Here is the message that I gave for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 1992 at Grace United Methodist Church (St. Cloud, MN) and served as Laity Sunday. I based the message on Genesis 6: 11 – 14 and Mark 1: 16 – 20 (as I have previously noted, this was before I began using the lectionary as the basis for my message). This was also the third sermon/message that I ever presented.
And the Lord said to Noah “I want you to build me an ark”. What was Noah’s response? Did Noah check his calendar to see if he was available that week? Did he ask God to postpone the flood because he, Noah, wouldn’t be available? Maybe he thought that some of his friends were playing a joke on him? 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? We don’t know what Noah’s initial response was but we do know that he did what God asked him to do.
It hasn’t always been easy to get people to listen to God. Consider Moses. Here was the man God selected to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; but what did he do? He asked God to select someone else; “Who, me Lord? Can’t you find someone else?” (Exodus 4:10 – 13) God did not let Moses off the hook but He did give him some help in the form of his brother Aaron.
It isn’t that we don’t hear God speaking to us, but that we often don’t know that He is. In I Samuel 3:3 – 12 we read
the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down within the temple of the Lord, where the Ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ He said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. And the Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for thy servant hears.’”
Samuel heard a voice but did not know that it was God speaking. Fortunately, Eli understood and provided Samuel with the necessary guidance. There have been others who have heard God speaking but, without guidance, could not respond. Many others have probably never heard the voice of God. Because of this, God sent His Son.
How did the twelve disciples respond when Jesus said, as we heard in the New Testament reading, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. (Mark 1: 16 – 20) Why should these men leave their livlihoods and follow Jesus? Especially, as it was stated in the New Testament reading, since they did it immediately. It wasn’t really practical to get up and leave their jobs and families behind. There wasn’t anywhere else to go. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay as fisherman and eke out what living they could. Times were tough and this man from Nazareth was asking them to leave their jobs and work for him, not knowing if they would every be paid for their efforts. But they did, simply because they believed in what Jesus was doing.
Does God speak to us today? In his book A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins describes his journey from upstate New York to New Orleans and his attempt to discover who he is. During that journey, he was drawn to an old fashion church revival meeting where he discovered the Holy Spirit. There it became clear why he was on his journey. Later, in the second volume of his journey, The Walk West, Peter and his wife Barbara describe the events that lead up to their marriage. While they were in love with each other, they still had some doubts. After all, Peter was not just asking Barbara to marry him; he was asking her to walk from New Orleans to Oregon through Texas. As Sandra will tell you, west Texas is no place to take your brand new wife. One evening, while at an evening church service, the preacher, referring to Ruth in the Old Testament, asked “Will you go with this man?” To Peter and Barbara, this was the sign that all would be well.
Following God requires faith and commitment. When we have faith and a commitment to God, we can do anything. Without either, our life is lost. Ask Noah, Samuel, or any of the disciples what faith meant to them. Ask the early circuit riders of the Methodist Church in America. Without their faith in God, their efforts would have been meaningless. Could they have survived the weeks on the trail as they traveled from one town to another preaching the Gospel if it were not for faith? Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of the Methodist Church in America, made it a point to emphasize the physical struggles that they, these early preachers, would have to endure on their circuit. It was not for the weak of body or spirit. But for these early circuit riders, the Methodist Church might not have survived.
But it should also be noted that these churches would not have survived without the support of the laity either. Because there weren’t enough preachers for all of the churches, the laity had to do the work of the church during the weeks when the preacher was not there. How did those early congregations survive if it were not for faith and a commitment to God? Were it not for faith in God and a commitment to His work by the members of Grace Church, would this present building have been built? That it was is a testament to that faith and commitment to do God’s work in St. Cloud.
Grace Church has a rich and distinguished history. That is what today is about. On this day we celebrate the role of the laity in the United Methodist Church, both in the past and for the future. In picking the twelve disciples, none of whom were traditionally trained in the church, Jesus made the statement that it was the laity upon whom His church would be built. It was the laity upon whom the foundation of the Methodist Church was built and upon whom the success of future churches lies. But a history alone does not insure a future.
Abraham Lincoln, in his second inaugural address, stated that “We must disenthrall ourselves with the past and then we will save our country.” (What I Saw At the Revolution, Peggy Noonan) Lincoln was not saying that the United States should forget its past but that, if the country was to overcome the trauma and division that the Civil War brought, and move forward, it could not continue as it had.
Today God calls Grace Church. He isn’t asking us to do something dramatic, drastic or beyond our capabilities. God as never asked anyone to do something that they could not do. It is just that many people don’t believe they have the capability of doing what God asks of them. Nor is He asking us to forget our past. He is asking that we look to the future. For any church’s future to have a meaning, its members must work for it today.
Are you involved in the work of the church or are you committed to the work of the church? There is a difference. I am sure you have heard the story about the difference between involvement and commitment. It happens every time you eat a breakfast of ham and eggs. While the hen was involved in the successful production of the breakfast, the hog was committed to its success. (I want to thank Hugh Bunday for this; he in turn will thank Dorothy.) Are you involved or are you committed?
When we joined the United Methodist Church and when others join the church, we, along with the other members of the church, vow to “uphold the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, page 48 (1989).) What does this phrase mean?
Do we meet our obligations to the church and the work of the church through our prayers? Do you spend some time each day in prayer? Will you pray for the success of next week’s Spiritual Renewal Mission? There has been a sheet at the back of the sanctuary for the last four weeks asking people to sign up for one hour of prayer each day for the success of the Mission and for Grace Church. Will you respond to the challenge by signing the sheet?
One month ago, John stood in this pulpit and told us how he prayed to God for a sign that his ministry at Grace Church would be a success . His prayers were answered. He also asked for ten men to help rebuild the United Methodist Men’s organization here at Grace church. Before he left church that Sunday he had six pledges. This Saturday at 8:00, because of those six men and four others, we will be meeting to make that reorganization possible.
Next Sunday, Ken Krueger begins the Spiritual Renewal Mission. Will you be here? Will you come to each of the four evening services? Will you bring a friend? If everyone here today brought one friend, there would be more people in this sanctuary then have been in it for some 30 years. IT CAN BE DONE! But it requires a commitment. Similar to the prayer clock, there is a sign up sheet for pew captains. It is not necessary to be a captain for all five services; one is enough. Will you take the challenge put before you and sign up as a pew captain for one of those services?
What else can you do for the church? Would you volunteer to serve as the lay reader one Sunday a month? Would you sing in the choir? Several members of this church, both old and young, new and long-time, have spoken to you about what Grace Church means to them. I am sure that if you ask anyone of them, they would tell you that it can be very frightening to stand up here and say what is in your heart. I am sure that everyone of them will also tell you that they did not come up here without first having spent some time praying and asking God for guidance and advice. When the Holy Spirit is at your side, such things can be done.
Finally, our gifts. We are currently in the midst of our Stewardship Campaign. Two weeks from today is Stewardship Sunday. On that day, we will ask you to make a financial commitment to Grace Church. Between now and then, you will be receiving a note from the Stewardship Committee asking that you give serious thought to your financial commitment to Grace Church. I realize that filling out pledge cards is a new thing for many in this church and that many will not return the pledge cards. Grace Church struggled for many years but this year, because of the faith and commitment of the members of this church, is not one of them. In returning the pledge card, you are making a commitment to insure that the plans for Grace Church in the coming year are a success.
Commitment requires more than involvement. Jesus could not have completed his task, his mission on earth, without a commitment to the cross. His commitment to us was a total one. Our commitment can never match his but we are never asked to do so. We are asked to make a commitment so that others can understand the commitment Jesus made on the cross.
Today, God is calling Grace Church. He is asking “Who will help me?; who will follow me?; who will do My work?” Will your answer be “me?” or will it be “ME!”