Call to Follow

The following is the Saturday evening sermon during the 2022 Biennial Convention by Pastor Chris Priestaf. You can also watch a video of the sermon at the end of this article.
Things come and things go. Consider, for example, stonewashed jeans. Or parachute pants. Or man-perms. Things come and things go. Sometimes thankfully.

People come and go as well. Anyone who has been involved with them knows it is true. From co-workers to church attenders to children, people come and people go. And sometimes thankfully.

But what about disciples? Can or should the same be said about them, or about us? As puzzling and perhaps counterintuitive as it may first seem, I want to argue with a resounding, yet nuanced, “Yes!”, that disciples come and disciples go, and hopefully thankfully.

If time allows, commit to reading through a rather lengthy portion of the book of Isaiah. Start in chapter 51 and keep reading all the way through chapter 55. As you read, remember that Isaiah’s words are being delivered to God’s people living their lives in exile. They have been separated from their homes and in many ways, feel separated from God. They wonder what the future holds. They wonder if they even have one.

In the midst of such wonder, God powerfully and purposefully speaks words of hope and promise. He speaks words of redemption and mercy and grace. Perhaps most importantly, he speaks words of freedom and a future.

Words like that can have a profound effect on people. While difficult to quantify, we know that a desirable picture for the future can create a deep longing in the moment. I remember when a young woman of only 19 sat opposite me, a day or two removed from her last encounter with heroin. She had witnessed first-hand the transformative power of God in her sister, a power that had produced a joy and gladness completely foreign to her. She wanted the same. More, however, she wanted freedom—not just from the drug, but from the guilt and shame that came along with it. The gospel provided such hope. She heard words of freedom and a future. She longed for it to be hers.

This young woman’s story is not that different from so many of our own. There is a locus of control somewhere in our worlds that can both limit and discourage; it can fashion questions and arouse fear. We can find ourselves desperately longing for freedom and a future.

Out of this exact state, in Isaiah 55:1-3, God speaks to his people. Here, God meets Israel’s longing with a profound yet characteristically consistent invitation:

Isaiah 55:1-3
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

The intensity of the invitation is unmistakable, and though this particular offer is contextualized to the people of God relegated to Babylonian exile, a similar invitation is echoed throughout Scripture’s pages to all sorts of different people in all sorts of different contexts (see, e.g., Matthew 4:19; 11:28; 14:29; 19:14; 19:21; 22:3ff; 25:21). In fact, the invitation is so regularly extended that it is right to see it as the catalyst of true discipleship.

But the invitation can be hard to accept, can’t it? It is hard to accept because it can be hard to believe. As the young woman I mentioned above would later share in her baptismal testimony, “…I was embarrassed by who I was. Why would I want to show my face in God’s house? I had a hard enough time showing it in my own.” Sometimes the knowledge of our fallen, broken selves keeps us from embracing God’s invitation to come, and we are not alone. Try to hear the voice of the woman at the well (John 4) or Isaiah at his call (Isaiah 6). Countless are the individuals who have questioned their own worthiness to actually come, despite God’s bidding.

But God knows our thoughts even before they are formed; he answers our questions even before they are asked. Accordingly, God’s invitation to come is immediately followed by his poignantly preconfigured declaration, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In two short verses, God pushes back against our pushback. He out-argues our arguments. His invitation to come is with full knowledge of who we are and what we have done (see Ephesians 1:7–8).

This then is how the disciple of Christ comes—at the call of God himself! When the follower of Christ understands such a gift, the response is significant. Isaiah again captures it in 55:12, as he declares, “You will go out in joy and be led forth with peace.” His call initiates a present action and a subsequent, future response. In other words, the disciple comes, and the disciple goes, and he goes with joy and thanksgiving.

The concept is subtle and profound at the same time: Disciples come and disciples go. We come at God’s invitation, given with his full wisdom and knowledge, and as we are filled with the wonder of his love and grace, we then go. To be sure, it is a different kind of going than is associated with passing fads and teenage trends, but it is a definitive going all the same. Disciples come and disciples go, and they do so joyfully and thankfully.

Such a pattern serves as a powerful reminder for the Church—locally and denominationally. We come into God’s presence only at his invitation, as his disciples. But as we continue to grow in his knowledge and his grace, experiencing the wonder of his gift in increasing measure, we go out with joy and thanksgiving. The cycle repeats itself again and again.

Things come and things go. We know that. People do the same. May God give his Church the wisdom to see that such is our call as well, particularly as his disciples. We come and we go, and hopefully we do so thankfully.

Rev. Chris Priestaf is Pastor of Mount Bethel Church in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania.

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