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.
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.