Grace for the Journey – Sermon for 06/25/2017
Grace and peace to you from God and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Becky, Josh, Hannah and I are grateful for the warm welcome we have received from you here at St. Andrew’s UMC. We sincerely appreciate everyone’s efforts to prepare the parsonage and yard for our arrival – it is beautiful and comfortable and feels like home, even amidst the sea of boxes remaining to be unpacked. You have greeted us in person, in writing and electronically; you have prayed for us and even provided food as we have settled in, all accompanied with warm smiles. God has blessed us richly through your kindness.
Since I first became aware of the ministry of St. Andrew’s when I served as Assistant to the District Superintendent for the Northwest Plains District, I have been moved by your witness for Jesus Christ in the Findlay community. Your support for Chopin Hall, City Mission, and Hancock County Christian Clearinghouse, among others, and your hosting of Community Dinners engage local people at their point of need and offer them hope. The light of Christ shines through you to faraway places such as Appalachian Service Project, McCurdy School, and Grace Children’s Hospital in Haiti. In every way you can, you seek to engage people with Christ’s love and invite them to hope and wholeness in community with them. We are honored to join you in living out your mission to “Love God, Love Others, Serve the World … Change Lives.”
Jesus had chosen quite a mixed team of disciples to travel with him and share life together. They were fishermen, a tax collector who collaborated with the Roman enemy, a zealot who fought against the Romans; some were quite loyal, others had lots of doubts and questions; one would even betray him in the end.
These Twelve had been with him a short time, but in that time, they had seen and heard much. They heard Jesus’ family claim he was out of his mind and the scribes reject him as demon-possessed. They saw him calm a storm on the Sea of Galilee and command a Legion of demons to come out of a man. They watched as Jesus restored life to a dead little girl and saw his healing power work at the mere touch of his cloak by a woman. They were there when the people of his hometown of Nazareth rejected him.
All this had been preparation – an apprenticeship of a sort – for what would come next. Jesus sent the Twelve out into the world with a mission – to proclaim Good News and to restore people to wholeness. By our standards today, it might seem that he set them up for failure. He sent them without bread, bag, money or extra clothes. They were only permitted to take a staff and sandals.
I don’t know about you, but when our family recently went on a three-day vacation, we took far more than a staff and pair of sandals. We crammed the back of our car with clothes, food, supplies, and baby stuff. I can’t imagine what it will be like when we go for a week or two!
So what was Jesus doing? The mission he gave them was urgent, so they needed to travel light, going unburdened into the world for two reasons. They were to focus on the mission and not be distracted by other things, and they were to depend upon God to supply everything they needed.
They carried no luggage on their journey, but it’s true that we sometimes carry baggage with us on our journeys through life. Sometimes it is our literal “stuff” that gets in the way, as we worry about accumulating and holding onto all the material things we have. More often, there are other kinds of baggage that burden us and hold us back from answering Jesus’ call in our lives. Worry, doubt, fear, guilt and shame can get in our way; physical challenges, relational problems, sin, unforgiveness and brokenness weigh us down.
The apostle Paul wrote about a challenge that threatened his ability and credibility to serve in Christ’s ministry. He described it as a “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12. We don’t know exactly what he meant – whether it was a physical condition, impediment or otherwise – but others pointed to his burden and charged that he wasn’t really called by God since he had this thorn. Paul prayed three times for God to remove the thorn, but God didn’t. Instead, God answered Paul’s prayer with the words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). It was not an answer that relieved his burden, but God reassured him that his weakness could be used to reveal God’s power. Therefore, he could boast and delight in the weaknesses, insults, and hardships he faced. Paul declared, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).
Many of us learned that same principle early on, in the form of a song that says in part, “Little ones to him belong / they are weak, but he is strong.” Do you know the song? “Jesus loves me, this I know . . . .” It’s strange, isn’t it, that we learn the words of the song so early, but live our lives as though the song said, “Little ones to him belong / he is weak, but we are strong,” striving to life live and serve Jesus under our own strength and wisdom, rather than constantly relying on the gift of grace God has given us for the journey.
I grew up in rural Shelby County, Ohio, a few miles outside of Sidney. My Dad is now a retired farmer and vocational agriculture teacher; my Mom retired as the office manager of the county educational service center. As a child surrounded by a loving church family at New Hope UMC that included my Grandma Motter, I learned the songs and stories of the faith and confirmed my faith in Jesus Christ at age 12. But grief over my Grandma Motter’s death when I was 14 weighed on me, and I nearly left the church and lost my faith over it, but God kept reaching out to me through my church family and gave me grace sufficient to heal and restore me.
I began to sense a call to pastoral ministry in my heart around age 15 or 16. At first, I didn’t understand what that meant, but as I began to grasp the implications, I was held back by all the reasons and excuses I could not follow: I was too young; I had no life experience; I wasn’t educated; I didn’t know enough of the Bible; I was just an ordinary kid, and I had doubts and questions – how and why could God possibly use me?
Those objections burdened me for several years, even as I remained active in my home church and prayed for God to confirm the call with signs. As signs came to me through other people, I dismissed and discounted them but prayed for God to send more signs. Finally, I received a sign I could not deny; I stopped making excuses and started trusting God and following where Jesus led. I wish I could say that I’ve followed and trusted perfectly, but I haven’t. Still, along the way, God has given me more than sufficient grace for each step of the journey.
Jesus sent the Twelve off on their mission, apparently with very little. He wanted them to learn to trust in his power as they went and to depend on God to provide everything they would need. I like the way Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message. There, Jesus says, “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment.”
So he sent them out two-by-two. They would not do their work alone, but in community. They could mutually support and encourage one another, and they could hold each other accountable as they carried out their mission.
The Holy Spirit has brought this group of people known as St. Andrew’s UMC and now us as your pastoral family together to follow Christ’s path to invite, embrace, enrich, engage and evolve. Together through prayer, study and conversation, we’ll listen to the Spirit’s leading and discern the next faithful steps God has set before us.
Jesus sent the Twelve into the world with seemingly little, and to our surprise, they were successful in the mission. In answering the call, they discovered that God is faithful and Jesus had given them everything they needed to answer the call.
We have an advantage over the Twelve that makes all the difference for us. We have already experienced the faithfulness of God shown to us in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. That reassures us at this new beginning that God has given us all that we need to continue the ministry of Jesus right here in Findlay. And so, to paraphrase some words of the writer to the Hebrews, let us lay aside every burden and the sin that weighs us down and let’s walk the path to carry on Christ’s mission in Findlay, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who sends us out with grace for the journey.