Preaching: Rebecca A. Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, June 19, 2016
Scripture Reference: Romans 10:5-15, Luke 9:1-6
Sermon: All My Days: Journey
Last Sunday at our annual conference we celebrated the ordination of persons into ministry, and while every year is special, this year’s held special significance with the ordination of Maotter, who spoke here several years ago and is now the first Hmong woman to be ordained. But it was also the 60th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Methodist church with what happened to be a group of all women being ordained. I have to say, one of the honors I experience as chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry is to share in the ordination service, and every time I find myself not only thinking about their stories but my own journey in ministry.
The truth is that for many of us it isn’t an instantaneous decision to enter ministry, but a journey of unfolding moments. I know for myself I first began to sense a call into the ministry when I was a sophomore in high school, but I also had several fears and hesitations. It would take a number of other occasions and conversations in college and when working in youth ministry before I was ready to act on and answer God’s call in my life. One of the moments in my journey that I won’t forget is when I received my phone call from the Board telling me they had voted to recommend me for ordination. I managed to hold it together while I was on the phone with them, but as soon as I hung up the tears started to flow, really on the border of being a nasty cry. So much so that when I called my mom she wondered what was wrong, and through my sobs I managed to say, “I made it. I’m going to be ordained. I can’t believe it’s finally over, that I have reached this moment.” There was such a feeling of completion, of relief of having come to the end of a long journey in answering God’s call.
Only as I stood there last week remembering what it felt like to be kneeling with all these hands on my head, I realized how wrong I had been to think my journey was over. In the 10 years since I have been challenged and learned so much more. That is one of the things I have continually said about my ministry with you is that I am constantly feeling like I am learning something new, being stretched to try something different. Even in the last couple weeks I have felt myself being pushed and pulled, stretched in my leadership role in the conference. The truth is my journey is not over. God continues to call me in new ways. I keep learning more about myself and the life God is leading me to live.
The challenge for each one of us is to stay open to the ways God is continually calling us forward, into new experiences, new discoveries. The temptation, of course, is to be content, to think we have done all we need to, that we know what works, that we already know what is important to know. But as we are reminded in today’s readings, there are always more places God wants us to go, more things for us to learn and understand, more ways for us to grow as disciples.
In the Gospel reading there was surely a sense of confidence and readiness among the apostles. They had been with Jesus for a while now, watching him, learning from him. Jesus apparently felt confident enough to send them out. Only just as the disciples are feeling ready to go, anxious to do something to make a difference, to teach people what they know, Jesus, a step ahead of them, tells them not everyone will be open or interested in what they offer. Jesus doesn’t tell them to stay and keep at it there. Rather, he says to keep moving, to go onto the next town, the next experience. Indeed Jesus is sending them out on a journey and not one where they have to be concerned about what they are taking, but a journey of learning what they already have. It’s a journey of finding the confidence, believing they can do all Jesus has asked of them. It is a journey of learning from all the different towns they go to, all the different experiences they have. It is learning, as Paul writes, to draw upon the faith, the love they carry within themselves for Christ to lead them in their work.
It has certainly been the journey of Paul. One only needs to remember the story of Paul to recognize the journey he has been on. Formerly known as Saul, he was a devout Jew, passionate in his love for God and faithfulness. He thought he knew all the answers; how one should live, and he was willing to teach and enforce these lessons. Only God calls Saul to a new life; he stretches Paul’s understanding to see the truth of Jesus and his followers. Saul becomes Paul, and becomes no less passionate for God, but it takes new expression. And even as we journey with Paul through the book of Acts and his letters we witness Paul’s own journey of being pulled and stretched, of being led to new understandings. We hear him move to a place in today’s reading of saying there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles and as he would say in other letters, between men and women, but then in I Timothy saying women should be silent. In Ephesians Paul calls slaves to obey their masters, but then in Philemon writing on behalf of a slave. Paul is learning and growing throughout his ministry. Paul, himself, acknowledges the mistakes and pain he caused in the past, and in Philippians he says he is not perfect, but he keeps striving to run the race. He lives his life driven by the questions he asks in today’s reading, “How can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?” Paul lived by the message in his heard, and he was driven to go wherever God led him, allowing each town, each challenge to shape his expression and his understanding of Christs love. And it is because Paul valued the journey, because he was open to each experience and what it had to offer, because he kept answering God’s call, that we have all of these beautiful, powerful letters, each one emerging from these experiences with unique messages and teachings.
As I read Paul’s letters, listening to the missionary passion in today’s questions, his words of love greeting communities and even the pain he feels at not being able to return to them, his concern for situations, I can just imagine the prayers Paul would have been saying if he was holding the journey prayer bead. I am sure there would have been times when his prayers were asking for direction, where God wanted him to go next. But I am also sure there were prayers of struggle, not wanting to leave communities, happy in the place he was at. There were also surely prayers seeking wisdom and clarity of what he should do in a challenging situation. Indeed, I believe the letters we read are the fruits of Paul’s prayers along the journey, and therein become an example to us. They remind us to be open to the journey, always asking God what our next step should be, where God wants us to go, for how will the message be heard if the messages are not sent?
It is an important reminder for us as a church right not. To be honest it is a critical time for us. The temptation is certainly there for us to focus on stabilizing ourselves as a church after the merger, to focus on nurturing our relationships with one another. Only today’s readings remind us to keep moving, to keep asking God, “What is the next step for us as a church? How do we keep moving forward?” There is always another experience awaiting us, something more we can be doing to share the love of Jesus Christ.
I’ve been reminded of that recently in a conversation with a colleague about ministries happening at her church, similar to things we’re doing, things like our Halloween supper or the little library house at the country site. They have been good ways of reaching out to the community, but as my friend reminded me, there is more we can do to build relationships with the community. My friend’s church also began a Halloween even for the community called “Fear Not” in which kids could come to trick-or-tre3at at the Sunday School rooms. They saw the response, but realized in no way were they sharing the Gospel so the next year they added some mission and craft activities that also shared the Gospel. Only then they realized they had hundreds of people coming through the church, but no way to connect with them so they asked, “What next?” The next year they had a free drawing which meant they had a way of getting names, addresses, phone numbers to follow-up. Likewise, in their free library they decided to put copies of their newsletters and Bibles, and what they have discovered is they are constantly having to restock.
I listened to her testimony and I was reminded how important it is for us in our prayers to constantly ask God, “What is the next step? Where are you calling me, calling us now?” It makes a difference. We’ve seen it this year. WE added a sign for our Halloween dinner, and that was the invitation someone needed to stop in. It opened the door for conversation and relationship such that this family starting coming to God’s school. So what is the next step for us this year? How do we connect with families coming in that night, and share the gospel? We’re building a reputation such that teachers walking by with their students point out this is the place the bags of food are made. How we do build upon that and take another step forward in sharing Christ’s love?
We start in payer, of listening for God’s direction, as a church and as individuals. Where is God sending us? What does God want us to be doing? The work is not always easy, but as with the apostles and Paul, God sends us out with power and authority to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.