Ecclesia Baptist ordained John Ethan Hughes to the ministry of Jesus Christ on September 13, 2020 in a small gathering at First Baptist of Asheville’s outdoor sacred garden. Here is the text of the homily I wrote for the occasion.
The late catholic priest Thomas Merton said, “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 am 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.”
I can truly relate to Merton’s words, and knowing the story of your call, Ethan, I know that you can as well. It would be easier, in some ways, if every vocational calling came as the boy Samuel’s did—an earthshaking voice in the night repeated three times. Instead, though, most of us respond to a more distant voice, persistent and ever present, but indistinct. It’s frustrating, that monotony, drumming a reminder of our own longing. The frustration, though, surely must be connected, at least in part, to the sense that we must “scramble toward some prize just beyond [our] reach,” using our own wit and will to get there.
Thanks be to God that is not the case. Rather, as Merton says, we are simply fulfilling the original selfhood given at birth.
That’s not to say, though, that we should know from birth what gifts we’ve been given. Instead, as we grow in awareness of who God is, we are better able to recognize the sacred gifts we’ve received. Your journey has taken you to the classroom, the hospital room, and even the courtroom as you sought to understand your call. Yet, as I understand it, it was not until you left those familiar places for the wide-open space of Montana that your vision cleared, and your calling sounded loud and true.
And now, about a year after you returned from that summer internship at West Yellowstone Baptist, you are about to begin full time ministry at FBC Winchester. Ethan, know your church, Ecclesia Baptist, sends you with full confidence that you are up for this task. We send you also, though, with a challenge.
We challenge you to keep listening. The beauty of growing in our faith is that we become better hearers of God’s voice. You’ll hear that voice in words of encouragement and praise for sure. Listen, also, for the Voice of truth in difficult times, when conflict and controversy crowd into your community. God is still speaking, even when other voices seem more demanding and insistent. So, we challenge you to keep listening, keep growing, remain confident that God has a word for you in every circumstance.
We encourage you to make mistakes and ask forgiveness; this is how we learn. We challenge you to be a lifelong learner, willingly guided by godly mentors and teachers. Embrace the unknowns of ministry, realizing these are areas of opportunity through which God will continue to adjust your hearing, helping you to pick up on the nuances of God’s message.
We challenge you, Ethan, to take on the role of minister with humility and grace. Know that while we all fall short of God’s glory, our imperfections are part of who we are. God knit you together and knows your inmost being; knowing you as God does, God has called you to the gospel ministry. Set aside any worldly insecurities and clothe yourself in the godly humility that grows from the knowledge that God loves you more than you can imagine. And go with grace to guide others to grow along side you. Be confident in your calling, knowing that God specifically chose you, setting you apart for the work of the Kingdom. You are not perfect and thanks be to God for the freedom to be, instead, enough.
Dr. Guy Sayles, once pastor here at this church, said to everyone he baptized, “You are a child of God, and God takes great delight in you! God has placed within you everything you need to be who God is calling you to be.”
Hear that beautiful truth, Ethan: You are a child of God. And God takes great delight in YOU! God has placed within you everything you need to be all God is calling you to be.