Going Deeper 8-25-19

From our Old Testament reading, verses 4-7 of the opening chapter of Jeremiah:  Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."  Then I said, "Ah, Lord God!  Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."  But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.”  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
Occasionally people ask me a question that I continue to struggle to answer with any clarity: “When did you sense God’s calling for you to be a pastor?”  So, I have given it some thought, and I have finally come up with an answer: “I don’t know.”  That is really an honest answer. How do you like that answer?
Many, perhaps most, pastors can give a better, more precise answer to that question.  Some will tell you God called them in a fashion similar to His calling of Jeremiah.  Perhaps not in an audible voice or some kind of vision, but nonetheless they heard God call them, or felt God lay it strongly onto their heart.  Some can even give a specific time, date, and place.  Somehow, they just knew God wanted them to become a pastor.  I have never heard or felt that sort of calling.  
It is possible that I have not heard because I have not been listening.  Pretty much from the very beginning of my serving as a Director of Christian Education, working mostly in children’s and youth ministry, as well as adult education and for twelve years in campus ministry, I have had one person after another tell me they thought I ought to become a pastor.  Maybe that is how God was calling me.  But my typical response has always been that you don’t have to be a pastor to be in ministry.
And that is the point of this introduction to my sermon: you don’t have to be a pastor to be in ministry.  As a matter of fact, I believe there has been too much made of the position of pastor.  With so many different roles and responsibilities either assumed by pastors or placed upon them by others, it is no wonder so many drop out or burn out as pastors.  They’re expected to be good preachers, teachers, administrators, evangelists, counselors, worship leaders, and more.  I have observed very few who are strong in all of those areas… and I’m not one of them.
All pastors are expected to preach and teach… and that is Biblically sound.  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote that “the gifts [Jesus] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  Notice how “pastors and teachers” are linked?  That is the core calling of a pastor—to nurture faith and discipleship through preaching and teaching.
So, if the main role of the pastor is to serve as nurturer of faith, then who is going to take care of administration, evangelizing, counseling, leading worship and all of the other parts of church ministry.  The answer is… well, you.  You don’t have to be a pastor to be in ministry.  And since the church’s ministry involves all sorts of things, then none of you are off the hook.  There are things you’re uniquely gifted by God to do, and for this congregation- or any congregation- to tap into its God-given potential, everyone must do their part.
When I stop and think about my nearly ten years serving as pastor of this wonderful church family, I believe there are some things I’ve done fairly well, some things I’ve improved at, and some things I have not done well.  In that latter category I would place the very important task of inspiring and empowering others in their own ministry.  I’ve tended to do too much myself, as if I am the only one-- or even the best one-- to do it.  I think that has to change if Zion is ever going to realize our God-given potential in mission and ministry, 
This morning I am asking you to consider your calling.  God calls each and every believer to not only be a believer, but also to be a minister, a type of priest.  Just as God once called Israel to understand itself as a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), so is the new Israel, the Church, called to be a kingdom of priests.  Revelation 1:6 states that “[Jesus] has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father.”
Here’s one more very important text, this one from 1 Peter 2: Come to him [Jesus], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Right here and right now, this morning and every morning, I invite you to come to Jesus, and like living stones, let yourself be built more and more fully into the spiritual house that is Zion Lutheran Church, and to offer yourself and your unique gifts, talents, and abilities as “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
I anticipate that for many of us, our first reaction is to be like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others and try to find some excuse, some reason why we are not adequate, not old enough, or maybe now are too old to get involved in the ministry of God’s Church.  Well, as God told young Jeremiah, “Do not say to me, I am only a boy…”, or I am not adequate, or I am too old, or I am too busy. …  If that is how you feel, here are God’s words for you: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”
Listen, I am not saying God is calling each of you to simply stop whatever you are doing and devote yourself to full time ministry.  Well, actually I am saying that we are all called to full time ministry.  For some of you, much of your ministry right now is focused on nurturing and providing for your family.  That may be the most important ministry we will ever be called into. Your ministry is also at your place of work.  And your ministry is in your neighborhood and our community.  Ministry is way more than what happens in this building.
Having said that, I am not going to let you off the hook in terms of your ministry in and through this congregation.  It’s not okay, really, that like most congregations, the 80-20 principle applies to Zion.  I think it is true that 80% of the various kinds of work that is done here is done by maybe 20% of our members.  And the same may be true of our financial contributions.  
This really ought not be the case.  For us to be the healthiest and most effective congregation possible we need everyone to do their part.  It might be by serving as part of our leadership… we have church council elections coming up, and we need new leaders to step forward.  Or perhaps you like to work with kids or youth, or could help develop our men’s and women’s ministries, or help with the Food Bank or with our Grace Village project.  Maybe you’d like to help us figure out how to do a better job of reaching out and welcoming others into our church family.  There are a lot of possibilities involved with that important work.
Or maybe you like to work with your hands and could help our trustees take care of Zion’s building and grounds.  Perhaps you might be called to be trained as a Stephens Minister, which prepares people to help with pastoral care, such as visiting and caring for the sick, the home-bound, the grieving and others in need.  There is quite a bit of training involved, but it would be awesome to get some of our members involved with this.  Ask Therese Burns if you’re curious, since she is a trained Stephen’s Minister,
I really do not know what God may be calling you to do, what He has uniquely gifted you to do.  I am more than willing to help you figure it out.  But I urge each and every one of you to give this prayerful consideration.  Listen, listen, God is calling.  Amen.