Hear again these words from the Epistle to the Ephesians:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There’s a theologian and Christian ethicist down at Duke Divinity whose work has influenced me a great deal, and I suspect I’m not alone in this. His name is Stanley Hauerwas, and about three years ago Stanley published his memoirs, in a book entitled Hannah’s Child. In that book, Hauerwas tells the story of how he, the son of a brick-layer who was apprenticing to become a brick-layer himself, ended up becoming a theologian . . . .
Stanley’s story begins in Pleasant Grove, Texas where he was born and raised. Growing up, he and his family attended the nearby Pleasant Mound Methodist Church which Hauerwas describes as being Methodist in name but Baptist or evangelical in spirit. He says that you’d get baptized and become a member of the church on Sunday morning, but you still had to get saved on Sunday evening. So, when Stanley was in his early teens, he eagerly anticipated getting saved some Sunday evening at Pleasant Mound Methodist Church. Unfortunately, he says, he never felt compelled to come forward at the altar call. God just didn’t seem to want him. But young Stanley noticed that the youth just a few years older had started dedicating themselves to the Lord – that is, making a public promise to go into the ministry or missionary work. So, Stanley decided to dedicate himself to the Lord, and – therefore – put God in a bind. The Lord would have to save a young man who’s dedicated himself to the ministry! Because of this decision, Hauerwas was put on track to go to college and seminary, instead of following his father into a life of brick-laying. And it was in seminary, at Yale Divinity School, that Hauerwas discerned that he was not called to the ministry. But he also discovered he had a passion for theology and Christian ethics, and he discerned the gift and call of teaching within himself. And now Stanley Hauerwas is a well-known, prolific, and influential theologian who’s work has been a true boon for the Church.
I’ve recounted Hauerwas’ story for you because, I think, it’s rare to hear a story like his. You see, those of us who are clergy we’ve had to tell and retell the stories of our calls and discernment over and over again, ad nauseam. And we’ve heard our colleagues’ stories over and over again, also. We’ve each heard a billion and one ways God has called folks to the ordained ministry. So, it’s notable to hear a story of how God didn’t call someone to the ordained ministry. It’s a rare gem for us to hear a story of how God called someone – someone who has influenced so many clergy – how God called that person to a lay vocation.
Of course, to say that Hauerwas was not called to the priesthood would not be entirely correct. In fact, by their baptism, every Christian becomes a participant in the Body of Christ, the Body of the one great high priest. So, by their baptism, every Christian has a share in Christ’s priesthood. So, by his baptism, Stanley Hauerwas was called to the priesthood insofar as he was given a share in Christ’s priesthood, just as each of us were in our baptisms. And by the grace of that call, Stanley was given the gift of teaching. In the words of the lesson from Ephesians:
The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . . .
Now, who are these saints? Who are these saints being equipped for the work of ministry? I’ll give you hint, I’m looking at them right now. The saints are you - the members of the one Body of Christ, partakers of the one Spirit, called to the one hope, the one Lord, the one faith, receivers of the one baptism, children of the one God and Father of all. You are the saints being equipped for the work of ministry – which is the continuing work of Christ for the World; the work of proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s redemptive life, death, and resurrection to the World; the work of participating in Christ’s justification of the World, the work of offering to the World the wounded yet glorified Body of its Lord, the work of reclaiming and offering up the wounded yet hopeful World to the Lord. This is the work of your baptismal priesthood; this is the work for which you are being equipped. And this is the work to which all of us who share in the one baptism are called, the work for which all of us who share in the one baptism are being equipped.
But if you are to be equipped for the work of ministry, there must be some who are set aside and prepared for the work of equipping you. There must be some set aside to serve you, you who have been set aside to serve World in the name of Christ. And those who have been set aside to serve you in Christ’s name, those who have been set aside to equip you for the work of ministry, are those of us who bear the titles of priest and bishop. Me and Heather and Peter and Stacy and Jim and Ted Gulick and Susan Goff and Shannon Johnston – we have been set aside by you and by our one Lord to serve you and to equip you in the work of ministry. In the words of William Stringfellow, the lawyer and lay prophet of the Episcopal Church during the sixties and seventies:
“There is no priesthood without the laity serving the world, and there is no laity without a priesthood serving the laity. There is not one without the other.”
We, the clergy, preach to you each Sunday so that you may be equipped with the language and sacred stories of the faith, so that you may take that sacred story and re-narrate the World, so that you may proclaim the Good News to the World, so that you may speak the truth in love to world entranced by lies and deceipt.
We, the clergy, gather you each Sunday, the baptismal assembly, and we consecrate your gifts of bread and wine into the the Body and Blood of Christ, so that you may feed the hungry and share a meals of thanksgiving in the World, so that you may go into a world that is starving for justice, peace, and the Grace of the God’s love, so that you may be the Body of Christ in the World.
We, the clergy, keep the tradition and administer to you the sacraments Christ instituted, so that you – who are His Body – may grow to the measure of the full stature of Christ, so that you may be a sacrament to the World.
What this will look like, how you will live into your calling, will be as different and unique as each of you. It will be as variegated as the gifts bestowed on each of you by God’s Grace. So, discern those gifts, and discern the work of ministry to which God is calling you. And if you have, like Stanley Hauerwas, already discerned your gift and your work of ministry, then share your story with your brothers and sisters in Christ, for the building up of the Body of Christ in the world. The Church – and World – beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Amen.
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 11:04