Many are Called – January 19, 2020
January 19, 2020
“A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t necessarily a square.” This is your Math lesson for today. A rectangle has two sets of parallel sides. That’s the definition. But we usually think of a rectangle as being long and narrow – not having equal length sides, which a square has. But it can! So, a square fits the definition of a rectangle. But usually (not always) most rectangles don’t fit the definition of a square. They don’t have equal length sides.
Now, I know I’m taking a risk here. And the risk is that at the end of this sermon, all you’re going to be thinking about are squares and rectangles! (Right now, you might be thinking “An inspirational talk is a sermon, but a sermon isn’t necessarily inspirational!) (Or funny…)
Well, I use that example today because we’re thinking about the “calling of Jesus’ disciples.” That’s our story here in Mark chapter one. And I’m using this familiar phrase as my title. Actually, I’m only using half of it. The whole phrase is, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” I might add to that by saying, “There are many disciples, but twelve Apostles.” Or, like the square/rectangle example, “An Apostle is a Disciple, but a Disciple isn’t necessarily an Apostle.” I hope you see what I’m getting at here.
Let me say it another way. In the Gospels, the 12 special men Jesus chose as his students were described using this word “disciples.” That’s what the paragraph heading says in my Bible. “Jesus calls his first Disciples.” That’s why we tend to see them as disciples. We might call them “The Disciples.” And yes, Jesus chose certain people that way. That word “disciples” means “followers” or “students.” And to choose disciples was very rabbinical. Jesus was seen as a rabbi. And he was called that, too! And he did many rabbinical things, including calling disciples. Because rabbis had disciples!
I’ve talked before about the difference in who Jesus chose for his disciples. Normally, rabbis would choose their disciples from the best of the best of their students. Well, here we have the story of Jesus choosing his disciples. And who did he choose? He chose fishermen. Those were very unlikely disciples of any rabbi. And I believe there was ridicule in the voices of the priests when they would say to Jesus, “Rabbi, your disciples aren’t doing so and so.”
So, Rabbi Jesus chose these twelve special men to be his “Disciples.” But eventually that title would change. And this is where it gets a little tricky. Later these “Disciples” became “Apostles.” And that word means “Ones who are sent.” And “sent” they were! They were sent out into all the world to tell the Good News.
The reason I say all that, and the main point I’m making today, is that we are all disciples. It’s too easy to get this confused. It’s too easy to think of “disciples” as being “these twelve special guys.” It’s too easy to forget that we are all “followers of Jesus.” Sometimes it’s confusing because even in the Gospels “disciples” is used to describe these guys, and sometimes it describes the whole entourage of the people who went around with Jesus. And remember that he himself said, “Go into all the world, and make disciples of all nations.”
So, this is a “square is a rectangle” sort of thing. There were twelve Apostles. But there are many disciples. We tend to forget that and think about only these twelve, when we use that word. But we are all disciples! So, the question today is, do you think of yourself as a “disciple?” Do you think of yourself as being “called by Jesus to be his disciple?” Or is it hard to put yourself into this story?
Actually, this phrase “Many are called, but few are chosen,” doesn’t come from this story. It comes from Matthew 22. That’s where Jesus was telling “The Parable of the Wedding banquet.” Do you remember that one? Jesus tells about a king who holds a wedding feast, but when the time comes, all the guests make excuses. So, the king sends his servants out to the streets to bring in all sorts of people, so his hall would be filled.
Well, Matthew adds one little twist at the end. The king came to look in on his guests, and he found a man there without a wedding garment. And he had him tossed out! Apparently in anger! Then Jesus ends with this phrase. “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
Now, we don’t often read that part, do we? And I don’t know about you but it’s disturbing to me. What does that wedding garment represent that Jesus was telling the people about in this parable? Obviously, this was a parable about those who were invited but who made excuses. It was about those who let the obligations of life get in their way of seeing the kingdom.
But what about this man without a wedding garment. Is that someone, perhaps, who comes to the wedding, but who has nothing to do with being part of the actual wedding. Is this guy a “wedding crasher?” I’ve never really heard a good explanation about this. But I think it has to do with participating fully in God’s kingdom. Many are called. We are called. But do we respond to the call to be part of the wedding feast, and yet maybe have no clue what the wedding is about, or why we’re there? Or do we participate fully?
I think, in all this, we are “reminded” that we are called to be disciples. And we are “reminded” that we are all called to be part of God’s kingdom. And we are called to participate fully. It’s too easy to think of a “calling” as something specific, something that someone else has, but not us. We ministers are often asked to think about our “sense of call.” How did we feel God “calling us into ministry?” In fact, a minister’s contract is often referred to as a “call.”
But Paul takes that as a much more “universal” word. Writing to the Corinthians in the first chapter he said, “Consider your call, brethren. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”
I love those words. And they speak to the “call” that all of us are given! It is the call to be disciples. It is the call to be part of God’s kingdom! It is a call to his wedding feast! And that’s how Jesus often describes God’s kingdom. It is a feast. It is a party! It is a joyous celebration! When we answer the call to follow Jesus, we know in the end, there is great joy!
But like the “wedding crasher” in Jesus’ parable, we need to remember that the joy and peace we feel as God’s people is often proportional to the extent to which we are fully participating in God’s kingdom. So, are we people who are sharing the joy of God’s kingdom. Or, are we there, but we haven’t remembered to dress for the occasion?
There are Twelve Apostles. But there are many disciples. There are some who are chosen for a specific task. But many are called – we are all called – to be Jesus’ disciples.
Eternal God, help us to know better your call on our lives. Help us to be people who know we are disciples of Jesus Christ, and who strive to be full participants in his kingdom. Help us to know the joy of being your people. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.