Nearly thirty years ago, when Dan and I were new to church, if we skipped church for a couple of Sundays in a row we’d get a phone call from Masie. Those phone calls made me feel a little guilty, but that was my problem. Masie just called to see how we were and tell us he had missed us. It was a sweet gesture, one I came to appreciate.
Masie was a retired eye doctor, a Japanese American. When he was a young man the US government uprooted Masie and his family and sent them to a Japanese relocation camp in Arkansas. After the war he ended up in Illinois. He was a lifelong faithful Episcopalian. Divorced and remarried, he and his second wife were, for many years, denied communion in the Episcopal Church. Masie faced many challenges in his life, and shared these stories with some sadness. Nonetheless he chose to be gentle, welcoming, kind, and faithful. He was an active, vital member of that small church in Chicago until the day of his death.
Ten years later that church sponsored me when I was ordained a priest. I’ve now been a priest for sixteen years. Serving as a priest has motivated me to become a healthier, more aware, wise person. It has also brought with it profound challenges of the kind that all clergy face in this day and age - helping people know God’s love in their lives, a love that is frequently expressed through the love and kindness of others.
Likewise Maryjane and Scott have taken steps in their lives to follow God’s call into ordained ministry. Maryjane is coming to the end of her time as a Curate. Eventually she will leave us and settle into parish ministry as an interim rector.
The last two and half years have passed quickly and now Scott is here for his first day as a transitional deacon. In June, God willing, he will be ordained a priest. By then he will be finished with seminary and ready to embark on his call to be a parish priest.
Both Maryjane and Scott have made sacrifices to follow God’s call. They too will find that life as a priest is filled with grace and blessing as well as challenges that will push and pull at the very fiber of their beings, transforming them in ways they cannot possibly predict. As John the Baptist points out, following God’s call and producing fruit is risky and challenging, and yet it is grounded in love - the capacity to know God’s love in their lives and share that love with others.
Carm Yero, one of our newer parishioners and a member of the Vestry and Altar Guild, is in the process of discerning if she has a call to the priesthood. Her congregational discernment committee has been meeting for a few months, asking her challenging questions and helping her listen to God’s Spirit. In time the committee members will need to make an assessment of what they have heard and if they hear a call, to recommend her to the Bishop. The discernment process is risky, too; self examination is important and so one’s life becomes an open book. This leaves one feeling vulnerable and doing a lot of soul searching. Its good work, challenging work, and yes, it too is primarily about love - how is God’s love expressing itself in and through Carm’s life and how is she being called to share that love?
Many of you here today have also felt called to serve the church. Some of you serve as Masie did, calling parishioners or sending out greeting cards, expressing love and concern. Some of you take the time to pick up members of the parish and drive them to church. Others have felt called to serve as leaders or members of one of our Commissions, Committees, or Ministry Teams. Some of you serve as a Vestry member or sing in the choir or serve as an acolyte, Lector, lay Eucharistic minister, or usher. Some of you serve by doing ministry in the world around us, outreach work into the community. Each of you are responding, knowingly or not, to the call of the Spirit and the gifts bestowed upon you. Each one of us, in our own way, is living out our baptismal covenant promises, following God’s call, striving to love as God loves.
John the Baptist extends this challenge to his followers - embrace your call from God live a life of faith, and produce good fruit. Granted, John is a bit radical in his exhortation calling his followers a brood of vipers. Mind you, I’d never encourage this as a motivational tool. But John’s followers don’t seem to mind being called “children of snakes” because the next thing they ask is, “What can we do?” John responds - love God, love neighbor, love self.
Each of you have a role in shaping Maryjane, Scott, and Carm as they strive to live their call. As a community of faith you care for one another, helping each other to grow and mature as Christians. In these ways God’s love is revealed in and through you.
It may be a slight exaggeration, but it is possible that Dan and I might have slipped away from church if Masie hadn’t made the effort to reach out to us. I am grateful for Masie and the other people who have taught me along the way and helped to shape me as a person of faith. Each of them have been a reflection of God’s love in my life.
On this third Sunday of Advent John the Baptist calls his followers to step out in faith, to live as God calls them to live. No doubt the challenge was risky for John’s followers. Perhaps, in this fast paced world where cultures and ethnicities and religions live side by side, or worse, clash with extreme acts of violence, the risk feels greater? Perhaps it is riskier today to love as God loves? But through the centuries, from John the Baptist to today, God’s call to love has not changed, risky or not. If anything its become even more important. So, no more brood of vipers, children of snakes. Let’s change the world, creating a brood of lovers, children of God.
(a reflection on Luke 3:7-18 for Advent 3C)