The call is central and basic to the human experience of God. So Abraham received the transcendent spiritual call 'Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.' (Genesis 12:1) We are not told the psychology of this call. Was it an actual voice? Was it a thought implantation? Was it sudden and instantaneous or was it a given suggestion and idea that became stronger over a period of time? A recent scientific programme on TV ended with scientists accepting and Richard Dawkins admitting that the human brain is hard wired to God. So - ‘God speaks - human hears’ is not such an unnatural occurrence. Abraham had a powerful and personal sense of God in his consciousness, life, mind, soul and spirit. This informed him and guided him and drove him all his days. It did not however, make him perfect and he made mistakes. But the Christian understanding of ‘Call’ originated with Abraham.
The Old Testament is the record of individuals similarly called to know and serve God in differing times and circumstances. Little Samuel had been dedicated to God by his mother Hannah and she took him to live with the prophet Eli in the sanctuary at Shiloh when he was only 3 or 4 years of age. Samuel was sleeping in the temple and he heard a call. Samuel thought it was Eli who had called him so he went to him. The little boy must have been perplexed when Eli told him that he had not called him. This happened twice. The text tells us 'Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him'. The third time Samuel heard his name being called and went to Eli, Eli realised that it was God speaking directly to Samuel. He told Samuel it was God speaking and the next time to reply 'Speak Lord, for your servant is listening'. Then Samuel received his first prophetic call which was to criticise and condemn Eli’s family for being unfaithful and corrupt and extortionate and for misusing their position and inheritance. Eli himself was good but his sons had not followed in his steps. They acted in a similar if much less violent way to the sons of Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak and Muuamar Gaddafi acted in our own time, misusing their father’s political power. Many Christian men and women today shed silent tears that their own children do not follow in the Lord’s ways and have not become Christians in adult life. And some know grief and heartbreak that their own flesh and blood brought up within the influence of the Church have not turned out to be good people. So it was with Eli. But the young Samuel was courageous enough to tell Eli the details of God’s judgement. Eli did not rebuke Samuel and he did not contest the judgement. He said, 'He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes'.
The sense of call in the Old Testament is most acute in the lives of the prophets who were extraordinary characters living on the edge of personal security and providence as they without fear or favour criticised the customs, morals and behaviour of the people of God and called them back to faithfulness to their part of the bargain of the Covenant that had been made with God by their forebears. Some suffered abuse and others were murdered for their troubles. Humans do not want God too close in their lives - a point acknowledged by the poet TS Eliot in Burnt Norton. 'Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind cannot bear very much reality'. So the prophet Elijah who would be seen as a basket case today as he fought terrible battles with the priests of alternative religions as would his New Testament counterpart John the Baptist who challenged everyone’s cosy lazy lifestyles. The prophet Hosea had a wife who did not understand him and became a prostitute - although heartbroken - he creatively used this personal humiliation to communicate the humiliation of God as His people went after other gods and left their calling and purpose.
The Call was collective also for the People of God were called as a community. In the 8th century BC, Isaiah preached, 'Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool' (1:18). It was said that by the time of Jesus, the voice of prophecy had been silent for centuries. We know the feeling. Today, political correctness makes it impossible for the radical Christian critique of society to be spoken or heard. Every preacher of the Old and New Testaments including Jesus of Nazareth would fall foul of religious hatred laws in this land of ours. Not for preaching hatred at all or inciting violence - but for uttering critical truth about human values and lifestyles measured against the revealed teachings of the living God.
The Christian era began with the call of his disciples by Jesus. We are familiar with His summons of Peter, James and John and the others who also became disciples. The call was a call to many things, friendship with Jesus, following Him as the school of a Rabbi, being initiated into the Kingdom of God, receiving divine powers of healing and exorcism; this later transformed into spiritual and church leadership, sacrificial living, apostolic empowerment and for some martyrdom. Stephen was only a young man when he confessed Jesus Christ to the point of death. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ and when he has said this, he fell asleep.
Christian calling throughout the centuries has produced a myriad of exceptional, wonderful, eccentric, colourful, interesting, able, high achieving and successful people. People as distinct in character as St Francis and Martin Luther both of whom touched an aspect of the majesty and mystery of Jesus Christ. Great Christians like William Wilberforce who successfully led the abolition of slavery movement and Charles Wesley who wrote these marvellous hymns. Florence Nightingale and William Booth who founded the Salvation Army. Chad Varah who began the Samaritans and Desmond Tutu who makes the world smile. Many were taken from very little by the love and guiding hand of God to become great people who left permanent positive benefits to the human community. Christian calling is not for its own sake. It is testimony to the reality of the ongoing love of God for earth, humanity and creation. Christian calling distinguishes the nature and character of God. God exists - proof of which is the lives of those called to serve in the Name of Jesus. Scientists may say that this is not mathematical or laboratory proof. But it is certainly visible, quantifiable proof. Christians make a difference wherever they are. God is not distant and uncaring - having created what we see and them left it to take its course. God is not petulant, quirky, irascible or vindictive. God is loving and imaginative. God is knowable and understandable and personal relationship is possible with God. All these things we deduce for Christian calling. Christian calling is a mass human movement, the largest in the world. It is an immeasurable unquantifiable force for good, more influential today than it has ever been. Christianity brought an end to the former Soviet empire. Christianity made reconciliation in South Africa possible. Christianity inspires struggles for truth, justice and peace throughout the world still. Jesus as Prince of Peace is outstandingly different from the leaders of the other two major monotheistic faiths, Moses and Mohammad. Unlike them, Jesus lived in peace and died at peace, having established his non-violent kingdom which miraculously survived the terrors of the ancient world and the middle ages.
The call is something given in many different ways to many different people. It comes to every Christian not to just a few. It is as hard to be a Christian in a place of work today as it is to be a full time Christian minister. It is as hard to be a Christian parent as it is to be a public advocate for Christianity in an unbelieving and apostate society. It is as hard to be a believing praying serving Christian in this generation as in any other. If we lose heart and enthusiasm and begin to wonder if it is worthwhile at all, we should remember Jesus’ own words. 'You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last'. We are not the authors of our own Christian calling. It is not about us. We are not called for ourselves, for our own pleasure or for our own recognition. It’s all about Jesus. The call is not to the proud and self-sufficient but to the humble of heart. Richard Dawkins has never realised that God is revealed to those of open minded disposition. He cannot see that God is not the god of self reliant self opinionated self aggrandising intellectuals. The issue is not whether God exists or not. The issue is ‘Why has Richard Dawkins not responded to God calling?’ Like Saul of Tarsus, he kicks against the thorns and keeps hurting himself.
Christian calling gives to everyone a life less ordinary. It is an immeasurable privilege to live in the company of the Risen Jesus. Nothing can touch or harm the dimension of living faith that is imparted and treasured within us. Once Someone has risen from the dead, everything is possible. 'There is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, in heights or depths - nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord'.