he proclaimed that God’s kingdom was near.

That too is our task, our calling. It isn’t complicated. It doesn’t require that one participate in a Disciple Bible Study or go to seminary. God’s call is one to live in the way of Jesus, to follow in his footsteps, to be his disciple, and to invite others to join us along the way.

That is what Martin Luther King Jr. (who we remember this weekend) and those who worked with him were doing. If you have read much about King you will know that he was rather reluctant to take on this issue of civil rights. He didn’t think he was anything special – his daddy was the better preacher after all. And yet, King had heard God’s call in his baptism, and that call left him no choice but to proclaim God’s vision of justice and hope to the world. King had been called in his baptism to go tell, and none of us would ever be the same.

I ask the question again, “Have you gotten the call yet?”

If you have, then when are you going to do something about it?

You see, if you’ve gotten the call then you would know that it’s time to break forth from these walls to go tell others about like those disciples of long ago that we have found the Messiah.

If you’ve gotten the call, you would know that we are being led to demonstrate a radical love in which all persons are seen as a part of God’s family, a love that refuses to recognize the barriers of race and ethnicity and gender that get in our way.

If you’ve gotten the call, you would know that it’s time to take seriously the commands of Jesus in our lives, to go forth bringing healing and hope to a world in great need.

If you’ve gotten the call, you know that it’s time to get out of ourselves and root ourselves in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Have you gotten the call yet?

For those who have been baptized, the answer to that question can only be “yes.”

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