What are you called by God to do in Christ’s Church? What is this congregation called to do in Christ’s Church?
I’ve been with you here at St. Paul’s for four months now. In terms of length of ministry that is obviously a very short period of time, but in terms of what I’ve observed and what I’ve come to feel and believe, it’s enough time—enough time to know that this congregation is being called by God to do his work in this community and in Christ’s Church—enough time to know that this congregation is in fact responding to God’s call. You may not see it, because you’ve been too close to it for a much longer time than I, but God’s calling and your response are incredibly obvious to me.
So, I want to take some time today to talk about what I’ve seen and what I’ve come to believe about the congregation of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fountain Hill. And I think this is an appropriate time to talk about this in light of today’s second lesson written by the Apostle for whom this congregation is named. Listen again to these words of Paul in Galatians:
“But I make known to you, brothers,
concerning the Good News which was preached by me,
that it is not according to man.
For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it,
but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ”
“But when it was the good pleasure of God,
who separated me from my mother’s womb,
and called me through his grace,
to reveal his Son in me,
that I might preach him among the Gentiles,
I didn’t immediately confer with flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem
to those who were apostles before me” (Galatians 1:15-17).
Paul is talking about the essence of what it means to be called by God to God’s service; the essence of what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit so completely that one can do nothing but proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Certainly it means that we should speak his words and preach his Gospel to all those around us. But it also means that we need to live our lives in ways that—by example—spread Christ’s message of love and acceptance of all God’s children. I see both of these things happening here at St. Paul’s. But most importantly, I see you—all of you—and I see this congregation—as living examples of Christ’s love for all.
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When I first came here, I encountered a need for a source of specialized emergency supplies. I mentioned that need and you responded. We are putting together an “Emergency” Emergency food and hygiene bank. You did not ask what the cost would be, you simply responded to the call. And I want you to know that your response has helped several families in the Fountain Hill area already.
St. Paul’s is a small congregation. It may never be a huge congregation. But does it need to be? St. Paul’s is not a wealthy congregation. But does it need to be? I don’t believe God is calling us to be huge and wealthy. God is calling us to serve this community, to be a part of this community, to be a source of God’s message in this community—both in Word and by example. And from what I’ve seen and heard since I came here four months ago, you’ve heard that call, and you are responding to it. We are starting small in our response, but the Lord will guide us as we go forward. Just keep that knowledge close to your hearts—God will guide us; we don’t need to tell God what needs to be done; God will show us what needs to be done.
When Paul was called by God on that road to Damascus, he was blinded by the power of that call. But Paul didn’t panic. He didn’t worry about whether or not he would ever see again. He continued on his journey, holding in his heart the apocalyptic revelation that he had received in his call. He says that he didn’t confer with any human beings about his call. Why should he? He had faith that God would lead him and direct his words and his actions.
So, I want to say to you today, “Have faith, my brothers and sisters; have faith in God’s calling to you as individuals and as a congregation.” It is not a conceit nor is it presumptuous to say that we believe God is calling us to some task in this community. It is presumptuous to say that we know what God is calling us to do. So, I want to say this again, “Have faith; have faith in God’s call for this congregation and for you as individuals. God will guide us in that call.”
I believe—and I believe this with all my heart—that God has called us together in this congregation, in this parish, in this community, in this time for some reason that God is gradually revealing as it needs to be revealed. I am confidently hopeful as God continues to unfold his plan for St. Paul’s. And as God does unfold his plan for St.Paul’s, I have confidence that the faith you have received through the Holy Spirit will enable us to fulfill God’s plan.
I want to share a personal story with you. It’s a story that I believe sheds some light on how God works with us. Some of you know a bit about my personal path over the last four years; some of you know a bit more than others, so let me share this with you all right now.
When I first started seminary in 2006, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to complete the work required. I was scared to death of having to study Hebrew and Greek. I was incredibly unsure of my ability to study successfully alongside students who were more than thirty years younger than me and who had the edge of just completing their college studies. And even if I could be successful in my studies, I knew that I could not study full-time, so I figured I was looking at between seven and ten years of part-time studies—I didn’t know if I could persist for that long. Basically, I knew I wanted to go to seminary, but I was telling God how I was planning to do it.
In December of 2007, after a year-and-a-half of part-time study, during which time I discovered I could be successful in my classes, I was extremely frustrated. In that year-and-a-half I had completed what amounted to about one semester of work. I prayed. I told God I was getting nowhere fast. And finally I stopped telling God how I planned to get through Seminary. Finally, I said, “Show me how you want me to do this.” Two weeks later, I got a phone call from my company’s corporate headquarters—my position as Regional Director of Marketing had been eliminated. Essentially God responded to my request for guidance. God said, “Problem solved; go to school full-time.” I like to say that God has an interesting sense of humor, but it certainly made his point didn’t it.
My point is this, God has only just begun to unfold and reveal his plan for all of us together. I believe part of that plan was revealed in enabling me—forcing me—to finish seminary earlier than I had expected. I also believe that part of his plan has been revealed in bringing us together for his purpose. But now we need to be patient as God continues to show us what he would have us do with this call that has brought us together.
Through God’s grace we have been brought together, and I consider myself to be incredibly blessed to be here at St. Paul’s. Sometimes, God’s plan for us as individuals and as a community can only seen clearly in hindsight, when we begin to notice how events develop and lead naturally from one to another. When we look back on events in our lives and in the life of our community and we see times when there were problems or where things went off track, be assured that it was during those times that we were telling God how we wanted things to go. When things were going well and everything was clicking into place, be assured that it was during those times that we stopped telling God how to be God.
By grace we have been called just as Paul was called by our Lord; be joyful and revel in that grace, knowing that God is in charge and that we have nothing to worry about here at St. Paul’s, God will take care of us. Our ministry together will be what God guides us to in his time and in his way. I believe that God has a wonderful and exciting ride in store for us as we continue this ministry together here in his Church, so buckle your seatbelts, hold onto your hats, and enjoy this adventure in our faith.
Let us pray.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as he guides us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible
Copyright 2010, Daniel W. Brettell. Used by permission.