God calls us to serve. How do we respond? In the end, do we really have any choice when we are called to serve?
The Spirit entered into Ezekiel and set him up on his feet and said to him, "Son of Man, I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me, they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The people also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them; and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.' And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know there has been a prophet among them."
God calls Ezekiel to serve. How does he respond? Is he excited about going and preaching God's word to a people who are rebellious and stubborn? In the end, does Ezekiel really have any choice when God calls him to serve? Do you?
When a rich man with soft hands confronts Jesus, he asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man assures Jesus that he has observed the Ten Commandments from his youth. And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." At that saying, his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions and he moved to Los Angeles.
Jesus calls the rich man to serve. How does he respond? Is he excited about selling his possessions and following Jesus? Are we? In the end, do we really have any choice when God calls us to serve? Jesus gave the rich man a choice.
Jesus was looking for committed disciples who could enter into genuine and truthful relationships with the people they came to know and serve. In our gospel text, having possessions would get in the way of true servanthood and the ability to follow and mirror Jesus. So Jesus "calls to him the twelve and charges them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics."
The disciples are called to serve. How do they respond? Are they given any choice when they are called to serve?
When we are stripped of everything except the bare essentials, nothing gets in the way of genuine and truthful relationships and the ability to mirror Jesus.
When I was a backpacking guide in the Colorado Rockies, at Sky Ranch Lutheran Bible Camp, we would begin the week by packing the backpacks for the first time. Everything the kids planned to take for the week was spread out on the ground next to the backpacks. Then I would come by and tell each one what was necessary and what was not. Invariably about half the stuff they planned on taking was left behind.
I remember one girl laying out a hair-blower, something she thought was an absolute necessity for survival. It was very pastorally explained to her that there would not be any plug-ins along the way and that she would not be washing her hair or taking a shower for the next week anyway.
Those week long backpacking trips were excellent in teaching the youth the same lessons that Jesus is teaching his disciples. First, we are able to survive quite well on the barest minimum of material possessions. We don’t need hair blowers and televisions.
And second, the relationships we are in quickly become much deeper, much more intimate and genuine when we don’t have possessions getting in the way and becoming the basis for the relationship. Siblings who had grown up together found that they really didn’t know each other until they were stripped of everything and forced to become dependent on one another during a week of backpacking in the Rockies.
I can remember one afternoon standing in the middle of a white out, a snow storm at 12,000 feet and only being able to see a few feet in front of me. I was responsible for the 7 or 8 kids behind me and yet I was powerless. It was one of many mountain top experiences that turned me to God. It is in situations like that, when we are stripped of everything and full of fear that we learn humility and dependence on God.
Divinity’s 16 youth and 3 ladies that just returned from a hotel in Houston during our National Youth Gathering experienced the power of 30,000 youth worshiping together and being sent out to spend time with young inner city children.
But we don’t have to go to the Rocky Mountains or Houston to respond to our calling to serve and to learn dependence on God. In our gospel text, Jesus is saying to his disciples and us as he sends us out, to become dependent on God all day and everyday no matter what the circumstances.
The theme of responding to our calling to serve and depending on God while we are serving is central to Stephen’s Ministry Training that begins in September.
As Stephen's Ministers are trained and sent out into people's homes, it is the Christian
care giver's responsibility to "plant" and "water". God then provides the growth. In other words, Christians, you and me, are responsible for care; God is responsible for cure.
What you are being called to do, just as Ezekiel was called, just as the twelve are called, is to become a Christian care giver sent out to care for another person. It is your response to the presence of Jesus Christ in your life: a response of service to others.
Christians, and especially Stephen's Ministers, work hard to establish relationships that build up people in need. And we rely on God for results. Because Jesus Christ lives in you, you are being called to serve, called to be God's ambassador. You carry the good news of his unconditional love and forgiveness. You are called to serve, to be a care giver. How will you respond? Will you sign up for Stephen's Ministry training this fall?
If you sign up for this ministry in our church, do so out of a sense of being called to servanthood, not out of a call to servitude. There is a world of difference between servanthood and servitude. Servitude is bondage, slavery, and involuntary labor. Servanthood, on the other hand, is willingness, choice, and voluntary commitment.
The person snared by servitude acts out of a sense of duty and fear, but the person living in servanthood acts out of a sense of commitment and love. Servanthood is healthy and uplifting. Servitude is unhealthy and demeaning for all concerned.
We Christians sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between servanthood and servitude--mainly because of misreading certain passages of scripture. As a result, we can feel enslaved to our calling rather than freed by it.
A primary reason Christians become entangled in the web of servitude is the fear of not pleasing God enough-- what Martin Luther called works righteousness. It is all too easy to fall into the mind-set that if I overdo in my service of caring for others, God will like me more, and I will be making up for my shortcomings in other areas of my life.
This is to misunderstand God and should not be your motivation to respond to God's calling you to serve. Don't sign up for Stephen's Ministry training out of guilt or to try and "make up" for past shortcomings in your relationship with God or his church.
Become a part of Divinity’s Stephen’s Ministry in response to your being called to serve and the gratification of giving care to a person in need. As we gather together in a new group of Divinity’s Stephen’s Ministers this fall with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can make the most of our servanthood, our being called to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Bill Rettig, over the past few years, was called to serve Chuck Nagy as his Stephen Minister. I usually don’t use these stories because Stephen ministry relationships are confidential. Because Chuck passed on to heaven this past January, I can say that Bill was faithful in visiting with Chuck, listening to his stories, bringing him Holy Communion, and providing Chuck’s wife, Norma, with some free time to do what she needed to do. Bill and Chuck became friends in Christ. We thank Bill and all our Stephen Ministers for their ministry of presence and listening.
Finally, at the end of our gospel text we read that the disciples went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them, and they baptized folks of all ages.
We baptize Bryce Rothacker who someday might be one of those young people backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. In the meantime, Bryce will grow physically and spiritually as a baptized child of God learning what it means to love others and to put the needs of others before our own.
Together we learn to enter into relationships with one another that run much deeper than possessions. It means being a part of a body where we find fulfillment and affirmation not in what we own, but rather we find affirmation and fulfillment through loving and serving and giving. Then we truly find ourselves and what we are really made of on the inside as we begin more and more to mirror and to imitate Jesus Christ. We find ourselves as part of a body that is Jesus Christ.
And the glory of it all is that it’s never too late. It’s never too late to leave behind our old way of life and to start anew. It’s never too late to find ourselves and to find out what we are made of on the inside. It’s never too late to be sent out and begin the journey. Take nothing for the journey. God be with you.