Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9:35-38
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Earlier this week I sent out a text message that read. “Hallelujah, I’m Ready” I was thinking about this phrase as I was preparing the sermon for this week and Oh am I ready. Ready for what you may be asking, and I will tell you what I am ready for. I am ready for us to take on this last mark of the church and make it a chorus for us to be singing. This last week that we will be talking about the marks of the church we are dealing with the apostolic church. A mark of the church that deals with the ordaining and sending out of our clergy and our laity. Yes, even you are sent out to be in mission and ministry with those around us and I am excited about the good news of Jesus Christ that I am burning with. Jeremiah chapter 20 verse 9 explains this burning desire this way. “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak anymore of his name,” then within me there something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
This past Friday morning, Dwain, Kent, and myself got together for a breakfast that turned into a feast when we began to talk about all the possibilities for Red Valley in the coming years. We talked about bible studies, we talked about outreach programs, we talked about youth outings, we talked about mission trips. And I will be the first of these three to tell you that I left that breakfast meeting pumped up and ready to be sent out into the fields. Today our scriptures passages speak to us about two things, being called and being sent. These are two very different things that I want to discuss with you, but both go hand in hand.
Let’s first discuss being called. As people try to understand God and our relationship to God, the act of God first calling has always remained the same: God Calls, and the object which he is calling responds. Let us go all the way back to creation. When there was nothing and there was a void of anything that was yet to be created, the creation did not just happen and then God responded by creating other things to fill that void. God began with his Word of calling all things into being. God CALLING with his word brought all things into being. Then from his calling, those things in which he called responded to his call. As God continued to create, God called Adam into being from the dirt, and the dirt responded to that calling of God. As Abraham in our lesson today, God called Abraham to leave from his home, from his friends, from his family, from his tribe. Something that took great faith in those days to do because your tribe was your lifeline, without them you were as good as dead. But Abraham responded to God’s calling. Later in the New Testament, we know that when the disciples were being formed, Jesus called them to follow him, to be his disciples. God initiates this conversation with those who then either respond positively or negatively. But God’s calling remains constant. Something that we are all called to is to following God and allowing Christ to be Lord in our lives. This calling we in the United Methodist Church have named Prevenient Grace, because it is before we even respond does God work in our lives to allow us to respond to this calling of God. Thus it is for this very reason alone do we baptize our infants. God initiates that calling in their life and in confirmation do we respond to that initial baptism. And other times, God calls us to different aspects of ministry. To some he has called into the life of the ordained, to others he has called into missionaries, to others he has called to lead youth groups, and to yet others he has called into leading music. God often gifts those to his calling. Today, I will not share my whole call story into the ministry of the pastorate for that would take way too long, but let me tell you about my call to the ministry in China.
When I was 15 years old I had gone to a friends church for Sunday School and they had some missionaries from China come in to talk to this church about sending a group to China. I left that morning feeling like this was something I could do and something I wanted to do, But how do I even begin to ask my parents. Well after church that Sunday I went up to my mom and dad and told them about the trip and asked if it would be something I could do. They said, “We’ll pray about it.” Well they decided to go ahead and let me attend the sessions preparing for the trip. We met once or twice a month for the next 10 months getting ready for this 3 week excursion. Well about 4 months before we were supposed to leave my mom got a call from her 1st cousin who was a Brigadier General posted in Beijing. He told her that is Josh is planning to go and do mission work do not let him go. Because if he gets caught then there is nothing that we can do about it. It was then the reality of situation began to hit my parents and I and so we began praying again. And I remember one afternoon praying on my bed, “God, if you want me to go to China, please oh please give me a clear sign.” Well a couple of weeks had gone by and I was still listening for God. Well one day, my mom came up to me and asked if I would mind driving her to the library. I had just got my learners a couple of weeks before, so I did not really want to go to the library, but I would drive her anywhere. While she was checking out her books, I got on the internet and began looking up China missions. Which I got back over a couple thousand hits on google. So I clicked on one that looked interesting: it was a woman who was journaling her experience as a Chinese Missionary. She had a couple hundred entries and I clicked on one. She was talking about her stay with the monkeys and all sorts of things. But she talked about one particular experience of being in an underground church and not understanding a word they were speaking. But she recognized one thing and that was a song they were singing. They were singing “Shine, Jesus Shine”. I thought to myself that was pretty neat. So as my mother and I left, we got in the car, and I had not told her about what I had read. I began to back out of the parking spot and she began to sing “Shine, Jesus Shine”. I slammed on the brakes and re-parked the car and she of course is looking at me like, “What are you doing?!” I told her what I had read and we took that as a confirmation of my calling to go to China.
As you may see from that story, my calling into China came along with it preparation, prayer, listening for God. And this is often the importance of our prayer life as we live into being a sent people.
Which now leads me to the second part of this message and that is to be Sent. Throughout the scriptures we often see God calling, but God does not just stop with calling, but then also sends those whom he has called. This is the basis from which we understand the Apostolic Church. That word apostolic often refers to the apostolic succession. Meaning that when Christ built the church upon Peter, Peter then passed on the responsibility of leading the church with the leadership of the Spirit onto another, and another, and another, and the succession has been carried on to everyone who has ever been ordained in the ministry. And so when we have ordained elders leading our churches, that authority of the Spirit has been passed from the hands of Peter to each bishop throughout our history down to the very elder who serves and leads within our churches. It is one of the fundamental foundations of the structure of the church that we make up. But along with being ordained, we as clergy are sent to those places that we are appointed by our bishop. This past summer has been a prime example of this sending. Who here in this congregation asked specifically for Pastor Joshua King to come to Red Valley? No one did, and yet here I am. I was sent here by our cabinet and by our Bishop with the understanding that I am the person whom they have entrusted in to Serving this congregation with the authority of preaching the Word of God, administering the Sacraments, and ordering the life of the Church SO THAT…now pay attention here because I believe this pertains to each of you…So THAT this congregation may be a vital, knowledgeable, spiritual, and fruitful outpost as you are then SENT out into this community as members of the Body of Christ. We are to be SENT by the Spirit, but we must prepare ourselves as we go forth from this place. We prepare ourselves with study, with prayer, with nurturing our lives with the bread of life in Holy Communion, with gathering together in fellowship, with holding one another accountable in small groups. And so, just as in April of 2011 I received a phone call from the District Superintendent saying that by the work of the Spirit I am sending you to Red Valley UMC, I say to each of you with the work and power of the Holy Spirit I am sending you into the towns and villages of this community to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, to show compassion on the crowds of people who have not been shown mercy as they are the outcasts and outsiders of the 21st century. Jesus as our role model was sent into this world and he told his disciples in John 20:21-23, “Peace by with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And so as we are a sent people into this world, I invite you to receive the Holy Spirit, to proclaim release to the captives, to forgive as Christ has forgiven, and to prepare for this sending. And so again I ask Are you ready for the power and authority of God to effect this community: The compassion of the Father, the Sacrificial Love of the Son, and the uniting Grace of the Spirit? Hallelujah! I’m Ready!