“How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord”

As discussed in other posts, vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.[1]

After the reading of the Scripture and the preaching of the sermon in the central part of the service—Listening for the Word—the last part was devoted to Responding to the Word. Two hymns and a choral anthem aided us in doing just that.

The first hymn was “How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord,” whose words are the following:

“How clear is our vocation, Lord,

When once we heed Your call:

To live according to Your word,

And daily learn, refreshed, restored,

That You are Lord of all

And will not let us fall.

——-

But if forgetful, we should find

Your yoke is hard to bear,

If worldly pressures fray the mind

And love itself cannot unwind

Its tangled skein of care:

Our inward life repair.

——–

We mark Your saints, how they became

In hindrances more sure,

Whose joyful virtues put to shame

The casual way we wear Your name,

And by our faults obscure

Your power to cleanse and cure.

———

In what You give us, Lord, to do,

Together or alone,

In old routines or ventures new,

May we not cease to look to You—

The cross You hung upon—

All you endeavored done.”

The words of the hymn are by Rev. Frederick Pratt Green CBE (1903-2000), an English Methodist minister and hymnwriter. His hymns reflect his rejection of fundamentalism and his concern for social issues.

The tune for the hymn was composed by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848-1918), an English underwriter at Lloyds of London before devoting himself to music as a composer, teacher and historian. While head of the Royal Academy of Music, his pupils included Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. Parry named the tune “Repton” in honor of a friend who was music director of the Repton School, an English boarding school.

The second verse of this hymn really speaks to me. It addresses the difficulties we all face in carrying out our vocations. “Worldly pressures [too often do] fray [my] . . . mind.” And I do need repairs to my “inward life.”

This series of posts about a single worship service has enabled me to discover a greater depth in the service. Although Westminster’s order of worship allows me to see some of that depth with its emphases on preparing for the Word, listening for the Word and responding to the Word, my attention does sequentially shift from one piece of the service to the next. Moreover, although I like to sing and be part of the enveloping sound of the organ and the voices of the congregation, I find it difficult to ponder the meaning of the hymn’s words as I am trying to read and sing the musical notes.


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service is available online along with the text and an audio recording of the sermon and a video recording of the service. Other blog posts discussed that service’s (a) Prayer of Confession; (b) the “God be in my head” anthem; (c) the Scriptures and sermon for “The Vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul;” and (d) the Scriptures and sermon for “The Vocations of A Pastor and Her People.” Clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

The Vocations of A Pastor and Her People

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church

Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Earlier posts have discussed two focal points of the first part of the service—Preparing for the Word. They were the Prayer of Confession and the Anthem based on “God Be in My Head” from the Sarum Primer of 1514.[1]

Rev. Meghan Gage-Finn
Rev. Meghan Gage-Finn

The second and central part of the service was “Listening for the Word” with the reading of three passages of Scripture: Acts 9: 36-43; Acts 16: 9-15 and Romans 12: 1-8 and commentary on them in the Sermon “God Is in This Place” by Rev. Meghan K. Gage-Finn.

This post will discuss the third passage and the accompanying commentary. (A prior post recited the passages from Acts and the commentary that at least three of the four people had different gifts and vocations.)

Romans 12: 1-8 (New Revised Standard version]:

  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”

The clear message in this familiar passage is everyone has different gifts and, therefore, different vocations.

Rev. Gage-Finn told us that she recently had heard “a retired executive . . .  [say] that in all his years as a corporate professional and faithful church leader, he had never once been asked about his work and his faith and how the two either did or did not intersect for him.”

This comment had prompted Rev. Gage-Finn’s realization and confession that in her conversations with church members she had not asked such questions. And this realization motivated her to begin doing so and thereby expand her vocation as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Here are some of the responses she received:

  • “Many could identify that, though they weren’t directly sheltering those who are homeless or clothing the naked every day, they have gifts and skills from God that they feel they can put to good use. One person said, ‘instead of looking for all the ways my job and career weren’t worthy, I began to search for ways they were. I looked for ways, big and small, I could make a positive impact on those around me every day and started focusing on those things.’”
  • Others said “they can see that God is at work in and through them, shaping and guiding them through difficult times and situations in their work. “
  • Another member told her, “In my case, I believe experiencing or finding a sense of call is that time when one ‘comes to peace’ with the intersection of those things that bring you joy and lift you up, and those activities that you’ve had some success with, and those areas where society will actually pay you a wage. That to me is finding a sense of call. This exactly means understanding that something that I thought was my sense of call is not really in the cards.”
  • Others “spoke of feeling that work and life away from Westminster can sometimes be challenging or in conflict with what they hear and learn about each week when they come to church. It doesn’t always fit.”

These responses prompted Gage-Finn to declare, “God is surely in this place [Westminster] while we are here, but in all the other places in our lives, at work and at home, in the boardroom and the cubicle, God is there.”

On the other hand, she said she had “learned from listening to you . . . that there may be a disconnect between what you do Monday through Friday and what you hear and experience at Westminster. Some are able to make that bridge, but for others it is hard and should be lifted up.”

“If we are people of faith when we are here and when we leave here, claiming that God is in this place and all places, then who we are and what we do is very much connected to our neighbors and our community. We know that Westminster is a telling presence . . . . At the same time, we are each as individuals working to be a telling presence, marketers of this Good News if you will, no matter where we are. We acknowledge that God is in all places and that we are all, as children of God–our most important title–ordained to the ministries of love, hospitality, and kindness, ordained as stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Here is “my hope for you today: what you do matters, not because if you are an architect or engineer we can use you on the property committee, or if you are in finance or accounting your gifts could be used for the budgeting process. Because you are created in the image of God, you matter to your colleagues, your family, your community, and to God. Your life’s work matters. In all that you do, find ways to live and work with faith and integrity, and when you feel the disconnect, know that we will keep asking and listening and supporting, with God’s help.”


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service is available online along with the text and an audio recording of the sermon and a video recording of the service. Another blog post discussed Westminster’s order of worship while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

The Vocations of Tabitha, Peter, Lydia and Paul

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster          Presbyterian Church

Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Earlier posts have discussed two focal points of the first part of the service—Preparing for the Word. They were the Prayer of Confession and the Anthem based on “God Be in My Head” from the Sarum Primer of 1514.[1]

The second and central part of the service was “Listening for the Word” with the reading of three passages of Scripture: Acts 9: 36-43; Acts 16: 9-15 and Romans 12: 1-8 and the preacher’s discussion of them. This post will recite the first two passages and the commentary on them in the Sermon “God Is in This Place” by Rev. Meghan K. Gage-Finn. (A subsequent post will recite the third passage and the accompanying commentary.)

Acts 9: 36-43 (New Revised Standard version):

  • “Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.”

Acts 16: 9-15 (New Revised Standard version):

  • “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.”

Rev. Gage-Finn said that Tabitha was “the only woman in the Bible to be given the designation of disciple, . . .[and she had the] gift[s] of sewing [and charity that] may not be perceived as important as the gift of teaching or prophecy, but her ministry and her work in the world [in making and giving clothing to widows] was in gratitude to God and it was her way of following her Lord.”

The story’s inclusion of Peter illustrates his vocation. Peter went with the two men, “not knowing what was needed of him. [His vocation was being] . . . available to the ways God would use him, the ways a community might need him. Peter was simply open to the ways God would work through him to serve others.” Paul’s going to Macedonia can also be seen as fulfilling the same vocation of responding to requests for his presence to advance Jesus’ mission.

The story about Lydia, according to Rev. Gage-Finn, was another example of someone who was “available to the work of God.” Lydia was “a successful business woman who dealt purple cloth, which was of great economic significance in that day. She mingled with the wealthy, yet her further distinction is that her conversion to Christianity [was the first] in Europe, at Phillipi in Macedonia, and through her Christ’s ministry was furthered in that region. . . . Lydia demonstrates her conversion through hospitality [to Paul].”

Note that the three of the four people in these passages had different gifts and used them in different ways. They all had the same mission, but different ways or vocations of fulfilling that mission.


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service is available online along with the text and audio recording of the sermon and a video recording of the service. Another blog post has discussed Westminster’s order of worship while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

“God Be in My Head”

Vocation was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Several parts of that service were especially meaningful for me, and its Prayer of Confession was discussed in a prior post.[1]

That Prayer of Confession was a major focus of the first part of the service—“Preparing for the Word.” Another focus of that part was the Westminster Choir’s rendition of the Anthem, “Benediction at God’s Acre,” with the following words:

  • “God be in my head, and in my understanding. God be in my eyes, and in my looking. God be in my mouth, and in my speaking. God be in my heart, and in my loving. May your mercy fall upon us. May your healing grow within us. May your beauty overwhelm us, so that we may know your grace. God be in my head, and in my understanding, here on this land, here on this acre of God’s love, abiding in God’s love.”

These words, with some alteration, are from the Sarum Primer of 1514, which was a book of prayers and Christian worship resources in the Roman Catholic Church that was collected by the clergy at Salisbury Cathedral in the south central part of England. It was published in 1514 in the “Book of Hours” (Cambridge) and republished as the “Sarum Primer” in Salisbury in 1558. (“Sarum” is the abbreviation for Sarisburium, the Latin word for Salisbury, which was and is both a city and a diocese in England.).

The composer of the anthem is Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947), a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music with B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. degrees in Music Composition. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer.

In 2012, the Westminster Choir sang another version of this anthem by a different composer that was the subject of a prior post. As a commentator to that prior post pointed out, the text for this anthem is in the Hymnary of the United Church of Canada.

Both versions of the anthem emphasize a prayer for God’s ever presence in our lives and thus in our vocations. The words coming from the 16th century provide a connection with other believers over the centuries.


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service that includes the text of this anthem is available online along with the text and an audio recording of the sermon and a video recording of the service. Another blog post discussed Westminster’s order of worship  while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order of posting.

Prayer of Confession

Vocation or calling was the overall theme of the inspiring January 26th worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. Several parts of that service were especially meaningful for me and will be discussed in this and subsequent posts.

The unison Prayer of Confession led by Rev. Stephen Robertson was a major focus of the first part of the service—“Preparing for the Word”— and provided the right introduction. It went as follows:

  • “Hear us, O God, as we blend our voices in common confession. You have taught us that there are a variety of gifts, yet we judge others because they do not fit our mold. You have called us and blessed us, but we do not trust that we are good enough. We turn our attention inward and can’t see beyond our own perceived shortcomings to know the ways you would use us to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort. Help us to realize that you have equipped us to be your instruments of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Forgive us our fears and the barriers we place between ourselves and you, between ourselves and others and free us for the new life you call us to in Jesus Christ.”

Several sentences of this prayer jumped out at me, especially after the article earlier that day in the New York Times about the purported determinants of success, one of which was a sense of insecurity, of not feeling good enough. Here again are those words:

  • “You have called us and blessed us, but we do not trust that we are good enough. We turn our attention inward and can’t see beyond our own perceived shortcomings to know the ways you would use us to feed, clothe, shelter, and comfort. Help us to realize that you have equipped us to be your instruments of peace, justice, and reconciliation.”

This rang true to me. A sense of inadequacy is natural when looking out at the many problems in the world and can, and often does, prevent us from doing what we can do to help others. We need God’s help to overcome such perceived shortcomings.[1]


[1] The Bulletin for the January 26th service that includes this prayer is available online along with a video recording of the service. Other blog posts have discussed Westminster’s order of worship and another prayer of confession while clicking on “Westminster Presbyterian Church” in the Tag Cloud at the top right of the blog will give you all of the posts about the church in reverse chronological order.