Embracing Your Higher Calling

Ephesians 4:1-16

You and I have received a higher calling.

Every person here this morning is going to be challenged to live according to a higher calling.

There is a story of a couple who lived next door to a difficult family. There was a large lot separating their two houses, which belonged to the neighbor. Although the neighbor was quick to claim the property and run off the couple’s children any time they ventured onto this side lot, he was, nevertheless, lax in taking care of it. Branches and fruit fell off the trees where it lay on the ground and rotted. The grass was rarely cut. A friend of theirs asked why they didn’t complain to the neighbor about this eyesore that affected the entire neighborhood. He shrugged and said, “I’ll take care of it.” Within the week the lot was clean and the grass neatly cut. When asked if he confronted the neighbor, he said, “No, when they were away we made it a family project to clean up the lot.” To my knowledge the neighbor never offered any words of gratitude for this act of kindness, but that was not the motivation for the good deed.

This story is a wonderful illustration of responding to a higher calling. Instead of reacting to the neighbor’s insolence, creating what would have certainly been a defensive spirit on the part of the neighbor, and a widening gulf in neighborly relations, the response was in keeping with Paul’s exhortation, in today’s reading: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

This is not the kind of behavior that comes naturally, is it? We are not born patient. We scream when we want something and grab for things around us. We are not inclined to be humble and gentle. We are more often inclined to argue and fight than to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Many of us never do reach that level of maturity.

The pace of living in our society is causing everyone to become less patient, more demanding. The Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, discovered that those people scoring high in hostility or cynicism have a higher mortality rate. Cynical, hostile people are constantly on the lookout for trouble, so they are more likely to find it. Some of these people will never change. There isn’t a lot the church can do to help the irrational, ignorant, hostile person who is always looking for the worst in others.

The Bible recognizes that what is asked of us is not normal human conduct. The Bible informs us that an entire transformation is required — a renewal of the mind (see Romans 12:2).

This transformation, this mental renewal does not occur in everyone. You have probably noticed that. It is “a gift of God’s grace” (Ephesians 3:7). It is an endowment, a gratuity, a faculty with which some of God’s servants are blessed.

You may find yourself blessed with it when you believe you are least worthy. Paul said, “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me….”

For those of us who have not yet attained this level of gospel maturity, we must pray and pretend. Yes, pretend! Let me explain.

The editor of the Washington Post, William Raspberry, spoke at a commencement ceremony. He began his speech by telling the students that Wittenberg College had failed in its education of them, because it had not taught them the first thing about the virtue of hypocrisy. In fact, he said, the professors had taught them to abhor hypocrisy. “That,” he said, “is a terrible mistake. Because hypocrisy recognizes that we have standards, even when we don’t live up to them.”

We can admit to ourselves, I am not as good as I should be but I can become better. I can put more effort into improving and quit trying to justify my shortcomings.

As William Raspberry put it: “My advice to you is to resurrect hypocrisy; to pretend that you are better than you really are.”

Pretend that you really do believe that there are things more important than making a buck.

Pretend to love justice and honesty, even when it may be to your disadvantage.

Pretend that your spouse and family are more important to you than getting rich.

Pretend that you are one of the most humble and gentle residents in your neighborhood.

Pretend that you really are a very patient person.

Pretend that you believe it is more important to bear a neighbor’s faults, in order to keep a spirit of peace.

Pretend these things long enough and you will find that they become a part of your belief system. Pretend hard enough and long enough and you will be amazed to discover how much better, how much more admirable you, in fact, will become.

This may sound like strange advice, but it is far better than surrendering to inferior values when we fail to live up to a higher standard.

The late philosopher, Will Heberg, said, “It is my belief that the really serious threat to morality in our time consists not in violating an accepted moral code, but in the fact that the very notion of morality seems to be itself losing its meaning for increasing numbers of men and women in our society.”

When the higher level of maturity is not reached, instead of lowering our expectations, we can strengthen our efforts to improve.

These changes in ourselves and others may not occur as quickly as we would like. We have become too impatient. We want quick fixes. We look for a pill that will take away all the pain.

The Russian comedian, Yakov Smirnoff, commented about what he found in American grocery stores. He said, “On my first shopping trip I saw powdered milk — you just add water and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice — you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country.’ ”

It’s true, we expect to have our wishes and needs satisfied immediately. We want it now.

There’s the old story of the judge who questioned the prisoner, “What are you charged with?”

“I was doing my Christmas shopping early,” said the prisoner.

“That’s not an offense,” said the judge. “How early were you doing your shopping?”

“Before the store opened,” replied the man.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.”

Today I may not be as humble as I should be, but I can do better tomorrow. I may not be as kind and gentle as I should be, but I have time to improve.  There are some people I just can’t stand, but I’m going to pretend they are my friends. I may not be as compassionate as I should be, but God will give me the patience to keep trying.

A salesman called on old Mr. Steinway to show him a new piano key pin his company had developed. “My company believes this aluminum pin is greatly superior to the pin you have been using,” he said. After some reflection, Mr. Steinway said, “We are an old firm, slow and cautious about making changes. But we will install your pins in one of our pianos and give them a trial.” The salesman was delighted. He said, “How long a trial will you need?” “Oh,” said Mr. Steinway thoughtfully, “I’d say about fifty years.”

Today, you may not be the husband, the wife, the son, or the daughter you ought to be, but it’s never too late to be the person you can be tomorrow. We have received a calling. That’s just what it is, because it recognizes that this may not be who you are today. It is calling you to become someone different: completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Amen.