These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
The questions started when I was very young. "Jody, what do you want to be when you grow up?" I was probably only six or seven years old… and being asked a question about my life’s goals. My answer was very clear… I knew what I wanted to be… a garbage man. I had seen them ride on the back of trucks and what could be more fun… a better way to spend your life than getting to ride on the back of a truck all day long! Some would say many of us have jobs sort of like being a garbage man… without the truck!
It was about ten years later when the question popped up again… I was a Junior in High school… Jody… where do you want to go to college… what do you want to do… To be honest… I didn’t know for sure. Ministry was just one of many options I was considering at the time. Those are the tough questions… about what to do with your life… asked in many different ways.
Sometimes people come and talk to me about trying to understand God’s plan for their life… they know there must be one… but they don’t know what it is. I often quote my pastoral care professor Bill Oglesby who used to tell us, "Lord knows, but he ain’t telling."
I think Calvin would understand our struggle with the question. It wasn’t clear to him from the beginning what the plan was… what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Truth be told, in the beginning, his Dad was telling him what to be. At first, his Dad told him that he should study for the Catholic priesthood… he sent him away to college at age 14 to begin that career path with a good liberal arts education. Until Dad had second thoughts due to some issues with the Catholic church and his realization that maybe being a lawyer was a better profession. So he told his son to switch majors… study to be a lawyer… which is what he did and what he became… a lawyer…
That was all fine and good until he got mixed up in the Protestant movement of Reformers… started reflecting on the faith and writing on the faith… becoming very involved in the new church and the government of France started persecuting Protestants. So, Calvin would plan his escape as a refugee and set off on the road to Strasbourg.
He would go there to study… but on the way… he stopped in Geneva… and met a minister named William Farell who persuaded him… actually who threatened him with a curse from God… to stay and become a minister to the refugees there. Of course Calvin was simply on the way to Geneva, thank you very much. But Farrell was not the kind of person who would take "no" for an answer. So much for the practice of discerning your call.
So he stayed for three years… until he and the town council came to blows… and they threw him out of town. This was a personal crisis at first for Calvin. I guess being thrown out of town might be a crisis for anyone. Those of you who have been "let go" "terminated" "dismissed" would understand.
Calvin wondered if he really was called to be a minister. If God wanted him to serve, why did he lose his job? Why didn’t things go better? Was it God’s will? Where was God’s will in that?
Calvin sorted this out as he finally ended up in Strasbourg. One of the best things that ever happened to him, it turns out was being fired. Meeting Martin Bucer… a mentor and friend who set him up as the pastor of a church in Strasbourg. He met his wife there. He would have been happy to stay there the rest of his life… but a new town council from Geneva came calling and begged him to return… to resume his duties as pastor to the Reformed church there… and reluctantly he returned and resumed his ministry. In fact, he was preaching on the Bible book by book when he was thrown out… and he picked up where he left off! Calvin spent the rest of his life in Geneva. By all accounts he had a fairly productive life there. I’m told he had a successful ministry.
I think if Calvin were here and we were to ask him, " Where was God in all of that?" I think he might say, looking back he could see… God was at work in his story… his life… and God was at work in his life through all of that… maybe in mysterious ways… but God was there. Looking back you can often see what you cannot see looking forward.
And if we were to ask him what was his guiding principle that led him in his life… I think he would say it was very simple. He wanted to do God’s will. He was led by a deep desire to do God’s will… though sometimes it is hard to discern.
It is hard for many reasons. One of the main reasons is because our will gets in the way… even when we want to do God’s will. We don’t ask kids the question, "What do you think God wants you to with your life?" We don’t even ask each other that question. We ask "what do YOU want to do with your life?" Our first human instinct doesn’t seem to be to seek God’s will.
But for Calvin, this was a very important question. After all, our lives are on loan from God… they are a gift of God… we belong to God… so part of the question of God’s will for us is to at least ask, what is God’s will for my life? To start there.
Paul must have had a clearer understanding than we do that somehow our lives are caught up in the will of God. In the passage I read from Ephesians, Paul identifies himself as an "apostle" by the will of God. Not by his choice or personal desire but by God’s will. The passage goes on to talk about God choosing us before the foundation of the world… how God destined us for adoption… he speaks of the good pleasure of God’s will… how God has made known to us the mystery of his will… how God accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.
Read that and you get the sense that Calvin was right… we are not our own… we belong to God… and our lives are intertwined with God and the will of God for us and the world.
The will of God… the mystery of the will… said Paul. And it is the mystery which makes it so hard. Sometimes we wonder, don’t we… what is the will of God for my life… or even, what is the will of God for this situation or that situation… for this decision or that decision? We want it to be clearer. But often it is not.
I think of the story Barbara Brown Taylor tells about her desire to do God’s will in her life. She was praying… her whole heart was open to hearing from God what she was supposed to do with her life. And God said to her, "Anything that pleases you." Barbara said, "What?… What kind of answer is that?" "Do anything that pleases you,’ the voice in her head said again, "and belong to me." And belong to me.
She said, "At one level that answer was no help at all. The ball was back in my court again, where God had left me all kinds of room to lob it wherever I wanted. I could be a priest or a circus worker. God really did not care. At another level, I was so relieved… Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not WHAT I did but HOW I DID IT THAT MATTERED. God had suggested an overall purpose, but was not going to supply the particulars for me. If I wanted a life of meaning, then I was going to have to apply the purpose for myself. Later, (she says), I would find the work of Martin Luther helpful in this regard. A monk who become convinced that no livelihood was dearer to the heart of God than any other, he left the monastery to proclaim the priesthood of all believers. Whatever our jobs in the world happen to be, Luther said, our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor. " 1.
I think Calvin must have agreed with Luther… because Calvin believed that our main vocation is to seek to do God’s will… which the Scripture reveals as loving God and loving neighbor. That’s what Calvin saw when he read the scriptures. He read the law as an expression of God’s will… especially the 10 commandments… as God’s attempt to tell us what a life looks like when one lives according to the will of God. He knew that Jesus summed up all of the laws very simply: Love God… love Neighbor… Do that, and you will be doing God’s will.
The nice thing… is there are so many things that you can do with your life and still be in the will of God. There are many jobs where you can practice the will of God. (except Bank Robber, mob hit man, that sort of thing). Every human interaction in your home and school and work offers you a chance to practice the will of God for your life. It offers you a chance to make things better for God or worse for God.
Every work is important to God and can transform the world you live in and I live in to be a place where God’s will is done.
Again, Barbara Brown Taylor describes this well-happening in the ways few notice:
"The custodian who cleans empty classrooms at the elementary school creates a space into which tomorrow morning’s loud children will come. If they do not notice her work, then that is because she maintains their eight to three world in ways they have come to count on. If the sun did not come up one day, they would notice.
No work is too small to play a part in the work of (God’s) creation…At the Ford plant, the person in charge of left front tire bolts is vitally important to the mother who drives her children to school each day. Since this connection is not always apparent, it calls for a little extra effort.
Any worker with a good imagination should be able to come up with hundreds of people whom his or her work affects." 2.
Any worker with a good imagination should be able to apply the simple will of God to their job-asking maybe a simple question: "how, in this day, through my job-paid or unpaid… my job as a worker… a spouse… a father/mother… child… a student-how can I love God and neighbor. How in the way that I interact with people… speak to people… email people… how can I express love of God and neighbor?
James Howell, minister of Myers Park UMC in Charlotte wrote a book on the Will of God. He says, "to people flailing over seemingly basic decisions, I am tempted to say, ‘If you just had a passing familiarity with the basics of the Bible, you could resolve this easily.’ There is so much that is so clear, so simple, so doable, in the Bible. You could spend your entire lifetime keeping busy with what you could be absolutely positive is God’s will. "Do not get drunk" (Eph 5:18), "Do not judge" (Luke 6:37); and we’re told to ‘care for orphans" and "keep oneself unstained by the world" (Jas 1:27); "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control" It is God’s will that we be holy, lift up the poor, reconcile with enemies, avoid gossip, keep promises, attend worship, clothe the naked and express gratitude. Reminding myself of this demystifies God’s will for me…" 3.
You know, when I think about God’s will in that way…and I think about my life and yours… I realize there is a better question to be asked… that is far more profound. Maybe the question we should be asking our children and our youth and ourselves is this: NOT, what do I want to DO when I grow up? But, What do I want to BE when I grow up? Or better yet… What does God want me to Be when I grow up?" [I’m not just talking vocation here.]
For Calvin… and for most Christians I think the answer is simple… to be more like Christ… as much as we can… to grow into that image… to love God and love neighbor in a way that Christ loved God and neighbor…(be that when you grow up) to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven and to work for it… (that is God’s will) or at least try to… knowing that when we fail, the mercy of God will be there for us… For even that is God’s will… to be merciful and loving toward us…
How do I know? Because Paul says, God made the mystery of his will known to us in Christ… to reconcile… to love… to forgive… even when we fail. Which is why we can keep trying… because it is the desire that matters most to God… that pleases God and brings glory to God. Which Calvin said more than once, is the reason we are here to begin with. To bring God the glory as we live out our lives. Do that and you can be assured– you will be doing God’s will. Amen.
1. An Altar in the World p110-111
2. Ibid p115
3. The Will of God p23-24