The readings this morning are both about being called and responding. They are the perfect readings for a minister and congregation at the beginning of a relationship.
Samuel, a young boy, serving the Eli in the temple, hears a voice calling him. He doesn’t recognize the voice as God’s… he thinks it is Eli calling him… in fact three times doesn’t recognize it. But God is persistent and keeps calling, until we hear Samuel say in response, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And in the gospel reading, we hear Jesus inviting Philip to follow him… and then Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see what Jesus was about.
So, I thought I would share some of my call into ministry with you and how I see my story fitting with what I know of your story. First of all, I know that I don’t know most of your story. But what I do know is that you are a community which reaches out into the community in so many ways.
Presbytery met here a few years ago and worship that evening focused on the things that you were doing in the community… I was blown away…. I don’t think there are many United Churches doing as much as you. So, when Jeanne announced her retirement, I heard something with my heart… I know that makes no sense… but that’s the only way I can describe it. I ignored it at first… but then I decided to update my resume… you know, just because… Then a convergence of realizations took place… I had taken my church to the point where they needed a different kind of ministry for their future… that my role and purpose with them was coming to an end…
But I wasn’t thinking about a six month appointment… I was thinking about a call… Greg McKinnon can tell you that I called and asked him if I could apply for the call after the six months… if he had said no, I probably wouldn’t be standing here now. So, I sent him my resume… and here I am… call and response…
But I am way ahead of the story I meant to tell. I had an unrecognized, or unrealized, call to ministry from the time I was about 10. I used to read stories of missionaries and wanted to be one… but the only women in these stories were wives… who were often teachers or nurses and I wanted to be neither of those. Plus I had never seen or heard of a woman in ministry, so didn’t even think that ministry was an option for me. I attended Sunday School as a child, taught Sunday School for a year when I was 12 and then I left home at a very young age, married, had a child, divorced and life happened. You know, you wake up suddenly and say to yourself, “How did I turn 30 or 40 or 50, or how come my children are so old?”
I tried churches on and off over the years, but as a single woman hadn’t found a place where I felt welcomed with all the talk of families. And family at the time hadn’t expanded beyond the two parent model. It wasn’t until I become involved in a church in my early 30s, after a 20 year absence, that I encountered a woman in ministry. Through that church, Cole Harbour Woodside, I became involved in various aspects of church life, including being on the Lay Resource Team for two different interns. Through conversations with one intern in particular, I became aware that God was still calling. At the same time, my son was turning 18 and making plans to go to university and go off and lead his life. I realized that for the first time in my adult life, I could make decisions about MY life, that didn’t need to take my son’s best interests in mind. And what I wanted to do was to discern whether God was calling me into ordained ministry. That came like a blinding flash of light… not on the road to Damascus, but on Cole Harbour Road!
And so I set out on that Discernment process, like the one that Lana is just beginning. And in due course, after multiple interviews, studies at AST and internship, I graduated and was ordained at Maritime Conference in May 2004. I was settled in a small community in Southern Ontario where I spent 4 years and then was called to United Memorial in 2008 and now I am responding to the call I felt to explore the possibility of ministry here.
I believe that God calls each one of us. From the very young, like Samuel in the temple… to the not so young… and the in between. And that we have a choice of responding or not.
In the gospel reading, it sounds as if Philip knew Andrew and Peter and knew that they had followed Jesus when he had called them. Then Philip found Nathaniel and invited him along… It sounds as if Nathaniel is a bit skeptical… he asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Rather than try and convince him, Philip simply says, “Come and see.” Come and see Jesus… come and find out what he is about… come and see if following him is for you… Call and response.
How do we know that it is God or Jesus calling us and not just our own ego and desires? The way I have come to know, is that when I sense that God is calling me into something new, it either clicks together like one of those puzzles that only fits together in one way… or it is really uncomfortable… outside my comfort zone… or sometimes both.
It seems that your call is to serve the community and I look forward to hearing stories from you as we get to know one another. Stepping out and following Jesus may feel risky and indeed, it will take you places that you didn’t dream of.
Helen Keller wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It doesn’t exist in nature. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Amazing and profound words from a woman blind and deaf. If life is a daring adventure, then it takes courage to live a life of faith. The word courage comes from the same root word that means ‘heart.’ Courage makes everything possible. The life of following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to be the church in this time and place. Not the kind of courage that comes from persecution. But the courage to persist when fewer and fewer people attend church. The courage to live hope in the face of despair. It takes courage to welcome a new minister into your midst. And it takes courage to respond to the invitation to serve you.
What will the coming months bring us? I don’t know… and like any relationship, it will be an adjustment. You and Jeanne had a long relationship, there will be times when I rub you the wrong way or you rub me the wrong way. Times when you assume I know something and times I assume you know something. When I forget to put something, like the choir anthem, in the bulletin. But together, let’s be like Samuel and Philip, stepping out with courage, with heart, following Jesus wherever he takes us. Let’s see where this next 6 months takes us!
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity. Amen.
1 Samuel 3:1–10
January 18, 2015
St. Paul’s Spryfield
(C) Catherine MacDonald 2015