SERMON Lamb of God Church, Fort Myers Epiphany 2 (1/14/18)
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“Can anything good come from Nazareth,” said Nathaniel, after Philip invited him to “Come and See Jesus.” Nazareth was a very poor and troubled village, which is the place Our Lord Jesus Christ called home. It was a town of only two to four hundred people, who lived in small stone homes, where poverty, filth in the streets, and terrible living conditions plagued the area. Now imagine for a moment that God, the Almighty Creator of all we perceive, identifies with and calls home, the same places where we find the poor and desolate people of the world. Imagine that.
If you turn on the news these days and listen to some of the comments being made, you may not like what you hear. We live in times that are changing faster than many of us can keep up. The social development we thought we had made as a nation is being recast by a resurgence of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. We thought we were passed all that, but once again, the dignity of some of God’s children is being threatened and diminished.
We live in a time when words and actions of hate and bigotry are becoming normalized. We people of faith must hear God’s call for justice, and stand up for all of our sisters and brothers. We are all God’s children, and we all bring to the tapestry of the Kingdom of God, a great diversity that is the very beauty of God’s creative plan. Christ has given the church his ministry of reconciliation and healing to be carried out into the world, and each one of us has a part in that ministry today, especially when it seems to be needed the most. One of our promises at baptism is to respect the dignity of every human being, and our call as the church is to lead the way to bring justice and love for all God’s people. That is a ministry we share.
You do know that you do not have to be a clergy person to be called to ministry right? As a matter of fact, and as I said last week, by virtue of our baptism, we all are called to gather, grow, and go out into the world as ambassadors of Christ. We all have a calling on our lives, a job to do, assigned to us by God. In today’s Old Testament reading, we hear how young Samuel was serving in the temple, and while asleep one night, he heard a mysterious voice from God. “Samuel, Samuel,” God called out and eventually, Samuel did answer the call. We all have a call from God.
Answering God’s call requires Faith and Hope.
Answering God’s call to ministry requires us to first have faith, and then to be obedient. Wise Eli told Samuel that when God calls, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” We need to live in expectant hope that God will show us our ministry, but in times like these we do not have to look very hard. When we say, “Lord I am listening, I am waiting, and I am ready. Tell me what you would have me do,” we are living in expectant hope that our gifts will be used for justice and restoration. Now, you may say, “Eric, I don’t have any gifts for ministry.” I disagree, because all of us were given talent, time, and treasure from God, a portion of which is to be used for furthering God’s Kingdom. We just have to discern what are those gifts, and to be willing to give them back to God. Remember, “God does not call the equipped, God equips the called.” God gives the gifts, and we return them to God for ministry whether, time, talent or treasure.
God invites us to ministry in many ways, but God’s bidding may not come to us through a voice late at night. Often God’s invitation to serve comes through the voices of our sisters and brothers in Christ. Have you ever had someone say to you, “you sure have a passion for caring for others; would you consider joining our outreach team?” Have you ever had someone say to you, “you sure have a passion to teach and lead children; would you serve as a teacher in our Sunday school?” Have you ever had someone say, “You have a heart for people who are suffering under the hand of injustice, would you join me as an advocate and supporter of some social justice initiatives in our community?” I think you get my drift. Often, others see gifts and talents in us that we cannot see in ourselves. Somehow God’s Spirit is calling you through the voices of other people. So, what is the ministry for which you hope?
Webster’s defines hope as the “inherent desire for something to happen or be true; or to expect with confidence; or to trust.” Hope requires us to externalize the desire given us by God, to expect with confidence that God will lead and direct us in all that we do, and finally, to trust that God will give us what we need to do it. We Christians are a people of hope, who expect and trust that God is with us, God will guide us, that God has a ministry uniquely designed for us, and that we are strengthened and empowered to do that ministry. So, how do we live in hope, and how can we be ready for service to God, each other, and most especially, the world?
Living Our Calling
First off, following Jesus is not a spectator sport. For some folks, we may proclaim Jesus as Lord, but we also may fail to commit to the hard work of discipleship. That work requires us to know Christ, to grow in Christ, and to continue Christ’s mission in this world. Being a Christian takes hard work, but so does any journey on which, we embark. As a pilot, if I do not fly often enough, if I do not study the regulations and new technological advances in the aircraft, and if I do not practice takeoffs and landings frequently, my piloting skills become rusty, I become complacent, and for my passengers and students, I become a danger. Like anything we do, walking the path of discipleship requires us to practice our faith.
We need to be in prayer every day, so we might discern how God wants us to engage in the ministry of Christ, especially in these tumultuous times. We need to read, study, and inwardly digest scripture daily, so we can discern what justice, peace, and reconciliation is really about, and how we can bring love to bear in these times of trouble. We need to frequently fellowship and serve with our sisters and brothers in Christ in the church, so we might grow together and mutually discern our mission together. We need to practice our faith daily, so we can be strengthened and prepared for the ministry we are uniquely gifted to do.
I am convinced that when we are ready to answer God’s call, when we live in an active and engaged hope that God will lead and guide us, and when we obediently respond, we will see God “do something new in our very lives, in our churches, and in the world.” I believe that Lamb of God’s people must be a people who hope together. I believe we must live in expectation that God is doing now, and will continue to do something amazing in this community, and beyond.
Despite the difficult roadblock this community is moving through now, God will continue to do something new and wonderful here. God is calling us to be ambassadors of justice, peace, and reconciliation in the neighborhoods around us. If we merely respond, “Yes Lord, I am here,” but we do not take our part in that response, we are missing the point of being a disciple. We must stay focused on our personal discipleship and practice our faith, but we must not lose sight of our mission in the local community, and we must invite others to come experience all God has to offer in this place.
Come and See – Inviting others
In the Gospel reading today, after Jesus found Philip, he invited him to “Follow Me.” Philip was so overwhelmed by his meeting with Jesus that he found Nathaniel and invited him to “Come and See Jesus.” Part of our call as Christians is to invite others to “Come and See Jesus.” We have to move from mere spectators and fans of Jesus, to fully engaged ministers in the world.
Our calling begins when we are so moved by God’s outpouring of grace, his compassion, his love, and his healing in our lives that we have to share that joy with others. God invites us to “come and see” what it is like to be the people of God, but it is not merely enough to proclaim Jesus as Lord. I know, I am talking about evangelism again, but is it really that frightening a concept? Inviting others to experience this incredible community called Lamb of God does not require us to stand on the street corner and yell, “Hey, let me tell you about Jesus.” Evangelism is simply being faith practitioners every day.
When we love all of God’s people as Jesus loves them, people will see that. When we serve all of God’s people as Jesus serves them, people will see that. When we are joyful, even in the difficulties of life, people will see that. You see, the most effective gospel anyone will ever read is the narrative of your own life. You will know that you are an effective evangelist, if a friend ever says to you, “Why is there joy and peace in your life?” If that ever happens, tell them it is because you are a part of a wonderful community called Lamb of God, which shows you every week God’s love, through the many ways we accept without judgment, all who enter the doors, and all with whom we encounter every single day. Then, invite that friend to, “Come and see.”
So as a people of hope, you can trust that God is already doing a new thing here in this place. New life is emerging, and God is doing something new in each one of you. The world is changing rapidly, and God’s reconciling love is needed now more than ever. We Christians literally are the outstretched arms of love that God needs today, in order to bring about justice, peace, and dignity to every human being. So be ready, because God is calling us out into the mission field. God is calling, “people of Lamb of God Church, people of Lamb of God Church.” Be ready, because we need to bring love, peace, dignity, mercy and healing to this very anxious and troubled land. When God’s call comes, and it already has, let your answer be, “Here we are Lord, your servants are listening.”