Christ is Risen! Alleluia!
The 4th Sunday of Easter is the middle Sunday of the seven weeks of Easter. And for the past 50 or so years, it has been the Sunday we observe Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Good Shepherd Sunday has a centuries-long history of being a Sunday to talk, not just about how Christ is our Shepherd, but about the call to ordained ministry, as well.
In the ELCIC we are calling it Vocational Sunday, a Sunday to reflect on the ways in which all the Baptized are called to the ministry of God’s Kingdom. And also to lift up the particular call to ordained ministry.
The idea of Call carries with it some sense of the holy or mysterious. I get asked quite a bit how it was that I felt called to be a pastor. I sometimes get the feeling that the expected answer is a story such as that of Martin Luther. The legend goes that Luther was out travelling in a lightning storm when a bolt struck near by. Sorely afraid for his life, he prayed to God that if he survived he would switch from law school to theological school and become a monk. Of course, many historians wonder if this might have been a story Luther concocted because he didn’t want to become a lawyer, and his father had saved money to pay for law school!
Nevertheless, my own call story is not nearly as dramatic. I grew up in a family that already had some pastors in it. We went to church most Sundays and often to other programs during the week. My parents made sure to remind me that being a pastor was a true and viable career option. Then in university, I discovered that I really liked my history and theology courses. There were no desperate prayers to God, no voices from heaven, no signs that I should follow a certain path.
I know that there are some with those kinds of call stories among my colleagues. But there are many others who have similarly mundane stories like mine.
However, there is one thing that I think is often missed. Because pastors are almost always called from outside the congregation, there is a sense that we come from some special place.
Here is the secret: We normally come from other ordinary congregations, where we were usually just ordinary people in the pews. Often those who become pastors were quite involved and leaders in their home congregations, but not always. The important thing is that pastors are raised up from the baptized, from the ordinary folks who sit in the pews, usher, sing in the choir, go to youth group (a key place!), work at bible camp, serve on council, etc….
But, most importantly, pastors and deacons and all clergy were most often encouraged and identified by other discerning lay folks as people with a potential call to serve. Maybe it is a confirmation student who actually takes interest in the material. Maybe it is someone who gets involved with leading music, reading the lessons, ushering or other parts of worship. Maybe it is a wise and thoughtful person who has been asked to serve on council. Maybe it is someone that there is just a hunch about (a feeling that might be from the Holy Spirit).
As we take the time this Sunday to consider Jesus, the Good Shepherd, I encourage you to think about folks you know in our congregation and beyond who might be called to ordained ministry – and if you are comfortable, let them know. And maybe it is you!