Today’s words are “calling” stories and songs: to hear Jesus’ invitation to come and see and follow Jesus; to know we are fully known, wonderfully made, and called by name; to faithfulness in body and spirit. They are inner callings to God’s outward purpose, to “see angels ascending and descending on God’s beloved,” to call all the world to love one another.
Last Wednesday we gathered for a monthly ecumenical ministerial lunch hosted by Broad View United that included a tour of their newly renovated facility, formerly St. Aidan’s United just up the hill to the east on Cedar Hill Crossroad. Broad View is the amalgamation of now four United churches, Gordon Head, Cadboro Bay, St. Aidan’s, and most recently, First Metropolitan. The newly renovated Broad View facility has a refreshed bright sanctuary with flexible seating, up-to-date sound, lighting, and livestreaming equipment, and a glassed-in entranceway with a large coffee bar and seating. The building also has a number of new flexible gathering spaces intended to invite and encourage people to drop in and stay a while, to read, rest, for meetings, coffee and tea, updated space for the Thrift store, childcare, new offices for the ministry staff of more than half a dozen, administration and social enterprise support spaces, washroom and shower facilities, and areas for social gatherings, a future in-from-the-cold shelter, and community rentals. And a large array of solar panels on the roof. It is a huge investment of money and energy and time to bring these communities together into a new facility for a common calling. At lunch, following our practise that the hosts ask a question for us to reflect on, one of the lead ministers, Mark, acknowledging the significant investment in all of this, including his own personal investment to see it realized, asked, “What is the future of the church? We’ve obviously invested heavily in what we think is the future, and because we think there is one for the church, but what do you think it is?” It was a provocative question for all of us to consider. And our responses included new partnerships, community engagement and meeting people where they are.
A future for and created by others, spaces where people can share their gifts and callings, a focus on “first-third of life” ministries and those of “below average representation” by “generous exclusion” of those more represented, to give place and voice to others. And an acknowledgement that the question and future of the church is different in other places of the world where the church is growing and expanding, not declining as it is and has been for a number of decades, particularly in the northern hemisphere.
It was a good question that I invite you to consider as well. What do you think or feel is the future of the church? And I would add, and what is your calling, what is our call of God in that future together?
And I wonder what part of this calling is stewardship? The resources, the financial resources to support adequate facilities and staffing, but also the critical resource of involvement, of leadership and service to carry out a new and reimagined future. What does this call of God to everyone, from a young child called by name to a friend saying, “Come and see,” to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” ask of us, invite us into, promise us, for the future?
The compelling story of Samuel affirms God’s call to everyone, including a young child simply hearing their name in the night and asking who is calling? And the counsel of an elder priest whose family has turned away from faithfulness to God for greed and self-interest, but that not preventing Eli from directing Samuel to respond to God, as Samuel does, saying, “Speak God, for your servant is listening.” And Eli’s acceptance, in the part of the story we didn’t read this morning, of God’s judgement spoken through Samuel, announcing the end of the past era of Eli and his family, and the beginning of a new era, in Samuel’s faithfulness.
Faithfulness like Paul directs the community of followers in Corinth to commit themselves to, specifically to the issue of prostitution as it was experienced by males and females in that time, but more universally in the proclamation that following the call of God requires the commitment of our bodies and our spirits joined to Christ, our whole selves, our whole lives given in response to God as followers of Jesus.
As in the psalmist’s beautiful song of amazement in God’s being with us always, behind and before, searching for and knowing us fully, too wonderful to comprehend, from the womb to the grave, in every circumstance of life, God with us.
And Jesus’ searching out Phillip and calling him to follow. And Phillip’s finding Nathanel and inviting him, despite his scepticism and prejudice, to come and see. And Jesus’ knowing Nathanel fully before he spoke a word, and Nathanel’s confession of who Jesus is, Beloved of God and Sovereign. And Jesus’ invitation and promise that Nathanel and all who follow will see greater things than these, the opening of heaven, with angels ascending and descending on God’s chosen one.
Again, what does this call of God, the invitation of Jesus to follow, look and feel like now and in the future? How do we experience this inner call for God’s outward purpose to love our hurting neighbour, especially the children, and this hurting world.
I read a small book over Christmas, Small Things Like These by award winning Irish author, Claire Keegan. Beautifully written, as one commentator on the cover declares, “Every word is the right word in the right place.” It is the story of Bill Furlong, spouse Eileen and their four daughters, coal and wood sellers in a small Irish town, in 1985, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Bill grew up in the town dominated by the church, the only son of a single mother who was taken in by the family where she served as a domestic worker, to raise her son in their household. Bill is a kind man often caring for those with less in the community by providing wood and coal for them to heat their homes. One of his customers is the convent and home for unwed mothers on the edge of town. His sense of calling and the challenge and wonder of following is described this way: (pages 112-114).
The contemplative monk, writer and activist, Thomas Merton, wrote of this inner call in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday, 1966, p.142). At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of
nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak (God’s) name written in us, as our indigence, as our dependence, as (sons and daughter of God). It is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the (evil) and cruelty of life vanish completely… I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.
God, calling us, calling you, by name, searching for us, fully known, and inviting us to follow, to come and see, and promising the very opening of heaven, within us and around us, in faithfulness and light and truth and love of one another. It is a spark of poverty and glory within each one of us. And it is about stewardship and faithfulness for the future, of our resources to be shared, yes! so all have enough and the stories of this sacred calling and hope for the world in Jesus continue to be shared by a faithful church. Of our time and energy, our gifts and abilities, in body and Spirit, yes! to respond, faithfully following Jesus into the future, for the wellbeing of this planet our home, and of all God’s little ones, creating communities of compassion and faithfulness of God’s desiring. It is this sacred calling and purpose, the spark and light for which we are, you are wonderfully made, the very opening of heaven, within and all around us, that we and all in this world, love one another. Let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.