Years ago, entering into what is called the Discernment Process to become Ordained, there was a lot of talk about “a Call.” The term Call had a capital “C” meaning it was an entity and something I was required to think about with closest scrutiny. “What is your Call?” was asked repeatedly by my supervisors. Many new to Ordination say something like “God has called me” which is not what the authorities who oversee the process want to hear. Or maybe they hear it too often like, “I’ve heard a call…” as a candidate’s voice drifts off, like in a mystical time warp. What they really want to know is - what can you do? What do you bring to the table? Who are you and how do you want to serve God?
At the time I began, I was working as a Public School Special Education Teacher and Part-Time Christian Education Director in a small church, so I figured Ordination to Christian Education was probably the next logical step. At first I thought something magical would happen like God would come to me in my dreams or meditations and say, “Carla! This is what I want you to do” as if “A Call” was a secret assignment from God. I soon found out, with assistance, that it just doesn’t work that way. You see, a call isn’t something you are told to do by God or that you necessarily choose to do because you think it will be fun, profitable or interesting. A Call is better described as what it is you can offer to assist people to be closer to God or to experience the presence of God among us.
The scripture tells us
“He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.'"
Even when we disagree with each other, we’re called to lend our gifts and talents to the cause of God’s work in the world. In other words, instead of waiting to get that phone call or text from God with an assignment about what God wants you to do, think – “what can I do to serve God? Where are my strengths, my talents and gifts? What can I bring to the dream of a more just world?” There are an awful lot of people here at GPC that are called to do wonderful things. We have cookers and bakers, greeters and servers, Board Chairs and Board Members, Church Council participants, Moderators, Caregivers, Food Pantry Coordinators, Mustard Seed cooks & servers, Prayer Shawl Knitters, Wedding Coordinators, Design people, Financiers, Christian Ed leaders, Musicians, Singers, Camp Selah volunteers and Pastor Parish Relations saints. These positions are all Calls and each one is equally important.
Consider this morning, the Call of a very special person. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929 as a Preacher’s Kid. He did not always feel as if God existed and he even debated the validity of the Resurrection. That was a very brave thing to do for a child raised in the family of a well-known Preacher, his own father. At some point it looked as if the young Mike King, as he was originally named, later renamed Martin Luther, was not called to ministry at all! He did, however, see many instances of inequality and racism perpetrated on his father and other African Americans, which prompted him to excel in school and to get a college education. During his Morehouse College years, he contemplated a career in law as well as ministry.
He decided after graduating college to enter Crozer Theological Seminary excelled academically and worked on his preaching skills, which later became legendary. He did so well at seminary, that he was encouraged to pursue a Doctorate at Boston University. He accomplished his dissertation in 1955, though he had decided against a life of academia and instead became a minister at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery AL. He used his oratorical skills and his learning about non-violent resistance to become the leader of the new Civil Rights movement. It started around the Montgomery Bus Boycott, due to Rosa Parks resisting a demand that she give up her seat and move to the back of the bus. He later lent his gifts to the inception of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and quickly became a speaker in demand globally. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because of his intelligence and communications skills, could have chosen to be whatever he wanted to be. He was neither poor nor socially challenged, except for living in the South as Black, during a time of great civil unrest. He was fully equipped to do many wonderful things. However, after seeing the underbelly and atrocities of the prevailing power structure which not only kept Blacks down and segregated from white society but snuffed out innocent lives, he felt called to bring his skills and gifts to do the difficult work of desegregation. That was his call, thanks be to God.
What about you? What can you do for God today, on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. day? What is your call to assist in promoting good in our world? Really, I would like you to think about that and pick something, anything, to be in service to God’s people. You can start tomorrow! Ruthie Brown is a 1.5 year old member of church. During Advent she and her Mom Liz filled up a box with food to bring to the Food Pantry. They are now embarking on a journey to visit with our Parishioners who are in Elder Care homes or otherwise unable to get out. She is little but she is doing it. How about you?
Today we have a Church Budget to approve which is designed to keep Greendale People’s Church afloat. Why? Why do we bother to keep the church open and functioning? Is it so we can continue to meet up? I suspect the people who love each other here would meet whether 25 Francis Street was here or not. Is it so we can have a nice place to worship on Sundays? That is a motivation for some of us, especially for the people who have been coming to church here for a long time and have been baptized, confirmed, married and raised their kids here. There is a love of its history that is to be honored. The thing is, even though we raise our kids in church, that is no longer a guarantee that our kids will continue going to church. We are living, increasingly, in a post church attending kind of world. Personally, that makes me sad and maybe you agree. I like to worship God and be reminded of the goodness and efficacy of a life lived in Jesus path. But you know, it is not just us experiencing decline in church attendance. As habitual, lifelong church participants age, it is projected that places of worship will continue to experience decline.
There are things we can do to make church more attractive to younger or newer people. We can make it easier to participate by modernizing our delivery system. Some ideas that are being tossed around are putting up screens so everybody has big, colorful access to all the words and music without having to hold a printed bulletin. We can modernize some of the music so that it is more inviting to people who are not in love with the old hymns. But not to worry! We are never going to toss out all the old hymns, rather we will integrate new ones with the old favorites. We can introduce more visuals into worship because people are more and more accustomed to seeing bright, colorful presentations elsewhere. We can move from a stewardship or membership model, to one which inspires active service participants in Christ’s name. We can offer services at night or late afternoon, in order to include people who are either working on Sunday mornings or are not interested in getting up early on the weekends after working hard all week. Most importantly, we need ideas from you! What would you like to see and do to make church a more inviting, attractive place to bring your friends? What is your Call? What can you offer to the church to make things work better not just for now but for the future?
It’s increasingly clear that no one really knows how church is going to look in the future. Maybe you have an idea or a gift that you can bring to church that will help us all understand what’s going on. When people come to us with ideas let’s not be afraid to try them! Let’s encourage new ideas and send people out into the world feeling as though their call and ideas are worthwhile. Maybe some new ideas are different than what you’re used to or maybe you don’t like it. Maybe it’s not the way it’s been done, but let’s try it! As it reads in Isaiah; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” I said, “… surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”