By Cathleen Bascom
Today we celebrate the power of vocation. Today we gather for ordination. What is the relationship between the two?
The theologian-educator Parker Palmer says:
Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach, but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I’m not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
Every one of us here today has a vocation; radically unique, each of us has been created by God and called into Jesus’ Way of Love. The examination of those to be ordained as priests begins with this foundational universal calling: All baptized people are called to make Christ known as Savior and Lord, and to share in the renewing of our world.
Probably because it’s January, just this side of the holidays, my attempts to understand the nature of vocation and ordination keep leading me to think about making cookies. Our authentic selves are like a one-time batch of cookie dough. Utterly unique elements in each of us, specific ingredients chosen by the Creator. Of course, our selves, this side of Eden, are not perfect. Left to ourselves, some of us are a little too salty, others a little too sweet, some just bland, some downright toxic.
But as Christian people we believe that we all need what we might call “the Jesus Christ ingredient.” We need his way of love in order to become our true, authentic selves. Mysteriously, a relationship with the Risen One unleashes in us all the flavor and goodness intended by our Creator from our conception.
Okay, so every one of us has a vocation. So what of ordination? Merriam-Webster says that “ordain” means “to put in order.”
Forgive the metaphor run amuck, but a blob of unformed cookie dough is just that: a blob. With our authentic, Christ-enhanced selves, God intends to transform the world. And to do that God must mold us each with specificity, render a certain form; God must order us in particular ways, both individually and collectively, fit for particular historical days.
Isaiah is a prime example. Isaiah’s is a bivocational call. We are pretty sure that he was already a priest; for in this passage we find him serving Yahweh in the Holy of Holies at the temple in Jerusalem, where he experiences God calling him, forming him to also be a prophet. Isaiah had an authentic self. Seemingly he also had some weaknesses: what was it about his mouth?. Swearing? Gossip? Kissing people he shouldn’t?
God purified Isaiah and transformed him, formed him to utter God’s own words. God took Isaiah’s authentic self and molded him into a prophet. Isaiah lived out this life of a prophet within specific historical circumstances: Israel to the north was being ravaged by war with Assyria, war was basically knocking on Judah’s door. But Isaiah had a king who eventually, wisely took Isaiah’s prophecy to heart. God’s words, through the vessel of Isaiah, saved Jerusalem from slaughter and kept war at bay for over a hundred years.
Isaiah makes it clear that this being called and ordered is much more transcendent and graver than a cookie dough analogy.
Ever since Jesus first sent out the 12 apostles, certain people have been ordained, ordered to devote their lives to getting that Jesus-Christ-ingredient into the rest of us. That really is the main role of a priest. They are called to work as pastor, priest, and teacher — through baptism and Eucharist, they will bathe us in and feed us upon Christ’s own self.
The Rt. Rev. Cathleen Bascom is Bishop of Kansas.