Call & Response: ie: post ordination paper sermon & bishop’s letter

Call and Response.

In the African-American church tradition – call and response is what happens when the people hear something the preacher says and can’t contain themselves… they have to respond. It’s the chorus of Hallelujahs and Amens and Tell Me More Sister’s that the congregation brings out to help the preacher along in telling the gospel story. And when you are a part of it – when you feel the energy, when you realize that each and every single person in that room is waiting to respond – it’s pretty powerful.

Now – we are a white, Iowan congregation. 51 weeks out of 52 there probably won’t be an “amen” uttered in response to anything I have to say. It’s just not who we are! =) BUT. But… we do have a call…. And, we are called to have a response.

We were first reminded of that call today from the book of Isaiah – the Lord who created us, who formed us says: DO NOT BE AFRAID, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are MINE.

Do not be afraid, God says. Do not be afraid to respond – I have called you. And so when you are called to pass through waters – I am there with you. Called through rivers? – They won’t overwhelm you. Called Into ministry in Marengo, Iowa? I have your back.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

God calls us – just like God placed a call upon Jesus. This morning we heard that story of Jesus’ baptism… a story that is shared in the gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke. As Sarah Dylan Breuer reminds us, “Mark’s wording is particularly striking, as “immediately” after Jesus is baptized by John, Mark says, “the Spirit drove [Jesus] out into the wilderness.” The verb Mark uses is ekballo — the same word used of what happens to demons in exorcism.” (http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2007/01/first_sunday_af.html)

Jesus’ baptism calls him out from the life of silence that we talked about two Sundays ago. His baptism sends him forth – thrusts him forth if we look at Mark – into a headfirst confrontation with the powers of this world.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

We too, are called. Our baptisms are connected to Jesus’. The same Holy Spirit that came upon him and sent him out into the world, comes upon us. We are called.

But called to what?

Dylan Breuer says this call is what we take on when we are sealed with the weighty sign of means that we will participate in Jesus’ mission… and invest our very lives – body, mind, and spirit, and pocketbook – into the mission of transforming the world around us, until we truly can say that Jesus is Lord of it all.

We are called to God’s audacious vision for humanity. We are called to live out the gospel of Christ. We are called to go with Jesus into the wilderness and resist injustice, evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

We need to be constantly reminded not to be afraid, because this calling is difficult. It is daunting. And many of us prefer to ignore it.

Many of us prefer to forget we made these promises in our baptism.

But when we do so, when we choose not to respond, we also lay aside the reassurance and hope that God provides when we are faced with real evil and injustice in the world.

Over the next four weeks, we will be exploring how money has gotten us all tied up into knots – both as individuals and families and as a nation, during a series called “Enough.” We will talk about how ultimately our financial problems are spiritual problems – brought on by gluttony, sloth, greed, envy, and pride. And what we each will be called to be are ambassadors of hope… people who demonstrate to the world that our joy doesn’t lie in the things we have, but in the God who has us.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

But money is not the only problem our world faces. Our former Bishop Gregory Palmer wrote: “As bishops, we know that critical issues of the day have left people feeling fearful, cynical, hopeless and overwhelmed.”

And so our bishops, as the spiritual leaders of our denomination… as fellow baptized Christians with the same call up their lives as we have, got together and they have something they want me to share with you…

“God’s creation is in crisis. We, the Bishops of The United Methodist Church, cannot remain silent while God’s people and God’s planet suffer… our neglect, selfishness, and pride have fostered: pandemic poverty and disease; environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons and violence. Despite these interconnected threats to life and hope, God’s creative work continues. Despite all the ways we all contribute to these problems, God still invites each one of us to participate in the work of renewal… We cannot help the world until we change our way of being in it. We all feel saddened by the state of the world, overwhelmed by the scope of these problems, and anxious about the future, but God calls us and equips us to respond.”

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

God’s Spirit… that same spirit that baptized us… is always and everywhere at work in the world fighting poverty, restoring health, renewing creation, and reconciling peoples.

Aware of God’s vision for creation, we no longer see a list of isolated problems affecting disconnected people, plants, and animals. Rather, we see one interconnected system that is “groaning in travail” (Romans 8:22 RSV)… We urge all United Methodists and people of goodwill to offer themselves as instruments of God’s renewing Spirit in the world.

First, let us orient our lives toward God’s holy vision. This vision of the future calls us to hope and to action, because as disciples of Christ, we take God’s promise as the purpose for our lives. Let us, then, rededicate ourselves to living each day with awareness of the future that God extends to us and of the Spirit that leads us onward.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

Second, let us practice social and environmental holiness… Through doing so, we make ourselves channels of God’s blessing in the world. We practice social and environmental holiness by caring for God’s people and God’s planet and by challenging those whose policies and practices neglect the poor, exploit the weak, hasten global warming, and produce more weapons.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

Third, let us live and act in hope. As people in the tradition of John Wesley, we understand reconciliation and renewal to be part of the process of salvation that is already underway. We are not hemmed in to a fallen world. Rather we are part of a divine unfolding process to which we must contribute. As we faithfully respond to God’s grace and call to action, the Holy Spirit guides us in this renewal. With a resurrection spirit, we look forward to the renewal of the whole creation and commit ourselves to that vision. We pray that God will accept and use our lives and resources that we rededicate to a ministry of peace, justice, and hope to overcome poverty and disease, environmental degradation, and the proliferation of weapons and violence.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

This letter from our bishops goes on to include some concrete ways that they are responding to God’s call on us all…

“With God’s help and with you as our witnesses–

1. We as your bishops pledge to answer God’s call to deepen our spiritual consciousness as just stewards of creation. We commit ourselves to faithful and effective leadership on these issues, in our denomination and in our communities and nations.

2. We pledge to make God’s vision of renewal our goal. With every evaluation and decision, we will ask: Does this contribute to God’s renewal of creation? Ever aware of the difference between what is and what must be, we pledge to practice Wesleyan “holy dissatisfaction.”iv

3. We pledge to practice dialogue with those whose life experience differs dramatically from our own, and we pledge to practice prayerful self-examination. For example, in the Council of Bishops, the fifty active bishops in the United States are committed to listening and learning with the nineteen active bishops in Africa, Asia, and Europe. And the bishops representing the conferences in the United States will prayerfully examine the fact that their nation consumes more than its fair share of the world’s resources, generates the most waste, and produces the most weapons.

4. We pledge ourselves to make common cause with religious leaders and people of goodwill worldwide who share these concerns. We will connect and collaborate with ecumenical and interreligious partners and with community and faith organizations so that we may strengthen our common efforts.

5. We pledge to advocate for justice and peace in the halls of power in our respective nations and international organizations.

6. We pledge to measure the “carbon footprint”v of our episcopal and denominational offices, determine how to reduce it, and implement those changes. We will urge our congregations, schools, and settings of ministry to do the same.

7. We pledge to provide, to the best of our ability, the resources needed by our conferences to reduce dramatically our collective exploitation of the planet, peoples, and communities, including technical assistance with buildings and programs: education and training: and young people’s and online networking resources.
8. We pledge to practice hope as we engage and continue supporting the many transforming ministries of our denomination. Every day we will thank God for fruit produced through the work of The United Methodist Church and through each of you.

9. We pledge more effective use of the church and community Web pages to inspire and share what we learn.vi We celebrate the communications efforts that tell the stories of struggle and transformation within our denomination.

With these pledges, we respond to God’s gracious invitation to join in the process of renewal. We rededicate ourselves to join the movements of the Spirit. Young people are passionately raising funds to provide mosquito nets for their “siblings” thousands of miles away. Dock workers are refusing to off-load small weapons being smuggled to armed combatants in civil wars on their continents. People of faith are demanding land reform on behalf of landless farm workers. Children and young people have formed church-wide “green teams” to transform our buildings and ministries into testimonies of stewardship and sustainability. Ecumenical and interreligious partners persist in demanding the major nuclear powers to reduce their arsenals, step by verifiable step, making a way to a more secure world totally disarmed of nuclear weapons. God is already doing a new thing. With this Letter, we rededicate ourselves to participate in God’s work, and we urge you all to rededicate yourselves as well.

DO NOT BE AFRAID, says the Lord. I have called you.

God’s call on each of our lives began with the waters of baptism.

(go into baptism liturgy… and use this litany as a call to the water to renew our baptism)

At the conclusion of their letter, the bishops write: We beseech every United Methodist, every congregation, and every public leader: Will you participate in God’s renewing work?

They ask us to pledge along side them, filled with hope for what God can accomplish through us all. And so they ask us to respond after each question: “We will, with God’s help!”

Leader: Will you live and act in hope?

People: We will, with God’s help!

Leader: Will you practice social and environmental holiness?

People: We will, with God’s help!

Leader: Will you learn from one another and prayerfully examine your lives?

People: We will, with God’s help!

Leader: Will you order your lives toward God’s holy vision of renewal?

People: We will, with God’s help!

Leader: With God’s good creation imperiled by poverty and disease, environmental degradation, and weapons and violence, will you offer yourselves as instruments of God’s renewing work in the world?

People: We will, with God’s help!

1 Comment

  • journeyman37

    January 10, 2010 at 9:16 pm Reply

    Come on, now, preach it, sister! Amen!

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