Sermon: February 12, 2017

Sermon: February 12, 2017

Ephesians 2:10

Intro

I preached my first sermon thirty years ago. I was twelve years old. It was youth Sunday at my church. Youth were serving as the greeters and ushers, scripture readers and offering takers. The children’s choir took the place of the adult choir.

Normally, this was the youth pastor’s opportunity to give a sermon, but we didn’t have a youth pastor that year. A group of parents were taking turns doing the work and decided none of them particularly wanted to preach. They thought it would be cute to let one of us do it and I was selected.

I don’t remember what I preached on, but I remember working hard on writing it. I built the sermon just like one of the Reverend’s. I started with a story, read a scripture, then talked about what that scripture meant and finished with application.

I remember giving the sermon well. I wasn’t nervous at all as I climbed the steps into the old fashioned pulpit to the side of the altar, stepped up on a box so the congregation could see me over the edge, and read my message.

After the service, I got plenty pats on the back, but the words of one senior woman have stuck with me: “That wasn’t just good for a twelve-year old. That was good. I think you’ve found your calling.”

When I got home, I rushed to my bedroom and prayed like my life depended on it. My prayer went something like this:

Dear God. I will do anything with my life that you ask of me. I’ll volunteer in a soup kitchen. I’ll be a doctor and volunteer my time overseas. I’ll even be an accountant if it’s what you really want. There’s just one thing I can’t do. I can’t be a preacher.

Let’s fast forward a few years. I mostly forgot about that prayer through my teen years. I was still involved in my church and was even part of a group of teens the denomination was working on to possibly become pastors down the road, but my vocational pursuits had turned toward engineering. My grandpa was an engineer. A couple of my uncles were engineers. In my family, you couldn’t do any better than to become an engineer and with my grades in calculus and physics, everyone knew I was going to be a great engineer.

I left high school for the US Naval Academy intending to major in Aerospace Engineering. That’s right, I literally wanted to be a rocket scientist. Once it was time to pick a major, I selected the equally valued Systems Engineering, a composite of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. I did okay. I was passing my classes and would have made a fine engineer, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t even really like it.

My passion was found in my extracurriculars. Going to class was the price I had to pay to be able to take part in after school activities. I was a member of Officer’s Christian Fellowship and its leadership team. I was Assistant Superintendent of the Chapel Sunday School. And I was on the leadership team for the Protestant Midshipman Club.

The Protestant Midshipman Club started out as a youth group of sorts, heavy on activities, with short times of worship and prayer. In the summer between my second and third years at the Academy, an outgoing Protestant Chaplain scrapped the program. When I returned to campus in the summer for a class and met the new Protestant Chaplain who was surprised the program had been cancelled, he allowed me to build a new program from scratch.

We still had retreats and activities, but our central focus was a weekly, contemporary church service. Each service began with dinner, followed by time for small groups to meet for prayer, study, or fellowship, before we entered into an hour long worship service with music, prayer, and a sermon. Others helped run the meeting and the club, but I was definitely in charge on Sunday evenings, checking in with small groups, praying with people, running the service, and preaching. During the week, I was meeting with people individually for prayer and counseling.

Then it happened. The Incident. A freshman ran after me following service one winter night, shouting, “Pastor Caedmon! Pastor Caedmon!” I confess I reacted poorly. “I’m not a pastor. I’m just a Midshipman like you.” “But, you pray with us and counsel us and run a service and preach for us. How are you not a pastor?” “I haven’t been to seminary. I’m not ordained. I can’t be pastor.” “You sure look like one to me.”

I stuck to my guns, but the event rattled me. What does it mean to be a pastor? Am I a pastor because I have a degree and an ordination or because it is what God has called me to be? Is it possible I’ve been a pastor all along and just didn’t see it?

One month later, I began the process to leave the Naval Academy early. I left at the end of my third year and eventually transferred to Northwest Christian College, where I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry. I served as youth pastor and associate pastor in a handful of churches before entering seminary. It took me a couple tries, but I received my Master of Divinity from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in April, 2012 and was soon after ordained by Free on the Outside as a pastor.

I ran from God as hard and fast as I could, and look where it got me. Up here on this platform preaching with you, tonight, thirty years after telling God I would do absolutely anything he asked except this.

Body

Ephesians 2:10 reads:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

The good things he planned for us before we gave our lives to him. The good things he planned for us before we fell. The good things he spoke to us long ago. For some of us, the good things we’ve known deep down that we were meant for. For others, the good things we haven’t yet heard.

Some of us know clearly what those things are. Thirty years after that first sermon, I know I’m meant to proclaim God’s word as a pastor. No matter how hard I try to run, God keeps pulling me back. And, I’m willing to bet at least a few of us in here really don’t know the special calling God has for them. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.

Let me offer some suggestions. This isn’t a checklist or a set of steps. It’s just a few of the ways I’ve heard from God. This list isn’t exhaustive, either.

Listen

  • To others. It never crossed my mind to be a pastor until that woman told me I wasn’t just good for a twelve year old. And since that date, others have continued to confirm my calling. Other people don’t always know what’s right for us and often have their own motives, but keep listening. Listen for the patterns.
  • To our passion. Our passions get a bad rap in the church. To be fair, some of us have suffered consequences because we followed passions we shouldn’t have. So, I’m not telling you not to be careful or not to be discriminating in listening to your passions, but do listen to them. Do you find you come alive when tinkering on broken electronics? when singing along with the radio? when talking with friends on the phone? Maybe for the next week or two, keep a little journal. Carry a little notebook or use your phone if you have an app for that. When you notice that you are feeling alive and energetic, write down what you were doing.
  • To our limitations. None of us here have done anything so bad that God won’t use us to their good. None of us are too broken to be of use to God. But we all have limitations. Some can be overcome. Others have to be accepted. For example, I have limitations due to disability. I’m no longer employable and have physical and cognitive (memory) limitations. I would have a hard time getting hired by most traditional churches. I wouldn’t be able to put in the hours. I’d have to call in sick too often. But you know what? I wouldn’t be comfortable in most traditional churches. And so I’m thankful for Free on the Outside, for being a community where I can share the work God has placed on my heart. Don’t think of limitations as barriers. Limitations aren’t stop signs. They’re more like detours, directing us to the places where we can use our calling, helping shape our calling to our present circumstances.

Read

  • Our Bibles. Sometimes, I think the biggest reason to read our bibles regularly is not for the content, but for the voice. It’s not for what the stories and teachings tell us, but for learning the sound of God’s voice. If I immerse myself in scripture and the voice of God becomes second nature, then I am better prepared to hear the voice of God away from the Bible. I am better prepared to tell the difference between the desires of God and the desires of my flesh if I am regularly reading my bible.

Abide

  • Mike has been leading us through a series of messages out of the Gospel of John. In chapter 15, the verb “abide” shows up like a gazillion times. Here are a few, in the words of Jesus to his followers:
    • Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
    • Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.
    • If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you.
    • As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
    • If you keep my commandments (sidebar: how many commandments are there? Two. Love God and love our neighbor), you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
  • When you devote yourself to loving the people around you, loving the people you come in contact with, loving the people you argue with, loving the people who are screwing this country up—whomever you think those people are—loving the people who persecute you, loving the people who need things from you, you are abiding in God and God is abiding in you. I guarantee you, you will hear God’s call if you are in this place.

Conclusion

With hindsight, maybe I should have listened to that woman at church and become a pastor right away. I probably would have saved myself and others from a lot of heartache if I had. But, let’s go back to that scripture from Ephesians:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

I missed his calling the first time around. And the second. And the third. But, I am God’s masterpiece. He created me anew in Christ Jesus so that I could do the good things he planned for me long ago.

You, too are God’s masterpiece. You. And you. And you. He created you anew in Christ Jesus so that you could do the good things he planned for you long ago.

God made plans for us and none of the crazy stuff we’ve done, none of the stuff done to us, removes us from that plan. Jesus’ work is bigger than all of that. God had plans for us and God still has plans for us.

If you know the plan, then your next step is to take the next step. Begin with prayer and ask God to direct you.

If you don’t know the plan, then spend some time with the ideas I gave you earlier. Ask God and listen.

If you want help with this, let me offer a few suggestions:

  • Find a partner. Find someone who seems to have just a little more clue than you do and ask them to walk the path with you.
  • Join a step study. I know, step studies are about recovery. But really, they’re about our relationship with God. A step study is a process in learning to hear from God. And, as it so happens, studies for men and women just started and are still open. Just show up here, tomorrow night, at 7pm.
  • Come talk to me. Part of my role here at Free on the Outside as a pastor is helping with something called spiritual direction. That’s just a fancy word for coming alongside and helping you enlarge your relationship with God. There’s no cost involved; it’s just part of being the church together. If you think you might be interested, come see me and I’ll give you my contact information.

Lettuce Pray

God, I believe you have a plan for each and every one of us. You have a general plan for every human, that we would draw near to you and abide in you, but you also have a particular plan. I believe you aren’t trying to play games with us, but want us to know clearly and plainly what this plan is. Open our eyes to see and our ears to hear your plan for our lives and give us the strength and courage to follow you. Amen.

About the author

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