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Epiphany 4 B

Call Forwarding or Call Waiting

(Deuteronomy 31:1-3,6-8;  Mark 1:21-28)

By Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

This is the third in our Epiphany series of sermons

which explore the Biblical stories of God’s Call to individuals and to communities.


There’s a two-fold presupposition about God and creation

at work in all these texts

which is worth us pondering for a moment.

Specifically, all these passages take it as self-evident

a) that God  is. There is an identifiable Deity, Divinity, Divine Energy

b) that this God has a relationship with Creation.


On a Sunday morning, we walk through these doors,

into the nave (a wee ship, a little world, afloat on the ocean of life)

in which  this presupposition is accepted;

it’s okay to talk about God here.

In fact, it’s not just okay, but expected.

Half of our conversation for the morning is addressed to God,

assuming that God is here to listen,

and is interested in what we have to sing, say, and pray.

Moreover, the other part of our conversation here on a Sunday morning

has to do with us listening for God, and what God might have to say to us,

individually or collectively.


But this a presupposition that is contested in the great ‘out there.’

It’s far less ‘normal’ to go around talking about, or to, God,

much less listening for God.


Now, I have it relatively easy.

In the circles in which I move I’m supposed to talk with and about God.

Among clergy colleagues, here in the Church,

and even when I visit members  at home, in hospital, or nursing homes,

I turn up with my ‘clergy identity,’  expected and expecting

that this presupposition about God will be okay.


But for you?

How many times in a week do you get to talk freely

about God’s role in your life?

With co-workers, friends at the gym, among family?

In some work places it’s even forbidden,

considered intrusive or awkward,

or counter to the mandate of the workplace.

Now, if you do the work, or the volunteering, that you do

because it’s your ‘vocation’ – something you feel deeply called to,

you may be able to talk your work or talent as ‘a calling’

but saying that it is God who gifts and calls you to it,

well, how easy is that to say in all the corners of your life?


And perhaps more to the point,

how easy is it for –even us – to truly believe

that these talents, passions, joys  and life-giving moments

are God’s call to us?


On the Blog this week,(www.cpuc.edublogs/org)

I lamented the historical legacy of a Christian tradition

that has tended to reserve the language of

‘vocation’ or ‘call’ to the religious professional elite.

(Nowadays that’s not so much an elite, as an odd-ball group of religious leftovers!)

The result is that many, many people assume that God may call

“a minister” or a “missionary”,

but  God isn’t wasting vocational energy on them.


How false that is! How unbiblical!

This Bible is full of stories of young boys,

teenage girls, old women, even older men,

murderers, thieves, agricultural workers, fishermen,

housewives, slaves, kings,

shepherds, servants,

sick people, soldiers,

groups of people, even whole nations,

and….even donkeys (!) hearing God call to them personally often by name,

to do something of value on God’s behalf in the world of creation. [1]


Writer, Preacher, Frederick Buechner speaks of vocation – the call of God –

as  “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[2]

Vocation – the call of God – is not just about making the world a better place,

nor is it just about a sense of personal happiness or fulfilment.

To illustrate: Despots may have the latter in abundance, without any of the former!


When God is involved in vocation – there is always a convergence of the two.

One’s deep gladness, passion, joy  and gift,  and the world’s deepest needs.

Put another way, God’s yet-to-be-fulfilled Dream, or a reconciled and reconciling world,

and God’s Dream that we each have life in abundant fullness.


Which brings me to the two texts for today.

In the passage from Deuteronomy

we the readers are to be found among the rag-tag newborn nation,

huddled on the edge of promise.

They’ve eaten desert dust for a generation,

as their call to inherit the land and become a nation of blessing

was put on hold while they learned who and whose they were.

Now they are looking from the desert plain of Suph

onto the Jordan river valley.


I’ve stood there. It’s a stunning sight even today.

Behind you, everything is harsh pale blue sky,

the wind at your back hot and salty,

the ground a never -ending expanse of cracked yellow sun -bleached rock.

In front you there are trees,

and  sheep -filled green pastures

dissected by the lazy, pleasant river.

No longer on hold, no longer waiting,

the call is now forwarded to a new generation.


For Moses, his vocation, his call from God

to lead his own people

from the slave pens of the Egyptian Delta,

as pilgrims through the barren land to the verge of Jordan

is fulfilled.

It is time to forward the call

to the one whom God has uniquely gifted to lead them

into the land of hope and promise.

To Joshua.

In the interests of honesty, I need  to tell you that the next phase is not bucolic,

but our focus today rests more narrowly upon

this notion that a call to participate in God’s Dream,

often means we become involved in a call that will outlive us.

I am, inheritor of a call to serve this congregation

a call that has been forwarded on from Otto Lilly 120 years ago,

to the likes of Victor Rose, Paul Evans, and so on down to me,

and I’ve no doubt it will pass from me to others for as long as God

wants us to be an open faith community serving this neighbourhood.


We all are inheritors of the call of God to love wholly,

to share generously,

to live justly.


But we are also recipients of calls that are unique to us,

reflections of  the way each of us is gifted.

In this way, God meets us where we are,

where our needs are greatest,

and our talents most in need of fulfilment.


When Jesus walked into the synagogue in Galilee,

and expelled the noisy, ‘unclean spirit,’

the man  was freed from those barriers, those obsessions,

which blocked the capacity to live fully, vocationally,

freely and willingly into the call of God.

(I’ve ‘blogged’ about this text in more detail

for those who are interested, or bothered by it).


But again, the kernel of Gospel for us today

is that we are called by God to participate

in a dream bigger and older than any of us.

All called, we are also equipped, freed, liberated

if necessary by God to respond to that call.

And the truly good news for today

is that the vocation of God to you, uniquely,

is one which calls forth the ability to

meet the world’s deepest needs

with our own skills, passions, convictions,

and deep God-given gladness.




[1] The donkey belonged to Balaam. See Number 22 for the story!

[2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC



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