“Here am I; send me!” (Is. 6:8).
“Church” is a word that means “gathering” or “assembly,” which points to the church’s origin as a “coming together” of the faithful. There is centripetal force in the word “church”: a force that brings us together and makes us one. When Jesus speaks in our Gospel tonight, of the “one flock, the one shepherd” (Jo. 10:16), he’s pointing to the power of that centripetal force which unites us.
It’s a power which originates with him. It is the Good Shepherd who unites in himself the one flock. It is Jesus’ death and resurrection that brings us together. As it says in our reading, he is the one who “lays down his life for the sheep” (Jo. 10:11). He has “power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jo. 10:18). The church assembles at the place where Jesus stands, at the point where he is raised, victorious over sin and death. The church gathers under the banner of the Good Shepherd, united by him in one body
If “church” means gathering, it’s also the case that the church, once gathered, is sent by God in mission into the world. There is centripetal force that brings us together, and expansive centrifugal force that propels us out into the world. “Mission” itself is a word that means “sending,” and the church gathered is then sent in the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The Gospel writer Luke tells this tale in the Acts of the Apostles, not least of all in the story of Pentecost. Fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the Holy Spirit fills the disciples with new creative force. God begins to fulfill the promise that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached to all nations, in Jesus’ name, beginning in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47). In Acts, the church spreads out with centrifugal power to the four corners of the earth, and it has been continuing to go forth ever since.
God’s call of the prophet Isaiah, in our first reading this evening, belongs to this outward orientation. Even before the gathering of the church, God had gathered a People to himself, a chosen and consecrated assembly, drawn from the family of Abraham. The twelve tribes came before the twelve apostles. The apostolic band was founded upon the People of Israel, whose Messiah was Jesus Christ himself, the “one foundation” mentioned in the hymn.
In our reading, God appears to Isaiah in a vision in the temple in Jerusalem. God’s holiness is revealed there, as the seraphim sing the hymn of praise that’s contained in our own eucharistic liturgy: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3). But the point of the revelation seems to rest in the concluding question, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” To which, of course, the prophet replies, “Here am I; send me!” (Is. 6:8).
The church may be gathered, but the church’s mission requires a going forth, and faithful servants who (like Isaiah) are willing to answer the call. At the heart of obedience is the ability to listen to God, and to each other; to hear the call and to move into action. Pastoral ministry, in the Christian church, is rooted in patient listening within the community for the word that God will speak, and obedience to the call discerned.
Our priest and friend, Jacoba Hurst, has been listening closely and discerning faithfully, for five decades of ordained ministry. If the mission of the church requires folk who are willing to go forth, willing to be sent, Fr. Jacoba has been among those who have responded. He has invested himself in the communities he has served, in the Diocese of Lexington and in the Diocese of Georgia, and elsewhere, and God has blessed his work. He has been a leader in the ecumenical movement for unity amongst divided Christians, in the various denominations, mentoring future generations of those who continue this work. At the same time, he has been a faithful spiritual director for countless clergy and lay people in the dioceses in which he’s served.
Of course, we at St. Luke’s are most mindful of the debt we owe him, for his leadership in this community of faith. God has been good to us in sending his faithful servant Jacoba Hurst, to be amongst us as priest and pastor. I also think the traffic in blessing has gone both ways. There has been a sharing of gifts during Fr. Jacoba’s ministry, a fruitful commingling that has blessed both us and him. No priest serves alone, and this ministry at St. Luke’s has been no exception.
Tonight represents a homecoming, in which we give thanks to God for blessing fifty years of ordained ministry, through his servant Jacoba Hurst. We gather to remember who we are, as a church, and to prepare ourselves to be sent. There is centripetal force, which brings us home, and centrifugal power that propels us forward in mission. God is calling all of us to his service, to say with Isaiah, “Here am I; send me!” (Is. 6:8).