I was asked recently to preach for the installation service for a PhD student at her new church in central Pennsylvania. I was happy to agree to preach at the service and enjoyed greatly seeing the affirmation of her calling and the acceptance of her by the congregation. Present were her Bishop, Synod Dean, extended family, colleagues, and her church community – both past and present. It was a moving service. The congregation affirmed the call of the pastor to their church through ritual, symbolic gifts, and an acclamation of her family’s presence.
The text she chose for me to preach on was Isaiah 42: 1-9 – the Servant of the Lord. The image I love so much in that passage is the image of a communal calling. God is calling on the community – Israel – to bring righteousness and justice to the nations. It is a communal message calling the people of Israel to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and to free those who sit in darkness. The community is called to be the instrument through which the nations are called into relationship with the Divine. It was to be through Israel that the nations came into the light of God’s salvation. This is the power of community called to act. That is an audacious notion – a whole people being called into servanthood. It is a stunning call.
This passage is later seen as a Messianic prophesy of God’s servant bringing justice, eyesight to the blind, freedom for the captives, and light in the darkness in a more individual manner but this passage in Isaiah is about the community being who God called them to be.
Being a called community is important. It is a sacred and holy thing to respond to God’s call on our lives as individuals and as communities. It is vital to acknowledge and accept that calling. Acting on that call is sometimes more difficult.
God calls us into community and God calls our communities to act. To do this God chooses us, calls us, anoints us, equips us, and commissions us. Some communities answer their call by being involved in prison ministry. Some answer through advocacy around issues of hunger and poverty. Some answer their call by working for a greener world. Some answer their call by being the place for youth and children ministries. Some answer their call by working on health care issues. Some answer in other ways. But all are called to answer that call – to be the community of faith called into action by God.
Being part of a community of faith is a wonderful thing. But it takes more than gathering in community for worship and praise – even though that is a vital part of their communal lives. Living up to the call of a community of faith means being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. And that means getting up off the pews and putting one’s faith in action. Living and working as a community means making a difference in the world – and that is an audacious thing!
So communities of faith out there – answer the call of God and go be audacious!