The story of God’s people is one of being called and being sent. Of being invited in and offered welcome and of being charged to go out and follow where God leads. To ask which takes precedence is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. Both are essential to the Christian life. To put it in reverse, one who seeks to be a Christian whilst inhabiting only either the call or the commissioning is attempting to do the impossible.
Paul puts it this way in writing to his friends in Rome:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Today was a day of investigating the calling and sending in many ways.
We began by sharing in the celebration of the ordination of three young men to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in a three-hour worship service at Mulanje CCAP. In the PC(USA), the Presbyteries typically choose to perform the function of ordinations by means of Administrative Commissions, wherein a token representation of the Presbytery at large comes to a particular congregation to celebrate with the individual who is being ordained. That choice results in an intensely personal and localized experience, which is at once exhilarating and perhaps a little limiting as well. In contrast, the Blantyre Synod ordains by gathering as many members as can come and inviting them to work together to call their new brothers or sisters to the next level of service and discipleship. So rather than a five or six member commission from Presbytery, there were at least 40 pastors in attendance today, plus elder representatives and women’s guild members from at least seven of the Presbyteries in the Synod.
I was given the honor of preaching at this momentous event, and other members of our team participated in various ways. The word was proclaimed, prayers were offered, and songs were sung in Chichewa, English, and Arabic. Amidst great pomp and not a little bit of ululation, we celebrated the great truth that God, through the Body of Christ, commissions certain persons to certain tasks.
Following the worship, we were treated to a delicious lunch at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Inglis, each of whom has been to Pittsburgh and who were glad to open their home to our team along with an equal number of Malawian guests. Well-fed in both spirit and body, we then set out to follow the call to serve.
For the second day in a row, we visited the rather remote Gondwa Prayer House, where the Christians and their partners from St. James CCAP and the Synod had organized a religious revival meeting. This was a profoundly moving experience. We were privileged to hear two wonderful sermons preached by Malawian elders to a Malawian audience (they were translated for our benefit). Some of the songs featured dramatic activity, and the preachers themselves enacted some of what they proclaimed. By the end of the rally, a hundred or so adults and an equal number of children came forward for prayer and conversation with members of their own community about what it means to walk with the Lord day to day. As those neighbors engaged in conversation, other members of the community brought forward gifts of fruit and fabric for the members of our team. In this context, it ought to go without saying that there was singing. And dancing. A lot of both, in fact. Throughout the experience, there was an amazing spirit of joyfulness.
As the sun was setting, we climbed back onto our coaster and sank heavily into the seats – it had been a long day. Paul wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news…” If you were to have asked us at that moment, as we contemplated our shoes and ankles covered with the red Malawian dust, I doubt that any of us would have declared our own feet to be “beautiful.” Yet somehow, in responding to the invitation to be sent into the world and to engage with God’s people in that way, we were surely given the opportunity to behold great beauty.
We returned to Blantyre well after dark, two hours behind schedule (surprise!). We were spent and weary, and as a friend of mine would say, we looked as if we’d been “rode hard and put away wet.”
But we were full, and ready for what tomorrow holds. Thanks be to God!