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Called Together

Kathy Escandell

April 27, 2014
John 20:19-31

If you’ve read ahead in your bulletin, you know that in a few minutes we will ordain and install new ruling elders and deacons, women and men who will serve UPC in these ordered ministries of the church. They have been called from among the congregation for particular functions within our particular representation of the Body of Christ.

But what does it mean to be called?

We use that language – I use that language — all the time.

  • Called to be God’s people in this place
  • Called to the offices of ruling elder and deacon
  • Called to service
  • Called to community
  • Called to a life of discipleship

What does it mean to be called?

Whatever the context, “call” connotes welcome and inclusion. My father’s childhood friends included four brothers whose parents had emigrated from Europe. Their mother’s English remained rudimentary. When my dad would knock on their door, wanting to play with his friends, her response would be “Johnny, Pauly, Karly, Fritzy – upstairs!”, which meant – Come on in. During my own childhood, that sentence – with precisely that inflection – became our family’s all-purpose summons. My three brothers and I could be scattered through the house, but when we heard, “Johnny, Pauly, Karly, Fritzy – upstairs!” we knew it was time to coalesce as a family. Supper was ready, or we were leaving for church, or some other event required our collective presence.

That phrase, inherited from my father’s past and spoken in a home where the children were not named Johnny, Pauly, Karly, or Fritzy – nevertheless conveyed inclusion and connection. It was the language of relationship in our family. It meant something to us.

In this family – the family of faith that is UPC, or more broadly the Presbyterian Church, or more broadly still Christianity — the language of call means something to us.

It means, at the most fundamental level, that we are invited to live fully into our belovedness.

We are welcomed into the life and love and work and care that God initiates and in which we participate — offering light to the nations, sight to the blind, freedom to the imprisoned and oppressed.

To be called is to recognize and accept our identity as participants in God’s healing and reconciliation of the world. To be called to Christian ministry is to understand and rejoice that Christ’s Resurrection ushers in a new age in which we are tasked and trusted to carry the light, the hope and the healing of Christ.

Jack Stotts writes this of Christian vocation:

The church is a people who are called… That is God’s gift to us. We are called. God has given us the gift of calling. That is to say, God has given us the gift of meaning, purpose and significance. Further, it is the church, the people, the whole people, who are called to respond to God’s gift, not initially individuals, but the church, the whole church. [1]

For while our belovedness is particular to each of us, it is not private. We are blessed to be a blessing; beloved to be loving.

Augustine says: God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us. And that is true, but God calls each one of us because there are all of us. From its very inception, Christ’s church has been a collection of people, a community of believers, drawn together in and for service. As one scholar describes it, ministry is “a cooperative responsibility exercised by all, to embody the abundance of God’s healing compassion for the world.” [2]

God says to Israel:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people.

The Risen Christ says to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Here is the pattern of faithful service:  called, taken by the hand, given to the people. For Israel, for Jesus’ disciples, for us today – here is the pattern of life with the Triune God: Beloved, gifted, sent.

The officers we’re installing today are being sent in specific ways.

The ruling elders have a list of duties.

The deacons have a list of duties.

And we have elected these leaders because we know them to be capable of performing these duties.

We know they are capable because they are bright, talented, dedicated people, and, more importantly, they won’t be working alone.

The Risen Christ, as he sends his disciples, also says to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

A contemporary paraphrase of the New Testament puts it this way:

Now [Jesus] drew close enough to each of them that they could feel his breath. He breathed on them: Welcome the Holy Spirit of the living God.”

That was the first experience of their ordered ministry as apostles – standing close enough to Jesus to be incorporated into this community of faith and service, close enough to be breathed upon. “Before Christ sent the church into the world, he sent the Spirit into the church. The same order must be observed today.” (John Stott)

And so I say to the ruling elders and the deacons:

Identify those moments in your life when Jesus comes close enough for you to feel his breath. Strengthen – or develop – the habits and practices and postures that keep you turned toward that breath. Remain ever willing and eager to welcome the Holy Spirit of the living God, for it is that Spirit which makes us fit for ministry and makes our ministry beneficial for the world.

As you are ordained and installed this morning to begin this ordered ministry, receive the Holy Spirit.  Turn toward, lean on, live within the power and the love of our gracious Lord who has called you and kept you; breathed on you and sent you.

And I say the very same thing to the rest of us. For while our ruling elders and deacons have accepted the particular responsibilities of their offices, we all are called to ministry. Jesus comes close to each of us with the breath of life, the invitation to service, the call to discipleship. In baptism God claims us. By water and the Holy Spirit, we are made members of the church, the body of Christ, and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace, and justice. We are – in the very best sense of the term – all in this together. Beloved, gifted and sent.                            Amen.

[1] Stotts, A Theology of Vocation, p. 11

[2] Saines, p. 521