A Call to Ministry

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Acts 2: 1-21

John 14: 8-17

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A Call To Ministry

Awareness

To be supportive of our colleagues at Boston University, Marsh Chapel offered to gather and teach a co-curricular course this autumn on calling, titled Vocation.  We weren’t really sure anyone would sign up. The course it turns out is full, with a waiting list. Why?

People it may be of all ages are alive to the possibilities of calling, of vocation, in life, which is the gift of the Spirit, on this day of Pentecost, the day of spirit.  Where does our gladness meet the world’s deep hunger? With the Parthians, Medes, and Elamites of the first Pentecost, we today shall listen for that call, that calling, a call to ministry.

The first step in calling it may be is simply a sense of awareness.  Awareness of the gift, the glorious gift of life. Have we forgotten the love we had at first? When did breathing become such an ordinary thing to our mind? And prayer? Have we begun with the spirit to end with the flesh? Has the vocation, the sense of self and soul that is the real marrow of Pentecost given way to drift, ennui, languid doldrums?  Wake up! It is morning! Dawn is breaking! Come Pentecost. With great gladness that this is such a beautiful Charles River morning, such a glorious Boston morning, such a magnificent bright New England morning, we remember how Marilynn Robinson ended her gem of a novel, Gilead:

I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment ‘when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy’, but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well. Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or to delay. Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view

At dawn, with an aching heart, a full chest weight of the sense of …the Un-nameable. Radiance. Goodness. Wonder. Song. Joy.

In our Scripture lesson today, Luke is surely reminding his church, and reminding us, of the love we had at first. Every single one has a tongue of fire given, that makes effective connection with others. Everyone is called, has a vocation, a measure of spirit.  You are an unrepeatable miracle, with your own fingerprint, gait, voice, and calling!

Pentecost is God at dawn, with life waking up, the birth in you of real awareness.  This morning is the morning of tongues of fire, of firey tongues, of speech that burns, heals, warms, enflames, inspires.

Trust

A second step in calling, it may be, is to remember those you trust, those whose example, relationship, giving, and love have kindled in you real trust, and so, the foundation for calling.  As Carlyle Marney used to ask, Who told you who you was?

It may be that you learned to love Jesus in the simple rhythms of the ordinary, in the pause before meals, with grace in his name. In singing hymns to Him, in church, at camp, in the car. In reading about his life in the Bible, and celebrating his birth in snowy December, and his destiny in snow melting April. In seeing older people love him, really love him, with their hands, and their money and their time and most especially with their choices, and within that, with their choices about things not to say, not to be, not to do.  You may have learned to love Him like you learned to speak English, one lisp at a time, one dangling preposition at a time, one new word at a time. His music, it may be, played the accompaniment to all of the growth and decay of life around you. There was no wall of separation, neither artificial, nor sacramental, nor communal, between your life and his. His was your life, and your life was his. You came to know how to trust through people who showed how to trust by how they lived. Trustworthy people.

This could sound romantic, but it is not meant to be. Conflict, envy, hurt, gossip, anger, misjudgment, unfairness, tragedy, hatred, fear, abuse, neglect, betrayal, addiction, and loneliness sat around the table too—around the kitchen table, around the picnic table, around the coffee table, around the communion table.

Who came close enough to you to give a sense of trust, of confidence in the pull and push of life?  Looking back, just now, in recollection, there was a closeness in the Christ, in the followers of Christ, who raised us—a pine needle Adirondack Christ, with the dawn scent of the forest primeval, a sunlit Finger Lake Christ, a blue-collar Erie Canal Christ, a blizzard Christ, an autumn peak Christ, a high summer Christ, a Christ with mud on Easter shoes. You could say that we were more Gospel people than Letter people, more Peter than Paul, more good Samaritan than justification by faith.  Yet there was no forced or feigned distance between Jesus and us, between his life and our own.

He was with us in school, at home, in summer, growing, going away, coming home, in study, in marriage, in work.  

Trust your experience. Honor your instincts. Listen to your heart.

Your relationships are crucial, crucial in the dawning of a sense of vocation.  Whose closeness, whose friendship, could, can, do you trust? Relationships hold the key.

Last Sunday, a friend was ordained as a Rabbi, and some of us were graciously included in the service.  Throughout the beautiful service, the power of trusted voices and people stood out. One said, For over thirty years, I have been in a life-long love affair witb Judaism, seeking a substantive connection to our tradition, and a close and meaningful relationship with God (Jevin Seth Eagle). Close, meaningful.  These are the relationships that bring out our own-most selves.  Another said, quoting another rabbi—you have to love the closeness here—I am afraid that God will ask me, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you more like ‘Zusha?  And for us, come Pentecost: Bob, why weren’t you more like Bob?  Mary, why weren’t you more like Mary? Felix, why weren’t you more like Felix?

Work

A third Pentecost step, coming toward calling, it may be, is to ask yourself very bluntly about your work. To level with yourself.

Say as a young adult now you are beginning to work, to hold a job, or in middle age to hold a new or different job. What counts in your work relationships? Can you honestly list what is meaningful and what is not about what you do? There are clues here, terribly important ones. Do not, do not enslave yourself to something that diseases your soul. Life is too short for that.

Richard Florida wrote recently (The Rise of the Creative Class) something that gives me hope about the future of the culture, the church, and our shared forms of ministry.  All who are baptized are in ministry, one way or another. He surveyed people about what they want in work. Regarding work, he found, the question ‘what?’ is often secondary to the question, ‘with whom?’ Many people prefer the hair salon to the machine shop, for relational reasons. Hear his report on surveys of what people most want in work:

I..Responsibility: Being able to contribute and have impact. . .Knowing that one’s work makes a difference. . .Being seriously challenged.

  1. Flexibility: A flexible schedule and a flexible work environment. . .The ability to shape one’s own work to some degree.

III. Stability: A stable work environment and a relatively secure job. . .Not lifetime security with mind-numbing sameness, but not a daily diet of chaos and uncertainty either.

  1. Compensation: Especially base pay and core benefits. . .Money you can count on.
  2. Growth: Personal and professional development. . .The chance to learn and grow. . .To expand one’s horizons. …cut new ground…feel at home…be creative…design your own work space…define your own role…have peer recognition…enjoy a work\life balance…

Growing segments of the population work for challenge, enjoyment, to do good, to make a contribution, and to learn. Such motivations will eventually eclipse compensation as the most important motives for work. (Robert Fogel)

 

Service

The dawning of awareness, a recollection of real trust, an honest inspection, leveling with yourself, about what you love in work, these three steps, come Pentecost, may just suffice.  They are questions in calling to which we return all our lives, for callings change. Sometimes it is the second call, or the fourth, that takes us closer to our selves, to our own-most selves, to our calling, in baptism, come Spirit day, come Pentecost.  Sometimes you have dreams, and then sometimes you have to edit your dreams. Awareness. Trust. Work. Yet for some there may be a fourth step this morning, or some beautiful summer morning at dawn. There may be a longing for service of a particular sort, a ministerial sort, a religious sort, as there was for those whom we ordained at Annual Conference yesterday.

A sense of longing deeper than existential awareness, the tingling sense of life, deeper than the trust relationships of friends and family, and deeper than the modes of meaning, in work, exploding from human hearts on Pentecost. This dawn day of spirit! This dawn day of fire! This dawn day of translation, interpretation, preaching, ecumenism! This dawn day of world Christianity! This dawn day of the church! This early morning dawn day! A deeper longing burst forth on Pentecost. Theirs, and ours, is a deeper longing, a longing for a relationship with God. And for some, who may find it hard to find any place else, that may come to a calling to ministry not in the large but in the little.  

St. Augustine of Hippo at long last found himself, his soul, and his true vocation, by finding a personal relationship to God.  Augustine entered the ministry. He became priest and bishop in North Africa about 400ad. He wrote 500 letters, 200 sermons, 2 great books.  In some of these, he gave us great insight, and in some of these he left us confusion and perplexity. For Augustine, it was ordination that opened the future.  For most us, baptism, confirmation and communion are more than enough. But then there are the harder cases, we might say, those who need more medication, something more.  Augustine found that, or was found by that, in ordination. In an age, like ours, of intercultural conflict, Augustine made sense of faith’s highest vision…the city of God. In a culture, like ours, that wore the nametag of Christianity without fully understanding its meaning, Augustine celebrated…the grace of God. In a political climate, like ours, that honored highly individualized freedom and the power to choose, Augustine praised God’s freedom to choose, and acclaimed…the freedom of God. In a highly sexualized age, like ours, Augustine colorfully confessed his own wandering, his own mistakes, which, he attested, did test but did not exhaust the …patience of God. In a religious climate, like ours, which buffeted a truly spiritual belief, Augustine praised his maker, and so reminded the church of the proper…praise of God. His Confessions—perhaps part of your summer reading—his great autobiography, is a prayer—for the city of God, by the grace of God, in the freedom of God, to the patience of God, as the praise of God. Augustine found a relationship with God and was ordained. Or, better put, was ordained and found his calling, found a relationship with God.

It may be that the only way God has to fully connect to some of us, to get our attention, to mute our pride, to kindle our affection, is to get us into the ministry. Baptism and confirmation suffice for most. But for the real hard cases—the guy who wrote the book on pride, the gal whose picture is alongside the dictionary definition of sloth, the one who embodies real falsehood—like us, like Augustine…like me? like you?…God keeps ordination in reserve.  Do you hear this Pentecost a call to ministry?

Frederick Buechner’s simple lines are oft-quoted, and should be:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

 

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean.

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