The text for this
Sunday is the call of Isaiah which is found in the 6th chapter of the
book of Isaiah:
In the year that
King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high
and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
2Seraphs were in attendance above him;
each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and
with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
3And one called to another and said:
holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
pivots on the thresholds shook
at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with
smoke. 5And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am
lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a
people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the
Lord of hosts!’
one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had
been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
7The seraph touched my mouth with it
and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt
has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ 8Then
I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send,
and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’
Sunday, for the first time in over 25 years of this congregation, we
called an Associate Pastor to the church, the Reverend April Oristano.
It was Pentecost, of course, and the spirit was moving in the church in
many ways. We had 11 people join the church last Sunday, we had 6
the previous Sunday, we had another this morning. It's the first
time in I don't know how long that on three successive Sundays we've had
someone join the church. It prompted John Moore, at the church
planning meeting yesterday, to quip: "All we need to reach our
goal of 500 members is to hire 5 Associates"
That service lasted
an hour and 40 minutes, and nobody complained. So, sit tight
I hear the preacher
at a mega church in the Midwest somewhere, a young, hip guy, preaches
for 80 minutes! So when the spirit moves, watch out.
We had all kinds of
music in that service last Sunday, our combo with guitar, drums, and
joining together with the organ, and no one complained. The
biggest miracle of all, thought, is in that meeting afterwards 101 votes
were cast for the calling of April, and we received 101 "yes" votes.
It doesn't get any clearer than that [applause from the congregation].
We have ordained a
number of women in the history of this church. There's some
indication in the records that perhaps as early as 1910-1911 a woman was
ordained here (records are a little vague). Certainly 50-60 years
ago we had an ordained woman. Most recently, just a few years ago,
Elaine was ordained on our staff, youth ministry at the time. But
this is the first time in the history of the church that we have called
an ordained woman to be a pastor of the congregation. I truly
believe it's a wonderful thing.
And so it was a
powerful day last week. And like many of you, I was touched by the
story that April shared with us in that meeting, of how she felt called
to the Christian Church Disciples of Christ not once, but twice.
First as a child when she felt this desire to be part of the church.
She was the one who looked around and found the church with her friends
and then brought her family to church. And so she and her mother
were baptized together on Easter. And then, typical of young
adults, in her college years, she began exploring other traditions,
other faiths, traveled around the world, and came back home to the
Christian Church and said 'this is where I want to be, this is home,
this is where I want to serve as a minister'.
Here I am Lord, send
The Lord sent her to
us, probably thinking 'Those folks in Eugene need a lot of help'
April feels called
not just to the ministry of the Christian Church, she indeed feels
called to the ministry here, at this church. She shared with us
that when she knew she was going to need a cheaper place to live looking
around for a church home, she found us on the web, and she and her
husband considered moving to Eugene because they liked what they read
about this church. And so now she will coming here as our
Associate on July 1st.
After listening to
April in that meeting, my question was not 'Will she live up to our
expectations?', but 'Will we live up to her expectations?'. And so
that's a challenge for all of us.
It is an exciting
time in the life of this church, not just because we're expanding our
staff and doing a few things, it's because we're finding true that
vision that God has placed in our hearts and expressed through that
story and the
Visioning process not just what we want to be when we grow up as a
church, but what God is calling us to be now. A true community of
God's people, transforming lives, transforming Christianity, and
transforming our world.
Yesterday in the
planning retreat, our new Young Adults group share with us that they
have chosen the name for themselves "Transformers"
Which of course works generationally if you know how they grew up with
those transformers in their lives (toys), and now fit so well with the
mission of this church. Six couples that are active in that group,
and looking to expand.
There's no experience
more powerful than to receive the transforming call of God. To
know without a doubt that this is what God calls me to do, and to be.
And I think that's why this story in Isaiah is written in this way.
Using metaphors and symbols from worship in the temple -- seraphs that
were statues in the temple, overlooking the sanctuary. Incense
that would have filled the temple. The coals used on the altar for
sacrifice and the like.
Now, if you take the
story literally of this experience of Isaiah, you might have the
impression that he's breathing in smoke alright, but it's not smoke from
But if you understand it spiritually, this is a visionary experience.
It's a powerful expression of what it is like to feel that call from
God. An overwhelming sense of the presence of the divine.
And sometimes, as in Isaiah's experience, it is beyond any experience of
this world. We may not see winged creatures flying above us or
hear voices chanting in that way. But I have known many people who
have heard 'a' voice -- not voices -- it's usually not a good
omen if you're hearing voices -- but have heard a voice at a
critical time in their life. A word of assurance, or even
instruction, that made all the difference at that point in their life.
God has all kinds of ways of speaking to us.
I love the story of a
wheat farmer in the Midwest who was having difficulty growing wheat.
Year after year he planted his wheat, and year after year the crops
would fail. He was going deeper and deeper into debt, struggling
with whether or not he was called to be a farmer. He saw in the
clouds shapes taking place, and he could make out letters, and he could
read: G, P, C. And he said "That's it, God wants me to Go
Preach Christ!". And so he left the tractor and went
and got his belongings and went off to school to study to become a
minister and founded a church. And he failed, miserably. He
was worse at preaching than he was at farming. The time came, and
he died, and he met the Lord, and he said "Lord, I don't get it, I
followed your call to go preach Christ, and I failed".
And the Lord said:
"I was trying to tell you to Go Plant Corn"
We all know preachers
like that, right, who should have planted corn. Why are you
looking at me that way? . . . . . .
So how do we find
that call when we don't have a clue? How do we know that the call
really is God's call? How do we know that we are doing what God is
wanting us to do?
The spiritual gifts
booklet that our Elders prepared last Fall is a wonderful resource.
I've lifted it up before, I'm going to lift it up again.
Specifically, one thing on page 14 you will find a 5-step process for
discerning the call of God. Using the acronym START:
S stands for Study
-- study the Bible and other resources that are suggested there in the
booklet. And if you do nothing else but to read the scriptures and
the passages and the suggestions there in that booklet, reflect on them,
write on them, you will go a long way toward discerning that call of God
T stands for Trial
and Error -- tryout different things to see what fits your
particular gifts and personality. I love the example of Kyoko in
our church, who, when she came to us said 'What is God calling me to
do?'. And she tried a number of different things. She tried
teaching Sunday school, and that wasn't it. She tried our Good
Samaritan ministry, but that wasn't it. And then she connected
with Roberta to work in the Library (Roberta is 96 years old now), she
seemed to think maybe we should have someone else, I don't know why
At any rate, they connected and now Kyoko is finding a new ministry in
our Library, and has connected with two other Librarians to bring new
life into that Library. We have a couple thousand books from the
estate of Ronald Osborne sitting in a closet because we don't space to
display them, and she wants to bring those out and put those into
circulation. So that's a great example, she kept trying until she
found that place to contribute where she is called.
A stands for
Analyze -- really not the word I would have chosen, really means
'prayer', but STPRT doesn't pronounce too well, so I needed a "A" word
there. But the idea is to reflect prayerfully on what your call
might be. And the secret to using prayer is to spend more than
half of your time in prayer listening in silence, not speaking, not
talking to God, but listening for the response from God. So in
that sense, to analyze, to prayerfully reflect.
R stands for
Request input from others -- how do they see you? What gifts
do they say you have? I have a conviction that there is no call
that comes from God without a confirmation from someone else. When
someone says "I'd like to do XYZ in the church", we often ask 'who else
is called to do that with you?' Earl Koenig said I want to do
something to help people find jobs, use some of my skills and experience
to help improve resumes or job interview skills. It seemed like a
very timely offering, and I said sure. I forgot to ask the
question (who else?), but God sometimes has a funny way of speaking to
us, because I discovered after we said "sure, let's do it" that the
survey Phyllis Weare was encouraging us all to fill out had on there an
item about job search. And we had 2 or 3 others who said "Yeah,
I'd like to help with that". So now Earl is connecting up with
them to help with this class that is going to start in a couple weeks to
help people in their job seeking skills.
Sometimes there are
setbacks. Experience that makes you question whether you are
called to do this. Getting fired from your job, maybe. But
remember that even Jesus had one bad experience. Crucifixion is
pretty tough, by comparison getting fired wouldn't be so bad. So
one bad, or even two bad experiences, don't let that deter you.
Three, or four, or five, well, then maybe it's time to rethink what
you're called to do.
We have two excellent
resources in the congregation to help anyone who wants to go deeper and
to explore with a second person what that call may be. First of
all, our Elders have been trained to do a discovery session for anyone
who has completed the booklet and is ready to sit down and reflect with
someone what your gifts are, what your call might be. They are
ready to do that, I think 20 or so people have chosen to do that already
and had a discovery session with an Elder.
A second opportunity
to go even deeper, Elaine, you may recall, before she was ordained,
completed three years in graduate study of spiritual direction.
And she left her staff so she could devote her energies to that, and is
now a resource available to us, has an office that she is renting in the
basement of the church. That is part of her livelihood, there is a
cost involved with that, but if you stop and think what it is worth to
discover the call of God for my life, you might want to have a
conversation with Elaine of what she has to offer.
T stands for
training -- in whatever area you feel called to serve. We
offer on-the-job training for our children and youth programs, our
teachers, the Good Samaritan ministry, etc. One of the new things
we're offering this fall is a leadership training program for
prospective leaders, a select group of 12 or so who will be chosen to
engage in a 15-20 week study, very intensive, to discover their gifts
and find their abilities and what God is calling them to do in the
church. It's going to be one of the things that April is going to
be leading (she doesn't know it yet
but it's part of her job description).
So that's the START
process -- study (the Bible and other resources), trial and error (to
see what fits), analyze (through prayerful reflection) your experience,
request input from others, training in whatever you decide to hone your
skills and gifts.
And if you don't have
one of those booklets, we set a pile in the back, help yourself to them.
Now, does it make any
difference? Let me share with you a few quick stories, not of the
people who found their call, but the experience of those touched by the
people in this congregation who are following their call, and the
difference they've made in the lives of others.
Yesterday, Dan Lauer
shared the experience of a neighbor, they were talking about church, she
asked what church he goes to, and he said First Christian Church
downtown. Immediately, tears welled up in her eyes. She said
"I love that church". Dan had never seen her here. Why?
Fifteen years ago, I was at a very difficult time in my life, I was
about to become homeless, and through the Helping Hand ministry,
received clothing to help me get back on my feet again. She said
now she donates to that whenever she can, bringing things to give back.
What's incredible about that story is if you remember the Future Story
we told in the video we made, Sarah Lauer, Dan's wife, portrays a
character who tells that exact same story in that video, in the year
2015, and looking back at how her life was changed through that
ministry, and now she's giving back. And here it is being lived
[Note: you can
First Christian's YouTube Channel to view a video of our Future
Story, in 3 separate acts]
Patty Weller shared
with us a person who was helped by our Good Samaritan ministry, who now
sends up a check every 2 months -- it's not big, $5 or $10 -- just as a
way of giving back.
I remember several
years ago a prominent lawyer in town who sent us a check, who doesn't
attend church anywhere, who said he wants to make a donation because he
appreciates all the things we do in this community. Sent us a
check for $1,000.
Our mail carrier
walked into the office this week, delivering the mail, and said "I want
you folks to know how much I appreciate all the good that you do in this
There's a message on
our answering machine that we're saving for one of our Good Samaritan
volunteers, because this gentlemen came in and said he needed a bicycle
so he could do his job search, get around town. She thought maybe
BRING could help him get a bicycle, so she sent him to BRING (where my
wife happens to work), and they set him up with a bicycle. And he
called and said I want to thank you because I now have my bike and I'm
out and doing my job search and I really appreciate the help. A
little thing like that.
The best testimony, I
think, came last year when I was away on sabbatical at our church in the
park where we had a town-hall style meeting afterwards, and this
gentlemen who has been a big part of our interfaith shelter (helping out
the past couple weeks), shared this testimony:
"Hello, my name is Art. This is the largest group of people from
this church that I’ve ever spoken to – some of you know me, some may
not. I have lived in a green van in your parking lot for 8 years,
the last 5 without a working engine. I’m a gay man, and an atheist –
I won’t bore you with the gory details, but that is based on what
I’ve seen of Christianity in my lifetime. The sign in front of your
church says you want to be a ‘Light to the world in the heart of
Eugene’. I’ve experienced that light – that love of God, or maybe
just love. You’ve made me think about Christians differently. I
want to thank you for saving my life."
These are things that
happen because of people in this church responding positively to the
call of God. People who make a difference in the lives of our
children and our youth. People on the street, members confined to
their homes. Families who received a new home in Mexico or Los
Angeles or now in Yakima. Children in Darfur. Children in
the interfaith shelter.
All these and so many
more are lives that have been touched because someone here said "Here I
am Lord, send me".
Praise to God.