Ministry—What’s Holding You Back?

Sermon delivered Sunday, June 21, 2009.

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.

Good morning 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 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.

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!”

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.