I gave this sermon yesterday in our church in Eureka. I titled it Polished Arrows because that is the title of the liturgy that I used. I took the liturgy from a UCC website and it was written by the Rev. Marilyn K. Levine, who is the Pastor to New Town United Church of Christ and Parshall Memorial Congregational Church on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. I was excited to know that some of those are from people fairly close to where we live and I shared that with the congregation. Anyway, at first I wasn’t going to share this because it is so unique to us, and so much about calls and calling someone, but I finally realized that perhaps it is something worth sharing, so here it is.
I may have changed a thing or two as I was speaking, but not as much as I normally do, so this time, I am going to print it as I prepared it without adding any of the extras.
The scriptures used were: Isaiah 49: 1-7, I Corinthians 1: 1-9 and John 1: 29-42. The title was Polished Arrows.
There is a saying about choosing an occupation; Do something you love and you will never work a day in your life. All three of today’s scriptures are concerned with one thing, that one thing is being called by God to follow him. When most people hear the word “call” used in this context they automatically, and I believe almost exclusively people think of the person who stands in the pulpit in these terms. I will tell you that right now that thought makes me nervous. No, nervous isn’t the right word, it scares the … well let’s just say, it scares me. In reality, “call” should refer to anything that anyone does. It should be why we do any vocation. Perhaps, “call” is the part of the saying that makes it possible for the “never work a day in your life” part of the saying.
Going through the three passages we read for today you can note the “call” part of the scripture. In verse 9 of the I Corinthians passage, Paul writes to the church in Corinth suggesting that they were called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. These early Christians were “called” to follow Jesus. They were no longer part of the Jewish faith or any other faith from which they came; they are now part of the believers who share the story of Jesus.
In the gospel of John, we read about the first disciples, and how they came to be called to literally follow Jesus while he was on earth. The first name we are given is of the disciple Andrew, who was the brother to Simon, who became known as Peter. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before Jesus walked by and John pointed him out. In fact, it almost seems that John is saying to his disciples, go, follow him, I am nothing in comparison.
Now it might seem like maybe John should have or could have gone with his disciples to be a disciple of Jesus, but that wasn’t what he was called to do. He was the pointer. He had some very specific tasks including being the human that baptized Jesus with water so that God could send his spirit onto the human Jesus. John was the one who was there to witness it, as in see it happen then witness it, as in proclaim it to anyone who would listen. John was the one who pointed the way to Jesus, and in at least the case that we read about today, he ended up losing a disciple or two to Jesus as Andrew and another left John to follow Jesus.
It isn’t clear why John kept baptizing and telling of Jesus instead of joining him. Perhaps he is kept in his own place because he is more effective as someone who points the way. What we do know is that in this passage that we read, John twice calls Jesus the Lamb of God. It is a term that Jesus does not use about himself. He does call himself the Good Shepherd, meaning the one who cares for the sheep, but not the Lamb of God as John calls him.
Lambs were often used in sacrifices. In fact a lamb is specifically the type of sacrifice that is used at Passover. It is the blood of the lamb that is sprinkled on the door posts that caused the angel of death to pass by the Hebrew family homes when the plague went through Egypt killing all of the first-born when Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites leave. This terminology used by John the Baptist points to the “call” of Jesus. He is telling everyone who will listen why Jesus came to earth, to be the sacrifice for all our sins. John already knows, even if he says he didn’t know him initially. John knows, and with his declaration, he helps us to know.
The passage from Isaiah is a bit more difficult in terms of what “call” is being discussed. We know from the onset that it is a call, and we know that it was a “call” from before the person was born. Reading this passage, some have believed it is about the people of Israel, mainly because it reads that way, and others have thought that it is referring to Jesus, again because it seems to read that way.
But what if it is us? What if it is all of us, all Christians, all of humanity. God calls all of us. God wants all of us to do his work in whatever form. If we go back to the passage we find a few figures of speech such as “a mouth like a sharp sword.” Could that be the gift of speech? Speech in the ability to put a point across so that people listen and understand. There is a “Polished arrow,” maybe that indicates being morally straight or maybe able-bodied, someone who is able to attack things that need to be accomplished. Another is “one who brings Jacob back.” Now Jacob could refer to the nation of Israel, or maybe it means a person who goes out and finds the lost anyone who is “lost” and returns them to God. The final verses mention “a light to the nations.” This could be lots of things. It could be one who proclaims the word of God. It could be one who sheds light on the word, interprets perhaps. Or it could be simply one who lives the word of God. All of these could be pointing at one who lives the way God asks us to live and lets the light of Jesus shine through them.
I firmly believe that everything we did in life is a build up to what we are currently doing and to what we will do in the future. It is all relevant. Who we were leads to who we are, and that in turn to who we will be. But because of Jesus and what he did for us, we are not stuck with anything that is baggage. Jesus takes away all of the sin that we have accumulated along the way. Jesus just asks that we follow from this point on. He is the sacrificial Lamb so that we can accept His call and do his bidding.
Yes, all of the passages today have been about call, but it is not just the call of someone to Pastor the church. It is about the call of everyone in the church and perhaps more so in our case, it is the question of what is the call of THE church. All of you have received your annual meeting booklet. Part of the Agenda asks us to think about things like a Mission Fest, Lenten programs and what we will be doing as a church in the coming year. We need to think about what is our “Call” as a congregation? What will we be as a church for this community?
This past Wednesday, I had the privilege of meeting the ministers from the other congregations in town. They are good people. They have the best intentions in mind for their people and anyone who would be willing to join them. Why then are we here? Why do we choose to keep in operation in our own building?
I think that there are some questions that I have, so I know what direction we are going. I also believe that many of you in the pews have the answers. You already know why we are here. You already understand the “call” of this congregation. (Stop to work in the story of the “red” shirt) I would ask that you make sure to be here next week for the annual meeting to voice those answers. I am willing to wear the “red” shirt if that is what it is, or carry the quiver, or whatever it needs to be, but I need your answers to know, I need you to be the pointers to say where we are going. Amen.