The Nature of Call

David Hilfiker

     Isaiah: 6:6-9
     Luke: 5:1-11
     I Corinthians 12:4-11

The Servants group is scheduling about one teaching a month to examine our Eighth Day core beliefs and spirituality and also to share a bit about our personal spiritual journeys.

So I want us to speak this morning about the nature of “call,” one of the basic building blocks of our faith and practice.  I originally thought that this would be easy to write since I’ve felt called to a couple of personally meaningful vocations in the last forty years.  But it turns out I know less than I thought I did, so this will be a group teaching.  I’m going to talk a little about my calls and then we’ll hear from some of you about yours.

As we read from Corinthians, each of us is called, and within community each call is, in the eyes of God, of equal value.  A significant part of our faith journey is discerning that call.  Let me share a couple of mine:

To Begin Joseph’s House?

The first is Joseph’s House:

It was late 1989 and our family had been living at Christ House for about five years.  The AIDS epidemic was just moving into the poor community, and Christ House had no capacity then to work with dying patients.  In fact, homeless people with AIDS had no place to go at all except into the hospital when they were close to dying.  Otherwise, they slept in shelters or on the streets.  Who was going to care for them?

Many of the homeless men with AIDS were also addicted.  In my experiences as a physician, I had noticed that addiction-treatment programs almost always kicked people out of the program if they relapsed.  That made some sense, of course.  But it also seemed a little weird that a treatment program would discharge a person with a disease just because he was still having symptoms of his disease. 

Was there another way? 

Another question for Marja and me was whether we could live in community with people who were so different from us in race, class, and illness.  Could we make decisions together and live without much hierarchy.  We began to think about the possibility of Joseph’s House. 

We were excited about it: the deep need was there, and we had some of the necessary skills.  We wanted to do it.  It felt like “call.”  There would be a lot of practical issues, of course.  But the real question for me was whether I was cut out for this emotionally.  I was pretty sure, in fact, that I wasn’t … which turned out to be accurate.  Practicing medicine had wiped me out emotionally, and administration had been equally threatening.  I had been easily overwhelmed by the decision-making necessary in both medicine and administration.  Even knowing it would be painful and I wouldn’t be able to stay with it for more than a couple of years, though, it felt right. 

What really tipped the scales in our decision was one of our three kids.  I knew that Marja was ready, but we didn’t want to take our three children into such uncertainty without their understanding and approval.  My older daughter was on her way to college and disqualified herself from the decision.  11-year-old Kai’s only real concern was whether there would be a television.  We’d never had one in the family but, at Christ House, Kai had always been able to slip down to the rec room to watch sports with the men.  Once I assured Kai there’d be TV, he was all in. 

But our middle daughter, 15-year-old Karin, was the one who most tilted us toward Joseph’s House.  She was really excited about the possibility.  She felt there hadn’t been enough opportunity in Christ House for closer relationship with the men and she wanted it.  It was her enthusiasm that carried the day.  We decided we were, in fact, called to Joseph’s House.

There’s much more to tell about Joseph’s House, but that’s a story for a different day. 

Blog about my Alzheimer’s disease

There’s a second call: About seven years ago, as most of you know, I was diagnosed with what we thought was Alzheimer’s disease.  It turned out not to be, but I carried the diagnosis around for a year.  Almost from the time I walked out of the neurologist’s office, however, I knew I would write about this journey into dementia.  Kevin Boteler defined call for me as something you can’t not do.  Blogging about this experience was something like that: I just had to do it. 

The year of that blog was one of the best of my life.  When we found out that I didn’t in fact have Alzheimer’s, I was almost disappointed

What’s it like to experience call?  All of us know something about that.  William, Jimmy and Barbara have each been called to prayer within the community.  Helen has been called to her work with the homeless.  Fred to writing his book; Kent to his poetry and music; Kate to deepen the spirituality of our community.  I could go all around.

The nature of call

Some, like Isaiah, experience call in a spectacular way, or at least in a way that leaves no doubt: When Seraphim touch your lips with hot coals and you hear a voice wondering whom God should send, call is pretty clear.  With my call to the blog, it was sort of like that, sudden and unmistakable.  Most of the time, though, it’s more like Peter and John.  They see Jesus walk by, give them some good fishing advice, and then tell them to come follow him.  They get up, leave everything behind, and come along.  Most of the time, call is more like that.  Nothing spectacular happens; you just know you’re called to follow in Jesus’ way.  It may even take us a little while to figure it out and we may be plagued by self-doubt. 

We don’t talk about it much anymore, but one of our core biblical principles here has been the priesthood of all believers.  Each of us is a priest with all the privileges and responsibilities.  We serve communion to one another.  We take turns teaching and leading worship.  Each of us has a gift, and no gift is greater than another.  We are all members of the priesthood.

What we have forgotten is that our gifts are given to us in community and that, at our best, each of us is chosen and sent out by the community to do God’s work.  At its best, this call to the outside world is corroborated by the faith community and supported by it.  I’m thinking right now of Sito and his call to teaching in the inner-city.  Sito goes out as an extension of this community, and we find ways to support him in that ministry: praying for him, being available to talk with him if needed, giving him spiritual, emotional, physical and financial support, playing board games with him.  We remind ourselves that Sito goes in our name.  Perhaps in some near future we can create a ritual to more formally acknowledge this, not only for Sito but also for others we send out. 

Each of us has gifts, each of us is called by God, each of us lives within this community of priests, and each of us is invited by this community to seek and to follow God’s call.

Okay, now I’d like to hear from several of you about your calls.  We’ll take the mic around, you stand up for four or five minutes and share with us.  If we are brief, more people will be able to share.