[special_heading title=”God Is Hiring” subtitle=”by Louise Westfall” separator=”yes”]“The Great Resignation.” We’ve all heard about this surprise phenomenon emerging during the pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 4.5 million people voluntarily left their positions in November–an all-time high, and since April last year, 33 million people have left their jobs, over one-fifth of the total workforce. The reasons? Many and varied. The highest increases have been among health care workers and tech employees whose pandemic stress levels are sky-high, understandably. There’s worker burn-out and job descriptions that have changed so much they bear little resemblance to the original ones. Sobering realities about what constitutes a living wage and workers’ rights are part of the equation. Some have mentioned taking a “pause” to assess their lives and then deciding to go in a different direction. Others have spoken of the realization that life is too short to keep deferring one’s dreams (not pointing a finger at you, Tim :-)). The net effects of all this resigning are yet to be understood, but the short term consequences are personnel shortages in almost every sector, and many job openings. “We’re hiring” signs are ubiquitous.
The morning text could be the ancient version of those signs. Here, heavenly headhunters contact a man named Isaiah to recruit him for a job opening as prophet, one who would speak God’s Word in a time of tremendous conflict and political turmoil. Wars and rumors of war swirled around the embattled nation. Corrupt elites occupied the halls of power. The people had turned inward to protect their own well-being, and hope was in short supply. God was in great need of an articulate spokesperson.
So God does what God does, which is to call a particular person to fill the position. Our text is only one of many in the Bible that outline this process and they are remarkably similar: first, there’s some indication of the Divine origin of the call; an invitation is extended to the person and is immediately rejected because of the person’s sense of their own inadequacy. That is followed by additional authorizing, sometimes taking the form of a symbolic action. At last, the person accepts and the deal is sealed. Though this passage is full of fantastical imagery, notice the basic narrative arc, including Isaiah’s objections and the extremely thin position description, lacking any specificity whatsoever. A reading from Isaiah (a dead give-away that Isaiah did say yes and got a Biblical book named after him), reading in the sixth chapter, verses one through eight. [Isaiah 6:1-8]
Today we will ordain and install women and men as elders and deacons for this Beloved Community of God’s people. I hope you “get” the correlation between the biblical text and this action, which is the twenty-first century Church’s practice of recognizing Divine call and human response. God showed up throughout this process through prayer and spiritual guidance to the Representative Nominating Committee and the individuals with whom they spoke. The committee members acted as the seraphs, though their conversations to prospective elders and deacons may have been a little less dramatic. But no less difficult; they’ve shared a little of the resistance of those called, even from those who accepted. Yet these folks are present today (some in person and some on line), saying with a quiet but unmistakable response: Here am I; send me! The highlight of the ceremony is the symbolic gift of the Holy Spirit, represented by the “laying on of hands”–in these pandemic times extended through our outstretched arms and smiling eyes. And never fear, those of you to be ordained and installed, I promise no live coals will be used!
God is still hiring people to do God’s work in the church and in the world. Friends, this is how God has worked from the very beginning, and though methodologies have changed, the reality is as spiritual and in some ways mysterious as it has ever been. To this day, I find it difficult to understand why the omniscient, omnipotent ruler of the universe relies on Mark and Andy and Carol and Gene (and Louise) to accomplish God’s gracious and redemptive intent for this beautiful and broken creation. But God does! And always has, if the Bible gets it right. Think about it: Abraham and Sarah were extremely elderly; Moses, the great liberator of the people from slavery had a speech impediment; King David, described as the “apple of God’s eye” is infamous as a serial murderer and adulterer. Jeremiah protested that he was too young for the tasks to which God called him. Remember Martha, dear anxious Martha whose fretting over dinner arrangements drew unfavorable contrast to her sister who sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to all he was saying. Peter, “the Rock” upon whom Christ founded the Church, actually denied even knowing Jesus. And don’t forget about the disciples, the ones Jesus called and entrusted with his message: how at the hour of their Teacher’s greatest vulnerability, fell asleep as he prayed in anguish, and then abandoned him when he was arrested and condemned to death. The women’s Bible study this year focuses on the five lone women named in Jesus’ genealogy otherwise described exclusively through male ancestors. Two engaged in prostitution, one was foreign-born and not of Jewish faith, another committed adultery, and Mary…well, Mary was an unwed teenaged mother. Things that make you go hmmm.[callout_box title=”There’s a world of hurt out there and every one of us is a candidate for work that brings healing, human thriving, and hope. ” subtitle=””]There is a centuries-old story of Jesus ascending to heaven following his earthly ministry. The angels welcome him warmly and ask about the next chapter. Jesus answers, “Well, I have left my disciples and some other folks. They will tell the same stories I told. They will follow my example–welcoming everyone, serving neighbors, and working to change things that produce pain and suffering in our lives and in the world. They will open their hearts wide to share the reality of God’s presence and unconditional love.”
“But,” responded the angel wide-eyed in amazement. “What if these people fail? What happens then?
And Jesus was said to respond: I have no other plan.
God is hiring, friends. Today we’re celebrating those God has called for particular ministries at Central. But don’t think for a moment that these are the only jobs available. There’s a world of hurt out there and every one of us is a candidate for work that brings healing, human thriving, and hope. And by the way, many of those positions aren’t in the church at all. God is in need of good lawyers and accountants and investors and artists and homemakers and parents and coffee baristas and medical professionals and architects and marketers and students and all the rest. God’s call to us isn’t simply to build a better church; God calls us to build a better world.
So what’s stopping us? If the Holy One hasn’t given up on us, then how can we give up on ourselves? How can we let the enormity of the problems or the fragility of our faith paralyze us from carrying out the mission of the almighty and ever-loving God? Those things haven’t stopped God before and they won’t stop God now. God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called. God will provide everything we need–individually, and as a community–to accomplish what God intends to do to establish a Kin-dom on earth as it is in heaven.
There’s an old jokey saying about doing God’s work, something like “the pay isn’t great, but the retirement benefits are out of this world.” Yawn. I think that misses the point entirely. It’s not for heaven’s sake that God wants to employ us, but for earth’s. And truth be told, for our own sake. To know that our lives matter for a purpose greater than our personal fulfillment. A purpose that reveals the deep interconnection embedded in the entire universe, the Love that will not let us go, and the thrilling part we are chosen to play in this holy, human, and godly movement toward life–joyous, overflowing and forever.
God is hiring, friends. May we apply with gratitude and trust: Here am I; send me.