Call and Response
CALL and RESPONSE
on the theme:
Faith Anchored on God’s Omnipotence: 120 Years of Grace and Glory
by Elizabeth Susan Vista Suarez, Ph.D.
Good morning, everyone!
You know, when pastors begin their sermon every Sunday, most of them say, “Thank you, Choir and Ma’am Sue, for that beautiful anthem” or something like that; so today, since I am on the pulpit and the choir has sung, may I say, “Thank you choir and me for your beautiful anthem.” The Gratitude and Goodwill Ambassadors sang this at the 58thth Outstanding Sillimanian Awards. Please forgive me for having to replay this anthem. The Covenant Choir has not been able to rehearse since April when the COVID cases in Dumaguete rose. I chose this anthem because it is explicit to the sermon.
When I was invited to give the sermon today, I did a Jonah to Pastor Leny and said I couldn’t do it at this time because of all the work lined up for me to do plus the tension that goes along with the precariousness of our situation. But after some reflection and prayer, I got scared to be swallowed up by the proverbial whale by disobeying God’s specific command.
And of course, I figured, what good would my Christian testimony be if when I was called to serve, I didn’t. After all, don’t we testify to “serve Him for the rest of our days, with the highest of praise; to be His beacon, His light to the lost; to be His witness no matter the cost”? So, here I am in obedience to this particular calling. I am just an ordinary music teacher who will hopefully be able to be used as God’s messenger for this worship service today.
And so, my fellow Sillimanians here and around the world, it is a pleasure for me to speak to you on the theme: “Faith Anchored on God’s Omnipotence: 120 Years of Grace and Glory” with scripture taken from Psalm 147:5, Psalm 139:7-10, and 1 Corinthians 8:6.
Before anything, let us bow our heads to pray: Dear God, as we gather in Your name, may your Holy Spirit dwell within and among us that at this hour; may our worship be focused on the understanding of Your word as we praise and glorify You. Allow for introspection, reassurance, and renewal of faith as we declare forgiveness and healing over all the people of the world. May our hearts be filled with gratitude and a new sense of commitment to You, our God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Do you know that anthems and hymns are 2-3 minute sermons? Well, they are; they unify the service and support the pastor’s sermon.
Because I live in a world of music, don’t be surprised if I use music and the words of song to illuminate my thoughts on the theme, “Faith Anchored on God’s Omnipotence: 120 Years of Grace and Glory,” which to me, can be summed up in two words: CALL and RESPONSE.
In music, a call-and-response is a compositional technique that works similarly to a conversation. A “phrase” of music serves as the “call” and is “answered” by a different phrase of music. These phrases can be either vocal, instrumental, or both. There could be one call and different responses, somewhat like this instrumental jazz call and response example.
Life is a matter of a CALL and a RESPONSE; a reciprocity between the divine and the human, an action and reaction: God to man, man to God, or man to man. Sometimes, when we get caught up in the issues of the day, we may not hear God’s voice, and our responses do not include Him.
Today we focus on the three important calls God continues to make which require scrutiny and a RESPONSE fitting for Christians like ourselves.
First, there is the Call to Reverence, reverence to His Lordship and greatness.
But why should we even revere God? Why should we worship Him? To do this we must first believe that God exists.
I came across a story on a website, atimetolaugh.org, entitled, “I Don’t Believe God Exists.” The setting is a barbershop in a metro city perhaps around the 80s.
“Bill went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation, telling stories as usual. They talked about politics and the elections, the state of the economy, their families and kids. As their conversation continued and as they touched on the subject of God, Mike the barber said in a matter-of-fact way, “I don’t believe God exists! That’s Right, God Doesn’t Exist!”
“Why do you say that?” asked Bill.
“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, Bill, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”
Bill thought for a moment but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. Mike finished his barbering job and Bill left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.
Bill turned back and entered the barbershop again and he said to Mike, the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”
“How can you say that?’ asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!”
“No!” Bill exclaimed.
“‘Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”
“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.”
“Exactly!’ Bill affirmed. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist! If you go to HIM, He’s there!”
How many stories about God’s miracles have we heard or even witnessed? We have read several stories of them in the Bible, and they’ve even been memorialized in different art forms.
I remember in the late 70s, the Cultural Affairs Committee here at Silliman put up a musicale at the newly built Luce Auditorium entitled, “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was directed by Amiel Leonardia who introduced to Silliman University the ‘revolving stage’ with Isabel Vista as the Director of Music who set up a mini orchestra. The cast included Junix Inocian as Tevye, the milkman; and Evelyn Aldecoa, as Golde. There were five daughters, three of whom I will mention. The oldest, Tzeitel, was played by Susan Ceniza; the second, Hodel, was played by Jingle Dans; and the third, Chava, was played by Jenny Lind Aldecoa. Then there was Luna Griño Inocian, the matchmaker. The main cast also included Riodil Montebon as Motel, a tailor; Lance Perfecto as Perchick, a rich student; and Boyben Vista as Fyedka, a Russian villager.
The story is about tradition vs. change. Because of tradition, marriages were arranged. They did not happen because of love. So, the matchmaker matches, the father blesses the match, then there’s marriage. As the story unfolds, the three daughters found the love of their lives without the matchmaker. It was Chava and Fyedka, Hodel and Perchick, and Motel and Tzietel. I draw you to the song of Motel when he finally got his blessing to marry Tzeitel, “Wonder of Wonder’s, Miracle of Miracles.”
Indeed, God can do miracles when we believe!
The Call to Reverence is a call to His Lordship and greatness. So we ask, why should we revere God and answer this call?
God is OMNIPOTENT, ALMIGHTY, and ALL POWERFUL. He is not just OMNIPOTENT (all-powerful), he is also OMNISCIENT (all-knowing), and He is OMNIPRESENT (all-present) as well (Frame, n.d.).
The Bible testifies of this in Romans 1:19-20, New International Version: “What may be known about God is plain …. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
In Genesis 1:3 God says, “Let there be light,” and “there was light.”
And in 1st Corinthians 8:6, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
Do we not declare His power when we sing the hymn: “I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise, That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies. I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; The moon shines full at God’s command, and all the stars obey.”
And in Psalms, 139:7-10, we are assured of His almighty presence in our lives: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Our RESPONSE, therefore, to this call has been and continues to be PRAYER, PRAISE, REPENTANCE, and HOW WE LIVE to be like Him. “Saying ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, living self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12).
Last but not least, the RESPONSE to the Call to Reverence is WORSHIP.
How do we worship? On a website called Got Questions, a beautiful explanation of worship is given based on biblical verses. It says, “Worship is where our spirit is totally abandoned before the Lord in obedience to His call… our minds are engaged and filled with the biblical understanding of God’s nature. Through worship, we learn and can align our hearts and minds to Him so we know how to serve Him (see Luke 6:46). Worshipping Him is the natural response of a heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit; the gift of Jesus to us was God’s invitation. His CALL for us is really to draw near (James 4:8; John 14:9) to Him.”
And like our forefathers, we will continue to declare these words in Handel’s Messiah, “For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah!”
The second is the Call to Faith, an invitation to follow Jesus and to belong to Christ. Hebrews 11:1 KJV clearly states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is believing that something is true even if we cannot see it with our eyes.
According to Lifeway.com, it expresses that: As Christians, our faith must be anchored in the timeless nature of Christ. A faith tested through time, a faith that is imperishable. A faith that is uncorrupted of pride, ego, arrogance, and power; A faith that is unfading- like fads on trends.
Christian faith is tied to the prophets and the fulfillment of their prophecies, one that is built upon Jesus: that He died on the cross for our sins, arose from the grave, and is coming back.
This faith is what keeps our hope alive amidst the challenges and changes that threaten our existence and shake our comfort.
Was it not because of faith that Horace B. Silliman invested in creating a school so far away from America? Was it not faith that brought American missionaries Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard and wife, Laura, to the Philippines to start a school (without having come here before), and faith that made them choose Dumaguete City instead of Cebu to build this school?
Was it not by the faith of Silliman’s leaders and their cohort that Silliman University was sustained throughout World War II? President Arthur Carson, with the remaining members of the faculty, continued the operations of the University in the mountains of Negros Oriental.
Was it not by the faith of Dr. Proceso Udarbe, acting President, during Martial Law, that held Silliman University afloat and continued to give remuneration to the faculty in spite of the situation? I hear that the monthly pay then was 80 pesos. The faculty and staff, during this time of turmoil, were united to stand together because they had faith in the cause for Silliman education.
I draw attention now to our present state of affairs. The Covid-19 Pandemic has shaken us and continues to shake us. When this started, I confidently told my colleagues, “DILI JUD TA MOPA-LUPIG ANI.” Immediately we created a tech team to answer to the needs of our performing duties in the college, not just for the recitals of our majors and extension students but also for the university functions and the church. I expressed to my colleagues, “We need to keep the faith!”
Why do I know about faith? I have always had problems with my eyes. In 2019, both my eyes were operated on for cataracts. My lenses were changed. But my reading eye wasn’t healing well and was found to have macular degeneration, a debilitating eye disease that required a monthly injection worth P20,000. I had to have one injection per month for three consecutive months and then if I didn’t get better, injections would continue every month for life. I wondered, where would I get P20,000 per month for this? If I didn’t get the injections, I would slowly go blind. How would I continue my work? Then I thought, getting blind would be better than getting deaf as I am a musician. I really had no choice but to accept my fate. BUT I also kept the faith, believing in my heart and in my gut that God would provide for me and take care of me as He always has. What I didn’t know was that the worst was still to come.
Right after the second injection, I knew something was wrong. Both my eyes could not open. I was in total darkness and in pain. The cornea of my reading eye was scraped off. It looked like the windshield of a car smashed in. The gash was right in the center of my reading eye. Doctors said they could not fix it.
Will I ever read again? I asked myself. My left eye could not read. It is the far-seeing one.
Should I be angry? Should I just forgive human error? I was angry and frustrated and helpless. Words of comfort could not comfort me, and any gesture of kindness could not take away the uncertainty of my plight. My question was: Why me, Lord?
While in pain, I would secretly cry in prayer for the revelation of His will for me. I did this every single moment I could … still believing and trusting in His goodness and power. In those moments of uncertainty and darkness, I continued to praise God both on good eye days and bad eye days. And somehow, amidst my prayer and praise, God healed me. He made the impossible happen. It was so humbling! It is true. His grace is truly sufficient when you believe.
Miraculously, the eye that couldn’t read is now my dependable reading eye. Most of all, my macula is not degenerating anymore. I think it was my total surrender to God’s will that made it happen.
I would describe our present situation as a period of darkness and duress as we live in this Covid-19 virus-infested world where it keeps changing and becoming more dangerous coupled with the uncertainty of the new proposed Smart Dumaguete City which shakes our being, leaving so many questions unanswered.
However, faith gives us the courage to believe that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
The Response to our Call to Faith is to latch onto Him in humble surrender, believing, like Martin Luther, that “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” His strength, not ours. His will, not ours, because He will win the battle! TRUSTING that EVEN THOUGH THE WRONG SEEMS OFT SO STRONG, GOD IS THE RULER YET!
The third call is the Call to participate in His (redemptive) work in the world.
Colossians 3:17, ESV says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Everyone is called to belong to Christ, to participate in His redemptive work. Everyone is commanded to work to the degree they are able. It is a call to be a light to the nations, manifested in the workplace through justice, healing, reconciliation, compassion, kindness, humility, and patience (Colossians 3:12). Not to harm, or cause estrangement or alienation.
Silliman University at 120 years has obviously responded to this call of participation.
Sillimanians have come together in unity to serve their institution and the greater community as evidenced by the 98 local and international alumni chapters, and the workforce at home base: administrators, teachers, faculty, staff, and students.
Our activities of service towards the sustainability of the university have continued because of OUR Faith anchored on God’s Omnipotence. After 120 years, Silliman University stands as a testimony of God’s amazing grace and glory. He continues to bless us and keep us alive.
The calls to reverence, faith, and participation are the gist of our Christian walk. We are called to reverence, so we can DISCERN His ultimate will for us. We are called to faith so we can TRUST His ultimate will for us. We are called to participate in His redemptive work because we are His hands, feet, and voice in a world that sometimes forgets to recognize His presence and sovereignty.
What are your responses to His call? Do they include consulting God, discerning Him in worship, and prayer before acting? Do your responses include having faith in the Almighty, trusting that He works in ways we cannot see and that He will make a way for you? For us? Do your responses build peace rather than destroy?
As we celebrate our 120 years of existence, amidst the chaos and noise, can we, in humility, kneel in prayer, trusting that God will make a way for us as He has these past 120 years?
May our faith continue to be anchored in God’s Omnipotence and may our 120 Years of Grace and Glory be multiplied.
Happy Founders Day everyone!
Frame, J.M. (n.d.). The omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/omnipotence-omniscience-omnipresence-god/
gotquestions.org. (n.d.). What does it mean to have reverence for God? https://www.gotquestions.org/reverence-for-God.html
A time to laugh.org. I don’t believe God exists. (n.d.). https://www.atimetolaugh.org/about.html
What Does it mean to have reverence for God? (n.d) https://www.gotquestions.org/reverence-for-God.html
W.R.G. (n.d.) The Power of the Word of God. https://web.facebook.com/1462158544113362/posts/to-be-a-generation-of-young-people-full-of-the-word-of-god-full-of-the-holy-spir/1475901072739109/?_rdc=1&_rdr
Lifeway.com. (2014). Sermon:The Significance of Faith. 1-Peter-1. https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/sermon-the-significance-of-our-faith-1-peter
The Call to Belong to Christ and Participate in His Redemptive Work in the World. (n.d) Article / Produced by TOW Project https://www.theologyofwork.org/key-topics/vocation-overview-article/types-of-gods-calling/the-call-to-belong-to-christ-and-participate-in-his-redemptive-work-in-the
McMenamin, C. (2020). What Does Reverence Mean? How to Practice Daily Reverence. Crosswalk.com https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/what-does-reverence-mean.html