Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
When God came to Abram and made a promise to him that he would be the ancestor of a nation, God renamed him Abraham, which means “Father of many.” When God came to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, and wrestled with him, Jacob left the match changed, and with a new name to match: Israel, which means “One who wrestles with God.” When Jesus came to Saul on the road to Damascus, Saul was transformed, a new man with a new name; no longer Saul, but Paul.
The fact that Jesus gives Simon a new name as soon as he meets him says as much about who Jesus is as it does about who Simon is. By renaming Simon, Jesus is claiming the authority of God to give somebody a new name and a new identity. When Jesus gives him this name, it isn’t because he already knows who Simon is, but because he already knows who he will ask Simon to be.
In the poem from Isaiah, the speaker describes how God has formed him from his birth to be God’s Servant. In the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he identifies both himself and the community to whom he writes by the calls they have each received from God: Paul to be an apostle, and the Corinthians to be saints—God’s holy people. When Jesus sees Simon, he gives him the name Peter because he is calling him to be the Rock upon which the Church is founded.
We get these stories today not only to remind us that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but also to remind us that like the Servant, like Paul and the Corinthians, like Simon Peter, we have each been called by God for a specific purpose. We are each of us a polished arrow in God’s quiver—each designed by God for a specific purpose and each called by God to fulfill that purpose.
We need to be reminded of this because it is easy to forget. Unlike an arrow that is loosed and either hits the target or doesn’t, the way God works through us is seldom if ever so obvious. We all have times when we feel like we are not living up to the work God has given us to do, or like the work itself is meaningless. There are times when we wonder what difference the gospel makes at all for us or for the world around us, or whether God’s kingdom ever will come. Like the Servant in Isaiah, we may cry out, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” Like Peter, we may find ourselves saying, “I don’t know the man, I’m not his disciple.” Especially when situations seem hopeless, when we feel forgotten or despised or abhorred, it is easy for us to forget or ignore who we are and what we have been called to do.
That is one of the main reasons why God has formed us into this community. When things seem bleak and our efforts seem insignificant, we need to be reminded that we are not alone, that there are many other arrows in the quiver with us; more importantly, we need to be reminded that there is an archer who knows how to handle a bow.
I think we sometimes either consciously or subconsciously believe that the Church is a community for people who have arrived spiritually: people who have found Jesus and are always confident and strong in their faith. We begin to feel out of place when we doubt God ourselves, thinking that we should not be here when we are not sure what we believe anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes, our job in the Church is to be John the Baptist, pointing others to Jesus and proclaiming loudly, “Behold the Lamb of God;” but sometimes, we gather as the Church so we might be pointed toward Jesus ourselves; to simply show up and have Jesus call us by name.
We gather together as a community because these two things—faith and doubt—go hand-in-hand. They are two sides of the same coin; they are not opposites, they are complements. The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Faith and doubt together make our community stronger, and we are, as Paul says, “enriched in Christ in every way… not lacking in any spiritual gift.” I’ll bet you never thought of doubt as a spiritual gift before!
It is easy to forget who we are, to forget what we are worth. Like the Servant, God has called each of us individually and all of us together to do something huge: to bring God’s salvation to the end of the earth. Do you feel qualified for that job? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of that responsibility, like we have failed, or to feel like we don’t even know how to begin. That’s one of the biggest reasons we need each other: so that we can remind and be reminded by one another that while we are the arrows, the disciples, the saints, God is the archer. God is the one calling and sending us. Surely, our cause is with the LORD, who has formed us for the work to which God has called us, who gives us the name by which we have been called: Beloved.
We aren’t all able to be Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa or Dorothy Day, spending our whole lives and our whole selves working tirelessly for God’s kingdom, but that does not mean that each of us does not have an important and unique role to play in the work God is doing to create the world in God’s image. We have each been called in baptism, we are each fed at this table by Jesus’ body and blood, we are each being equipped and prepared through the teaching and love of this community to do our part in bring God’s salvation to the end of the earth. We are each of us an arrow in God’s quiver, a tool in God’s belt, a worker in God’s kingdom, a child in God’s family. When we but show up, Jesus calls us by name and helps us become the people God created us all to be.