Life Together as the Full Expression of Ministry

Sermon delivered Sunday, June 28, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear an audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we conclude this month’s preaching theme which focuses on the purpose of ministry. You recall that we define ministry here at St. Andrew’s as service to the Church. Two weeks ago we looked at three biblical reasons for why we are called to ministry. We saw that we are created by God and called to help him in his restorative and redemptive work in these end times as even now he is at work in establishing his new creation. We also talked about the fact that every one of us is going to have to give an account for our lives, not in terms of whether we are saved, but rather for what we have done with our God-given gifts. Last, we talked about the fact that we do ministry as a grateful and sincere response for all that God has done for us in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and his promise to bless us with new resurrection bodies to live in his New Creation.

Last week we looked at some reasons why people are sometimes reluctant to enter into ministry. Specifically we looked at how our fears and insecurities can warp our views about what it means to be a success or failure, and we talked about how we need to look to God’s economy to define success or failure. We saw that success in God’s eyes is determined by how faithfully we use his gifts to serve him, and failure results when we refuse to use his gifts. We also talked about how critically important it is for us to remember God’s mighty acts in the history of his people, both in the OT and NT, and in our lives today. We do the latter by sharing our “God Moments” with each other. This morning I want to try to paint for you a compelling picture of what ministry can look like, especially as it is expressed in small groups, and why it is so important for us, not only as the Church but also as individuals, to do ministry as we live life together.

How many of you found this morning’s Gospel lesson compelling at some level? Why is that, do you think? I suggest this story grabs us so readily because it speaks to our deepest fears and hopes. In these two stories of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman, we find all that can go wrong with life, and this frightens us. We see a life cut short by illness and the grief it causes. We can relate to this because everyone of us in this room knows of someone to whom this has happened. Some of us are struggling with that very issue right now. Just this past week, for example, my old girlfriend from the 1970s, Farrah Fawcett died at 62 of cancer (well, she actually never knew she was my girlfriend but she was) and Michael Jackson died at age 50 of cardiac arrest.

Likewise, we can relate to the hemorrhaging woman, can’t we? Most of us here know of at least one person who has struggled with a chronic disease, either physical or mental, and who, despite all kinds of treatment, has simply not gotten better. If we know these persons well, or if we are one of them, we also know the feeling of hopelessness and despair that can eventually overtake the afflicted ones. And so we can really relate to Jairus and this unnamed woman when they desperately seek out Jesus to heal their loved ones or them. We can relate to them because in all likelihood we have desperately reached out to Jesus to heal us or our loved ones too.

Then, of course, there is Jesus. We see him respond to Jairus’ desperate plea to come and heal his daughter. We watch with relief when Jesus does not rebuke the marginalized woman for touching him so that she could be healed. We hope that he will treat us likewise when we approach him with our hurts, infirmities, and sicknesses for him to heal.

Moreover, we are reminded in this story that Jesus can and does heal and transform us. He resuscitates Jairus’ daughter and heals the woman, and we take hope in that because this is another story that reminds us that Jesus brings life, not death, compassion, not rejection, healing, not sickness. Yet at the same time, we wonder why Jesus sometimes doesn’t answer our prayer for healing and one of two things is likely to happen: (1) we wonder what is wrong with us and/or our faith; or (2) we wonder if Jesus really is all he’s cracked up to be. Can he really heal and transform us or is this all just a bunch of baloney?

And so from these stories, on the one hand, we see why it is so important for us to cultivate our relationship with Christ, and on the other, we are left with our doubts. Yet, deep down these stories ring true and we want with all our heart and mind to believe them, but often we just seem to be spinning our wheels. Why is that?

Or consider this prayer from Hannah Whitall Smith:

Lord Jesus, I believe that thou art able and willing to deliver me from all the care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe thou didst die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe thou art stronger than sin, and that thou canst keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling in its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And Lord, I am going to trust thee to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed, most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I will trust thee. I give myself to thee. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul and spirit, I present myself to thee as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything thy love and thy wisdom shall choose. And now I am thine. I believe thou dost accept that which I present to thee; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by thee, and that thou hast even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure. I trust thee utterly, and I trust thee now.

From The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith

Regardless of what you might think of Smith’s theology (if you know anything about her), this is a beautiful prayer, isn’t it? It acknowledges our fallen condition with all its weaknesses. There is a wonderful hope expressed here as well, and we find ourselves nodding in agreement with its petitions and acknowledgement of Jesus’ sovereign power. Yet how many of us have prayed something like Smith’s prayer? How many of us have resolved to give ourselves totally to Christ and to trust him completely, only to find that a few days or weeks later, we are right back in our old patterns of thought and behavior? I have. So what’s up with that?

Where is God’s Grace?

I know what some of you are thinking right now. Is Fr. Kevin ever going to get to the point? After all, the days are getting shorter now and we need all the daylight we can get. Well, yes, I am coming to the point, so take heart (and get the suntan lotion ready). The reason many of us never develop the kind of relationship with Christ that our hearts desire is because we are fallen creatures and we are trying to do this on our own. We Americans especially are so ingrained with the notion of rugged individualism that we forget we are called to live our lives in Christ together for many of the reasons we have already talked about.

Simply put, ministry is living life together as Christ’s Body, the Church. It is loving service to one another and it manifests itself best when we love each other enough to get real with each other and help each other as we grow, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, to Christ’s full stature. In a church this size with four services, it is impossible to do this kind of ministry only on Sunday mornings. It requires that each one of us gets into a small group so that we can learn to develop the kind of grace-filled intimacy with one another so that our Lord can use us to help him transform us and be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

Now please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that ministry in small group is more important than other forms of ministry that occur here on Sunday morning and at other times. For example, if we did not have the altar guild or the tech ministry or music or ushers or hospitality ministers, or Sunday school teachers, our worship would surely be impoverished and we as Christ’s Body would suffer immensely because we are first and foremost a worshiping community.

Neither am I suggesting to you that belonging to a small group is more important in developing our relationship with Jesus than prayer, daily Bible study, or weekly worship and communion. All of these means of grace are very important to help us become more like Jesus (Christian maturity). We shouldn’t look at this as an either-or proposition because doing so sets up a false dichotomy between doing ministry in small groups versus doing ministry here at the church and between doing ministry in small groups versus the other means of grace. Instead, I would encourage you to look at this as a “both-and” proposition. We need the spiritual dimension that is part and parcel of prayer, Bible study, and taking communion. But as we have seen over the last two weeks, we also need grace manifested in the human dimension to help us grow to the full stature of Christ so that we can become like him, and there is much biblical warrant for this.

First, we were created to have fellowship with both God and each other (Genesis 1-2). Human isolation and loneliness are products of the fall, not the desire of our Creator, and in the wonderful visions of New Creation that we read in Isaiah and Revelation, we notice that there is a corporate dimension. The New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven, and which is part of the New Heavens and New Earth, will not be inhabited by a collection of autonomous individuals doing their own thing, but rather by the body of all the faithful saints worshiping our Risen Lord forever and doing so together (Revelation 21).

In his farewell discourse, Jesus himself reminds us that we were made to have relationship together and that we are to help each other in our faith journey when he called himself the vine and referred to us as the branches. A vine with one branch is not exactly a healthy vine, is it? No, in this imagery, Jesus reminds us that we must have our roots in him but that we are to help each other and grow together (John 15:1-17).

Likewise, Paul reminds us that we are Christ’s Body, the Church, and in that wonderful passage from 1 Corinthians 12, he talks about the deep interdependency of the various parts of the body and the importance of each individual in it. He refers to the Church as a living organism, not an organization. Again, it is impossible to develop that kind of intimacy in the context of Sunday morning worship. We need to use our own unique and individual gifts to build each other up, which is ministry at its finest, and this kind of intimacy can only happen in small groups.

The various NT writers, especially Paul, recognize the fact that by ourselves we are fallen, broken creatures and ripe for the picking if we seek to develop our relationship with Christ on our own. Peter warns us that our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Again, this does not mean that we do not have the power of Christ working in us to help us resist the Evil One. We do indeed have that power. But as we have seen, from the very beginning, God has chosen to use human agency to help him accomplish his good will and purposes and we ignore the ministry we offer to each other in the context of small groups to our own peril. That is why we see the NT writers encourage us to live life together so that we will not fall away, so that we will not succumb to our doubts and fears, and so that we can help build each other up as we use the other means of grace to help us grow in our relationship with Christ.

Listen to a couple of examples from Scripture. We are encouraged to love one another, be kind and compassionate toward each other. We are to submit to one another, both in our relationships at church and in our family relationships. We are to teach, admonish, and encourage one another. We are called to be humble, patient, kind, and compassionate, bearing with each other in love. When I did a search for these terms, I found over 60 of these kinds of passages (and if you would like a copy of them, you can find them in the narthex). This is ministry at its finest. It is based on fellowship and it is the Spirit-filled remedy on the human side for all that seeks to prevent us from growing in our relationship to Christ.

Please notice two critical assumptions behind all these biblical “one another” imperatives. First, nowhere are we urged to engage in navel-gazing or long walks on the beach by ourselves to commune with God. This rugged individualism approach to developing our relationship with Christ is simply absent in Scripture. We are called to grow in our faith in relationship to others, and that means doing ministry, i.e., serving one another in love, just as our Lord commanded us to do.

Second, notice the nature of the relationships presupposed by these passages. You don’t teach, admonish, and bear each other’s burdens if you have a superficial relationship with people.  Imagine trying to do that to a perfect stranger, even if he were a Christian. You will likely get a very cool reception! No, the only way we can do this is to get real with folks, i.e., to have an authentic relationship with each other, and this takes time and effort to develop, as does any meaningful relationship. Only when we are willing to show our real selves, warts and all, will the Spirit equip us to minister to each other in ways that foster our spiritual growth and deepens our relationship with Christ. So while we can certainly minister to people in relationally superficial ways, ministry that Christ uses to be life changing usually takes place within the intimacy of personal relationships because it is in that context the Risen Lord can best use us to help each other grow in our relationship with him.

Where is the Application?

Let’s go back to our original examples above and apply what we’ve been talking about to see what this might look like. We read today’s Gospel lesson and want desperately to believe its good news about Jesus but we or someone we love is sick and our prayers seem to go answered. We get discouraged and are tempted to fall away. If left to our own devices, except for the sheer grace of God, there is a real possibility of that happening. But when we are in a life group and have developed real and intimate relationships with each other, we can express our fears and doubts and allow other group members to minister to us by praying for us, to share their own doubts and fears, as well as their hopes, and to look closely at Scripture with us to see what it has to say about these mysteries. Perhaps most importantly, however, we take great comfort from their ministry to us because we know we have someone whom we trust and on whom we can depend. That’s ministry which flows from real fellowship.

Likewise, when we resolve to put our whole hope and trust in Jesus as Smith’s prayer articulated and then life starts to get in our way because it is messy, we call our accountability partner who both admonishes us and encourages us to stand firm. He reminds us of God’s mighty acts in the history of his people and asks us to remember some God moments in our lives to help build us up in our pressing moments of weakness. This, of course, is impossible without a deep and real relationship with a trusted Christian brother or sister and the abiding Presence of Christ. Without those relationships, we are likely to be defeated because we are fallen and broken creatures. However, with a real and intimate relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord will surely use that to help us grow to his full stature [personal testimony about divorce, ordination concerns, and my small group]

None of this, of course, denies the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In fact, these examples presume his active Presence and Power at work in and through his faithful people. As we have seen repeatedly, we Christians are called to use our gifts to help God accomplish his good will and purposes for us. This is ministry at work, powerful and compelling. This is what it means to do ministry as life together. When we minister to each other this way, we are doing what Paul urged us to do—rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We are demonstrating our love for each other and we are doing it humbly because we know that we too are subject to temptation, sin, and infirmity.

The Christian faith is a journey and often a struggle, but we are not called to live it alone. God can and does work through human agency and uses his children to help him in his work toward New Creation and to help us grow to Christ’s full stature. When we take the chance and develop real relationships with other faithful souls, we will find an added dimension to Christ’s grace to help us on our way. The promise is ours for the taking. Do you love the Lord and each other enough to want to help him in his work, thereby ministering to those you love? If you do, you will find that he blesses you and those with you in ways you can scarcely begin to imagine.

When we do ministry in the context of small groups, we help build up Christ’s Body and make it healthy and strong so that together we can do the work Christ calls us to do. Just as when physical illness or infirmity prevent the body from doing its normal activities, so an unhealthy Body of Christ will be unable to witness to a broken and hurting world that so desperately needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But when we minister to each other so that we are helped in our relationship with Christ, we help make his Body strong so that we can provide a powerful witness to those who need to hear the Good News. Outsiders will look at our ministries and say, “See how those Christians at St. Andrew’s love one another! Look how well they serve Christ by helping each other. I want to be part of that!” That’s ministry that will last you a lifetime and beyond, folks, and that’s good news, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Ministry—What’s Holding You Back?

Sermon delivered Sunday, June 21, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to listen to the audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s, and happy Fathers’ Day! Today we continue this month’s preaching theme which focuses on the purpose of ministry. You recall that we define ministry here at St. Andrew’s as service to the Church. This morning I want to focus on some things that can hold us back from doing ministry and what we can do about it.

Last week we looked at three biblical reasons for why we are called to ministry. We saw that we are created by God and called to help him in his restorative and redemptive work in these end times as even now he is at work in establishing his new creation. We also talked about the fact that every one of us is going to have to give an account for our lives, not in terms of whether or not we are saved, but rather for what we have done with our God-given gifts. Last, we talked about the fact that we do ministry as a grateful and sincere response for all that God has done for us in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and his promise to bless us with new resurrection bodies to live in his New Creation.

At the end of the sermon, I pointed out an immediate, critical need we have this summer. We are looking for volunteers to help teach our summer Sunday School program and I asked you to prayerfully consider helping out in light of every Christian’s call to ministry. The response was overwhelming. Nobody signed up. Now I could get all huffy about that but I would be making it about me and my preaching, wouldn’t I, and that certainly contradicts what I preached about last week.

So I got to thinking about why there was such an underwhelming response to my appeal. I wondered why we have only about 20 percent of you engaged in active ministry, especially when I get the sense that you all understand that every Christian is called to ministry, not just some of us. I am relatively certain that this is not about me. After all, one of you emailed me this past week and told me that you can’t wait each week till next Sunday because I get better looking every week. I’m referring that person to my eye doctor for emergency treatment because there are serious problems here.

No, I suspect there are some other things that are holding us back. Some of us may not want to get involved because we are afraid it will take too much of our time and most of us are way too busy as it is. Others of us might be afraid that we don’t have the knowledge or skills to do a particular ministry and we don’t want to be made to look like the fool. Still others of us may be afraid of failure. We worry that if we engage in a ministry we (and others) will discover we’re just not all that talented and we worry that we would not be sowing any kind of significant seeds. I can especially relate to this latter concern because when I was a professor at Miami University, early on I had a hard time breaking into the scholarly world of educational technology. This initial difficulty continued to haunt me and made me reluctant to write scholarly papers and submit them for peer review because I was secretly convinced that they would be rejected and not get published. So what did I do? Nothing. I focused on all kinds of other forms of scholarship except that one. Now I would hasten to add the the forms of scholarship I participated in were worthy and worthwhile, but my lack of published scholarship in peer reviewed journals was a significant factor in me not getting tenured. My fears and insecurities did me in because they led to my inaction and prevented me from doing what was necessary to obtain the prize of being tenured.

So what do all of these reasons have in common? They all involve human fear and insecurities and ultimately they indicate the sad fact that we really are making it all about us. That is where today’s OT and Gospel lessons come into play and I want to spend some time looking at what they tell us about our fear and insecurities in light of God’s grace.

In today’s OT lesson, we have a wonderful contrast between those who put their ultimate hope and trust in themselves and in human solutions versus those who put their ultimate hope and trust in the power of God. On the one hand we have king Saul and his men who were paralyzed with fear over this mighty Philistine warrior, Goliath. And who could blame them? Here was a nine foot tall giant taunting them and their God and all they could see was Goliath’s size and strength versus their own, and it made them paralyzed with fear. I’m quite sure that had I been in their sandals, I probably would have felt the same. It’s not unlike being a defensive back in football and seeing a 320 pound lineman bearing down on you at full speed to bury you.

But we need to remember some things about Saul and his men because it helps us better understand their paralysis as they faced the prospect of fighting Goliath. In the chapters preceding this one in 1 Samuel, we read of Israel’s desire to have a king like the other nations did and this displeased God because Israel was essentially telling God that they did not trust him or were willing to submit to his leadership. They didn’t want to be God’s called out, i.e., holy, people; they wanted to be like the rest of the nations. Saul, of course, spent a good deal of his time as king disobeying God’s commands and refusing to submit to God’s sovereign authority. Saul was simply not willing to put himself under God’s law. He wanted to be above the law and this desire, in part, led to his disobedience. In chapter 16 we read that God got so angry with Saul that he took his Holy Spirit from him and gave him an evil spirit to torment him instead. No wonder Saul and his men were frightened by Goliath. They only had themselves and their own power on which to rely.

On the other hand, we see David, the man after God’s own heart. Although only a boy, and tiny in size compared to Goliath, he had the Spirit of the Living God and this gave him a new perspective on his situation. He didn’t see a fearsome giant who would destroy him in battle. Rather, he heard a little man mocking God and his people, and because David knew God, he knew that this could not stand; God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). And so David went boldly to Saul and asked for permission to fight Goliath.

Notice in this story that Saul tried to impose his way on David, but David knew himself and his abilities. He rejected the armor that Saul offered him and used his own tools instead because he was familiar with them. Notice too the importance of human agency throughout this story. God could surely have destroyed Goliath without David’s help, but instead he acted through David to defeat this giant mocker. David knew the Living God and had faith that God would use his own abilities to accomplish something that ostensibly looked impossible.

Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson we see the disciples falling into the same trap as Saul and his men. Notice the contrast again. Here is a ferocious and terrible storm about to apparently engulf them and their boat and the disciples are terrified. Again, I can certainly relate to them because I have been in a desperate situation on the water when I wondered if I were going to make it to shore alive. The disciples were looking at their situation from a human perspective only. They seemed to have forgotten Who they had with them.

Contrast the disciples’ reaction to the storm with Jesus’ reaction. He’s asleep in the front of the boat! Notice that after he calms the storm he does not tell his disciples, “That’s OK, boys. That was a whoppin’ big storm and you almost drowned; I understand why you were afraid. I can relate to that.” No, our Lord rebuked his disciples for lacking faith in him and his Power, especially in light of all they had seen him do in his ministry. Once again, Mark reminds us that the original twelve Apostles were not the brightest stars in the sky, something he does consistently throughout his Gospel, and that should give us hope.

Why? Because we, of course, are tempted to read these stories and not connect the dots (because after all, the stars in the sky have not gotten particularly brighter since the Apostles, if you catch my drift). We are tempted to dismiss these stories as having application only to ancient Israel and Jesus’ disciples. But this is not the case. Sadly these stories are stories of the human condition and our persistent rebellion against God. If we are honest with ourselves, we would much rather put our ultimate hope and trust in ourselves, not God, because deep down we sometimes really wonder if God is all that trustworthy, given all that is so wrong in our world.

Where is God’s Grace?

But in these stories we find the answer to our problem of what’s holding us back from participating in ministry, and for that matter, from anything in our lives that leave us paralyzed with fear. Both these stories remind us that we have a God who is Big enough and Powerful enough to truly be called a Sovereign God. When we accept his gracious invitation to have his Holy Spirit dwell in us and take the time to cultivate his Presence, we have power over our fears. This does not mean we will no longer have fears, but rather we have the resources to overcome them. Do you know what the most common phrase in the Bible is? It is “don’t be afraid,” and in our lessons this morning we see why God tells us not to be afraid.

So let’s apply this to some of the objections to doing ministry I mentioned earlier. Regarding the fear of not having enough time to do all that we need to do, when we give our time to God and ask him to help us manage it, suddenly we have time to do all the things that are most worthwhile and wholesome for us. If we are really serious about giving our lives to the Lord and asking him to help us manage everything in them, then we will surely include the resource of time in that request and prayerfully reflect on exactly how we do use our time, and whether that use is pleasing to God. It is not unlike tithing. Most people are reluctant to tithe because they are afraid they will not have enough money to live. But it is the consistent testimony of those who do tithe that not only do they have enough, they actually seem to have more. Likewise with time. Go figure (no pun intended).

How about the fear of not having adequate knowledge and skills to engage in a ministry. In the story of David and Goliath we are reminded that we need to be aware of our abilities but it is not up to us to decide if God can use our abilities in service to his church; it is up to God. Our lessons this morning remind us that God is trustworthy but we must give him the opportunity to demonstrate his trustworthiness, not unlike when God gave Abraham the opportunity to trust him when he asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-24). It is the consistent biblical testimony that when we give God a chance to demonstrate his sovereign power and trustworthiness, God does not disappoint. For example, the Falors recently joined our tech ministry with great fear and trepidation. John was convinced that the free world would collapse if he sat back in the tech booth. (Hey, is that really what caused our recent economic upheaval?) Although they did not have the technical knowledge and skills they were comfortable with, they trusted in their own innate intelligence and trusted God to help them muddle through, and God has done much more than that. Not only has the free world not collapsed, we get great technical services from the Falors to help us in our worship.

Likewise, when our fear of failure paralyzes us, our lessons today remind us it is not ultimately about us, but rather about working with God to help him accomplish his good will and purposes in our own lives. When we have the Holy Spirit living in us and guiding us, suddenly the criteria we use to assess success and failure change. Suddenly we are not bound to look at success in terms of worldly standards as much as we are to look at it in terms of following God’s will for us and our ministry. We then understand that to fail in God’s sight really means to refuse to accept his gracious invitation to be stewards of his good creation by working to help build up Christ’s Body, the Church. When we begin to look at success and failure that way, we really do not have much to worry about in terms of our accomplishments (or lack of them) in our ministry because it really isn’t about us.

As this applies to my failure at Miami University, perhaps I wasn’t a failure after all. To be sure, I did not put my trust in God when it came to producing scholarly papers. But then again, perhaps even then God used that failure to eventually lead me here as one of your priests. Then again, some of you may be thinking, “I really wish Fr. Kevin had succeeded!”

Where is the Application?

So how can we work to nurture the Holy Spirit in us so that we can better learn to trust in God’s soverign power and good will for us so that we can all become ministers here at St. Andrew’s? First, we need to read our Bibles regularly so that we know of God’s mighty acts and deeds in the history of his people, both in the OT and NT.

Second, we need to keep telling each other about our “God Moments,” the times when God’s unmistakable presence was manifested in our lives [share a God moment]. This is best done in small groups but belonging to one is not a prerequisite for doing so. Telling each other about our God Moments reminds us that God is not a God relegated to history, but is even right now working out his will in our lives as individuals and as his Church.

Last, take the risk. Let God show you he is trustworthy. Find a ministry and start doing something. Did I mention we have an immediate and critical need for folks to help with our summer Sunday School? If you are struggling with time, give that to God and ask him to show you how best to use it so that you can serve his Church. If you are afraid, ask him to help you remember the biblical story and your own God Moments so that he can use you to help him build up his Body here at St. Andrew’s. Give him a chance. You will not be disappointed.

Throughout scripture, God tells us not to be afraid. He has demonstrated why he tells us this and invites us to accept his gracious invitation to live with us in these last times as we work with him to accomplish his will for us. He promises to be with you and help you do that which he has called you to do. And when your work is done here, he promises to have a place reserved for you so that you can live with him forever. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity. Is it good enough news for you to respond in loving obedience by finding a ministry here at St. Andrew’s and serving him with a willing and joyful heart so that we can be his bright beacon of hope and light to our surrounding community?

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Called to Ministry

Sermon delivered Sunday, June 14, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. The audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, is not available due to technical difficulties.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

What is the Human Condition?

Good morning, St. Andrew’s! Today we continue this month’s preaching theme which focuses on the purpose of ministry. You doubtless recall that we define ministry here at St. Andrew’s as service to the Church and this morning I want to focus on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians because it contains three very good reasons why we should engage in ministry. As we look at these reasons, I want us to use them as the basis for some honest self-reflection and assessment about our relationship with Christ because what we do (or don’t do) in ministry will be a fairly accurate indication of how serious we are about our relationship with him.

Where is God’s Grace?

All Christians are called to ministry. Did you know that? But why are we called to minister?  Paul gives us a powerful reason in today’s epistle lesson. When anyone is “in Christ, there is a new creation,” and this is our first reason to engage in the service of ministry. You recall from last month’s preaching theme, worship, we talked about the fact that in Jesus’ bodily resurrection we get a preview of God’s promised new creation and are reminded that we are not to despise creation but rather to embrace it. In other words, we are called to work with God to help him complete his mighty work. We have the awesome privilege and responsibility of being allowed to be agents and part of God’s work to restore his broken and fallen creation. If the Church is indeed the Body of Christ, then how much more important is our ministry to it since the Lord is using his Body as the primary human agency to help him in his restorative work until he comes again to complete it? Without Christian ministry the Church would be in desperate trouble because by his sovereign wisdom and grace, Christ depends on each of us to help build up his Body (see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). A careful reading of both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians will demonstrate just how passionately he believed this to be true. So each one of us is called to ministry because God intends to use us to help him bring about his new creation. What an awesome privilege and calling!

A second reason we are to engage in ministry is a bit more sobering. Paul reminds us that each of us will have to stand before Christ’s judgment seat one day and give an account of our lives. The issue here is not salvation, but rather revelation. We Christians have been saved through the blood of Christ and so Paul is not talking about the Day of Judgment when Christ comes to separate the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). No, our salvation is not the issue here because we are saved by grace through faith, not our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Instead, Paul is reminding us that because we are called to help in God’s restorative work, we will have to give an account of how we used our gifts in that effort. As Fr. Ron likes to tell it, this will be the day when our life and everything we have done in it, the good, the bad, and the ugly, along with our motives, will be displayed on God’s Jumbotron for all to see. For you see, God is concerned not only with our actions but also our motives in doing (or not doing) what we do. We see this echoed in today’s OT passage when God reminded Samuel that he is not interested in the superficial things as humans are, but rather looks at each person’s heart to see us as we really are.

Because Paul knew he was going to have to give an account of his life to Christ, Paul was eager to work tirelessly to serve the Lord he loved. We see this reflected in other parts of his letter as well. For example in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 he talks about being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Later he boasts (he doesn’t complain, mind you, but boasts) about being beaten, being in mortal danger from all kinds of things, and about being hungry, cold, and naked, all for the sake of spreading the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:21b-33).

What about you? Do you have a similar fear of the Lord, not a fear that makes you afraid or terrified, but one that reminds you that even though you are going to have to give an account of your love for Christ, you are still loved and redeemed by God himself and without that great and wondrous gift you would have no life at all, either here or hereafter? Are you eager to please your Master so that you can look forward to hearing the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant…”?

The final reason for ministry Paul gives us in today’s passage is probably the most compelling one, at least from a relational perspective. We are to engage in service because of what God has done for us in Christ. Here as elsewhere in his epistles, Paul reminds us that the wages of sin is death and left to our own devices, none of us has any hope of ever living forever because none of us is righteous in God’s sight. But thanks be to God that he loves us so much that he took on our flesh and took care of the problem of sin once and for all by dying for us on the cross so that his righteous justice could be satisfied. In doing so, God made it possible for us to live with him forever and Paul reminds us that this should produce a response of profound gratefulness and thanksgiving in our lives that should manifest themselves into action, because as we have seen before, the biblical notion of love is not some warm fuzzies but is rather expressed in actions.

Let me give you an example from my own life that, while not perfect, will hopefully illustrate this point. One of our small group members has a brother who serves as a colonel in the Army and recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. While he was still in Iraq I sent him a bottle of scotch and a couple of cigars, along with a thank you note for his service to our country. He responded by sending me a coin with the Multinational Corps’ insignia on it. I was touched by his gesture and dutifully stored the coin away. Several weeks later, we were watching the news and Brian Williams ran a story about these coins. Turns out the coin I received is called a “challenge coin” and it has a long and honorable military tradition, complete with a handshake in which the recipient is given the coin. These coins are carried by soldiers and given to outsiders as an honor. After hearing this story I had a new and deeper appreciation for what had been given me; it was a very humbling experience and I am honored deeply that he thought enough of me to give me his unit’s challenge coin. Now the good colonel has not asked me to do anything for him, but based on his gift, do you think I would be more willing and eager or less willing and eager to do something he asked me to do? Likewise, how much more should we be willing and eager to serve the One who loved us and gave himself for us so that we can live with him forever?

And it gets better because Paul also reminds us that in serving the Lord out of our great love for him, we become like him, which of course we know is the very definition of Christian maturity. This God who loves us actually uses our very service to help us become more like him. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, we learn obedience by obeying, just as our Lord did when he took on our flesh and lived among us (Hebrews 5:8). Because Christ loved us and suffered for us so that we could live with him forever, how much more should we seek to imitate him in his service? What about you? Do you love Christ enough that you want to serve him so that in your service he can help you become just like him?

Many of us, however, are reluctant to engage in service to the Church because we don’t think we have much, if anything, to offer. But that begs the issue, doesn’t it, because as our Lord reminds us in today’s Gospel lesson, none of us are called to produce results; rather, we are called to plant seeds and then trust in God’s good will and sovereign power to use our efforts to produce fruit for his kingdom. That in itself should take the proverbial monkey off our backs because as we saw, the Lord is not so much interested in the results of our service but rather that we are willing to use our gifts as an expression of our love for him; and we trust him to use our gifts and our service to his Church to help him accomplish his will for us.

For example, when I preach, I have no idea from week to week how my preaching is being received or whether it is making any difference in the life of our congregation. Oh sure, when I look out and see some of you with your eyes rolled up in the back of your head, snoring and slobbering all over yourselves, I have a clue as to how I am impacting you at that moment (I am glad to be able to help you catch up on your sleep by means of a power nap). Conversely, when one of you runs up to me after the service and says excitedly, “That was the best sermon I’ve ever heard preached. I’m coming back to all the rest of the services to hear it again!”, then I have another clue that I’ve had an impact on some of you. Oh wait. That hasn’t happened yet but I am sure it will right after this service.

Instead, I ask the Lord to show me the Word he would have me preach to you on a given Sunday, I prepare as best I can, and then preach the sermon I’ve prepared for you. When I’m finished, I trust that the Lord will use it to speak (or not) to each of you according to his good will and purposes for each of you individually and to all of you collectively. As long as I have listened for his Word I am to speak to you, and as long as I use my gifts to prepare adequately, I am content to leave my sermons in his hands, even if I am not a Billy Sunday or a Billy Graham. Likewise, when you have faith that the Lord can and will use you to help him accomplish his purposes for St. Andrew’s, you can serve this church with joy and freedom because you are reminded that your service is not about producing results but rather about expressing the love you have for your Lord and demonstrating your desire to serve him by building up his Body.

Where is the Application?

As I said at the beginning of this sermon, I want to use these three criteria that Paul talks about as a basis for some honest self-reflection and assessment. We have seen that all Christians are called to serve in ministry because we are called to be a part of God’s restorative work in bringing about his promised new creation, because we seek to earn his rewards for using our gifts to serve him, and because our deep gratitude for what he has done for us on the cross. Take a moment now and consider your own ministry (or lack thereof). If you are engaged in a ministry  here at St. Andrew’s stop for a moment and reflect on your motives for engaging in it. Give thanks to God for sending you his Spirit to help you in your work and ask for his continuing help and guidance in using you to build up his Body here at St. Andrew’s [silence].

If you are currently not engaged in a ministry here, take a moment and ask yourself why that is in light of what we have talked about this morning and ask yourself how that is working for you. Resolve to take this to the Lord and work it out in prayer. Ask the Lord to show you how you can best serve him here and to rid you of anything that is holding you back. Toward that end, consider joining a small group to help you get more engaged with the Church. You will find that doing so will help you keep connected and you will have folks to help and encourage you to engage in a ministry here. Working together with those you love is almost always more fun and productive than working alone. For example, our small group has engaged in a couple of service projects for members of our congregation and it has helped us forge a new and more intimate relationship with each other. I cannot explain it other than to tell you that this surely is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is always ready and eager to help his people engage in humble and godly service to His Church.

If you are looking for a ministry in which to engage but do not know where to start, ask one of the clergy or Judy or Marty. We have an immediate need for volunteers to help Laurie run our summer Sunday school program and we can give you all the human help and structure you will need to engage in this important and worthwhile work. God will do the rest.

Whatever the ministry is, remember that the One who loves you and gave himself for you needs you to help him continue his work. He has promised to help you use your gifts to help build up his Body and he only requires that you have a willing and grateful heart. You can trust him to use your service to accomplish his good will and purposes here for St. Andrew’s so that we can be his bright beacon of Light and Hope to a surrounding community that desperately needs to hear the Good News. It starts when folks come to visit and they see how much we love the Lord and each other by how so many of us serve him in ministry here. And when your work here on earth is done, you, like Paul, can look forward to seeing Christ face-to-face and hearing him say to you as everyone watches your service on the heavenly Jumbotron, “Wow! You really do love me! Well done, good and faithful servant! Do I have a great reward for you. Come and see!” That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity.

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.