Here is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, 28 January 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10, 1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 13, and Luke 4: 21 – 30.
It has always amazed me how the consequences of one person’s actions can be far different from what the person intended. When Rosa Parks got on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, that day in 1957 (I think it was), she never intended on starting the civil rights revolution of the 1960’s. All she wanted to do was sit down because her feet hurt and she was tired from a long day of working as a maid and housekeeper. But she chose to sit in the whites-only section of the bus, instead of making her way to the back of the bus where she was supposed to, by law, sit. Since she wouldn’t move, she was arrested. The boycott of the Montgomery bus line began as a protest, which brought Martin Luther King, Jr. into the nation’s eye and the rest we know.
I am not sure that Martin Luther intended on starting a new church when he nailed his 95 theses on the church door in Wittenberg. All he was interested in doing was making sure that people understood that what got one into heaven was not the purchase of religious tokens but their sincere belief and faith in Christ as their own personal Savior.
And I know that John Wesley never intended Methodism to become a denomination of its own. All Wesley wanted to do was revive the Church of England and bring it back to its stated mission, that of bringing hope to those without hope. Wesley never intended that what his brother, his friends and he did would eventually coalesce into an organized religion.
But the eighteenth-century church Wesley grew up in had fallen into decline because it had neglected the essential doctrines upon which it had been founded. To say that the young John Wesley was zealous in his belief would be quite easily an understatement. But he believed that a lukewarm Christianity was worse than open sin. Accordingly, he labored to bring every part of his life into submission to Jesus Christ. His zeal and that of his colleagues openly provoked ridicule and earned them the nickname "Methodists".
The problem with the approach that these early Methodists used, their semi-monastic existence and devotion to good works left them short of gaining the certainty of God’s love. For all their strict self-examinations, rigorous spiritual discipline, and sacrificial good works, the assurance of salvation eluded them.
Following the disaster of his American experience, Wesley began to realize that it was not what he could for God that would gain his salvation, it was what God could and had done for him. This realization came that night at the prayer meeting at the house on Aldersgate Street when John Wesley came to know that Jesus Christ was his own personal Savior. In sharing this with Charles and the others, he found that Charles had also found the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was this spiritual transformation that brought them from law to grace and changed them from legalists to evangelicals. Their own personal experience gave them spiritual peace, the impulse for evangelism, and a sustaining motivation for addressing the evils of society.
It wasn’t a new religion that Wesley sought but a church that was responsive to the needs of the society, who answered the call of Christ to "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and needy."
So what may you ask has this to do with me? No matter what Paul may write about the skills and talents that we all have, I don’t have the skills or talents to be a preacher or an evangelist or a healer or a missionary.
The thing that we have to realize is that you and I are not the first to say that we cannot do it. Nehemiah, in the Old Testament reading for today, said much the same thing.
Noah must have laughed when God asked him to build that ark. Noah lived in an area that got about one inch of rain a year so what was he supposed to think when God told him that it was going to rain for forty days and nights?
Moses’ first response to God when God told him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land was ask God to select someone else; "Who, me Lord? Can’t you find someone else?” (Exodus 4: 10 – 13) Moses argued that he couldn’t speak before the crowns but God told him to have his brother Aaron do all the public talking. Moses had to deal with the Pharaoh and with the communication between the people and God.
When first called by the Lord, Jonah chose to flee. And Jonah didn’t simply go to the next city or county to get away from God. He tried to put as much distance as he could between himself and God. It would be like trying to hide from the authorities in New York by going to Los Angeles. But it doesn’t matter where we hide, God can still find us. And, like Jonah, when our efforts to escape, until we come to the Lord trap us, He will not help us.
But God doesn’t call us to work without help. No one ever called by God to work for Him has done so alone. As God told Nehemiah, it will be by the spirit that the work can and will be accomplished.
It was by knowing that God loved him personally that John Wesley was able to transform the Methodists Societies from legalistic study groups into powerful agents of change. And it will be by the power of spirit and with the power of love as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that what this church does will get accomplished. Paul closed that passage by pointing out that it was by faith that we came to God but it will be through love that we are able to imitate Him and show others what God is all about.
When you think about it, you understand why the people of Nazareth were so upset with Jesus. They saw Him in terms of what they expected and what they wanted, not for who He was and what He could do for them.
When what we do is for our own gain or for how we will feel, it will leave us short. But when we allow the Holy Spirit to come into our lives and guide and direct us, there is no limit to what we can do. We are not asked to lead a new revolution or change the course of history. Of course, if by our actions that does happen, so much the better.
But the task before us is much smaller and much easier. It is simply to be a part of this church and this community. And to that end, we need a few volunteers. As has been noted in some of the bulletins for the past few weeks, we are still looking for a lay leader and lay member to the annual conference. The latter is perhaps the more important part of the duty for it requires that you attend the annual conference and represent this church at that meeting. Since my work situation may preclude my attending, it becomes doubly important that someone attend.
We are also still looking for someone to head the ministries related to education. Again, this is not a single person doing all the work but someone who can organize the work of many and see that it gets done. We also need at least two individuals to fill slots on the Pastor-Parish Relation Committee and the Nominations & Personnel Committee. Each job does require some work but with the Holy Spirit as your primary helper it would be very easy work.
The title of my sermon was very deliberate because there does come a time when you have to ask when the work will get done and who will do the work. Many have been called by God to do His work; not all have answered the call.
Some have simply been called to be saved, to know the warmth in their heart that Wesley knew so many years ago. Others have been called to join this church, to be a part of the efforts of bringing the Gospel to the world. And for others the call is to serve, to lead and help this church in the coming years.
If not know, when you will answer the call? And if you don’t answer the call, who will?