Sermon: Born to Serve

I want to read you a letter from a nine-year-old boy:                               

            “Dear NASA,

            My name is Jack Davis and I would like to apply for the planetary protection officer job.              I may be nine, but I think I would be fit for the job. One of the reasons is my sister says I    am an alien. Also, I have seen almost all the space and alien movies I can see. I have seen         the show Marvel Agents of Shield and hope to see the movie Men in Black. I am great at          video games. I am young, so I can learn to think like an Alien.


                   Jack Davis

                   “Guardian of the Galaxy”

            By the way, this is a real little boy applying to a real job that had recently been posted as open: NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection promotes the responsible exploration of the solar system by implementing and developing efforts that protect the science, explored environments, and Earth.

            Although Jack did not land that particular job, Dr. James Green – NASA’s Planetary Science Director – did write Jack an encouraging response, congratulating him for his interest in the position. And then, when Paul Hoffman – President and CEO of the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey – got wind of Jack’s letter, he sent Jack a video inviting him to be the first kid science advisor to the newly opened Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium in Jersey City.

            And I wouldn’t be at all surprise if we hear Jack Davis’ name associated again with NASA in the not too distant future in some more significant way.

            Some people just seem to know at an early age what they’re supposed to be and do in life. Others take more time; and perhaps a bit more coaxing.

            The would-be prophet Jeremiah was just a boy when God called him to do a special job. And, while Jeremiah resisted a bit at first, God has a way of convincing – and convicting – folks.

            Jesus started his earthly ministry when he was thirty years old. Some scholars say he knew who he was from day one; certainly his mother Mary knew. Others say his real sense of self and calling in life came on the heels of his baptism in the Holy Spirit, as he waded in the waters of the Jordan River; a calling – and a Spirit – which first led him into the wilderness to be tested, and then back to his own home town to preach his first sermon.

            It’s always a bit dicey to preach at your home town church. I can kind of relate to Jesus on that account. I was invited to preach at the church I grew up in – Grace Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas – for the first time about ten years ago or so. This was the same church where I had been baptized some fifty years earlier; the church where I had periodically been in and out the good graces of my Sunday school teachers over the years; the church where I was ordained as a deacon, went through the Stephen Ministry program, had my first knee-knocking experience in leading worship, and came under care as an inquirer and candidate for ministry.

            Sitting in the pews that Sunday morning were a few of those surviving Sunday school teachers; the same organist who had played at my ordination service, at our wedding twenty years prior, and maybe even at my baptism, also played that day. The kitchen gestapo-lady who had swatted me on the fanny when I was boy upon sneaking into the kitchen to pilfer a piece of pie before it was brought out for fellowship. The now elderly couple – who had been greeting people together in the narthex longer than anyone can remember – were there when I preached at my home town church. There was no occasion for presumption or guile in the preacher that day.

            And, even though I felt bolstered by the Spirit that morning, it was still a bit intimidating. And, frankly – while no one tried to throw me off a cliff or anything – I suppose I got mixed reviews. I think the comment I got from one person after worship kind of summed it up, who said, “Wow Tom…we didn’t know you could preach like that!” Now, that could mean anything!

            Later that same year, I applied for the open position of Senior Pastor at that same church. The PNC politely rejected my application, saying, in essence, that I had too much history there—too many ties, too many relationships, too many connections—and therefore, too much baggage.

            But you know what, I was okay with that. Because, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to share the Gospel with those people who were so foundational in my spiritual upbringing and my faith journey. And, most certainly, by that time in my life, I knew who I was and what God had called me to do and to be.

            When the people from Jesus’ home church got so mad that they led him up to the top of the hill to throw him off – as the story goes – Jesus `passed through the midst of them’ unscathed, and simply `went on his way.’ You get the sense that that rejection was kind of like water off a duck’s back. Whenever Jesus had discovered his true sense of purpose and identity, he had absolutely no doubt of who he was at that point; and of what he was called by God to do.

            The main point is this: Whether anyone else knows it or not—God knows who God created you to be and what God wants you to accomplish in life. And even if others do not belief in you—God does. And so, now, we know that God knows. And so the journey of faith  simply and joyfully becomes one of discovering – discerning through the Spirit – just what that is.

            Last week I shared with you statistics which suggest that those churches, denominations, and individual Christians who are thriving in the world today tend to be Pentecostal. And when we think `Pentecostal’ we think of sweaty preachers speaking in tongues; people dancing in the aisles and flailing wildly about and being `slain in the Spirit.’ But the thing is, you don’t have to be a Pentecostal (with a capital “P”) to be pentecostal (small letter “p”).

            Even we Presbyterians celebrate the Day of Pentecost: that day when the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon Jesus’ Church; given to those first disciples. We staunch Reformers can live life filled with the Holy Spirit, too. Even though we might not express the presence and reality of the Spirit in our lives quite so dramatically as some, we can express it through everything that we are and everything that we do. Because when we become a disciple of Jesus Christ – when God’s call is so laid upon our lives – then everything else about us becomes part of that Christian vocation; whether we are a preacher, or doctor, or teacher, or engineer, or custodian, or waitress, or student. When we answer the call of God in Christ, then every venue in life becomes the setting – and an opportunity – for us to express our Christian discipleship.

Fred Buechner points out that the word `vocation’ “comes from the Latin vocare – “to call” – and means the work a person is called to do by God:

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.

“By and large a good rule for finding out is this: The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing cigarette ads, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

“Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[i]

Christian Vocation is the faithful endeavor of every disciple in response to the One who, in and through Jesus Christ, speaks to the depths of the human heart by saying to them: “I called you by name. You are mine. Now come and follow.”

To answer that Godly call means that you are answering a specific summons in your life to strive to build something much bigger than that those things the world builds.

To answer God’s call in your life means discovering that deep sense of purpose which transforms your daily routine – regardless of your occupation – into something much more than simply doing the job of building trackers or putting together hamburgers or assembling worship services. It means nothing less than being a co-worker in building up the very Kingdom of God.

And that is true whether you are employed by John Deere, or Genesis, or Wal-Mart, or MacDonald’s, or First Presbyterian Church. For you can do God’s work in any of those places. And you can work in any one of those places and still completely miss the boat of discipleship.

But, if we are open and unassuming in our readiness to listen for the surprising ways in which God guides and affirms, then our sense of Christian calling can and will be confirmed.

In Jesus Christ. Amen.

[i] Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (revised & expanded), Harper San Francisco, 1993.