Sermon 4/10/2016: “Calls from God”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Acts 9:4
Day: 3Easter, Year C

“Calls from God”

“Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around [Saul]. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Caravaggio, Conversion on the Way to Damascus, 1601 [Public Domain], WikiPedia,

The Bible is chock-full of call stories such as this one, full of stories about how God broke into an ordinary person’s life, got their attention, then sent them off in a new direction, sent them off in a God-direction. But only in a few instances does God call someone by name, twice in a row, as is the case in today’s first lesson. “Saul, Saul,” this young religious zealot heard the Risen Christ say in a vision. And WE know therefore by this “double call” that what Saul will do as a result will be epic, will be history-changing.

Hadn’t, for instance, God called Abraham by name, twice: “Abraham, Abraham,” an angel of the Lord God said as Abe was about to sacrifice his son Isaac. “Pay attention,” the angel seemed to say, “God has ANOTHER mission in mind for you to do. A BIG mission.”

“Jacob, Jacob” got the double-name call, too. Jake heard the Lord telling him to not be afraid to visit his son Joseph in Egypt, his beloved son who had been sold into slavery in large part due to Jacob’s own parental failure.

With two of the great Jewish patriarchs doubly called, is there any wonder that Moses, also, heard God call his name twice? “Moses, Moses!” God called from a burning bush. “I have a small job for you to do: bring my people out of slavery and make them a nation.”

“Samuel, Samuel” also got a double call. This is how the child learned he was to be God’s voice in a time when few people heard or acted on God’s call.

That’s all, only four people, in the Old Testament got a double call from God. There are three more in the New Testament:

“Martha, Martha” got admonished by Jesus after she had asked her sister Mary to stop sitting at Jesus’ feet and help her in the kitchen. The call here was to get her priorities right. Presumably, though, Martha was given a huge God-job to do, even if scripture does not record her contribution to telling the whole world about Christ Jesus.

“Simon, Simon,” Jesus called his friend and disciple Simon Peter at the Last Supper. This is where Jesus told Peter he would deny Jesus three times but that afterwards Peter would strengthen the other disciples for telling the world about Jesus.

And now, today, we hear Christ Jesus call Saul by name, twice. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” What Jesus wanted Saul to do was to tell the Gentiles, powerful people, and the Israelites about him.

I became fascinated this week with these doubly-called people. Three of the four Old Testament double-callees were scoundrels of various sorts, when God came calling:

  • Abraham was about to murder his son.
  • Jacob had been a terrible parent.
  • Moses had already murdered an Egyptian.
  • And Saul, in our lesson today, was about to haul Jesus-followers away to their deaths.

Apparently, God doesn’t only call the already-holy into God-action. Maybe those who are not yet holy and those for whom God just has big plans need to be called twice by name to get their attention. Or maybe WE ascribe a double call to some, depending on the extent of the task that God wants done.

Pietro da Cortona, Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul, 1631, [Public Domain],

In our lesson today, Saul wasn’t the only one called by God and given a very important task to do. The Lord also called a disciple named Ananias into action. Not using a double-call, mind you, just an ordinary one. God wanted Ananias to go to Saul and give him his sight back. And Ananias wasn’t pleased with the assignment, you will recall. Ananias felt compelled to point out to God that Saul was an evil man. Then—and this part is remarkable—God told Ananias he had ALREADY told Saul that Ananias would come. AND that (in a way) Ananias could console himself by considering the magnitude of Saul’s God-task a punishment of a sort. Not that the task WAS Saul’s punishment, but that Ananias should know that Saul wouldn’t be getting off easy. And, if that weren’t enough, God told Ananias that Saul was the one whom he, God, had chosen to bring his name to the whole world. See, God calls who God calls (often those we ourselves wouldn’t choose), and God makes holy those who respond to God’s call.

At Church of the Resurrection, we have thought and talked a lot about “call” in the past several years. We have done so as we have discerned what we believe God is calling us, collectively, to do: tear down our beloved building and gift our community with workforce housing. “Resurrection, Resurrection;” this is hard work! Maybe we have been double-called, like Saul, because of the size of the task. But maybe we have been called more like Ananias to do something we ourselves, by ourselves, would not have chosen. Seems to me, though, how many times God calls our name, how many times God calls us into action, is not important in the big scheme of things. What is important is that God keeps calling, and that we—like both Saul and Ananias—faithfully do what God asks us to do.

We at Church of the Resurrection are not the only ones discerning our calling. A group of Jesus-followers at Christ Church and at St. Paul’s in Old Town Alexandria discerned God calling them to extend their emergency assistance mission to the people in need in the West End of Alexandria, where our church is located. And so, a collaboration was born last September of churches and organizations pooling their resources; of people called to be Christ’s hands and voices and hearts in the City’s West End. And THIS is how one call helps to validate another. For just as we at Resurrection were wondering if God wants a new church facility here in this place as well as affordable housing, the people and heart and call and mission of the West End Lazarus Ministry has shown us why we are still needed here in Alexandria’s Beauregard Corridor.

Much like Ananias and the other disciples who ministered to Saul in Damascus, the West End Lazarus Ministry is helping us to proclaim to our community that Jesus is the Son of God. Who knows whom God will call from our community into mission as a result?

The irony is that God calls each and every one of us, as many times as is required to:

  • Get our attention
  • Allay our fears
  • Reprove our bad judgment
  • Warn us of dangers
  • And above all, motivate us to do the hard things that God wants us to do.

Had Saul AND Ananias not responded to God’s call, would we, ourselves (any of us here today) have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, who was and is the Christ? So I ask:

  • What is Christ Jesus calling YOU to do?
  • What is Jesus the Christ calling US to do?
  • And how shall we respond?
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