One of my favorite things to do in ministry is church camp. Camp is an incredible opportunity for young people to be part of an experience that is intentionally focused on faith development. I have been part of a camp director team now for nine consecutive years, and I have a lot of great memories from camp. One of those memories comes from 2018. It was dinner of the first night of camp. This is always a bit of a weird time. The campers have only been on site for an hour or two. No one knows anybody’s name yet, and everyone is still trying to feel everything out. There was music playing in the dining hall, and we knew it was close to time to transition to the next activity. We wanted to play a song that would engage most of the campers in the music, we wanted the song to capture their attention, so that once it ended it would be easy to jump and direct them to what was happening next. The problem is what song should we play? Now in general, music is not my strong suite, but looking over the assembled campers I had a hunch and I told my co-director “Play Moana.” He started the feature song, “How Far I’ll go” and the change that overtook the room was magical. As soon as the song started the atmosphere transformed. Some of the girl campers immediately started to sing along, and they were quickly joined in by, well pretty much everyone. It was not just a simple sing-along either. The vast majority of the people were deeply into the song. When it was all over my co-director said to me, “Did we- did we just go to church?” It was not a silly question, because it is only in church does one normally experience something that transcendent and unifying. I am also not surprises because the song is extremely well written. It captures the character of Moana wonderfully well, but it also hits on deep themes that resonate powerfully with us. See how this song might speak to you:
The song perfectly expresses the internal struggle Moana feels between her responsibilities to her island and the call she feels to the sea. I think this song resonates with so many because a struggle between responsibility and passion, between obligation and calling is one that hits close to home. If it does not particularly resonate with you but you consider yourself a Christian, then perhaps it should. This morning’s scripture focuses on the call of Isaiah, but all who seek to follow Christ have their own call story. What is up to us is just how far we’ll go.
Isaiah has quite the call story. It is fair to say as most people consider what it is that God has called them to, our experiences do not involve interacting with six wings angels and standing before the very throne of God. Despite that, I think there are aspects of Isaiah’s calling that can be relatable to each of us.
The book of Isaiah, like much of the prophets, is mainly a collection of prophetic pronouncements. There is not much in the ways of biographical sections. Personal details, like the ones we read this morning, are far and few between. It makes it hard to get a real picture of Isiah the person. However, we can consider the context that Isaiah found himself in. We have to dig a little deep to pull out this context, but it is a context that we might identify with. Verse one of this morning’s scripture states that he was called in the year King Uzziah died. There were a lot of bad kings in the history of the Israelites, but King Uzziah is identified as a good one. Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles mention that Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord in the same way his father has done. However, 2 Chronicles 25 states about Uzziah’s father, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly.” Uzziah’s son, Jotham who would have taken over as king the year Isaiah was called ruled in much the same way. This means for three generations, the kings did what was right, but their hearts were not really in it. 2 Chronicles 27:3 gives a further snapshot of the religious climate of Isaiah’s day when it states, “the people, however, continued in their corrupt practices.”
We get an image of a culture where devotion to God and adherence to following God has been slipping and only nominally upheld for generations. People had begun turning to other options that better met their personal preferences. Isaiah began his work as prophet during a time when God still had some space in public discourse and God was still recognized in the cultural consciousness of the day. However, that consciousness and that level of influence had greatly diminished. Perhaps some people could remember an older time when a love and devotion for God was the driving force to the rhythms of life, but that was not the way it was anymore. When Isaiah began as a prophet, the people had not forgotten God completely but they had clearly wandered away, pursuing their own interests, and thinking of God as more of an afterthought as opposed to their first thought in all things.
I think in a lot of ways we can find a lot of similarities in our own culture. As an example, the United Methodist church was created by the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church and Evangelical United Brethren church in 1968. For the past fifty one years the United Methodist church in the US has been losing members. This is not just a Methodist problem, it is across the board in the developed world. Statistics show that biblical literacy has reached an all-time low, and “no religious affiliation” is the fastest growing demographic in our country. Like Isaiah we live in a time when God has not been forgotten but the role God plays in our culture is greatly diminished. Like Isaiah, we can point to corruption and we can easily say we live among a people of unclean lips.
Given the cultural similarities I find this scripture fascinating. With all the cultural realities that Christians face today, it is not hard to find people who will bemoan and point all kinds of blame everywhere. It is not hard to find churches that circle the wagons, and try to hold on to the memory of how things used to be. It is not hard to find those responses today, but that is not how God responded to similar cultural circumstances. No God’s response was to ask “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” God did not blame, shut out, or abandon the people who had turned their back on God. Instead God, called prophets. God called people to take the message and the light of God’s love, God’s holiness, and God’s glory back to the people. Brothers and sisters in Christ, God still calls people today.
The Bible is full of people being called. Some, like Moses at the burning bush, are reluctant. Others, like when Mary was visited by the angel, are faithful and willing. Those who are called often give up a lot to follow the calling. A good example of this are the disciples. Jesus called to them “follow me”. They did even though they had no idea just how far they would go. In fact to be a Christian in the first place is to respond to being called. Everyone who seeks to follow Christ has responded to the calling to live life differently, to put Jesus first, to follow savior who is calling us. This idea of being called is an intrinsic part of having Jesus as Lord and savior.
Like Moana is called to the sea, we are called by Christ. The use of the word call is prominent in many of the songs Moana sings. Really the entire movie is about her struggling to come to grips with her calling, answer her calling, and then fulfill her calling. The call to serve God is very similar to Moana’s call to the sea. This calling is an undeniable, sometimes unexplainable urge that cannot be ignored. Moana really resonates with me because when she sings about how the sea calls her, I deeply understood that feeling. All who seek to worship God and follow Jesus, are called, and everyone’s story of that calling is different. As an example, I can only share with you my own.
When I graduated college several years ago now, I thought that God and I were on the same page about me being a teacher. Perhaps a more honest way to say it is that I thought God was on my page about my future. I went to school to be a history teacher. When I was a senior in high school and freshman in college, they had told me there was a need for millions of new teachers. Unfortunately, no one told me there was not really a need for history teachers. Unable to find a teaching job, I ended up working in youth ministry, very part time at a Methodist church in Corydon, IN. In my mind, it was something to do until I got a real job. However, during that first year I found myself drawn more to ministry. I was being called by God, but I am a stubborn person. I still had my plan, and I pursued it. Within the course of a year I had applied to over 20 jobs and had over a dozen interviews. As that summer came to a close, there was one job I was waiting to hear back on. The interview had gone really well, and I was extremely hopeful. I did not hear anything and the first day of school came, making it a default no
We lived in apartments next to a big field. So that night, I went into that field and had it out with God. I was so angry, and I shouted at God until I was all out of words. When I was finally done ranting, God showed up. In what was one of the holiest moments of my life, I could almost tangibly feel the presence of God. While it was not an audible voice, God’s still small voice spoke deep into my heart that night. What I felt impressed into my heart was God telling me, “You need to let your dreams die, so that my dreams for you can live.” It was then I came to the realization that God was inviting me to ministry. It was that night that I began to follow where God was calling. I truly believe that this place is just the most recent chapter in that journey which started in that field all those years ago.
Over the years since then, as I have done my best to faithfully live into that calling I have come to really identify with how another prophet described being called. Jeremiah 20:9 states, “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” This resonates with me, because I have experienced God’s calling as a fire that I have to let out and that I cannot hold in. This is also the attitude with which Moana expresses her calling in the song.
If all who seek to follow Christ are called, then this can lead us to wonder then, what is our calling. That is a fair question. It is probably one that in the depths of our hearts, we already know the answer to. Moana did not need to be told she was called to the sea, it was an impulse that she could not deny. In the same way whatever we are called to, calls us. It is a yearning deep in our spirits. It is a holy discontent that can only be satisfied by fulfilling our calling. It is a fire shut up in our bones. Our calling is very rarely revealed through a multiple choice test. It is found when we quiet the distractions of the world, stand at the edge of the water and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit tugging at our heart. To find your calling consider all the work for the gospel of Christ that needs to be done, consider all of the hurts that need to be met, and consider all of the unloved people who need compassion. As you consider the grand scope of all that, think of God asking “Whom shall I send?” Whatever the specific ministry, need, or area that makes you shout “here I am, send me”. Well, then there you are. That my friend may be your calling.
So are you living your calling? What is it that God has been calling you to do, that you have not yet done? Because we are called. Perhaps like Moana that the calling will keep bringing you back to the edge of the water but you have not yet dove in. So why don’t you? You are not too old or too young to live a life worthy the calling you have received. You also are not too busy to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. One day, when we all get to heaven we are going to stand before our creator and in the presence of our savior. I do not know about you but when that day comes I want to be able to say that I did not let the calling God put on my life to pass me by.
There is a broken and fallen world out there full of hurt and lost people. In response to this reality, God has not condemned the world but he sent his son to save it. Then God called on the body of Christ to join in that work. If you are a Christian then you are called. In whatever way God is calling you, may you respond by saying “Here I am. Send me.” Because if you live out and fulfill your calling then there is no telling how far you’ll go.