Your life and mine are a whirlwind. In the confusion you have learned to think on your feet. Hold the baby with one arm and prop a bottle while you sleep. You can distract a toddler for six minutes. A string of all-nighters and 20-minute naps could save your grade. But no matter the quality of your high-wire act you will eventually be caught off balance. No matter your scheme or distraction life will find you and bring you to heel. Maybe it will be boredom or intense depression. Maybe a powerful loss so significant and bewildering that you will think you’ve become Job himself. At some point you will find yourself called, it seems, to little more than filling your days.
I was in a funeral home once several years ago. It was a small place that also functioned as a florist. They had plastic carnations and… Gardenias if that’s a thing. And they had casket toppers – I’m sure that’s not what they’re called. But the toppers were sentimental, some were so sweet that one wonders if their creators themselves believed what they were writing. These were the last couple of words draping a casket; the definitive last word as the casket descends into the ground. The grave: evil and brokenness have all the best visual aids. So this little funeral shop pushes, in its own little way, against the great marauding tide of death. Even untimely, horrific, mouth-stopping death. The weapons of their fight were plastic. The words they offered weren’t going to hinder anything at all. But there was one topper that caught my attention. It was some hasty assemblage of white flowers bordered in red. And spelled out in script next to a red children’s phone, the receiver was off the hook, were the words “Jesus Called” of all things. I’ll admit I laughed, because it seemed so corny, so cheesy that the silly phone and the silly phrase had anything to do with a funeral.
He called, maybe some father said to his children as they walked away from an emergency room. He called and your mother went to be with Jesus. The Great Caller. The phone that rings nearly always unexpected, nearly always unwanted.
Jesus called, dear.
Like one of those tuxedo t-shirts being worn at a wedding, the whole thing was unsophisticated, uncouth. But lately I’ve thought about it a different way. Against great and mighty death, and lets add all sorts of other death too – like the death of a marriage or the death of a dream – against great and mighty death God needs only to speak. And he has spoken. And perhaps we would be wise to remember the corny instruments he used once upon a time to speak and undo death. A silly child born in a manger to a teenaged mother, a carpenter’s son on a donkey, even the greatest humiliation of all – thief on a cross, stealing a title that belonged to Caesar alone. The ridiculous implements of God. He calls, merely calls. As simply put in the Scriptures as a child’s phone on a casket.
The writer of 2 Timothy was chained and humiliated and on his way to a casket of his own. The Apostle wrote to his protégé Timothy words of pastoral encouragement and indomitable hope. Despite all indications to the contrary he calls Timothy to remember that they have been called by God. They have a calling that Paul even calls ‘holy’ or ‘set apart’. This calling, Paul says, is not invalidated by circumstance or humiliation or our fears. The skeptic hearing Paul’s words is likely to wonder: what business Paul has talking about a holy calling when it seems that his holy calling is to die a holy death in jail with the penniless.
And this is really the question of the text: how can Paul point to a holy calling in a time like this. How can you point to a holy calling? Your children are rebellious, your 401(k) lost money, your career is sputtering, your lawn is a mess, your mole is cancerous, your hair is graying if there’s much of it left at all, your spouse has a wandering eye or your spouse hasn’t shown up yet. Who are you to talk about God’s holy calling in your life?
If we care to look plainly at this text from 2 Timothy we will see that the holy calling of God perseveres. The call of God says that while we may be under the thumb of distress or pain or boredom we are still not any less than holy, called. We are no less set apart by God. That’s what holy means really. Moses removed his shoes before speaking with God on Mt. Horeb because his shoes had gone places herding sheep. And you too, you’ve gone places. But the great message of the Cross is that the unholy have a holy calling. That the unholy have been made holy, shoes and all, warts and all. Unbelief and all. Weariness and blindness and the death of some great dream. All of it clings to you, to your heart no less than your feet. If the good news is to be believed you have a holy calling powerful enough to stand against death, powerful enough to cover your casket if it comes to that. Powerful enough to set you apart in this blustery world as God’s man or woman, believing the gospel without fear, loved and held tight.
Much more tomorrow morning.