Sunday’s Scripture ~ Proverbs 3:5-6.
This Sunday at South Shore UMC we kick off our Total Request Live Summer Series, featuring Scripture, sermon topic, and song requests from members of the congregation. I am delighted by the responses I have received and look forward to this time of worship with our congregation.
This week’s sermon will be co-preached by myself and the Reverend Rachel Paul Hartman, who joins South Shore’s staff and church fellowship for the next year as her secondary appointment. Rachel is a provisional deacon in our Annual Conference serving in extension ministry as a Clinical Pastoral Education Resident at Tampa General Hospital. Each deacon that serves in extension ministry – meaning in a setting beyond the local church – is asked to locate and secure a secondary appointment where he or she may serve in direct connection with a local congregation. Pastor Rachel connected with me and through the work of the Episcopal Office, the Office of Clergy Excellence, and the Gulf Central District Office, Pastor Rachel is now connected to South Shore in service and relationship for the next year.
During the sermon this week Pastor Rachel will reflect on her call story while I reflect on the topic of trust – where it begins, how it is fostered between persons, and how we can build trust with God. For the purposes of time – unless y’all are really pining for a 57 minute sermon – any takers? – I will share my call story on this platform and briefly touch on the unique callings of God’s people in service to our Lord and Creator.
I first experienced my call to the ministry in July of 1996 in the chapel at Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp. I was eleven years old and could not wait to be at camp. Each night, the mid-high camp would retreat into the chapel to worship and hear a message. Having grown up in the church all my life – all eleven years! – I thought that nothing could be said to me in chapel that I would not have already heard or considered. However, this week was different. As the band exited the stage that first night, I remember waiting for the pastor to take the floor. I recall thinking,
Hmm…where is he? Doesn’t he know that he should be up there now? What’s taking so long…Hey…why is that woman stepping up to the microphone? Is that a Bible in her hands? Perhaps she is only reading the scripture lesson…no…she’s still talking…I don’t think she’s going to sit down…wow…I didn’t know that a woman could do that.
From that point on, I was completely engaged. For the duration of the week, I sat in chapel absorbing everything that left her lips as if I had never heard the stories before because her leadership revealed a new opportunity – a new path – a new calling that I did not think was available to me.
Friday night at camp came much too soon. That night in chapel, the pastor led us in a service of Holy Communion. After I received the elements, I prayed at the altar. My prayer began from sheer frustration and escalated to anger:
“Alright God…I don’t know what is going on. You place this woman before me; yet, I didn’t have the time to explore my options with her. What am I supposed to do now? I am leaving tomorrow, and I don’t know what I’m to do with all of this!”
I began to sob, and as I looked up to brush away my tears, I caught the eye of the pastor. She smiled and nodded at me with peace in her eyes. I returned to my prayer with that sense of peace and said, “Whatever your will Lord, send me.” The strangest warmth overcame me within my heart, which served as my affirmation that I had made the right choice. I left camp affirmed that I was meant to serve. How and to what capacity was yet to be determined…
That night eleven-year-old Sarah experienced an internal call. For the next fourteen years I engaged in service with God’s people inside and outside of the church to both explore my call and to witness if others experienced God’s call in me as I experienced it myself. Volunteer positions led to staff positions led to attending seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University led to submitting commissioning paperwork that led to my commissioning as a provisional elder in The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church in 2010. I was then appointed to my first congregation. In 2014 I was ordained elder in full connection.
And the rest, they say, is history.
And yet it is still very much present. Because I am daily – daily – engaged in the work of articulating my call to love God’s people and to love God’s church and to love God’s people in God’s church. I am daily engaged in connecting with folks to witness if they experience God’s call in me as I experience it in myself. Because the day that witness is interrupted, or dare I say ends, then I need to be aware of it – and retire.
As I discerned and discern my call, I continue to feel called to serve God and God’s people as an ordained elder. As Pastor Rachel discerned and discerns her call, she continues to feel called to serve God and God’s people as an ordained deacon.
There are two ordination orders within The United Methodist Church: Deacons and Elders. These orders are equally important in their service to the Church; however, they function in different ways so that those who are called to ministry have the opportunity to serve, lead, and nurture the Church in the way that God calls them. Equipped with their gifts and graces for ministry as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit, Deacons and Elders in The United Methodist Church purposefully engage in loving acts of service for the people of The United Methodist Church and the world. Additionally, they empower others to live into the call God has placed on all lives – as we all participate and are called to the ministry of all believers – in order to further of the Kingdom of God in present and glimpse the Kingdom of God to come.
Deacons are called to Word, Service, Justice and Compassion. Deacons assist Elders with Sacrament and Order. Elders are called to Service, Word, Sacrament, and to perpetuate the Order of The United Methodist Church.
Quick! To The United Methodist Glossary (a highly abbreviated version)
- Word – interpreting and proclaiming Scripture
- Service – serving God’s people
- Justice – to seek and demand justice for the marginalized, named in Scripture as the orphan, the widow, and the alien
- Compassion – to embody and call others to care, kindheartedness, and generosity
- Sacrament – the interpretation and stewardship of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion
- Order – the administration, organization, and supervision of God’s people at each level of ministry
The United Methodist Church celebrates the ministry of all believers. We believe laypersons as well as ordained persons are called by God and gifted to lead God’s people. As the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts and enlivens us with God’s creative breath to serve, so we breathe back to God the gifts of “love, prayer, praise, and thanksgiving,” these four being “the breath of every soul which is truly born of God.”* As laity and clergy are yoked together in the service of our Lord, we incarnate the covenant that unites us as faithful hearers and doers of the Word.
I am excited for our church to meet Pastor Rachel this Sunday. And anticipate with great joy how her words will further inspire us to reflect upon and pursue God’s calling for South Shore – yours, mine, and ours.
Prayer: “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.”** Amen.
*“The Great Privilege of those that are Born of God,” John Wesley, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, ed. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville: Abdingdon Press, 1991), I.8.
**”Breathe On Me, Breath of God,” The United Methodist Hymnal 420.