[Judges 6:11-24a, Psalm 85:7-13, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11.]
Sermon at Trinity Church, Milford, MA; February 4, 2007.
Good Morning! My name is Liz Hall and I am from the great and glorious state of Idaho – that’s the place where the elevation exceeds the population. It’s the place where a girl’s basketball game will fill the high school gym so we’re enjoying it there. Let me just say that I am honored to be with you today. As many of you know, my father and I were here this weekend helping you with a conference on member mission. (add comment about conference.)
Before I go on, let me congratulate Mac on his installation last week. What a wonderful time this is for the church! I’ve heard you all put together a careful search and found the just right man for the job. So congratulations to all of you as well.
Let’s start today with Gideon. Gideon is so real, isn’t he? When you think about all his doubts and concerns, he seems like any one of us, doesn’t he? The Angel of the Lord appears to him and says, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” And what does Gideon say? “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.” We can all understand that. Who would possibly think, unless somewhat delusional, that he or she has the power to deliver a nation? Yet the Angel answers him, “But I will be with you.” Gideon continues to wrestle with self-doubt, requesting sign after sign to be sure God will be there to help him. In the end, he is finally convinced, goes off to fight the Midianites and does indeed deliver Israel.
The Gospel lesson shares some similarities with the story of Gideon. After teaching the crowds from a boat, Jesus tells Simon to “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon replies, ” Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Simon doubts Jesus just as Gideon doubted the Angel of God. Again, he does what is asked and what happens? Once they let the nets down, they fill with fish and began to break. Even the boats become so full they began to sink. Jesus then tells Simon that he will soon be catching men so Simon and his partners, James and John, convinced by what they have experienced, leave everything to follow Jesus.
This is God at work. This is God at work and these men are not at all unusual. When God calls them, they have doubts. Neither of these men really believes God can do what He says He will, at least, not through them. They feel they don’t have what’s needed to get the job done. They have no special skills, no unique gifts. Why would God have chosen them, they wonder. And they are not alone. This is what I love about the Bible. It’s full of people who I can relate to. Look at Moses. God calls him out to deliver His people and what does Moses say among other things, “I’m slow of tongue.” It’s his way of saying “I don’t think I can do it, God, I’m not the right guy.” But God says, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” And what happens? Moses finally agrees and ends up leading the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt.
Here’s the great message in all of this. God chooses these men for sacred missions that He needs done on Earth. He knows their faults and certainly doesn’t need Moses to remind Him that he’s slow of tongue. He already knew that. And He also knew things about Moses that Moses couldn’t see. He knew that Moses could lead the Israelites out of bondage. That’s why He chose him. But, Moses, like Gideon, didn’t believe in himself. That’s why they both doubted God. Is it any wonder? Think about our world today. Has anything changed in 4,000 years? Everywhere you go in life, somebody’s always telling you you’re not good enough. You’re not organized enough at work, you’re too unavailable to your friends, your kids are out of control, or you’re only thirteen years old or you’re eighty.
But you know what? You’re good enough to work for God. In fact, you’re just perfect because no one else has the specific set of skills and gifts that you have. You’re unique. One of a kind. You also have relationships that no one else has. You’re a father, sister, neighbor, coworker – nobody else has the relationships with these people who you do. You occupy a tiny piece of sacred ground on this earth that no one else ever will. That means you’re in a special place right now to make changes in this world that no one else can…just like Gideon and just like Moses.
If this seems hard to swallow, let me give you an example. Think about being a parent for a moment. If you don’t do it, who else can do that job? A coach, a teacher, a step-parent maybe? Any one of these folks could make a real and lasting difference in the life of your child. But all of them would be doing their best to fill the hole that was left by you because you matter. You are essential. And that’s true in every other area of your life.
What’s more, to work for God, you don’t have to be rich, thin, good-looking, financially secure, or even smart. You just have to be willing. This is the only place in life where who you are is what counts. And any shortcomings you may have? God already knows them and will work with them. He’ll help you or give you someone else to work with you who has the gifts or skills needed to complete the mission. Just like Moses got Aaron when he felt so unsure that he asked God to send someone else. You see, God meets us where we are. You don’t need a makeover or to lose 20 pounds to be good enough for Him or to be worthy.
I bet you’re wondering, or maybe worrying, just like Gideon did, about what you might be called to do. Here’s the great news about that. God won’t call you to a mission that you can’t do because He’s even more invested in its outcome than you are. Really! Just think about that. Is He really going to give you a task to do that you can’t? Of course not. Now that doesn’t mean it will be a cinch or that you alone will be able to accomplish it. One of you may be called to start a process of change that won’t be completed in your lifetime. Think about Martin Luther King. He was called, he answered the call, and took up the mission God gave him. There’s a wide variety of missions out there. Some are as simple as getting to know Jesus better, that was one of mine last year. A few are as big as Martin Luther King’s but rest assured, there’s a few out there with your name on them.
What if you’re thinking, “This sounds great but I’m in the middle of a major life change. I just moved/became a parent/lost my job/got divorced/or any combination thereof. The Lord knows where you are and He’ll work with you. He cares about the mission and He cares about you. He knows the “very number of hairs on your head”. You’re a trusted agent and He’ll walk with you and talk with you. So don’t wait to start working for God when your life settles down. You can start right now even if the sidewalk in front of your house is full of snow and needs to be shoveled, even if you have a math test to study for, or are getting divorced. You are in the right place, right now to make real and lasting change in the world because God meets us where we are and gives us things to do that we can do alone or with others. So don’t wait, start now.
As you start working for God, you may feel called to a mission that seems an odd fit for you. For example, I felt called last year to start a neighborhood ladies’ group. But I’m an introvert and I’m blunt, not exactly the socially adept person you’d want to have in charge. A spiritual gifts survey that I had taken three years before seemed to be completely at odds with this mission. However, I started the group anyway because I felt called to. And guess what? It’s been a real success. We have since also started a neighborhood watch program, put out a list of trusted babysitters, and have that sense of community that turns a bunch of houses into a neighborhood. This was God’s work through me, someone who felt herself ill-qualified for the job. So if you also feel called to do something that seems at odds with your spiritual gifts, remember that a spiritual gifts survey is your best guess at what your gifts are. But, just like Moses, you might miss a few. So take the mission and just figure you actually do have the gifts or they will be developed. In my case, God not only developed my gifts, He gave me other ladies to work with who had those gifts I lacked. Together, we got the job done.
You know, we always talk about working for God, which is mission work, as taking up your cross. Mission work is supposed to be serious, its hard, it’s endless, and there may never be a payoff. But, it’s also an honor. God is calling you to help Him “fix the world”. You! Let’s suppose you hear a story in church about a fellow parishioner who is out of work and you feel moved to pray for her. Some people call this the “burden” of prayer and will say, “It was on my heart to pray for so-and-so.” That sounds so onerous to me. The burden of prayer. How about seeing this as the gift of prayer? You are being called into God’s inner circle on this issue to join hands with other everyday heroes to intercede on behalf of someone else. Why not have anyone else in his or her corner. Your prayer can make all the difference. Suppose later you feel led to more direct action, perhaps to help this person get a job. Again, your actions might well make all the difference. So next time, you feel called to pray or do something on behalf of someone else, please take a minute to remember that you just got drafted on to the greatest team in the league. It’s the All Stars and there’s a position for you to play.
I have just one last thought for you about being on mission for God in the world. A lot of people don’t talk about this, so it may raise your eyebrows a bit. You hear a lot about taking up your cross, don’t you? A lot about the difficulty of the Christian walk. But what about the joy? Or the satisfaction? Or the fun? When I stuff yet another Hershey’s kiss into my mouth while shrieking with laughter at our neighborhood monthly Bunko night, how heavy do you think my cross feels? When I drop my daughter off to a play date with a little girl whose mom I know and trust now, are my shoulders bowed with effort? Not at all.
You see, interspersed with the seriousness of working for the Lord is a whole lot of joy and satisfaction. One of the great gifts of the Lord to you for your service is that He lets you share in the glory. When the kids I’m teaching as a substitute smile at me, it’s really thanks to God for what He’s doing through me. But, I get to see it. I get to see their little shoulders lift and square off when they realize they really can read that nasty word. That is a thrill! I pray a lot when I substitute. I pray that the day will go well, that we’ll get done everything the teacher wanted, and so on. Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of teaching special ed. for the first time. These were teenagers in diapers. This is a job that would have freaked me out under normal circumstances but I hadn’t been called to teach lately and it was a good day for me to work so I figured I’d go. I have to tell you, that was one of the most trans-formative days I’ve had lately. You can’t spend five minutes with these kids and not want to show them affection and love, which I did. You also can’t help thinking about the parents. These kids will never be able to hold jobs. It turned my head around and got me thinking and caring about a whole segment of society that I’d been blind to.
Working with God makes your life truly exciting and alive because He will use all of your abilities, even some you don’t know you have, to make real change. You’re not just going through the motions anymore. You’re not rubber-stamping things or just killing time. You’ll be doing the most important work of your life. God wants to walk with you and talk with you to start a real process of change in your little corner of the world and without your help, it will never be all that it could be. Some things just won’t get done because only you have the skills and relationships to make them happen.
Finally, I just can’t close without saying one more thing and to me, it’s the most important. People wonder why they’re here. They wonder, if they matter. They wonder, if what they do every day makes any difference at all. Here’s the big secret. God created you to be a member of His family and part of being a member of the family is to care for the rest of it – to alleviate suffering, bring joy, and to bring everybody Home. Serving God and helping Him heal and fix this world – that’s why you’re here and it’s why you matter and it’s why the world will miss your contribution if you don’t make it without perhaps ever knowing that you were one of the missing pieces. And that’s why, if you’re not working with God, you feel so ill at ease in the world. If you have a hole in the center of your heart, that’s why. God’s calling and you won’t feel right in this world until you answer.
Turning yourself over to God means that suddenly everything you do is suffused with meaning. Everything counts. Recently, a Bosnian friend of mine asked me to write a letter of thanks for her at Christmas to the manager of a local grocery store. Shortly thereafter, he saw her in the store and stopped her. Did she really mean what she said in that letter? Did she really think he was a good manager? This was the only thanks he had received in a very long time. A housewife with a poor command of English, a Muslim, had gone out at Christmastime and told a good man who worked hard every day to do the right thing by his boss and his workers, that he was making a difference. You see even ordinarily nameless, faceless customers count because that’s who managers really serve. BTW – Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, only received one thank you during his lifetime for his years of toil.
So folks, God is calling and asking you right now to be on the team – to take up your rightful position in the family. When he calls, think about Gideon and Simon and Moses and just remember the words of our sermon hymn, “Here I am Lord. I will go if You lead me.”
Welcome my brothers and sisters to the team!