“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters” (1 Cor. 1:26).
We begin by saying, with the Apostle Paul, that each of us is called by God. St. Paul invites us, in our reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, to consider our call: that is, to remember once again that we became followers of Jesus Christ by invitation. What was true of the church in Corinth is true of the church today. We’re all here because God has asked for the pleasure of our company. We’ve all been called to ministry.
Sometimes Christians think that “the call” is something only addressed to a sub-set of Christians, usually the ordained. But that’s not the whole story. The importance of ordination ought to be fresh in our minds after December’s joyful liturgy, and I do not intend to take anything away from my own order. After all, St. Paul claims that he is “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1 Cor. 1:1), as we heard last week.
But Paul is not only writing to clergy in our reading, nor is he writing to leaders of the church alone. He’s writing to everybody in the church, to all who are “called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2), as he says at the very beginning of the letter. The call is addressed to everyone in the church. You can go and look at your baptismal or confirmation certificate and you can see there a lasting reminder of your call. God has been at work in making you a follower of Christ. It’s his invitation that got us here, that set us out on the road as followers of Christ.
But before we let this knowledge go to our heads, St. Paul has something more to say. “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (1 Cor. 1:26). In other words, Paul is letting the air out of our tires, just in case we were getting swelled up. If we thought we were special, we need to think again.
Here Paul’s words to the Corinthians conform to what we know about the membership of the early church. Of course, from the start it contained people from all walks of life, including wealthy people, some leaders of society, but mostly folk who counted little in the eyes of the world. One pagan critic of the church wrote in the third century, “Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near…They (the Christians) show that they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, and only slaves, women, and little children” (Contra Celsum).
When St. Paul invites the Christians in Corinth to consider their own call, he’s saying something very similar, though to make a very different point: the early Christians didn’t count much in the eyes of the world, but that is exactly the point! That’s how God works in the world. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:28-29) He chooses humble folk in order to show his power.
When the angel went to announce the birth of the Messiah, he did not search out someone important to whom to deliver the message, but instead went to a young woman of Nazareth, depending on her to say “yes.” He went to a backwater town, to a person who was without any practical power, in order to start the revolution. And when Jesus began his ministry, he called a bunch of people who were totally insignificant (fishermen, tax collectors, and the like) and entrusted them with the good news. When St. Paul asks the Corinthians to consider their own call, he’s reminding them that God continues to work through humble folk like them.
God is still working in the same way, beloved parishioners of St. Matthew’s Church. He’s entrusted the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to people like us: weak, foolish, maybe even no account. I speak for myself. Our message doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to the world, but it means salvation for all of us who are in need of God’s love and grace.
Today our confirmands are reminding us of the nature of our call, and the ministry that God has given to each one of us. They’re stepping into the limelight in re-affirming their baptismal vows, but the truth is that we are all within that circle of light. Consider your own call, members of St. Matthew’s Church. We are all called, no matter what our circumstances, to proclaim the good news to a world that is in desperate need of the message.