Called by Name

Sermon at Christ Church on September 3, 2017

“Get behind me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Pretty harsh words to Peter, lead disciple—equating him with Satan. You may remember that earlier, just after his baptism, Jesus went out into the wilderness for 40 days where Satan tempted him to perform miracles and to worship him and not God. We might think of the baptism as God calling Jesus to mission—and the temptations were Satan’s attempts to divert Jesus from that mission. In that sense, then, Peter was taking on Satan’s role.

Jesus was talking with his disciples and told them that he planned to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer and be killed. This wasn’t something they wanted to hear—and definitely not the outcome that they’d been imagining. So “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ Then he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’” Peter was attempting to divert Jesus from his divine calling and mission.

There’s another call story in Exodus—an account of a burning bush that was not consumed. Moses saw this sight while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the land of Midian. It’s a familiar and beautiful scene where God’s angel calls to him, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses replies, “Here I am.”

Then God tells Moses that he has heard the cries of his people in Egypt and has observed their suffering. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” A moment before, Moses was responding to God, “Here I am.” But now that he understands what he’s being called to do, he starts to think of several different reasons why he shouldn’t do it. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Why, I don’t even know your name. Whom should I tell Pharaoh and the Hebrews has sent me? I AM WHO I AM. Tell them I AM has sent you.

Here am I. Who am I? I AM WHO I AM. There’s an entire word study to be done in these few verses on the verb “to be,” and how it is the name of God. But that’s for another time.

For now, let’s focus on being called by God to a divine mission. As we just observed, Moses readily agreed, only to start backing away when he realized just how difficult a task it was. Each time he objected (I don’t know your name; I’m not very articulate), God had an answer. And so Moses responded to the call. He went down into Egypt land, and told ole Pharaoh to let his people go. Eventually he led his people in their Exodus from slavery, out of the land of oppression. And Jesus, likewise, responded to his call to go down to Jerusalem, overcoming Peter’s (Satan’s) efforts to derail him from challenging the priests and scribes of the Temple and the governor of the Roman state in Palestine.

The call is from God. And God calls each one of us by name.

You don’t remember being called by name? Maybe you were too young. Or maybe you didn’t understand that the occasion was just as significant as Moses’ at the burning bush or Jesus as he rose out the baptismal waters of the Jordan River. But a call it was when someone said your name “(Jane, Patricia, Greg, Anthony), I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

And what is your calling? The specifics will vary depending upon the time, the context, ability, and the opportunities presented. But the general terms of the call are these.

  • Trust in God the Father.
  • Trust in God the Son.
  • Trust in God the Holy Spirit.
  • Continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.
  • Persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
  • Proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
  • Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.
  • Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Never underestimate the brutality and devastation that existed in the times of Moses and Jesus—some man-made and some natural disasters and plagues. But even against that backdrop, the calling is the same. Stand up for what is right, what is just. Speak out God’s truth. Be loving and humane. Resist evil. Strive for peace.

These past weeks and months have been horrendous as we’ve witnessed renewed and overt expressions of racism from some government officials to the Ku Klux Klan, from Brightbart news to White Nationalists and neo-nazis. There have been disastrous monsoons in Asia and Hurricane Harvey in Texas. There has been a renewed call from the Southern Baptists that in the name of Jesus we should discriminate against LGBTQ people. Resist evil. Find ways and forums to say, “NO, we will not discriminate against our brothers and sisters!”

Foreigners and immigrants are disparaged and the drumbeat of fear mongers is regularly heard in our land. Remember our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This is Labor Day weekend. This week we heard that the Wells Fargo banking scandal was almost twice as large as previously reported. Worse: when employees reported illegal activities to the bank’s ethics department, they were fired and blackballed from ever finding other jobs in the financial services industry. Slavery comes in many forms; one of which is to keep quiet about wrongdoing or lose your livelihood and put your family at risk.

We remember especially those who labor under duress, who work hard at low-paying jobs, who seek meaningful work but cannot find it, whose jobs have ceased to exist or have moved away, those who are forced to compromise their values in order to have an income, the 50% of working Americans who live paycheck to paycheck—just one storm, one illness, one government shutdown away from financial disaster.

We’ve had a sign out front all summer, created and placed there, to remind us that “We’re all in the same boat together.” Part of our call from God is to never forget that we are all children of the one God. When we lose sight of that, like the Texas congressmen and senators who voted against relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, then it may take an “Act of God” to wake us up to a larger reality.

Woody Guthrie was the troubadour of the labor movement in the twentieth century. Among his best-known tunes is an unofficial national anthem that we all learned in school or from groups like Peter, Paul, and Mary.

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

Positive, upbeat, hand-clapping Americana. Then there are the last two verses that rarely make it into most songbooks or performances.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Is this land, this earth, this fragile island home (as one of our Eucharistic Prayers says) for just a few, for the benefit of a few, or is it created by God for all God’s people? Black and brown, yellow and white? You have been called by name to affirm the humanity and dignity of all, to resist evil and hate, strive for justice and peace. This is our baptismal call. As Moses went to confront Pharaoh and Jesus turned his head toward Jerusalem, so are we to heed the call of God. It is our purpose—our reason for being. Amen.