February 13: Called AND Equipped

February 13: Called AND Equipped

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Audio of Scripture reading and sermon only

This is the first in a 4-part sermon series called “Living Faithfully.” In this series, Pastor Drew will be addressing some of the deeper truths by which we profess our faith in and commitment to following Jesus Christ, even as our denomination faces the likelihood of separation later this coming summer. The theme for today’s message is _________________

Scripture: Exodus 3:1-4; 4:1-5, 10-17

As far back as 8th and 9th grade I knew I was going to be a music teacher. My father and my maternal grandmother were music teachers. My mother was public school teacher and shared my father’s love of music. Music was in my DNA, and teaching was in my family history on both sides.

But there was a problem. As sure as I was about my future vocation, a tiny voice deep in my head quietly and consistently whispered into my ear, “But what if you don’t want to teach? What then?” polygamist

It was a good question, but I basically ignored it because it was clear to me from early-on that music was really the only thing I excelled at. I also knew I had neither the chops nor the inclination to be a professional performer. So, for the most part, this left teaching as my only viable option. And because I wasn’t opposed to the idea of teaching, it was the path I chose. Nevertheless, that little voice persisted. What if you don’t want to be a music teacher?

Obvious, I’m not a public music teacher? So, what happened? What happened was that during my junior year in college, God called me to the ordained ministry. In my case, my call was instantaneous. It happened in a moment during a Sunday worship service. I can’t tell the date it happened, but I can tell you where I was sitting and what was happening when God dialed my number. I was sitting next to my father in the choir loft. It was a split chancel—half of the choir on the left, half on the right. I happened to be sitting opposite the pulpit, so I had a perfect side view of Pastor Woody Berkompas, who was preaching when it all went down. At some point during his sermon, my feet became quite hot. That heat quickly moved up my legs and then enveloped my upper body as well.

That’s when it happened. Though it wasn’t an audible voice, I nevertheless heard a voice speaking to me as clearly as if it were spoken out loud, as clear as me speaking to you now. The voice spoke eight words: “This is what I want you to do!” Immediately I knew in my heart that the “this” about which the voice was speaking was a reference to Woody’s preaching. I was being called to preach. And in that moment in time my life went in a whole new direction and that little voice of doubt in my head was silenced forever.

The voice said eight words: “This is what I want you to do!”

Holy Spirit to Drew

Now, if this was a Hallmark story, then I could tell you that from that point on, all the pieces of my life magically fell into place. But the truth is, even though I welcomed my call to ordained ministry with wide open arms, living into it has not come without its doubts and struggles. In fact, to this very day I wrestle with doubt – not about my call per se, but about my ability to effectively carry out my call. Because the fact is, I can rattle off a list of reasons why I’m the wrong person for this line of work.

In this manner, I can identify with Moses. Here he was, just minding his own business, living his life as he figured it out, when BAM!, out of nowhere God calls out his name and points him a new direction. Actually, that new direction was backwards to a certain degree. God was calling him to return to the scene of his 40-year old crime. In essence, God says: I want you to go back to Egypt and convince the king to let go of his entire slave force. And then, after accomplishing that task, I want you to lead my people, who are your people, out of there. Are you alright with doing this?

Understandably, Moses responds,

No, I’m not alright with that! First of all, why me? Who am I to take on this huge task? And in case you’d forgotten, I’m still a wanted felon back there. No, this job is way out of my league, way above my pay scale. I’m not prepared to do it. I don’t want to do it. And quite frankly, I’m not able to do. You’re asking me to do something I’m simply not able to do!

Secondly, what am I supposed to tell them when I get there? That “God told me to tell you, ‘Follow me out of here!’?” They’ll accuse me of having a Messiah Complex. And for that matter, if I did do this—and I’m not saying I will—but if It did, who should I tell them has sent me to lead them out? Because you know they’re going to ask me that question. And you what else? No matter what I do or say, I can guarantee that they’re not going to believe me when I tell them it was you who sent me.

Besides all of that, I totally bombed the Dale Carnegie Course on public speaking. The fact is I don’t speak well. I stutter and I’m always at a loss for the right thing to say. And I don’t think well on my feet.

And then, after God responded to every reason Moses gave for being the wrong person, Moses finally says what he’s been wanting to say the whole time: I’m the wrong guy for the job. I can’t do this. Please, just send someone else, someone more qualified than me!

Here’s a question. What qualifies me or anybody else for ordained ministry? Or any type of ministry? What qualifies any of us to represent Almighty God? Moses didn’t feel qualified. I can’t say I always feel qualified. Back in 2014, I was preparing to come off my leave of absence and go back under appointment. When the district superintendent called and told me where I’d been appointed to, I instantly knew that going there would stretch me and force me to grow as a pastor and leader? Why? Because I didn’t naturally possess most of the skills and abilities which would qualify someone to lead a church that was struggling with its particular set of challenges. And I still don’t naturally possess them. Since then, I’ve learned a lot and grown in these areas of leadership, but I can’t say they’re a part of my natural leadership DNA.

Fred Rogers with a bear puppet
Fred Rogers, AKA “Mr. Rogers”

Did you know that Mr. Rogers didn’t always feel qualified to do what he did? To say that he was successful in television would be an understatement. To say that he was a person of great influence would be a huge understatement. In fact, during the early years of PBS, when one senator was single-handedly going to remove the $20 million necessary to keep it going because he couldn’t see the difference it made in the lives of the average American, it was Fred Rogers’ 10-minute speech before Congress that changed the senator’s mind. Fred Rogers was the definition of success and influence. And yet, even he struggled with self-doubt. Mid-way through his career, he came to the conclusion that he’d said and done everything that could be said and done on his TV show. Here’s what he wrote in one of his journal entries: “Am I kidding myself that I’m able to write a script again? After all these years, it’s just as bad as ever.” And yet, today we know now that he kept going, and was very successful and sought-after as a speaker for the rest of his life.

When it comes to doing ministry what qualifies someone? The fact is, we all share a common call to ministry, which is the call to live a life which reflects the love and grace of Jesus Christ, and to serve other people. What qualifies us for this?

First and foremost, Jesus Christ qualifies us. In the truest sense, Christ qualifies us through his obedience in going to the cross and taking upon himself the guilt of our sinfulness. And then, on account of that, our faith in him. That’s the most important qualifier. And second, our baptism. Because it’s through baptism that we’re initiated into the Body of Christ, who has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be Jesus in today’s world. And as individual members of the body, we’re qualified through faith to love and serve in Jesus’ name.

Recently, I talked about how deacons and elders are those who’ve received calls to “set-apart” ministries, and that they’re called from among those within the larger body of baptized believers. Here’s how the Book of Discipline puts it: “Within the church community, there are persons whose gifts, evidence of God’s grace, and promise of future usefulness are affirmed by the community, and who respond to God’s call by offering themselves in leadership as set-apart ministers, ordained and licensed” (¶301.2).

The process whereby the community of faith (that’s you!) affirms one’s call to ordained ministry is long, and involves quite a bit of discernment, vetting, interviews, and even voting. Part of that vetting process involves assessing the candidate’s personal life and conduct. The Book of Discipline states that ordained clergy are expected to dedicate themselves to “the highest ideals of the Christian life.” They should therefore “agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God” (¶304.2). While God calls all of us to the high ideals Christian living, ordained clergy are expected to demonstrate this aspect of our common call.

The next paragraph is where it states that even though “persons set apart for ordained ministry are subject to the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living.” And because it’s the current position of The United Methodist Church that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be…ordained as ministers” (¶304.3).

So, what qualifies someone for ordained ministry? Right now, our denomination is wrestling with some part of our long-standing answer to that question. Because the fact is we’re not in agreement about what qualifies and disqualifies someone for ordained ministry within The United Methodist Church.

While it’s not my purpose to tell you what my answer to this question would be, here’s what I will say: anyone who has said “yes” to Jesus has been called and equipped to do ministry. Here the good news: in and of themselves, your life struggles and sins do not disqualify your call to ministry. Yes, it’s true that at this point in time, The United Methodist Church has taken the position that being romantically involved in a same-sex relationship disqualifies them from ordination and marriage within the denomination, but it’s also very clear that it will never disqualify one from the ministry common to all believers. The call to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the call to love and serve your neighbor is not nullified or abolished by our sins. And the reason this is good news is because if it weren’t so, we’d all be disqualified! Certainly, sin can and does decrease the effectiveness of one’s ministry. The classic example of this being our noted hypocrisy when it comes to the difference between what Christians often say and do. But the fact still remains that no matter what, the Holy Spirit still calls and equips his people for the work of ministry.

This means that each person here, regardless of background or education or natural abilities, has been called to ministry. Do you believe that? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit has called you to ministry? Now, it just may be that there’s someone here this morning that has already heard a call to ordained ministry, or will hear at some point a call to ordained ministry. Why wouldn’t God call a child of this congregation to the set-apart ministry of the ordained? Regardless, though, you’ve all been called to the general ministry of sharing God’s love 24/7, 365 days a year.

And, he’s equipped you with whatever you need to live into that call. Do you believe that, too? I’m going to throw a verse from a psalm upon the screen, and I want us to read it aloud together. As you say it aloud, own it as a truth, or a reality, for yourself. Make it a true statement about yourself. The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need (Psalm 23:1). Who here hasn’t read, spoken, or heard this Bible verse a hundred times? Regardless, really consider that opening proclamation. I have everything I need. It’s a statement not about what will be some day, but what is now, what is already, what is today. Today, I have everything I need. The Holy Spirit has even now equipped you and me with everything we need to effectively and faithfully do the ministry I’ve been called to do. The ministry to which God’s called you is probably different than the ministry he’s called the persons sitting around you. But whoever you are, and whatever your struggles are as a child of God, please know that you’re both called AND equipped for the work of ministry – that is, for sharing God’s love.

Here’s what I want you to leave here knowing, which I hope you find encouraging and hopeful: Regardless of an impending split in our denomination, 1) God still loves the church and is still in charge; 2) Jesus Christ is still Lord of the church, and always will be; and 3) the Holy Spirit still calls and equips the church (and each person within the church) to actively share God’s love with everyone. And that’s because what qualifies you to do ministry in Jesus’ name is Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross the call from God which you received at your baptism.

In the event you’re not familiar with the story of Moses, even though he had a speech impediment and didn’t feel naturally qualified to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, he nevertheless obeyed the call and God more than equipped him for the task. God took a scarred and scared man who was on the run from the law and gave him all that was necessary to convince the king of Egypt to let them go, after which he led them across the Red Sea and through the desert for the next 40 years, preparing them to eventually go across into the Promised Land. As for my own sense of being less than qualified for my work as a pastor, I often remind myself of something God told the Apostle Paul when he was complaining about his own difficult circumstances. Paul writes, “Three times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So,” Paul continues, “now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me…. For when I am weak, then I am [truly] strong.” You see, God’s not really interested in those who can do his work in their own natural strength and ability. No, he’s more interested in calling the unqualified and then equipping them with his Holy Spirit to accomplish the work he’s called them to do.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, you’re our strength and shield.  You alone are the rock on which we make our stand in this world. Though the world promises us riches and comforts and safety, we know that such promises are empty.  We trust in you alone to be there for us in our times of need.  Even family may let us down and friends turn away, but you never will.  That’s your promise, and so we praise you today for this glorious promise which will never be nullified, even by our own unfaithfulness.  Your Word tells us that even when we are unfaithful, you remain faithful.  Why?  Because that’s your nature.  That’s who you are.  Time and again, throughout the history of your people, you’ve remained faithful to your promises even when we turned away.  Lord, we certainly don’t deserve your mercy, but you shower us with it anyway!  And so, we praise you and thank you for this wonderful grace you’ve so generously given.

The psalmist once asked, “Who may worship in your sanctuary?  Who may enter your presence?”  His answer: Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.  Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever” (Psalm 15). We read this, O Lord, and shudder, because we know we fail to live up to this standard. Do we lead blameless lives? No. We do our best, but more often than not, we come up short. Do we always do what’s right, even when it hurts? No. More often than not, we take the easy route, the wide path with the crowd of people on it. We’re reminded of the Scripture which says that “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is seeking God. All have turned away. No one does good, not a single one.” (Rom 3:10-12). What hope is there for us? Or as Paul once said, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” And then he answered his own question: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!” Yes, that’s the answer! Those in whom Christ Jesus lives may worship in your sanctuary and enter your holy presence. In and of ourselves, we’re unqualified to come into your holy presence. We understand that.But in Christ, you welcome us into your presence. We’re endured with the title “child of God” and made brothers and sisters of Christ. God, through the blood of Christ we’ve been freed from the power of sin and death. And now we stand before you, blameless, righteous, holy, alive, freed, whole, acceptable, worthy, and loved. By your action, you’ve qualified us to be your children. And so, we praise you and thank you for this wonderful gift.

Lord Jesus, please turn your attention toward those in need of your tender care and mercy. We especially lift up the [Hatcher] family as they begin to live into life without Dan. Shower them with love and joy even as they grieve their loss. Hear us as we take a moment to silently offer our personal prayers of intercession…..God, know that we come before you in true humility of spirit. For though we don’t deserve your blessings, you nevertheless pour them out upon us and fill us with them. We’re grateful. We’re humbled. We love you and thank you for loving us. Without it, we’d be nowhere. All these prayers we now offer to you in Jesus’ name as we pray together the prayer he lovingly taught us, saying: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

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