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Yesterday was call day at Martin Luther College in New Ulm. Next week it will be call day at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon. Nebraska Lutheran has been calling a lot this year, for a campus pastor, for an administrator, and for a math teacher. Trinity has extended calls for a Principal and upper grade teacher. What’s this thing we call a “call”? How does it work? Why do we say it’s a “Divine Call”, or a call from God?
I thought that since our first reading for today was the account of the Early Christian Church extending a call to Matthias, it would be a good opportunity to consider this thing we say is a Divine Call, or a Call from God.
Luke sets before us the situation the Early Church was facing. Jesus had a fair number of disciples, but he appointed only 12 to serve the church as Apostles. Judas was one of them but had betrayed Jesus, and then, feeling great guilt but apparently not trusting that he could be forgiven, he committed suicide. Jesus had now ascended to heaven. He was not with them physically so that they could ask him a question. They wondered what they should do about the vacancy created by the death of Judas.
After searching the Scriptures, spending time in prayer, and using sanctified human judgment, the church called a meeting and Peter shared what the Apostles were thinking. Based on some passages from the Psalms and considering the fact that Jesus had appointed 12 from among all the disciples to be Apostles, it seemed good and wise to make the number 12 again.
As we heard on Ascension, Jesus our ascended Lord is the one who gives Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers as gifts to his church. By word and example, he has indicated that there are to be leaders in his church on earth. And he has also indicated the kind of leadership he wants them to provide. Today we call it servant leadership. Whether you are a Pastor, or a Teacher, or an Elder, or a Council person, you are not to be like the heathen who look at a position of leadership as an opportunity to lord it over others, or to enrich themselves. You are to model the leadership of Jesus who had all authority in heaven and earth and yet came not to be served but to serve, who willingly washed his disciples’ feet to give them an example of the kind of leadership he expects. Jesus gives Pastors and Teachers for the purpose of training, equipping and encouraging others to grow in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and to use their own gifts to serve God and others in love.
Like Peter and the apostles, we today recognize the need for servant leaders in the church. Like them, we pray and use sanctified human judgment to decide when there is a position that needs to be filled so that more people can be trained, equipped and encouraged to grow in faith and in service to God and others. But how do you fill that position?
Peter suggested that in filling the position left by Judas there would be some qualifications to consider. Since this position would involve exercising authority over men and women Judas’ successor would have to be a man. And, since they would be asked about all the things that Jesus said and did while he was on earth, it would make sense to choose someone who had been with Jesus his whole ministry, from his baptism to his ascension. There were two men, Joseph and Matthias, who fit those qualifications.
Today one of the things we ask those calling to fill a position is, what, in your best sanctified human judgement, are the qualifications needed for this position? Scripture answers part of that question clearly. The Holy Spirit guided Paul to write both Titus and Timothy that those who would serve in leadership in the church are to be blameless– not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. And, if the position requires exercising authority over both men and women, that position requires a male leader.
Other qualifications come from sanctified human judgment based on what we are asking a person to do. Will they be teaching? If so what grade levels? What abilities have they demonstrated through their college and seminary classes, and in their practice teaching and vicar years? What seem to be their strengths and weakness and how do those match what we might be asking them to do?
Such information is gathered from the church or school that is seeking to fill a position, and from records and evaluations provided by colleges, the Seminary, and current schools and churches. Many people working together (what we call Synod, Christians working and walking together) help the District President provide a list of people who fit the qualifications God and sanctified human judgment have suggested for that position.
Peter and the Apostles found that there were only two men who fit the qualifications they had proposed. That was good, but how do you decide which of the two should serve to replace Judas? You heard what they did. They prayed. They said, Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen. They put it in the Lord’s hands. They wanted him to be the one who would choose the successor of Judas. But, how would the Lord show them his choice? They didn’t ask for some miraculous sign. They decided to use lots, and to trust that whichever one the lot fell to, was the one that the Lord had chosen. They prayed and trusted God to answer their prayer.
Today, when a list of those with whom we walk and work together as a Synod is presented, we thank God for providing people who are qualified and eager to serve. As you know, we need many more to volunteer, to be willing to attend MLC and the Seminary, to be trained and equipped to serve in God’s church. We are facing a shortage of Pastors and Teachers, and especially Principals. If you are a teen, pray and ask God and those you trust if that’s something God has gifted you to do. If you are in grade school, start praying already now that God would guide you in determining how and where you can best serve him and your neighbor with the gifts he has given you.
Once the list of qualified people is presented to the voters or board, the group that has the authority to extend a call, qualifications are discussed. When everyone’s questions are answered as best they can be, we pray. Like the Apostles we ask that through us, through the vote, God would show us which person on the list he wants us to call. Since Jesus promises that where two are three are gathered in his name he is with us, and since he has promised to hear and answer our prayers in the best possible way, we trust that he is using our sanctified human judgment expressed through the vote to show us which person he has chosen. We consider the result of the vote to be guided by God, a divine call.
Some people wonder how such a system, a human vote, can bring about something we say is Divine! How can it be Divine, when there are so many fallible humans involved – some in deciding qualifications, some in matching qualifications and gifts, some in deciding who is on a list, and some in choosing one from the list through a vote? Are some people along the line not very sanctified? Are some thinking selfishly? Is someone considered qualified by one person but not by another? These things can happen. So how can anyone possibly consider a call issued by sinful people to be a divine call?
Peter was sinful and so were the others gathered to call a replacement for Judas. Yet, when the lot fell to Matthias, they considered him God’s choice. Sinful people wrote the Bible, but we consider it God’s word. God promises to work in and through us, sinful humans, to accomplish his purpose. He promises to work in everything for our good. He promises that he can and will make even our sinful choices serve his good purpose.
If we realize that we have acted selfishly, or that we failed to trust God’s promise to work in and through us, we need to confess our lack of trust. We need to hear the reminder that the Father sacrificed his perfect son to pay for our selfishness and lack of trust. We need to remember that if he was willing to sacrifice his son to pay for our sins, certainly he will provide us with all we need to carry out his work on earth. Jesus promised to rule and govern everything for us, for the church. He promised to be with us whenever we gather to pray and do his work. Inspired by what he has already done for you, trust his promises. Trust that he will always provide. Trust that actually does work through you to provide his church with the leaders it needs.