Are you ready to answer the call?
Sermon by Chap Wagoner on 1/27/2013
Texts for the Sunday are found here: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Epiphany/CEpi3_RCL.html
Today’s lessons center on the theme of ministry. The Gospel tells of the beginning of Jesus ministry. The Epistle talks about the different types of ministries.
If the answer is yes, then the question is what type of ministry. Now the question of discernment comes in.
The Epistle uses the analogy of the body. The body has arms, leg,s eyes, ears, and mouth. While the function of each is separate and distinctive, and at times one function will take the lead over the others, they all must perform their functions together for the body to function as a whole.
Let us now take the terms of this analogy and translate to ministry: Bishop, Priest, Deacons, Acolytes, Choir, Vestry,GREETERS and all other lay ministries.
Many of us have experienced a call to ministry. What exactly is a call? There is no set format. God ca
lls us in many ways. Each of His calls are unique to the individual. God’s call can lead us to any of the forms of ministry: Priest, Deacon, lay.
We must use discernment to understand the call that God has given us. Discernment is a process using prayer, thought and questions that enable us to better understand the ministry God has in store for us. Often the answer takes us to a place which is different from where we originally thought we were going.
Early in my life I knew what I wanted to do - play professional baseball for the Orioles or become an Episcopal minister. God quickly helped me discern that my athletic skills would not lead to being a Baltimore Oriole. I could hit and field but not a speedy base runner.
Well on to ministry. I am a cradle Episcopalian from a devout Episcopal family. My parents’ families were very active in several Episcopal churches with a few Methodists sprinkled in.
I attended Lutheran grammar schools and a Lutheran college. In 1973 I applied through the Diocese of East Carolina and was accepted to Virginia Theological Seminary in 1974. I was ready to be ordaine
d. Seminary was a formality. I had all the answers. God however had not given me the questions.
In brief, this experience wasn’t what I thought it would be. I didn’t understand. Why had God sent me to seminary to have this conclusion? I figured well God sent me to seminary to be a good lay person. So my career changed to sales. It turned out that sales was a very discerning part of my growth. It was through the selling process that I learned to be a great listener. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sales also taught me to ask probing questions that would help me better understand my customer and help select the best solution to their situation. I learned to listen to not only what someone was saying but how they were saying it. This gave me better understanding of their needs and potential solutions. Listening with empathy, gaining their trust, walking a mile in their shoes. I remember someone saying you have to learn how to “Howdy” with people. The sales process also included explaining how the solution would best meet someone needs. My career as a product trainer taught me to not only explain the feature of the product but the benefit that feature would bring to the customer. If I heard no, it was not a rejection of me. It told me the customer still had questions and needed information and reassurance to make their decision. My job was to understand their objection, explain and re-emphasize the benefit that would meet their need. I found this helpful in pastoral counseling The sales process taught me How to tell a story. On to Harrisburg…
Speed ahead 35 years, Pat Strohl, Deacon at St Stephen’s asked me to consider being a Deacon, He was getting ready to retire. I told him I would think about it. I remember asking God, “Are You serious? Now I am ready?.” This really caught me by surprise. I asked myself do I really want to do this I was happy being an usher and greeter at St Stephen’s. I was very comfortable in what I was doing. I liked my ministry. “Do I really want or need ordination to be a minister?” Pat was persistent. A second
conversation took place. He gave me Eugene Peterson’s book Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. The more I read the more things made sense, I realized that now the time was right. After much prayer thought and conversation I agreed to pick up this call on hold for all those years. Things moved quickly. I was elected to vestry and became a LEV. Exploring your Ministry with Canon Kate and an internship at St Paul’s in a whirlwind 15 months. It was in the Exploring class that the term discernment was used and now I understood its importance. Discernment was a great help.
This time everyone else was sure I was ready. I had the questions. I was not sure. Discernment and prayer helped me resolve my hesitancy . As this journey has progressed I now have fewer questions and more assurance that this is what God has wanted me to do all along. He may have tried to ask me earlier, but I wasn’t listening. God found the way to get my attention and lead me to where He wants me to go.
But why the clerical collar? Pat told me it was a symbol and a reminder of an unbroken tradition in the church. Kate reminded me it could be a yoke. I now understand and embrace that it is a symbol of a responsibility not only to myself but as a submission to the will of God. A reminder of an oath of promises made to God and to make Him the center of my life.
I then know that each week we all take this oath whether clerical or lay at the end of the Eucharist. It is called the dismissal. In Latin the mass ends with the words Ita Misa est. Gratia Dei this mass is over thanks be to God. At the end of this Eucharist Deacon Brenda leads us in the dismissal. This is an important function of the Deacon, to send us out into the world. We need it. That oath and a promise we make to God and each other in how we live our lives for the rest of the week once we leave the Eucharist. It is confirmed to us in today’s Gospel by Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of the sight of the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Amen