January 18, 2015

Called Into Being


We recall this morning the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. It’s a story we know; you’ve probably seen it in a hundred images. There is always John, wearing a very shaggy swimsuit; there is Jesus, sometimes clothed, sometimes not, always looking amazingly pious, and never, ever looking as though he is not in the least daunted by the temperature of the water. And there is usually a bird of some kind in the top of the picture; sometimes it looks as though it’s floating there, sometimes it appears to be dive-bombing the scene in the river, sometimes it has rays shining down from it, or through it, or around it—you get the idea.

You know the scene, and you know the story.

So it might occur to you: Why on earth do we start the readings appointed for this day all the way back in Genesis—indeed at the very beginning of Genesis?

Quick Old Testament recap: One of the first things we learn about the book of Genesis after we get out of Sunday School and get through Confirmation class is that there are two creation stories, not just one, in the book of Genesis. One is in chapter one; the other is in chapter two.

God creates in different ways in these two different stories. Let’s take the second one first. In the second story of creation, God makes things. God forms us out of the earth; he plants a garden so that we have something to eat; and he puts us in the garden. It’s a very action-comics sort of creation story.

But the first story of creation is different. It’s a little more esoteric. Things come into being quite literally because God says so. You may think of it as the “Simon Says” story of Creation. Simon says, let there be light; there is light. Simon says, let there be water above the sky and water below the sky; and there is water above the sky and below the sky. Simon says, let there be land and water; and there is land and water. Let there be unicorns—and—no, no, see, there was no “Simon says” there. No unicorns.

Here’s the point; God speaks, and things are called into being. What gets you created is God speaking you into being. Another way to understand this is that the way God expresses love for something is to speak its name. God calls us by name, and we are created; we are quite literally loved into being.

Hold that thought, and skip ahead to the story of John and Jesus and the river. Here are two grown men doing something quite extraordinary, something even pretty dangerous; they are walking into a river together.

Neither of them could probably give a clear account of what they are doing. John has been taken by a sense of tremendous urgency to bring people to take account of their lives, and he is very effective at doing it; people come flocking to him, and he responds by baptizing them to help them start off on a new path.

Jesus may not be quite sure why he his doing it; he just knows he feels that he must. And when he does, his baptism isn’t like anyone else’s; because there is this voice from heaven, speaking something that becomes true by virtue of the fact it is God saying it.

So what happens in the story at the river is a recapitulation of what happened way, way back at the very beginning, in the first Genesis story of creation. The way things come into being is that God speaks; and when God calls it into being, it comes into being. It’s true of the created universe.

But it’s also true of Jesus; Jesus, in a fundamental way, is called into being as the second person of the Trinity at the moment of his baptism. All of the potential was there until that moment;  in that moment, the potential is realized.

Well, okay; true for creation, and true for Jesus. But it is also true for us. It’s not just true about us for our existence; it’s not just true that we are because God called us into being.

It’s also true for who we are. When we are baptized, what is potential in us becomes real. We are given the task of figuring out what that is.

So the question is, what has God called you to become? What are you called into being?

Your baptism comes with a vocation. Every baptism comes with a vocation. Many of us, maybe even too many of us, spend too much of our lives either determined to do something that has nothing to do with God’s unique call for us, or casting around at this and that trying to find it—and never quite getting there.

We take the cues of the society around us, and we value those cues more than the signals our own souls are sending us about who it is we’re supposed to be.

Whatever you are called into being, that is your vocation. You may do other things; but what you are supposed to be is something separate, something absolutely true, and something not always easy to claim.

Some of us are called into being partnered with someone in marriage. Some of us are not. Some of us are called into being parents. Some of us are not. And some of us end up on the wrong side of that in one way or another.

Some us end up doing things we are not actually called to do just because we think it will give us something we want—money, or fame, or respect, or attention, or love. These used to be the reasons most of us went into professions-—medicine, law, even, dare I say it, the church. A lot of people I’ve known go into the ministry for one or more of those reasons. They don’t turn out to do themselves or their congregations much good.

I want to end this by bringing it a little closer to home. Yesterday in this church we bid farewell to our brother John Evans and commended him to the eternal care of the loving God who made him and called him into being. John was, as most of you know, a man who loved this church, and who loved every one of us in it.

But he was something much more. He was, in no small way, a perfect example of the idea I’m trying to communicate this morning. Because John Evans knew, somehow knew, exactly what he had been called to be.

He did nothing partially. He did nothing half-way. He chose his involvements with great care, and the things he chose did not just become him; he became them. He signed up for the Navy in 1933, hardly a popular thing then; he didn’t leave it until 1975, when it wasn’t very popular again. He joined this church in 1949, sixty-six years to the day from the day on which we buried him; he never looked back. He served the Lions Club for decades. He was called to be a husband and a father, and he kept those commitment with the greatest fidelity.

John Evans was a man of true and deep devotion. He made his choices with great care, and the things he chose received everything he could possibly bring to them. And because of that devotion, he was an example of one thing more—absolute, solid, integrity. All of his pieces didn’t just fit him; they all fit together.

None of us are called to do the same things that John was. But all of us are called to our own vocations, and given the challenge of devoting ourselves to them with the same clarity of purpose. What John’s example teaches us, perhaps more effectively than any bible stories, is that this is the key to true fulfillment, true contentment.

Finding, claiming, and devoting ourselves to the singular purpose God has set before us; giving up our own set of measures, our own self-designed schemes, for the higher purposes God has designed for us; and devoting ourselves to them fully and faithfully; that is where true fulfillment, true integrity, can be found. Thank you, God, for the purpose you give us; help us to hear when you call it forth from us. Thank you, John, for the example you set among us; help us to learn from it. Amen.