You Might Be A Christian If…You Have A Weird Thing For Calling People ‘Ministers’

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10.

This is my tenth year under pastoral appointment. This means – to date – I have written somewhere in the realm of 520 Sunday sermons.

Woah!? That does not seem possible.

But it is.

While I continue to find Scripture passages I have yet to explore for preaching, I am also now to a place in my preaching where I have already preached particular texts on one or more occasions. I like to return to these sermons as a way to reflect and remember…and to also rejoice because some of my earlier sermons…

Woah…

And not “Woah! That was great.” More “Woah…that was a nice effort…?”

My congregation’s were (are!) super gracious.

The last time I preached this text from I Peter I was appointed to a congregation in downtown Orlando. With this text I encouraged and exhorted. I impressed upon them the significance of their presence in and participation with the Body of Christ.

I affirmed them as living stones!!!

And two years later – almost to the day – the church closed.

Learning of that closing caused me to experience a scattering silence.

Luke 19 describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The faithful and hopeful surround him; joyfully they “praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the LordPeace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:37b-38). Some of the Pharisees admonished the crowds’ praise of Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” “‘I tell you,’ [Jesus] replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’” (Lk 19:39-40).

Jesus said the stones would cry out – in hope and praise and assurance – of him as King and Messiah. In I Peter the Apostle also called the church – God’s holy nation and royal priesthood – stones. The same Greek word – lithos – is used in both places. While Jesus anthropomorphizes stones by giving them human qualities in praising and crying, Peter likens humans to stones hewn together for strength and stability as God’s kingdom is built with us and before our eyes.

With Reeves Memorial UMC closing…I felt the stones had been scattered and silenced. I experienced a scattering silence. And the effect was sobering.

I went into a time of mourning and grief. I questioned what I had done. I questioned what I left undone. I hoped the good I offered far outweighed any harm I committed.

Ultimately, I felt like I let them down.

In time God met me in the scattered silence and reminded me that the church did not close. The building closed but not the church. Yes, indeed, the stones were scattered from that locale…and they were still speaking testimonies of God’s goodness and grace.

I know there were also words of grief and grimace peppered among the words of goodness and grace. In fact, I heard some of them personally! And that is okay. They are human. We are human. That behavior is human. Telling that story – of goodness and grace alongside, speaking louder, and/or resulting from grief and grimace – is one way God does what God does in transforming scattered stones into seeds.

Seeds that root and sprout.

Spouts that rise and bloom.

Blooms that bring beauty and joy.

The timing of this transforming is something God alone can see. The testimony of that transformation is a gift for all the world to see.

I do not think I will ever read this text from I Peter and not think of my time with the Reeves congregation. I am grateful for the opportunity to have shepherded them and to have been shepherded by them. I am hopeful for the ways God continues to use the faithful stones of that congregation to cry out in prayer and praise. I pray those stones have found their way into new congregations so that their faith is strengthened through proximity relationship to Christ and neighbor.

I trust God is making seeds of those stones – that with God’s help they are rooting and sprouting, rising and blooming, bringing beauty and joy as they testify to God’s enduring faithfulness.

God knows the timing of their transformation. God gifts these transformations to us as testimonies of lives lived in faith.

Prayer: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”* Amen.

*“Hymn of Promise,” The United Methodist Hymnal 707.

 

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Heritage: The Work of Living Stones

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 2:1-10

This week Reeves’ concludes our Heritage series somewhat at the beginning.  In previous weeks we have been looking back to the foremothers and forefathers of our faith in Scripture, in both Old and New Testament times, to get our spiritual footing.  This week we turn to take the first spiritual steps as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

In order to go out as a person called by God I think it is first important to consider how you have experienced your call by God.  All people are called not just those persons who are set apart to be the clergy leadership in congregations.  I love the language contained in this Scripture passage because it supports that all people have been given access to God – to know, to seek, to understand, to question, to confirm.  Before the Protestant Reformation it was thought that only the priests had this kind of access to God when in fact we are a priesthood of all believers – meaning anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord has this access and is welcomed to engage.

I believe that people who call upon the name of the Lord have experienced God’s call on their life – whether or not they can easily articulate it.  It does not have to be some intense, dramatic scene.  Scripture attests that God can show up in a myriad of ways – full of pomp and circumstance or in a quiet voice.  But this call – this exchange with God – is the pivotal point that prompts a person to take that spiritual step.

In Methodist history, some scholars suggest that John Wesley’s on Aldersgate Day, the 24th of May 1738, while hearing someone reading from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, that he felt that his heart was “strangely warmed” and said, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”*  Some scholars have understood this to be the pivotal moment of Wesley’s call.  Aldersgate led Wesley in his next years to begin an movement in the Church of England that led him out of the church to preach where anyone would listen – to preach in the world his parish.  His movement continues as The United Methodist Church.

I experienced my call at United Methodist summer camp the summer before 6th grade.  The last night in chapel I was up at the altar praying and I heard God calling me into a life of ministry in The United Methodist Church.  I had no idea at age 11 how that would look, but with trembling confidence I responded, “whatever your will Lord, send me.”  I continue to realize and live into that calling each day as I serve in the local church and grow in my relationship with God.

Maybe you are in a vocation outside the ecclesial or church circle?  What then?  How do you live into your call?  Well, don’t fear that you had the wrong call or no call because you aren’t living into your call in the church.  As I said before, God calls all people and God is calling you right where you are right now.  So what do you do about it?  Explore it.  See what it means.  Ask yourself questions.  Ask God questions.  Dialogue with someone you trust.  Do you know your call in and out, up and down, backwards and forwards?  Are you living into everything that God wants you to do?  Is there more God desires?  How can you start addressing that?  This self-reflection and call-exploration is crucial work needed to take further spiritual steps.

I resonate so much with a story Barbara Brown Taylor tells from her own experience about exploring and living into her call.  During her final semester of seminary she recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?!”  One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”**

Maybe your question is “what do I do with my call?!”  I think the same answer applies.  Do anything that pleases you and belong to God.  Doing so will help all of us take steps in knowing ourselves more as God desires us to be and positions us to take spiritual steps as God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people.

Prayer: “I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.  All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save.  I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.  Who will bear my light to them?  Whom shall I send?  Here I am, Lord.  Is it I, Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.  I will go, Lord, if you lead me.  I will hold your people in my heart.”***

http://gbgm-umc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=2465

** Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 110.

*** “Here I Am, Lord” from The United Methodist Hmynal, 593.