Beyond the Pulpit

June 2021

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ, greetings to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those all too rare and yet wonderful occurrences in the life of a minister.  I got an email from a pastor thanking me for being a kind of mentor to him.  I was a little surprised, but also quite gratified to know I had done at least one thing right in my career.

                  He explained in his email that he had been thinking of me because that morning in his sermon he shared with his congregation a story I had shared with him nearly twenty years ago in a workshop I was leading at Trinity Youth Conference in 2002.  He explained that the story and the workshop had a tremendous impact on his life and on his decision to enter the ministry.  He was a college student at the time and had reached that point when he was trying to figure out what to do with his life.  He had begun to feel he was being pulled toward a life in ministry, but was struggling, either with it or against the idea of it.  But apparently my workshop helped him along the path of discernment.

We have run into each other a few times over the last two decades, even serving together on the staff of Trinity Youth Conference a few years.  But I had not seen or spoken to him in the four years since he had taken a church out in the northwest part of the country.  We spoke on the phone later that week and it was life affirming for both of us.

After we said goodbye, I got to thinking about that week when we met back in 2002.  I remembered the workshop and the story I told very clearly, it was an important story to me and my discernment process as well.  But after 19 years and a lot of workshops, the details of the workshop were fuzzy.  So, I went looking for my notes, and low and behold I found some of them.

The workshop was all about the “Call of God.”  Against the backdrop of Biblical Call Stories, what did it mean to be called to leadership by God both inside and outside the church?  I remembered it was my idea to lead it originally.  I had wanted to name it. “Are You Crazy, or Just Plain Stupid?” borrowing the line from Forest Gump, but the planning team would not go along with that; although, I still stick by my original title.  As I looked through the outline and my notes, a couple of things jumped out at me that I wanted to share with you for your consideration.

We looked at the calls of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-8) and Peter (Luke 5:1-11) calling it “we’re not worthy, part 1”.  One thing both stories share is the recognition on the part of Isaiah and Peter, that realizing they are in the presence of the divine, they are afraid because they are “unclean” and “sinful” and are not worthy to be in the presence of God or God’s Son.  In both stories, God, and Jesus, are willing to look beyond their iniquities and use them for a divine purpose.

So often we find ourselves and others feeling the same way, unworthy to be in the presence of the Divine, let alone serve the Lord’s purpose in leadership.  People ignore or reject the calling of God to tasks and positions of leadership, both inside and outside the church, because they do not believe they are worthy enough to serve a divine purpose. 

I suppose in a way that a little bit of this humility can be a good thing.  Certainly, it is better than someone believing they are holier than others and thus entitled to leadership.  The truth is, like Peter and Isaiah, we are not worthy.  We are sinners, we have unclean lips, and do not deserve, nor could we ever earn the right to claim a position of leadership serving God’s purpose.  But with mercy for us and a plan for us, God makes us worthy.  This is why the forgiveness of sin, won for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is so important.  Surely our sinful past would disqualify us for service in the Kingdom of Heaven, but our faith in the Lord’s grace can move us past our iniquities and open the door to a life of service.

In the next set of stories, ‘We’re not worthy, part 2’, we look at Jacob, David, Paul.  Jacob was the second born son and entitled to little and certainly not his father’s birth rite and blessing.  Moreover, his name means ‘heal’ and he was a heel.  Jacob was a trickster, a cheat, and had an ambition that made him willing to, let us say ‘bend the rules.’  David was the youngest son.  He was a shepherd, and usually over-looked, if not forgotten by everyone.  Paul was a pharisee, he was arrogant and self-righteous.  He had been a persecutor of the church and had blood on his hands. 

There was nothing to recommend these men or indicate the greatness and importance of their respective roles in the story of God’s revelation of the truth to the world.  What we do see in the stories of these men, is that God has this habit of using the least-likely people to accomplish the purpose of Heaven.

We so easily discount ourselves and others because there is nothing readily apparent about a person who might be called.  God has important work for each and everyone of us.  It is not always the pretty, the popular, the talented, the most likely people who do the greatest feats in advancing the kingdom Heaven on earth.  The potential exists within each and everyone of us.  So never let yourself think you are not worthy of God’s consideration, because God has already got a job for you, no matter who you are.

All faithful disciples need only trust in God and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to do amazing things.  Some of those amazing things will be abundantly clear to the world, and some will change the world without being noticed.  Each of you, even at this moment, by simply striving to be a faithful disciple are going to influence or inspire or encourage someone who will do something important for the kingdom of God, and you may likely never know just how important you were in God’s plan.

But occasionally, you might get lucky, and hear from someone you helped along the path of discipleship.  And believe me there is no describing the sense of joy and wonder you feel when it happens. 

May the blessings of God, the peace of Jesus Christ, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit be with you all.