Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Are you ready to get zapped?” That was a question students at seminary asked each other right around Call Day – the day you find out where you are going after graduation. The question comes from a particular place, a town named Zap. Zap had a reputation for being a very difficult place to serve. In fact, legend had it that they were annually calling from the seminary because pastors could only stand to be there for one year.
There was even a story of one Call Day service. As normal, students were called one by one to receive their placement. There were “oh’s” and “ah’s” when someone got a call to Honolulu, Hawaii or Miami Beach, Florida. But, finally, when one student was called to Zap, there was silence; and the only thing that broke the silence was the voice of the student’s wife, “Oh man! We’ve been zapped!” Incidentally, that was the last time the call service was broadcast over the radio.
Now, I don’t know how you got here to church this morning, what mode of transportation brought you here. Did you come by yourself, or were others with you? Are you happy or unhappy to be here this morning? Yet none of that matters much because let’s face it: all of us are Christians, disciples of Jesus, so in a sense we all got here the same way. We were zapped.
For example, take Moses hiding out in Midian. He killed a man back in Egypt and he is hiding out, working for his father-in-law, a “priest of Midian” who does a little sheep herding on the side. Suddenly a bush bursts into flame. A voice says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry… I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them… And you, Moses, I am taking you with me. You’re zapped!”
Even though Moses was not much of an orator, even though he was scared to death of the mighty Pharaoh, he went.
Or take little Samuel, asleep in the middle of the night. In the darkens the boy hears his name called. Called three times before he gets the point. Who would call a boy to do a man’s job? “The house of Eli will be cast down and the voice of God will be spoken to a new generation,” says the Lord. “And you, Samuel, will be my voice. You are zapped.”
The teenage Isaiah. Maybe he didn’t want to go to church that day but his mother made him. Then, without warning, the heavens open, there is a vision and a voice.
At first, young Isaiah says, “Not me! I’ve got a lot of baggage. I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
The Lord says, “Perfect. You are just the sort of honest person I need. Isaiah, the people won’t listen to you, but you’ve been zapped.”
Do you see? Many of you think that you are here because you chose to be here at Immanuel, maybe you liked the music or the school; or maybe you think you are here because your mother made you feel guilty so you got dressed and came to church. No. You are here because God put you here, at this time, in this place, in this particular church. You are here because God said to you, in some way or another, “I’ve got plans for you. You are zapped.”
It is no mere coincidence that all the Gospels depict Jesus as we meet him in today’s Gospel: as always on a journey, always on the move. It is rare that Jesus ever sits down and settles somewhere.
Jesus walked along a road. He saw some men bending over their nets in a boat. “Follow me!” he called, “You’ve been zapped” And even though they didn’t know where it was all going to lead, they did! What did they think Jesus meant when he said “I will make you fishers of men?” Did they have any idea that some of them would end up being crucified, as Jesus would be? Did James, the brother of John, have the slightest idea that within a few years he would be dead, killed on the orders of Herod?
Or did Peter think that he would end up with a huge church in Rome dedicated to his memory; or did Andrew suppose that whole countries (Scotland, Greece, Russia) would regard him as their patron saint? No, they didn’t. God in his mercy would reveal things little by little. They saw neither the glory nor the pain, that day when Jesus walked by the sea in their little town of Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. They only saw Jesus; and that was enough. And He zapped them. He took them places they would have never gone by themselves.
The same thing happens today. A young man gives up a promising legal career to become a preacher, throwing away a lifetime of high earnings for a lifetime of pastoring and teaching a church. Another person abandons her remarkable gifts as a singer in order to study theology and become a deaconess. And yet another becomes a teacher, that one a prison chaplain, this one a missionary. Jesus is still out there, moving around, zapping people.
But sometimes, this is where we get this wrong. You see, it is easy to stop right there are say “well in this country religion is a private matter. Personal. It is all right to be religious, as long as we keep it within these four walls and don’t go public with it”; or “Well, I don’t want to be pushy. I don’t want to force my faith on anyone else. I don’t think religion should be something you wear on your sleeve”; or “I am just not good at talking about my faith. I don’t know the right words to use.” In any case, it is easy to think, “Let’s leave it to the professionals – to those who have been obviously called.”
But that is not the story! The story is that these more obvious calling are only the tip of the iceberg of Christian vocation. There are Christians in millions of other walks of life who regularly give up lifestyles and practices that look attractive and lucrative in order to maintain honesty, integrity, faith, hope, and love. There are millions of Christians who choose self-sacrifice over self-fulfillment. The there are millions of Christians who understand that we are united to our family and community, and my identity and task as a called child of God is to love and serve them despite the cost to my own desires and plans.
You see, everyone is here because you got put here; you got called. Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism: “the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth” For some of you, it was dramatic and life-changing, for others it was a lifetime of quiet leading and coaxing. For every last one of you, God reached in, grabbed you. You got called, got gathered, got enlightened… got zapped.
I got put here as an infant. I can’t remember a time when I was not a Christian, a disciple of Christ. I was about 20 days old when I got baptized. Without asking me, the pastor poured water over my head with those powerful words, “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” My mother told me that I screamed. But I guess that is about right – that seems to be what happens when you get zapped.
Because it isn’t easy work. We are prone to sometimes fail. Thank God we are not called to be successful, or nice, or even friendly. Just faithful. Are you ready to get zapped? The good news is that Jesus is going places and we are the ones who get to go with him.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.