Read Exodus 31:1-11, 1 Peter 4:1-11 here.
This past week I watched an interesting TV show. They had invited the winners of the Iowa State Fair husband calling contest to appear. Husband calling is like hog calling, except it’s calling the husband instead of a hog.
First place this year went to a woman named Rose Beauregard. She demonstrated her award-winning call for the audience, calling for her husband Clifford. As you can imagine, it was quite entertaining, and quite loud. We might call it husband screeching. Actor and comedian John Leguizamo was there on the show that day. He said, “We have this same thing in New York. It’s called husband cursing.”
When we talk about “calling” in church, we probably don’t imagine anything like husband calling. “Calling” is one of those words that has many meanings.
According to Merriam Webster, one of the definitions of calling is:
Call • ing noun
- a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence
This definition is broad and vague, and yet we have expectations of finding a calling that is somewhat narrow and specific. Maybe that’s why we struggle so much with this idea of finding our calling. In the book we’re reading in our small groups, writer Kathleen Cahalan tells the story of a woman named Denise who knew from childhood that she wanted to be a lawyer. Now she is a judge serving in the state appellate court. She says her job is “an expression of who God made me to be.” She says that it is “‘deeply satisfying’ work because it allows her ‘to express some of the gifts God gave me’ such as ‘communication, listening, and empathy.’” When asked whether it’s depressing to see the dark side of humanity as people come to court, she says, “Even though it is morally, emotionally, and personally demanding, ‘I get to be the human face of justice to a whole lot of people. I try to put my faith into action in my work day in how I treat people, even making hard decisions, but doing what the law requires me to do. I find my work really fulfilling.’”
It’s not just about the job. There are many aspects of what Denise describes that we might not think of as part of a calling: communicating, listening, showing empathy, treating people justly, making wise decisions.
Our calling is not just about what we do. It’s also about how we do it and how we live.
For some of us, our calling is our job, but for many of us our job is simply what provides the means for us to live as we have been called. It’s about how we attend to the details of doing whatever it is we are doing. God cares about the details. In our reading from Exodus 31, that’s what we see. The section we read is part of the instructions that God gives to Moses while Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. Along with those commandments, God gives Moses detailed instructions for building the tabernacle, including the names of the people who have been given the gifts and skills to do the work required. God tells Moses about Bezalel, a man who has been filled “with divine spirit, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft” (Ex. 31:3). And Oholiab, a man who has also been given special abilities to help with the creation of the special tent that will house the ark of the covenant, which they will also create, along with all the special furnishings and vestments for the priests who will serve in the tabernacle.
There’s something kind of crazy about making this fancy, complicated tent with all its fancy furnishings and fancy robes out in the middle of the Sinai desert. We should remember, though, that this wasn’t Moses’ plan, or the Jewish people’s plan, this was God’s plan. God doesn’t say, “put up any kind of shelter where you can worship me,” he gives detailed instructions for creating a tabernacle that is specially designed to be put up and taken down and transported in the desert. God’s plans can often seem crazy or extreme. God cares about the details.
If we read all the way through the book of Exodus, we find not only the detailed instructions for creating all of this, but also a detailed account of those instructions being carried out. It can seem quite redundant and repetitious. But in that extended detail we get to see how Moses and Bezalel and Oholiab listened to God, answered God’s call, and followed God’s instructions to the letter. They relied on God’s provision and accomplished God’s purposes, using the wisdom and abilities God had given them.
Our calling is about using all that God has provided to accomplish God’s purposes. That provision includes physical items, as well as less tangible items like craftsmanship, wisdom, and obedience.
We also see God’s call to the less tangible in our reading from 1 Peter 4. Peter is writing to first century Christians in various churches across the Roman Empire. He’s encouraging them to hold on to their faith and keep on trusting God despite strong persecution. They’re being ostracized, attacked and even killed because they’re not doing things the way their neighbors are. They aren’t worshipping the Roman gods or observing the Roman festivals, and some see this as forsaking their country and antagonizing their neighbors. Peter reminds the readers of this letter that Jesus also suffered, and that Jesus endured so that they could know the amazing grace and love of God.
In verse 10, Peter points out to us that God’s grace is “manifold”:
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10)
This is our memory verse for this week because this is the verse that ties together all the other verses. We are called to serve and to be good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
This is a picture of the manifold grace of God. No, actually it’s a picture of a Honda forward-facing turbo manifold. It’s an exhaust manifold, and I put this up because I want you to know that we cannot exhaust the grace of God.
An exhaust manifold is a rather nice analogy for grace, actually. The manifold takes all the exhaust and fumes that are created inside the car’s engine, all the bad air, and sends it away through the exhaust pipe, kind of like the way God’s grace takes all the bad things we’ve done, our sins, and sends them away.
You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:9)
Through our faith in Jesus, God in his infinite mercy and manifold grace sends our sins to the bottom of the ocean.
Peter tells us that we are called to be good stewards of this manifold grace.
“Manifold” means it is multi-colored, multi-faceted. Though it comes to us through one person, Jesus Christ, it is displayed and applied in a whole bunch of different ways.
It is displayed in the way we live out the list of verses that we looked at last week in Romans 12:9-21, and in the various ways Peter gives in our reading from today. At various times and in various ways we may be called to suffer, to endure, to seek God’s will, to be different from those who aren’t living according to God’s will, to live in the Spirit, to be disciplined and prayerful, to be loving, and welcoming, and serving. We see all these calls in our reading.
The Greek word Peter uses here that’s translated in most versions as “manifold” is the word poikilos. This same word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe:
- the variety of diseases that Jesus cured (Matt 4:24, Mark 1:34, Luke 4:40),
- the variety of desires from which we are freed (2 Tim 3:6, Titus 3:3, James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6), and
- the variety of miracles that bear witness to the gospel (Heb. 2:4).
All of those are examples of God’s amazing, multi-faceted, multi-colored grace. It’s no wonder that the psalmist exclaims:
O God, how
are your works!
“What a wildly wonderful world” God has made (Ps 104:24 MSG), full of all different kinds of people, who have all different kinds of ideas and abilities, giving us an endless variety of ways to serve God and one another.
Being good stewards of that manifold grace includes respecting and valuing that variety, and being careful not to think that our particular color or variety of God’s grace is better or worse than someone else’s.
Maybe it helps us to remember what a steward is. In the time of Peter, a steward was the household manager, a position that was often filled by a freed slave. We are stewards of the grace that has freed each of us from the bonds of our sin.
This is a good steward. No, actually, this is a basic turbocharger. What this does in a car engine is use the exhaust gases to drive a compressor that pushes extra air and oxygen into the cylinders, allowing them to burn more fuel more efficiently. A turbocharger helps an engine to make better use of the gas and air to get more horsepower….in other words, to be a better steward of its resources.
A steward doesn’t own any of what he or she manages. Everything we have and everything we are comes from God. The breath in our lungs, the faith that we share, all of it is a gift from God. We are stewards of all of that through the way we live our lives.
This is another picture of God’s manifold grace. Actually, it’s a Chevy small block V8 intake manifold. An intake manifold takes in the air and fuel mixture and evenly distributes it to the cylinder heads so that combustion can take place. Combustion is what powers the engine. Combustion is, in essence, an explosion of energy. Grace is similarly explosive. Grace is what powers us, what powers our faith, and it is manifold, like in this manifold, grace comes through the one source, Jesus Christ, and into all of us, the manifold witnesses of God’s grace. Like we sing in the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” we . . .
“Join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.”
Our question we’re considering throughout the eight weeks of this series is “How is Jesus making a difference in our lives?” Remember that we’re thinking about this not just for our own encouragement and growth, but also so that we can know how to tell others about the difference Jesus is making in us. Maybe one of the biggest, most visible ways that we are different is in our work. Our call as Christians is to:
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23)
That means that we try to find work that we can do willingly, and that we do that our work carefully, prayerfully, and diligently. We do this because we are grateful for God’s manifold grace and
“. . .so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11b)
We are called to glorify God in all that we say and do, so we strive to do all things well. Our obedience to this call is an expression of our gratitude.
Along these same lines, it shouldn’t surprise us that Peter encourages us to:
“Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” (1 Peter 4:9)
We are called to be welcoming, to show hospitality, and we live out this calling by welcoming people into our church, our homes, our schools, and our workplaces. And we are to do it without complaining. That part is the zinger. Paul tells us about this, too, in Philippians 2:14 and 1 Corinthians 10:10. Why? Because complaining basically cancels out hospitality. Have you ever gone to visit somebody who complained about doing the work involved in having you there?
A family was having guests to dinner. At the table, the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and says, “Dear, would you like to say the blessing?”
“I wouldn’t know what to say,” replies the little girl.
“Just say what you hear Mommy say, sweetie.”
Her daughter takes a deep breath, bows her head, and solemnly says, “Dear Lord, why the heck did I invite all these people to dinner?”
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10)
How are you using your gifts and abilities to serve and honor God?
God calls us to use whatever grace we have been given in a whole variety of ways, in a variety of times, and a variety of places. We are called to be people in whom Jesus is making a difference no matter what job we have, whether that is a wage-earning job, or the job of retirement, or the job of being a family member, or church member, or friend.
. . . and the best way to be sure to accomplish that is to be thankful to God in all things.
To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11)
 Kathleen A. Cahalan, “Stewardship of Work: Called to Serve” in Beyond the Offering Plate: A Holistic Approach to Stewardship (p. 124). Ed. Adam Copeland. Presbyterian Publishing. Kindle Edition.
 Maxie Dunnam, The Communicator’s Commentary: Exodus, Word Publishing.
 In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us about what happened back in desert when Israel grumbled and complained and made God angry. (Nu 16:41; 17:5, 10; Nu 16:49; Ex 12:23; 1Ch 21:15; Heb 11:28)