Call – Ephesians 4:1-16
A few years ago, I told you a story of friend called Vikki who came to the church Aron and I attended in Sydney. She had grown up Catholic and gone to Catholic schools, but when she left school, she left the church behind. But in her late thirties – married to a lovely man with three children and a successful career in public relations and a beautiful home in Sydney’s north – she felt something was missing. So she decided – not to find a Catholic church – but to attend the nearest church and we beat the Anglicans by 85 metres! It was a delight to see her growing in faith and re-discovering the treasures of her Catholic upbringing!
About this time her family took a major road trip, right across Australia, with friends, and, because it was new and rather strange to her friends, Vikki’s identifying herself as Christian often came up in conversation. One day, driving along an usually good bit of road in a remote part of the Northern Territory, a friend in another car radioed, “Vikki, how about you ask God when this road went through!”
Vikki was working out how to respond to this when a new voice broke in, “G’day. It’s God here. I can tell you that the first bit of road – a bullock track – was here in the 1890’s.”
There was sudden radio silence in the convoy of vehicles, and then they relaxed and for the next half an hour or so they proceeded to ask ‘God’ questions. “When did the road get sealed? How many people lived around there? When did the first Europeans move arrive? What was the name of the local Aboriginal people?” etc.
Then another new voice broke in, “This is God’s wife. And if he doesn’t stop mucking around on the radio and get home for lunch he’ll miss out. Over and out.” End of conversation.
I love this story because although (spoiler alert) it was not God on the radio, this happened at a time in Vikki’s life when the call of God – a call that had been there all her life – came through loud and clear and she committed her life to Christ.
In today’s passage from Ephesians, Ephesians 4:1-16, the writer uses the language of ‘call’ to refer to conversion, to becoming a Christian, but also to describe the life of a Christian. “Lead a life [verse 1] worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” When Christ calls men or women, this call is not an isolated experience and it is not an individual experience – we are called to a calling shared with others, a calling that calls us together and calls us into the world.
If you look at the dictionary definition of ‘calling’ the call of Christ is much close to the second definition. (A strong urge towards a particular way of life or career; a vocation; “those who have a special calling to minister to others’ needs.”)
This particular way of life is also called the priesthood of all believers. As 1 Peter 2:9 says, together, we, “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, [called] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into God’s marvellous light.”
In the church Aron and I attended in Japan the cover of the church bulletin listed our staff (it’s at the bottom of our electronic bulletin) but next to the heading of ministers it said, “All of us!” All of us are called to be ministers; to care for each other, to encourage each other; to share the grace of God we have been given (verse 7). It is excellent that we will be looking for more staff in a little while, but it is even more excellent that we already have 150 plus active ministers!
But, for a range of reasons, people are sometimes not that excited about the idea of the priesthood of all believers. To some it sounds like work, and they have more than enough work to do. Or it sounds like responsibility, and they already feel burdened by the responsibilities they have. Priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor, writes:
I will never forget the woman who listened to my speech on the ministry of the laity as God’s best hope for the world and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be that important.
Like many who sit beside her at church, she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to do more. Or she hears the invitation to ministry as an invitation to be more – to be more generous, more loving, more religious. No one has ever introduced her to the idea that her ministry might involve being just who she already is and doing just what she already does, with one difference: namely, that she understands herself to be God’s person in and for the world.
The writer of Ephesians reminds us, however, God’s grace, just like the person of Christ, does not remain far above all the heavens, but has also descended and entered our human experience. As Taylor says, God works through who we already are; doing what we already do; with this one difference, that we know we are God’s people in and for the world – that the gifts we have, however small in our eyes, are gifts for God and for others.
Five hundred years ago, the German monk Martin Luther also emphasised that the priesthood was not the exalted role of a few, but that all were called to a calling. He made a careful distinction between a Christian’s calling and a Christian’s office. Your office, he suggested, is what you do for a living – teacher, shopkeeper, carer, priest – and all these offices are valued by God – “none of them is any dearer to the heart of God than any other”. In your office you use the gifts and abilities God has given you, and across all our individual offices, our mutual calling, is to serve God.
Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures …. there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools and other implements in your house and estate, and they shout this to your face: “My dear, use me toward your neighbour as you would want him to act towards you with that which is his.”
For calling, as I said at the beginning, calls us together and into the world. We are called (verse 12) “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’, but this is not an end in itself, for the work of the Body of Christ is to show the love of God for our world. Love that is ‘wide and long and high and deep’ (back in chapter 3). Love that extends ‘above all and through all and in all’ (verse 6).
Two months ago, I was involved with the Micah Women Leaders Delegation, among 40 women leaders from 12 different church denominations, who shared with MPs our concern for the vast vaccine disparity between richer nations and poorer nations, the Covid 19 related famine now affecting millions and the trajectory of overseas aid. The week after was Knit for Climate Action where we gave politicians scarves which although beautiful – and beautifully knitted – communicated the terrible message of how our planet is warming with catastrophic results.
And at both events was my friend Vikki, Vikki who heard the call of God on her life so many years ago and who over the years has used her gifting, her public relations background, her ability to communicate a message, to serve her local church and lead organisations committed to sharing God’s vision of love for our whole earth.
We cannot go very far at present. We are in lockdown. but we can still use our gifts, the gifts we have been given; encouraging, speaking truth, sharing grace, caring, loving, teaching, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” – together in Christ and together in love.