Some we have answers for, some we have hints, some we, like you, will have to wait and see where God takes us. In this,
In Steve's final sermon to the Parish of Arborfield and Hudson Bay, he addresses these questions.
Who's a Wheel of Fortune fan? It's TV game show where contestants spin a money-wheel and guess the letters in a puzzle, a word or phrase. If the letter is present, they earn some money; if not, the next contestant goes.
Players can only guess consonants; they have to buy vowels, out of their earnings. The 5 vowels, A-E-I-O-U, are important clues to solve the puzzles.
Sometimes God's calling for our lives feels like a Wheel of Fortune puzzle. We all have a general call; Jesus invites each of us to “Come, follow me.” Several times in the Gospels (Matthew 4:19; John1:39,43) Jesus explicitly invited people to come, follow him, learn the ways of Christ. So, too, he calls us to follow.
God also calls us in specific ways, to do specific things, to be specific people. Those divine callings can be trickier to figure out.
The language of “Calling” is often applied to “ministry professionals,” ministers, missionaries and other so-called “full-time Christian workers.” I grew up thinking that to be serious about my faith, I had to be a minister or missioary. No one ever said so, but it's the vibe I picked up.
Then Julie and I learned in our 20s that God being Lord of all means that the division between the sacred and the secular is largely of human making. If we're serious about our faith, following Christ, loving God and neighbour, then everything we are, everything we do, everything we have are part of God's mission and ministry. We're all “full-time Christian workers.”
Because of this, Julie and I have often said, “you are called,” or talked about “your calling,” because we believe Calling applies to all of us.
But answering the question, “what is God's calling for me?” can be challenging. And the answer can change over time, too. I might rephrase it to, “what is God's call for me today?”
To help solve the puzzle of God's calling in your life, let me give you the vowels this morning.
A – Abilities: God has blessed each of us with skills and talents, strengths and weaknesses. One may have the gift of listening. Another is very articulate. One is a quiet leader. Another plays beautiful music. One is good with numbers. Another is physically strong. God wants us to fulfill those God-given gifts, those Abilities, by playing our part in his grand mission in the world.
E – Experiences: Our calling in God's grand mission depends on more than just what we are good at. Our past experiences also shape God's call on our present and future. A past job may give you the wisdom to lead your family, town or church in an important way. A tough experience, like unemployment, pain or abuse, may have prepared you to answer God's call to help someone facing tough times today. God's call draws on our Abilities and our Experiences.
I – Interests: By now you've noticed that Julie is very good at a lot of things. Years ago, one teacher pressured her to specialize in her own field, since Julie was so good at it. Julie resisted that pressure, because while she had the Ability, she lacked the Interest. God's call uses our Abilities and Experiences, and also considers our passions. Our likes and dislikes. Yes, there are times we have to do things we don't like; that's life. Jesus wasn't too fond of the cross, but he knew it had to be. But our Interests, our passions, are often a big clue in answering the question of our calling.
O – Opportunities: What God calls us to, today or for the rest of our lives, depends on the opportunities we have. These are the open or unlocked doors that God has placed around us. Opportunities to help a neighbour in need; teach a course; take a mission trip; or maybe move to Saskatchewan. Eph 2:10 says that God works ahead of time, preparing good works for us to do. Opportunities that are lined up by God, as ways for us to respond to his call and participate in his mission.
U – Unexpected Twists: The Holy Spirit keeps a wild card in the deck of our lives. God reserves the right to do something surprising in us and in our lives, and to call us in a completely unexpected direction or with spiritual gifts and abilities we didn't know we had. Think of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when some fearful followers of Christ unexpectedly found themselves proclaiming the Gospel boldly and in different languages.
God's calling for our lives draws upon our Abilities and Interests, our Experiences and Opportunities, and may take Unexpected Twists, through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me now apply these 5 factors to Julie and me, as we respond to God's call for our present and future. This is our last Sunday with you. We leave soon for Toronto. I will work for a computer company by day. Julie may study or teach. We will keep discerning what ministry opportunities God has for us.
That's our near-future. But our story starts in the past.
Let's go way back to 1993. A young couple, both with more hair than today (hers was longer, mine thicker), as their undergraduate degrees neared completion, this couple wondered about God's call on their lives.
To explore possibilities, we attended the Urbana Missions Conference, a week-long series of workshops and worship times. The conference specializes in pairing missions agencies around the world with prospective people, like us. We were most interested in international mission options.
A few agencies insist that their workers raise their own funding. Some are ok with that; my brother and his wife raised their own support for the years that they worked in Ukraine and the Caribbean.
But that's not my style; I'm not comfortable raising my support like that.
I know some in our parish have been disappointed that Julie and I have had so little involvement with the fund-raisers. But I'm already very uncomfortable that our stipend is the largest expense in the parish budget. The sales and lunches feel like raising our own support, exactly what turned me off those missions groups.
Bu at Urbana we encountered the mission model called Tent-Making. It comes from Acts 18:1-4. Paul is in Corinth, spreading the Gospel. No church is paying him, as the church does not yet exist there. So Paul supports his mission work through his trade of making tents.
We loved that model. Not raising money; not having others fund-raise because we cost so much. Rather, it's doing good, valuable, productive work in the secular workplace, using our abilities, experiences and interests. And out of that work supporting ourselves in our opportunities for God's mission, be that teaching, evangelism, pastoral care, justice-work, etc.
To prepare ourselves to be Tentmakers, we did more studies. I did a Master's degree in computers at UBC; we both did Theology degrees at Regent College. We hoped to use our computer and business skills to engage in a Tent-Making ministry, possibly in Eastern Europe or Asia.
But by 1999, our international opportunities fell through. We moved to Saint John, New Brunswick, and entered the secular workplace. In moving to town, God used our interests in urban living and regional history to draw us to a poor neighbourhood. We plugged into the local Anglican church and the work it was doing with the poor and the youth in that neighbourhood.
We saw there the depth of human need. People desperately needed dignity, financial aid and opportunity. And they needed to have their hearts and lives touched, changed, by God. We met, for just one example, a teenager who slept with a knife under her pillow because she was afraid of her mom's boyfriend. That neighbourhood was full of the messiness of human life and need.
We honed our abilities and gained experience in teaching the Bible, in guiding discussions, helping people connect their Sunday faith with their Monday lives. We fell in love with helping to grow and strengthen the faith of God's people, within the local church.
Eventually, God's call for us changed, drawing us from that setting into seminary, preparing for ordained ministry.
We've told the story many times, how our house sold on the very day we left Saint John for school in Toronto. Or how, through a series of closed and open doors, rejections and unexpected twists, God called us to Saskatchewan.
Through your influence, God has grown us in many new ways. We have greater clarity and confidence in what we do well. We have learned that, with the help of God - and you! - we can do things even when we don't feel capable, when we don't have the ability, experience, or interest.
Recently, we sensed God's call changing again. Choices and sacrifices we once happily made needed reevaluation with the addition of Anastasia to our lives.
But that call once again looked like a blank Wheel of Fortune puzzle. Would we share another priest position in a church? Was God calling one or both of us to be a Rector, or an Assistant? Were some of our old missions-agency contacts relevant? Our direction was not clear.
We prayed. We talked with each other. With Bishop Michael. With other priests, friends and contacts across the country. We talked with charities and agencies. We wondered about secular work.
Around Victoria Day, out of the blue, a computer company called me. They had my résumé in their system from a while back, and wanted to talk about an international opportunity. I told them, 'no.' They contacted me the next week: 'are you sure?'
It was outside the box of how we'd been thinking. But as we thought and talked and prayed, the old Tent-Making idea returned: funding our ministry through so-called secular work.
By August, enough of the puzzle was filled in that our direction was clear: not international computer work, but also not parish ministry, in the usual sense. But computer work - and more! - in Toronto.
Of course, not all the details are clear, but that's part of walking by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). I will work for a small software company with a great culture and super flexibility. We have dates with some Anglican churches in Toronto, to talk about possibilities once there.
A PhD or further studies may also be in Julie's future. She's had the interest since the 1990s, and has discovered a gift and passion for teaching through her ordained ministry here.
There are unknowns, unanswered questions. But we've been in uncertain times before. God's plan for our life is like a road map, but God does not unfold it all at once. We see just the small unfolded section we're in now. As we draw near the edge of the map, it's natural to worry about what's beyond the map-fold. But when we get right to the edge, our faithful God unfolds the next section and calls us onward.
Julie, Anastasia and I have seen some of what's over the edge of our map, and know that God will reveal more in time.
This church and this parish are also reaching the edge of your map. You may be anxious about what God has in store for you next. I encourage you to hold together, to one another and to God. Trust and follow God. Examine your vowels, your Abilities, Experiences, Interests, Opportunities and Unexpected Twists. Finishing the puzzle of God's call for you, this church and this parish will take effort. And unlike Wheel of Fortune, the prize won't be 'big money!' But being in God's will, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, is worth the effort.
We have been pleased to serve with you. To be helped by and shaped by and to learn from you. Hopefully, we have been able to help and shape you, too, in your journeys of faith.
Our prayer is that you will hold tightly to God, with your whole heart, mind and strength. And that the days ahead will show you God, at work in your strengths and weaknesses, drawing you ever closer into a community of faithful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.