Scripture: Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:35-42
I am going to share a story of two sisters with you. You may be familiar with them; their names are Elsa and Anna. Elsa has magical powers - she can freeze anything she touches, she can create snow, and she has this connection to an “otherly” spiritual world. Anna is her adventurous, younger sister.
Without giving away any spoilers, in the most recent telling of their story, Frozen II, Elsa hears what she names a “siren” calling out to her. In full lyrical stylings, she sings about not wanting to give in to it - about wanting to ignore the whispers and wishing it would go away - about how she’s already had her adventure and doesn’t want to risk following this siren call “into the unknown.”
It’s a classic storyline struggle - hearing a “call” and being unsure of what to do next. We most often hear it in relation to the big heroes - Elsa hearing the siren, Batman getting a bat signal, the notorious RBG sitting on the Supreme Court, Jonah delivering a message to Ninevah (and ending up in whale).
Specifically, with Elsa’s story, we see a few parallels with our Scripture today that I hope will help us see how this storyline isn’t just for the big heroes, but for us as well. (Hear me out.)
- She hears a calling, a yearning from within
- She tries putting off following that call
- She acknowledges that to follow that calling comes with risk
In today’s verses from Isaiah, we see the same thing. Different context, but same themes.
- The servant hears a calling from within. “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.”
- The servant tries putting off following that call. “But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing”
- The servant will risk much by following the Lord’s call. “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations.”
The same three themes. Feeling the call. Holding the call at arm’s length. Accepting the risk.
Exactly who the servant in the Isaiah is widely debated - because at one point the servant is to serve Israel and then at another point the servant is identified as Israel. Scholars for centuries have debated this; I’m not going to try to solve the mystery. Either way, the overarching theme remains: hearing a call to service and figuring out to do with it.
(It will actually be the topic of our January Progressive Pints next Monday: how are we called in our lives.)
Hearing a call to do something - a call to action - a call to live a certain way - can be scary and exciting all at one time. Some people feel called to a certain career field. Some people feel called to advocate for specific social justice or environmental causes. Some people have never felt a specific calling to anything and are wondering what the mess they’re doing.
I do believe that as we read verses like Isaiah and throughout the Bible, that we are ALL called as Christians to live lives that mirror (as close as possible) the life that Jesus lived.
we hear the call from within...we hear it in our yearnings to gather as a church, we hear it in our yearnings to be closer with God we probably have gone through some moment where we’d like to ignore that call...realizing that living a Christ-filled life may mean giving up selfish ways we know that there is risk involved…friends may not understand us, people may mock us, in some cases, we may be persecuted
There is a general call to humanity to continue finding ways of bringing God’s kingdom of peace, love, justice, and mercy into this world today. We pray for God’s guidance and wisdom in doing so. Over the past couple weeks, that has been a theme: guidance. We drew star words on Epiphany to guide us through the year; we remembered that God’s promises guide us toward hope; and today we reflect on guidance in responding to God’s call.
So, how do we respond to this call? I’m talking mainly about a general call to humanity. We’re going to discuss those more specific calls at Pints in another week. How do we respond to that general call to humanity?
Well, let’s turn back to our sisters in Frozen...
Y’know, Elsa doesn’t get all the great moments in the movie. Her younger sister, Anna, is faced with a challenging moment as well mid-movie. In her lyrical stylings, she sings about doing the next right thing. She sings...
“Take a step, step again
It is all that I can/ to do The next right thing
I won't look too far ahead
It's too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make”
In deciphering how we respond to the call of living a Christ-filled life, we can get overwhelmed at times. “I can’t be nice to everyone all the time….I can’t save every species from becoming extinct….I can’t take in all the foster children.” Of course you can’t. No one person can do all the things all the time for all the people.
But. In this moment, we can do the next right thing. We can do hard things.
Crazy coincidence, this same message of taking the step to do the next right thing is found in Scripture as well! This is not just in the Gospel of Frozen!
- For example, The Lord’s Prayer says “Give us this day our daily bread.” Give us today what we need. Just today. What strength do you need for today, so that you can do whatever the next right thing, the next step is?
- Also, in Matthew 6, Jesus says “Don’t worry about tomorrow...today’s trouble is enough for today.” Focus on what needs to be done today.
I’m not suggesting that you throw off planning for the future altogether. I am suggesting, though, that when you hear that nudging from within - to make a positive change toward more Christ-centered living - don’t become overwhelmed with “well, the world is going to hell in a hand basket anyway” mentality.
Christine Yoder remarks on how this call is extended to all of us as a community: “God’s claim insists community look beyond their own release and restoration to that of the world.”
In thinking of people and communities who have heard and responded to the call of the world’s restoration, in conjunction with this weekend, I of course think of Martin Luther King, Jr. We will not all be MLK, Jr; however, we can learn from his example of taking each step necessary to bring about change. For us today, we can take the step to not discriminate against others who are different than us. For us today, we can take the step to listen to a person the next time they share their experience of being attacked or bullied for their skin color.
One step at a time; doing the next right thing.
The John verses today show Andrew & Simon doing the next step. As they encounter Jesus and ask for the rabbi, the teacher, Jesus responds with “Come & see.” Before they can fully see, they must take the next step to follow - literally and metaphorically.
I believe this is the call that Jesus makes toward us all. “Come and see.” The call won’t end when we respond with that first step; it will continue each day and each month and each year with a new call to “Come and see.” Yet, we respond one step at a time.
I pray that we all hear the call, even when scary. I pray we are not overwhelmed by the call, but guided by the Holy Spirit to simply do the next right thing.