February 8, 2015

Our “Calling”

Pastors and missionaries speak of their “calling” to full-time ministry. Sometimes others say of their tasks, whether writing, art, housework, raising children, teaching or farming, that this is their “calling.”

I’ve never had a calling like that. When people ask me what I will do after I get my degree, my only answer is that God has never given me any long-range plans. It is always “do the next thing” and I usually know what that is. All that said, one of the passages for today did give a general calling for me, even for all the people of God.

Moses went up Mount Sinai and the Lord called to him out of the mountain saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation . . . .” (Exodus 19:3–6)

God delivered His people from slavery, brought them to Himself, then told them to obey Him and be His children, but also to be “a kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation.” That is, they were responsible to mediate between God and his people, ensuring proper worship, and maintaining the spiritual health of the people of God. Besides being set apart by God for that task, they were to be holy, godly people while they did it.

Did they know what that would look like or how to do it? I don’t think so, for much of the first books of the Bible concentrate on instructions for how be holy people. Even the two chapters in today’s reading have directions from God about the way they must conduct themselves. The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” (Exodus 19:10–11)

They were going to experience God in a new way. He was going to meet with Moses and give Him the most important commands, beginning with: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) That is the first of the well-known Ten Commandments, without which the other nine are impossible. God must come first, otherwise I cannot keep any of them.

In reviewing this ancient event, I can see that this also is my calling. I am to intercede for others and to be holy as I do it, not doing it alone but with the Body of Christ. There is only way to fulfill that calling – with holiness. If I am not consecrated to God then I will fail in interceding for others.

The rest of the commandments are about holiness, telling God’s people what it looks like: no idols, no serving idols, honoring God, remembering the Sabbath rest, honoring parents, holding life sacred, sexual purity, respect for what belongs to others, no lying, no coveting. (Exodus 20:4–17) If I cannot do these, it is because I have exalted another God in His place.

Besides honoring God and other people, the Bible also gives instruction in worship: “You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’” (Exodus 20:22–26)

These are the beginning of many instructions, anticipating the folly of humanity in our attempts to worship God. He knew we would need help for we don’t know what honors or blesses Him. Yet at the same time, He blesses us and invites us to be with Him as a lover invites his precious darling. Solomon gives us a picture of God’s affection: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (Song of Solomon 2:14)

The NT picks up the theme of how to live out my calling as an intercessor, or one who brings people to God. This time it is the example of God Himself as He speaks to a sinful and needy woman at a well in Samaria. He asked her for a drink. Jews don’t speak to Samaritans, Jewish rabbis do not speak to women, but Jesus paid little attention to protocol and a great deal of attention to those who needed an introduction to God.

He said to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:7–10)

In obeying my calling to be an intercessor and part of a holy nation, I need to remember that intercession is more than praying. I can do that alone in my prayer places or with other Christians, but intercession also means going where people are, even the outcasts of society, and treating them with respect. How will they listen to the good news of Jesus Christ if the bearer of that news cannot get beyond their lifestyle, habits, or social status to talk to them? Intercession also means being holy, but not ‘holier than thou’ – an attitude that will make whoever I talk with feel like an outcast, or worse, a project.

God calls me, but also calls all His children to care about the lost in the world around us. We need to take to them the message that God has given us. I can imagine holding the hand of God with one hand and the hand of people with the other, drawing the two together, face-to-face that they also can share in the living water that He has given us.

If there is a greater calling, I cannot imagine what it is.

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