Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Called to follow, called to find

In the Saturday, June 13, Service of Commissioning and Ordination, Bishop Neil L. Irons spoke of the transformative power of God and the working of the Spirit, as we together try to determine where God is leading us.
By Bethany Wood 

The family of the Susquehanna Annual Conference gathered to celebrate in a service of commissioning and ordination. Following the anthem presented by the Chi Rho Singers, the triumphant hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” announced the procession of clergy as the congregation rose to sing. After a greeting and prayer led by Bishop Jeremiah Park, our common ministry was recognized. Candidates for commissioning and ordination were then presented by members of the Board of the Ordained Ministry and the Conference Lay Leader. After the assembly sang “Spirit Song” as a hymn of blessing, the candidates were examined by Bishop Park, confirming their calling and intent to serve as servants of Christ through the work of ministry.

After the proclamation of the word found in the Old Testament Lesson (Jeremiah 29:1- 7) and the Gospel Lesson (Matthew 28:1-10), Bishop Park introduced retired Bishop Neil L. Irons, who was greeted with much love. His sermon was entitled “Called to Follow, Called to Find.” Bishop Irons began by thanking Bishop Park for the invitation to preach at this service, and warmly spoke of their friendship and life together as colleagues. Bishop Irons led in the Celtic Prayer. He spoke of the transformative power of God, and the working of the Spirit was we together try to determine where God is leading us. He illustrated this by telling of a conversation between his wife and their two year old granddaughter, Isabelle. “Gigi” had an idea in solving a problem, but little Isabelle piped up “I have a better idea!” We often pray the Lord’s Prayer, emphasizing “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is not just pie in the sky words but genuine hope for those who are broken. The better idea is that we are not to lead lives of comfort. But to go to the places where God leads us.

Irons recounted how a District Superintendent in West Virginia was about to introduce a congregation’s first woman pastor. After carefully laying out all of the excellent qualifications of the pastor, he let the staff-parish committee know that we about to receive a woman. After a long silence, one old gentleman spoke up “Well, if it was good enough that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was announced through a woman, I guess that’s good enough for us!” Jesus leads us to places we might not otherwise go, Bishop Irons said. The Bishop then spoke of the time when Jesus gathered his disciples in the time after the resurrection in Gailliee. The disciples were happy about that, for Galiliee was where it all began, and they were happy to be going back. Jesus had other things in mind other than a wonderful reunion. The disciples were going out from that place of discovery to a place of ministry, and they would never see each other again – some even giving their lives for their faith. Bur Jesus would be with them, going before to the locations they would be.

So it is with us. Irons talked about the days when pastors would go to Annual Conference, not knowing where they would be assigned. As a young, newly-married pastor, Irons had a congregation (kind of, hopefully) picked out which would be perfect for his personal situation. He was not assigned there. Instead, the Bishop announced an appointment which left Irons stunned. Six churches in a location he had never imagined he would be placed. But, Irons fondly remembered, the people and congregations were a gift, and he learned so much about the live of ministry. His second appointment was to a church that had the reputation as being the “meanest church in the conference.” True, it was a tough assignment But Jesus was already there, and Irons learned in that place that situations where there are hurting people, suffering people, and people experiencing hard times, will lead to joy and life when Jesus gets involved. Christ our savior never waited for an invitation to a comfortable setting, and if it good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for us.

Irons went on to explain that in the Jeremiah passages the people of Israel are in exile, and just wanted to get out of there. Ever feel that way? God tells the people that they need to pray for their captors, make peace with their situation, and there they too will find salvation. Renewal, he explained, is not a matter of making peace with our comfort, but going out from where we are, to places we never thought we’d be, and be engaged in ministry. We need to trust God in the process, he said.

There are those who say they are spiritual but not religious and they really have no idea what they mean. We need to learn to live respectfully in a world of great diversity. Don’t think that we will ever, or can expect to, agree on everything. Bur we do need to have our hearts together. We leave things behind when we answer the call to ministry. There are dreams that become unfulfilled so that God’s call is realized. God walks in the middle of our flock, not beside or behind. That’s what leadership in the church is: living in the middle of the people for a while and giving heart to the places they are and the struggles they share. Referring to Mission Central, Bishop Irons reminded us that we are mission-hearted. Let us not be afraid to follow because Christ never leads us astray.

The congregation witnessed with tremendous joy the commissioning of six and the ordination of five who have answered God’s call upon their hearts to serve in ministry. Bishop Parks invited who may be experiencing their own call to come forward to the altar as “Here I Am” was sung. The service ended with the hymn “Go, Make All Disciples.”

The video and full transcript of Bishop Iron’s address can be found at called-to-follow-called-to-find

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