August 25, 2019

What does it mean to be called by God?

The Rev. Gill Keyworth, Deacon
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy, Texas 77493

Two of today’s scripture readings involve the conflict that results from striving for power and control. The gospel’s central issue focuses on the application of Sabbath rules.  Specifically whether it is forbidden to heal on the seventh day, the day of rest. Jesus argues with the leaders of the synagogue and acts out of compassion for the plight of the crippled woman.  Yes it is ok for ministry to happen on a day that others may see as a day of rest. It is ok for others and not just the leaders to use their power. And Jesus shows us that the power of love overcomes all obstacles. The power of love among all people is the way forward. That importance outweighs all others. Although I may add that power and control is not all bad when used appropriately.

And that brings me to our first reading today. A passage from Jeremiah where we hear a little about the meaning of Christian call or vocation. It is one of the optional readings to be read at the ordination of a deacon, and it was the reading selected by the diocese for the service when I was ordained almost 13 years ago.

So what does it mean to be called by God? Is it only prophets, evangelists, missionaries, bishops, priests and deacons who are called?

No, God calls every Christian to live and serve in the world, in some capacity. As Martin Luther said about parenthood, when understood as Christian vocation, even changing a dirty diaper is done for the glory of God and someone has been called to do it.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you,” God tells Jeremiah. Imagine yourself being received into heaven. Your life is under review and you are told that you have achieved what you were sent for. You did it! You were faithful! So how would you respond to the news? You feel fulfilled.

So what is it that God has made YOU for? What awakens your passion, your creativity and your sense of being true to yourself? In other words what is your calling? Now ask yourself what you need to do in order to fully cooperate with that calling.

When Jeremiah was called he felt inexperienced and unsuitable and he, like most people would, questioned and resisted the call of God because he felt ill equipped. God knew that fear and anxiety were part of the reaction and God spoke to alleviate that resistance. God had always known that Jeremiah would be a prophet and was prepared to appoint him and give him the necessary authority “over nations and over kingdoms” However much you resist, the call comes from God and will be fulfilled. But He will not abandon you in your moment of uncertainty. He will equip you.

He commissions you to do the Lord’s will and that is important for us as a congregation because as you will see I and others have discerned that we are called by God to a ministry together. I had been working for 2 years in Bastrop after the fires there when I knew that the time had come for me to leave. So where do I go? Well fortunately bishop Doyle and I think alike on some issues and he, your rector, Chris, and your vestry agreed that I would be the Deacon here at St Paul’s. A lot has happened in our journey together during that time.

We have welcomed many new families and a new Rector to St Paul’s. We have worked with an interim Rector for a year. As with the circle of life changes will happen. This is not the same church that it was 6 years ago. In answer to all those who have taken me aside recently and have asked “if I am leaving” or “are you happy working with the new Rector”. The answers are no and yes. I am appointed by Bishop Andy Doyle and until he tells me otherwise then I am staying. I am the deacon at St Paul’s and we still have work to do. So now you know what my call is, I ask you what is your call and how equipped are you?

A deacon has been thru a three-year program of preparation for the diaconate. I got a call then I was equipped. The program is academically rigorous. We studied the same books as those used by seminarians. We just did not have the Greek and Hebrew studies associated with them…..thank goodness. The program includes two years of significant field work and is designed to meet the academic, liturgical and practical aspects of formation necessary for ordained ministry.

I have a contract with St Paul’s which I, the Rector and the Bishop have signed. I am placed here by the Bishop and I primarily report to the Bishop but I support the Rector and on a day to day basis report to him.  I have a defined liturgical role and am seen as the leader of the congregation at the Eucharist. I am not the celebrant. I read the gospel, may lead the prayers of the people, set the table, administer the sacraments and dismiss the congregation. Note that I always stand at the front to dismiss you. Then I turn and lead you out of the church into the world. It is my role to be the connection between you, the church, and the world and to lead you and to work with you in the world.

I am called to preach on an occasional basis. Actually the rubrics say preach when I feel I have something I want to say, but it rarely works like that and I fit into a regular schedule. However when I preach it does not have to be with the same emphasis as the priest, who will interpret The Word of God. I am called to give a prophetic sermon which will analyze the present moment and get response from the congregation. I am to interpret the needs of the world so I have authority to talk on mission and to address the difficult questions. Jesus was an activist who had a definite pastoral message, so that is what you will often get from me. Not always an interpretation of the Gospel.

But enough about a deacon. What about your call? Are you wriggling in your seats at the thought? What are you hearing from the reading from Jeremiah.

In our church, Baptism is a community event welcoming new members and providing an opportunity for all the baptized to renew their vows. And part of that is when we are asked ‘will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself’ and you reply ‘I will with God’s help’. That is your call to mission work. We work for the kingdom in whatever capacity we are able.

Just as Jeremiah found, calls from God can be scary. Together we will listen for the Spirit’s guidance and leading. Are we able to love as God loves with an unconditional love of others? Can we all take the next step and offer the hand of love to a stranger? God promises help and guidance and training to equip us just as he did the prophet Jeremiah. There is an abundance of areas that we are called to just within St Paul’s and the Katy area.. We are all different and have different spiritual gifts so will respond differently: hospitality, bible study, gardening, altar guild, youth, pastoral care, mentor, befriending an elderly neighbor and so the list goes on.

That is what a community does. That is the power of community to love each other and work together. That is following Jesus’s teaching.  That fulfills the power, control and love that Jesus wants for us. And the wonderful result is that you will actually grow and receive more blessings as you do.

Or as Apollinaire says
“Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came.
He pushed them,
And they flew…”

In today’s collect we look to the hopeful reality that God may enable us in the unity of the Spirit to show forth God’s power of love among all people. That is your call.