What happens when the plans for your life don’t work out as expected? Our readings today offer examples of people in the Bible whose lives ended differently than they thought. What is Mt Zion’s calling (fancy word for God’s dream for us)?
What do you want to be/do when you grow up? Why?
I wanted to be an astronaut because I thought space was really cool. But do you know what happened? I grew really tall and heavy. Now I’m half an inch too tall and 20 pounds too heavy to be an astronaut. My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be, but sometimes there are things that make it impossible for us to follow our dreams.
In our first reading there was a person who was just known as God’s servant. And God’s servant knew exactly what he was supposed to be: He was supposed to help his neighbors follow God. He says that was his dream from the moment he was born. But he wasn’t any good at his dream. The Bible doesn’t say why. It just says he kept failing at what he was supposed to do. How do you think you’d feel if – like me or God’s servant – you found out that you can’t do the thing you wanted to do when you grow up?
Do you know what God told the servant?
God said, “It’s OK. You don’t have to be good at everything. I have better dream for you.” And God’s servant was given something to do that he was really good at. Do you know what happened when I realized I couldn’t be an astronaut? God said, “It’s OK. You don’t have to be good at everything. But if you trust me, I have better dream for you.” And God eventually helped me discover that what makes me really happy is being your pastor.
In the sermon in a little bit, we’re gonna hear about another person whose name you might know who thought he wanted to be one thing, but then God came and said to him, “I have better dream for you.” I’m glad that you have dreams about what you might do to make this world a better place, but like it did with God’s servant and with me, sometimes dreams don’t come true. If someday you discover your dream isn’t working out, I want you to know what I learned the day I discovered I couldn’t be an astronaut: God will always be there to say to you, “It’s OK. You don’t have to be good at everything. I have a better dream waiting just for you.”
Dear God, Help us fulfill our dreams. But if they don’t come true, remind us that your dreams for us always do come true. Amen.
What is Mt Zion’s calling? (Fancy word for God’s dream for us)
What is our purpose? What’s our reason for ministry? Why does this church exist?
I want to tell you something about callings. There once was a man who thought he knew what his calling was. He went to school to become a minister. After much studying, he got his first call. It was a good call, I mean a really good call, but after some time he became homesick. So he got up, moved across back across the country, and found a new call at a church much closer to home.
That’s what his mission was. Pretty simple. Ministry and family. Sounds like a good story, doesn’t it? But then something happened. The news was all about this local woman causing a stir. The man’s friends realized this was it; this was the opportunity. All they needed was a leader. You were thinking maybe I was telling my story, didn’t you?
Dr Martin Luther King’s calling
But this is where the similarities between my story and this story end, because this is the story of how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to be the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King didn’t have ambitions to become the face of racial justice. He wasn’t planning on becoming a world-renowned saint.
Dr. King was gonna preach for a while, get out from under his father’s massive shadow and establish himself as a preacher, and then become a professor at a university. That was his plan. But then Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat. And then the idea of a boycott sprung forth. And a group met in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Dr. King’s congregation, to organize some leadership.
And this part of the story is probably familiar to everyone. No one wanted to step up into leadership. Everyone turned the role down. So instead of getting wisdom or experience like leadership demands, they elected the newest person in the group to be president. And that’s how Dr. King, at the age of 26-years-old, became the face and voice of the Civil Rights Movement. Because no one else was willing to do the job.
You want me to do what?!?
I can just imagine what the young Dr. King was feeling. He was probably as sheepish as the servant in Isaiah. I can’t do this. I’m called to this little thing over here – taking care of Dexter Avenue Baptist – and that’s enough of a challenge as it is. And you want me to do what?!? And then best of all, they gave Dr. King, who normally took about 15 hours to prepare a sermon, 20 minutes to get a speech ready for the first mass gathering of the Montgomery Bus Boycott over at Holt Street Baptist.
I don’t know what I would have done. I would have gotten stuck on saying, “You want me to do what?!?” Because God told Dr. King, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant in this one small place. I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
It’s the same thing God told Abraham: It is too small of a thing that you will become a nation. I will make you a blessing to all nations. It’s the same thing Christ said about God: It is too small a thing that God just save Israel. I have come that all people might be saved.
It’s the same thing Peter discovered last week: It is too small a thing that you focus only on sharing the message of salvation with your Jewish sisters and brothers. The Gentiles need the message of salvation as well.
A theme in Scripture about God
- In God’s vision, salvation is never just for one small group.
- God’s not raising up prophets just so Israel can be saved.
- God’s not causing food to grow just so farmers can eat something.
- God’s not creating beaches just so those with money can use them.
- God’s not letting pilgrims come to America just so white people can enjoy the land of the free.
- God’s not raising up prophets just so those of African descent can have a better life.
- God’s not sending Jesus just so the people in church can go to heaven.
What do you think of Mt Zion’s call in light of God’s vision?
Where have we let Mt Zion’s vision become too small? I know this congregation has gone through some hard times in the past decade. I know we are much smaller than we once were. We could gripe and complain about that, and that’s exactly what the prophet did. “I’ve labored in vain,” the prophet says. “I’ve spent my strength for nothing.”
But the prophet doesn’t stop at complaint. If you read the psalms, you’d know that complaint never has the final word. The prophet continues, “Yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
“Even when I’m failing,” the prophet says, “I know that I am following God.” Can we say the same thing? Whether we are succeeding of failing, whether we are growing or shrinking, in everything we do, we are following God?
God’s vision: send the light of salvation into the world
As Bishop Munib Younan, former bishop of the Lutheran church in Jordan and the Holy Land, said, “There will never be peace if we’re only working on peace in Israel or we’re only working on peace in Palestine. There will never be peace if we’re only working on peace for the Jews or we’re only working on peace for the Muslims. We will never have peace until we are working on the peace of everyone together.”
As Bishop Desmund Tutu, former bishop in South Africa, said, “Ubuntu is the idea that I am not whole without you. And you are not whole without me. Until we can learn to forgive each other and reconcile, this world will never be whole.”
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “When we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black people and white people, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”
First Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7
1Listen to me, O coastlands,
pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
2He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
3And he said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
4But I said, “I have labored in vain,
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
and my reward with my God.”
5And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up 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.”
7Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Gospel: John 1:29-42
The next day, John saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” I myself didn’t know him, but I came baptizing with water for this reason: that he might be revealed to Israel.’
And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself didn’t know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’
The next day, John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look! The Lamb of God!’
The two disciples heard John say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked them, ‘What are you looking for?’
They replied, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’
He answered them, ‘Come and see.’
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which in Greek is “Christ” and in English means “Anointed”).
He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which in Greek is “Peter” and in English means “Rock”).