Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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God Calls Us All

Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19

 The Bible has some great stories of God calling people into his service.  This morning we have heard two of the best ones from the New Testament.  

 We’ll start with Paul’s story in Acts.  When we first meet Paul, better known as Saul at that point, we find him involved in the murder of Stephen, the first Christian we know to have been martyred on account of his faith. Paul saw Christians as enemies of God, corrupters of the one true faith.

 By the way, when it comes to Paul’s name, some people think God changed his name from Saul to Paul.  I don’t think we see that in Scripture.  There is no “from now on you will be called Paul.”  More likely, Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul his Greek name.  Many Jewish people who traveled in Gentile circles had two different names, one in each language.  Sometimes names didn’t translate well from one to the other.  When we meet him in Jerusalem, he is going by Saul.  But when he goes out to minister to Gentiles on his first missionary journey, Acts 13:9 simply says, “Saul, also known as Paul,” and from that moment on we see his name as Paul as he ministers in Greek-speaking settings.  

 As I was saying, we first meet Paul in connection with Stephen’s martyrdom.  As Stephen is being stoned to death, he cries out to God, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  I have to wonder what kind of effect that had on Paul.  I wonder if it gnawed at his conscience, even as he continued to persecute the early Church.

 At this point, Christianity was still basically a Jewish movement.  There had been a few signs of it going beyond ethnic Jews, but it hadn’t really happened yet.  And when the persecution of Christians by other Jews began in earnest in Jerusalem, many of them fled to other regions.  So rather than putting an end to Christianity, the first persecution accelerated its growth.  

 Some of them went to Damascus.  Damascus was a large city, a center of trade, situated at an important crossroads.  We don’t know exactly how many Jews lived there, but we know it was tens of thousands.  This was the kind of place from which Christianity could spread rapidly.  So the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council, sends Paul with their authority to stamp it out.  Technically, the Sanhedrin had no legal authority outside Palestine, but Jews throughout the world recognized its spiritual authority.  

 And of course you know the story, on the way, Paul is struck to the ground by the voice of Jesus saying, “Why are you persecuting me?”  Jesus said in Luke 10:16 that persecution of his followers is actually persecution of him.  Jesus is so identified with his followers and his followers with him, that persecution of one is persecution of both.

 Paul is struck blind.  He fasts for three days in Damascus as a sign of his repentance.  Then God sends Ananias to him.  The fact that two separate people each receive a vision related to the same thing would serve as proof that this was God’s doing.  

 Initially, Ananias is resistant to God’s message.  He finds it hard to believe that God could turn Saul from enemy into friend.  But we should never doubt the power of God’s grace to transform others.  

 Saul receives his commissioning through Ananias. He is to become God’s messenger to the Gentile nations.  It is ironic that God would choose someone who belonged to the Pharisees, a strict sect of Judaism with exclusivist tendencies, to be the one to open the gospel to people of all nations.  But God doesn’t necessarily choose the “most likely” person for the job.  God often chooses the unlikely person, so that there will not be any doubt that the power to do God’s work is from God’s Spirit, not from our own abilities.  God can choose the person who fears public speaking to become a preacher.  If he chose the one who was already good at it, we might not be able to see God’s power at work.  

 Now Paul did have some qualifications for the job.  One is that he was highly educated in the Scriptures.  Another was that he was from outside of Palestine and a Roman citizen, so he could move more easily in the Gentile world.  But it was his views, his mindset that made him unlikely for the job.  The fact that he had been such a well known persecutor of the Church made him very unlikely for the job.  For the first couple years, everywhere he went, people asked, “Isn’t he the one who persecuted Christians?”  But that transformation became a powerful part of his testimony, and God worked through it.

 Then we heard the story of Peter.  Now in Paul’s case, he came to faith and was called to ministry basically in the same moment.  But Peter had already been a follower of Jesus.  He had already been the de facto leader of the twelve disciples.  But I think this was part of his calling to lead the early Church in Jerusalem and beyond.  

 We learn that Peter and the other disciples went back to fishing.  Now, I’ve heard some people make a big deal out of that part of the story.  I’m not sure we should.  Jesus was in ministry for three years with the twelve disciples.  And if you put together all the stories of the Gospels, I don’t think you’d come up with more than six to twelve months’ worth of events.  So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that from time to time, the disciples went back to work during their time with Jesus.  I mean, these guys still had families and everything.  Sometimes you have to pay the bills.  So I don’t think we should make a big deal and think that somehow this means that they were no longer doing what God wanted.

 They catch nothing all night.  In the morning, Jesus says, “Fish on the other side of the boat.”  And they make a big catch.  It’s basically the same miracle Jesus did with the fishermen disciples in Luke chapter 5.  That’s how they know it’s him.  

 They haul the fish to shore. They have breakfast.  And afterwards, Jesus has some questions for Peter.  Specifically, he has one question that he asks three times.  

 Why?  Well, because Peter denied Jesus three times when he was arrested.  When Peter had the chance to stand with Jesus no matter what, he fell short.  He denied him, and Jesus said that if we deny him before men, then he will deny us before his Father.  This is Peter’s chance at redemption.  Peter may have felt unworthy to serve Christ or lead others in the Church because of his failure at a critical moment.  But there is grace at work; God gives us second chances.

 Each time Peter says, “Yes, I love you,” Jesus gives him the same instructions:  “Feed my sheep.  Take care of my flock.”  If we love Jesus, we demonstrate it by our obedience.  We do what he asks us to do.  

 Then Jesus takes it a step further and says, “Peter, someday you are going to die for me.”  The early history of the Church says that Peter was martyred by crucifixion in the city of Rome, under Emperor Nero, somewhere around 64 AD.  It’s one thing to say “Jesus is my Savior, I will trust in him.”  It’s another to say, “Jesus is my Lord, I will serve him.”  And it’s still another level of devotion to say, “Even if it costs me my life, I will trust Jesus and serve him, no matter what.”  

 I think it’s easy for us to look at these two stories and think to ourselves, “Well, yeah, but that’s Peter and Paul.  Those guys are giants, maybe the two most influential men in the history of the Church.  Their stories have nothing to do with me.”  

 But God calls all of us to ministry.  The word ministry simply means “service.”  God calls all of us to serve him.  Not necessarily as a vocation, that is as a career, but certainly as a lifestyle.  Each of us is called to be a minister of the gospel.  We are called to share the gospel, the good news, of Jesus’ love for us and sacrifice on our behalf.  We are called to build up the Body of Christ, to encourage and nurture the faith of other believers.  And we are called to be salt and light in the world, to transform the world through God’s grace.  We are called to make the world around us more like the Kingdom of God.  We are called to works of justice, to make sure that all people are treated with dignity and equality.  And we are called to works of mercy, to lift up and bind up the broken and downtrodden.  

 I think the question we each need to ask ourselves is, “Do I have a place of ministry?”  Is there a place in your life where you are doing God’s work?  How are you sharing the good news of God’s love and grace? How are you building up the body of Christ?  How are you expressing the justice and mercy of God to the world around you?  

 In 1 Peter 1:16, God says, “You must be holy because I am holy.”  The word holy means set apart and not fit for ordinary use.  Our lives can’t be ordinary.  Our lives can’t be like the rest of the world around us.  We are called to more than the ordinary work of life, making money, raising children, etc.  We are called to the extraordinary work of God’s Kingdom.  We have to do the ordinary work, too, in order to survive.  We still have to go fishing.  But there must be more.  We must also “feed Jesus’ sheep” and “take his message” to the world.  Otherwise our lives are not holy, not different than the world around us.

Verse of the Day...