edited by Ann M. Svennungsen and Melissa Wiginton. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005. 84 pages
Much has been written and spoken about creating a culture of call in the life of the church. It has been said that the once-fertile soil of homes, congregations, camps and colleges that nurtured faith and produced a harvest of talented ministers of Word and Sacrament has grown thin, worn out and eroded away. Family priorities have changed. Overcommitted youth are engaged in a myriad of activities and have little time for worship and little interest in church school. I heard an elder in a congregation say that the pastoral ministry was a dead end job and she certainly hoped her child was thinking about some other profession than pastoral ministry. Church camps are replaced with camps that offer flashier facilities and more upscale activities; church-related colleges drop their requirements in Bible and theology.
Yet, this is only part of the picture. After years of declining attention to the culture of call, fresh interest is being given to how we can help a new generation of young adults hear the call to serve God through their vocations. The concern is not only about helping young adults discern a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, but to see their daily lives, loves and labors as their vocation, their calling to serve and glorify God. Certainly, the Lilly Endowment, the Fund for Theological Education, and other organizations have worked with congregations, colleges and seminaries to help them become fertile soil for discerning call. Congregations are waking up to their role in helping young people identify their call; church-related colleges are beginning new efforts to awaken students to their life’s vocation; seminaries are reaching college students and even high school students with fresh, creative opportunities to explore vocational questions through special programs in theology, the arts, Bible study and service.
Awakened to a Calling is a wonderful resource to help individuals and the church explore faith and life in light of God’s calling to ministry. Although most of the sermons in this collection focus on the call to ministry of Word and Sacrament, the sermons also provide a biblical and theological foundation for understanding that Christian vocation may take many shapes and forms of service.
This collection was published in honor of the retirement of Jim Waits as President of the Fund for Theological Education. Prior to his service with FTE, Dr. Waits had a distinguished career of service to the church as a pastor, educator, Dean of Candler School of Theology and President of the Association of Theological Schools. The sermons in this collection were originally given at gatherings or conferences of young adults who were considering how and in what ways God might be calling them to ministry. The preachers represented by these sermons not only share a close personal relationship with Jim Waits, but they also share a passion for encouraging young adults to listen to the voice of Jesus Christ who calls each one of us to witness to the gospel.
These are powerful sermons by some of North America’s best and most well-known preachers. The contributors are Ellen Echols Purdum, Fred Craddock, Thomas G. Long, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Barbara Brown Taylor, Brad R. Braxton and Walter Brueggemann. To read these sermons with the mind’s eye is to hear with the mind’s ear the Word proclaimed with clarity, artistry, faithfulness and power. These sermons reflect the various contexts, personalities, rhetorical styles, passions and theologies of the preachers. The sermons are filled with powerful expositions of Scripture, challenging questions, and evocative language.
In his sermon, “If Only I Could Be Sure,” Fred Craddock speaks of the “almost unbearable joy of almost hearing, every once in awhile, the groan of God [over the brokenness of creation] and trying with all your art and craft to do something about it.” (p.38.) In “Of This Gospel,” Tom Long talks about the mystery at the center of the call to ministry, “… we do not choose it at all. It chose us. We were chosen for it. … Finally what it means to be human is to be called to something beyond our own little dreams and goals, to be fashioned into bearers of the mystery of God that stands at the center of life.” (pp. 39-41.) Speaking of the power of worship to enable us to hear God’s call, Jeremiah Wright Jr. says, “Jesus knew that being in the Lord’s house on the Lord’s day does something for your soul and does something for your spirit that a six-pack can’t do, that sex can’t do, that sports can’t do, that parties can’t do, that the fraternity can’t do.” (“In The Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day,” p.74.) In her sermon on Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Messiah, Barbara Brown Taylor speaks for all of us when she asks, “What rock could be a better sacrament than a flawed and sometimes faithless rock?” (“On This Rock”, p. 56.) Each sermon challenges, convicts and empowers us for ministry.
Reading these sermons will be helpful not only for those who are just beginning to consider their life’s calling, but also for those of us who have answered the call and need the Holy Spirit’s renewal and refreshment along the way.
Lewis F. Galloway is the senior pastor of Second Church, in Indianapolis, Ind.