Christianity’s Facebook Relationship Status with Paul: It’s Complicated

Acts 9:1-20

Psalm 30


Please excuse my indignation while I share some thoughts about Paul.

The apostle Paul is the worst type of religious personality. Before he got struck by lightening on the road to Damascus he was dead set on kidnapping and torturing Jesus followers. Then over a course of a couple days, a visit from a stranger named Ananias, and hearing voices, Paul completely pulled a 180 in his life and felt compelled to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations! He went from kidnapping Jesus followers to tying up his own life with the message of Christ, as he understood it. Paul wasn’t the smartest, the kindest, the gentlest, but he sure was the most committed, dogmatic, the loudest, the most compelling of leaders. He was just trying to figure stuff out, and like many of us, he got a lot of things wrong along the way. But unlike our journal entry letters and mistakes, Paul’s became Gospel truth and got passed down through hands of church leaders, the religion of the Empire, and his words have been used to justify slavery, justify women blocked from church leadership, justify strange bigotry of all sorts of people. If Christianity could have a relationship status on Facebook with the apostle Paul, it would read, “it’s complicated.” Indignation over.


But this isn’t actually a sermon about Paul. It is about the event that happens to Paul that we read in Acts today, where Paul is still Saul and traditionally read as his conversion to Christianity. But at this time, Christianity doesn’t even exist—it isn’t even a word created, so historians have favored reading this text as Paul’s call.


What does the language of “call” invoke for you? Being called to something implies a serious spiritual draw to a vocation or an activity- it can even be to a person or a place. We use this language within the church. Its our secret insider speak for asking people to do stuff. Or genuinely noticing when we, or people in our community, have particular gifts in areas. We had a Nurturing Youth Leaders retreat yesterday with people who want to work with youth from our church and our sister church, South Church. Our goal was to nurture the call for youth leadership growing inside of people.


It is a gift to know ourselves enough to say; these are my spiritual gifts. There are tools for it, like a spiritual gifts inventory. The language of call is also used specifically for “calling” pastors. I was called here, by you. Calls need to be reflected in community.


Where is God calling you in your life right now? I invite you when you go home today to take out a blank piece of paper or open up a word document and write the question: “what is my true purpose in life?” And write all the answers that come into your head, short phrases, words, and repeat this until you write the answer that makes you cry.[1] God calls us each to purpose.


The flip side of this lovely, romantic call languages is that more often than not, we hear the language of “missed call,” some people say, “Yeah I was an accountant but I think I missed my call as a pianist.” Or, “I am called to be a teacher but I am getting older so I can’t do my call the same way I used to anymore.” Panic attacks are induced over thinking that we may be missing our call, or overlooked a moment of big decisions, a plan God laid out for us that we somehow screwed up.


And then some of us aren’t afforded the luxury of our work being called “a call.” Some of us have to work numerous jobs to get by, to pay the bills, to survive. Where does being called by God fit into that?


Amy Wrzesniewski Proffessor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, studies work and something she calls job crafting.[2] Her office conducted a study in a hospital with people who work as cleaning staff. She discovered among the cleaning staff great variety in how they self-describe their job and understand it in relationship to the hospital, even while holding the exact same position.


A large group of hospital cleaners said they thought the work was not very highly skilled- anyone can do it. These people called themselves janitors, hospital cleaners; they abided strictly to the job description. Another group their job was highly skilled work where it would be very difficult to bring others in for the job.


In looking at the differences of the cleaners: there were no differences in shift, in tenure, in units they worked on, but the only difference was how the cleaners described the work and especially about how they described the relationships- they described things they do for and with doctors, nurses, patients, and patient’s visitors- which was not something they were being asked to do- going beyond the notice of their supervisor. They were crafting the boundaries of the job themselves to create something they found more meaningful.


They figured things out like when would it be okay to give a patient a cup of water if they needed to, or help them move, and they developed systems to figure out when it was safe to do these things. One staff member worked in a long term re-habilitation floor where patients were in comas, and she would re-arrange the art in the room, with hope that some shift in the environment might spark something to help the healing. These people valued relationships and treated people as if they were family. One member of the janitorial staff described herself as a healer. She had internalized the mission of the hospital and saw herself as a pivotal part of the whole.


How do people who are doing the exactly same job in the same organization come to see the work as radically different? Amy Wrzesniewski of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of management, asks. The difference, she concludes, is that the folks who are more satisfied at their job, see their work as something like a calling.


People who see their work as a calling are significantly more satisfied with their jobs, with their lives, more engaged in what they are doing and tend to be better performers regardless of what their work is. Sometimes this can be luck; we happen upon the right place. But what this researcher wants to argue is that it is a deliberate crafting. Job crafting helps us make the jobs or roles we have more fulfilling and satisfying.


With the language of calling, our traditional understanding is that your call is out there like a unicorn, you just have to find it, and it’s a matter of moving into the right role, and unlocking something, which allows work to become a joyful end in and of itself. These are people who wouldn’t quit their job if they won the lottery.


Our researchers today though, put more weight on encouraging us to craft the boundaries of the job or roles we have now. She encourages us to expand the contours of our roles and job description, and to see ourselves in relation to the whole. Job crafting can involve restricting that boundary too, delegating, pulling back or dropping certain tasks, that aren’t working anymore or aren’t actually central to executing the things the organization ought to be responsible for.


What kinds of things do you enjoy and what do you enjoy doing in the world? How did you get to where you are? Look at the themes in your life- the ideas or people that you can’t let go of, or that won’t let go of you. Were you called here? Persian poet Rumi says; “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.”


The language of being called is powerful. While we may not have the same, fall of your donkey, get struck by lightening, change your name, evangelize the nations, kind of call that Paul /Saul had, we do have an incredible responsibility to respond to this precious gift of life, and if we consider ourselves Christian, to respond to the good news of the resurrection, to make our lives living testimonies of the redeeming love of God.


While it is admirable to find our call- to know exactly what we want to be and go be it- it is just as admirable to follow a series of steps, stumbles, mistakes, pivots, back-steps and sleep walking, and then decide to show up there, just where we are, fully. Sometimes it is simply our calling to show up fully present to life, and to do the best we can to love from that place. And if we are privileged, or lucky enough to get paid money do to that- then great.


But if we are honest, sometimes we just find ourselves at various points in life, even if we are making deliberate decisions and are cognizant of the fact that we are crafting our reality. Sometimes the most compelling call is to be in the present moment, is the call to love the ones we are with, to open our eyes and experience the precious life that we have, just as we have it.


If we enter the language of call here, we may unintentionally negate the present of where we are. Maybe we are experiencing a transition where we are retiring from our call. Call’s shift and change. Maybe what called us before is taking new shape.


There are so many pressures on children these days to build resumes, to do all the activities, but church is the place where we can say- slow down a little bit, your worth isn’t measured by your works, just remember you are loved and infinitely accepted by God no matter what you do, so go out there and try be the best person you can be and love the most people and love God right from where you are. Even if today that just means being kind to the person in the line at CVS. Amen

[1] This exercise is taken from Personal Development website, Steve Pavlina and this specific article:

[2] The following research is taken from an interview on NPR Podcast “Hidden Brain,”