A sermon given by Rev. Dr. Peter A. Luckey on Sunday, March 26, 2017
My friends, this is the fourth of a series of sermons on Making Disciples.
On March 5, the first sermon, we talked about we are the church and how the church is that important place where disciples are formed. Edith Guffey and I shared that sermon. Then on the 12th, Bryan Nurnburger, the executive director of Simply Smiles that host our young people on their service trip to the Cheyenne River Reservation, spoke to us about being committed as disciples to one of the most vulnerable populations in our society, the Native American community. Last Sunday, I preached that we are chosen as disciples and the following Sunday, April 2, Eleanor McCormick will preach a sermon reminding us that we are commissioned as disciples to go out into the world.
Today, we are talking about what it is to be equipped to be disciples. Will you pray with me?
Oh God, we give thanks for your Spirit that is in this place, for the baptism of a child and we ask that your Spirit rests upon all of our hearts and help us to hear the Gospel. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Kay Bradt read to us this morning from the Epistle to the Ephesians. This is a letter that Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus. Have any of you been to Ephesus? Wow! It’s amazing! I have been there and walked those ancient ruins of that city of antiquity in the western edge of Turkey close to the Agean Sea—walked on those ancient marble steps of the highway, a library on one side of the road and a brothel on the other. You see, this town had everything, including a church! And, now we are privy to the letter Paul wrote to that church, the letter to the people of Ephesus, those good folks. It is a letter of encouragement. He is writing to these people in this community and is saying to them—Look, God has given you these gifts in the risen Christ, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, you, the saints, are given these gifts—the saints, by the way, is all of us, everybody in the community—to do ministry. Paul makes it clear that each of us are given different gifts; some of us are healers and some of us are teachers, some of us are Stephen Ministers, and some of us preach, some of us clothe the naked and feed the hungry and house the homeless. We all have these different gifts, but all of us together share these gifts of ministry so that, Paul makes it clear, the entire body of Christ is built up. I like to think of us as disciples, each of us with our different gifts, but all of us sharing our gifts of ministry so that our whole body of our church is built up.
So, what does it mean to be equipped? It is a wonderful thing to be equipped. As I was thinking about what it means to be equipped as disciples, I couldn’t help think about what it means to be equipped for athletic competition. I wrote this sermon before 10 o’clock last night.
Sorry! But, think about it friends, before the big game, you have to be equipped. You have to be prepared physically. You have to have information. You have to have knowledge. You have to know what is before you. But, even more than information and knowledge and intellect, you need to be equipped with power and drive and passion and will and strength and courage. What I want to suggest this morning is as disciples we need to be equipped, not just with information or intellect or intelligence, but we need to equipped with power and the will and the drive to do what it is that God wants us to do.
And, yes, we can turn to God for that power that it may rest upon us. I know that many of those athletes, before that buzzer sounds, they take a moment and turn to God and say, “God, be with me in this game. Lead me and guide me so that I can rest upon your strength and power to carry out your will.” So, often, is it the case, my friends and you pastors in the congregation know, when we are with somebody and pray with them, what is it that we ask, “What is it that you want me to pray for today.” More often than not, “Please pray for strength and courage.” Please pray for strength and courage. Do you believe that God gives us strength and courage to carry out that works of ministry that God calls us to do?
That’s a very, very good question because educated, sensible people find the proposition that God gives strength and power and courage find that scandalous and unrealistic and mythological. But hundreds of millions of others find it to be the best news in the world. And, friends, I am one of them. The scriptures testify again and again that God gives us the power to do what God wants us to do. “The Lord is my strength and my refuge; of whom shall I be afraid.” God gives us the power. In Ephesians 3:20 we read: Now to God, who by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly, than all that we ask or think.
Now, the truth is, often in situations in our lives and various circumstances, we don’t feel that we have very much power. We feel, more often than not, powerless in our lives. We feel, like Paul said in Ephesus, like children tossed to and fro. Have you ever had that moment when you feel like you’re just pretending to be a pastor. You’re just pretending to be a preacher. You’re not really a preacher, not really who you crack yourself up to be. We find ourselves feeling like we are imposters, we’re frauds. We just hope somebody doesn’t uncover the truth, the essence of who we are.
And I’m sure that every one of our players that played last night, has moments when they harbor doubts about their abilities and feel like they are just riding a wave of good luck. And, before every game and, yes, every time I preach, I have to bat away those pesky negative doubts that maybe you’re not all that you’re cracked up to be. Bat them away like annoying flies. Ah, my friends, if only life imitated sport. If only life imitated sport. It would be so neat, because it is just forty minutes and it’s over.
You know where the boundaries are. It is real clear when it is in and when it is out. When there is a dispute, there is video replay. And, the best thing is, you can tell who your adversaries are by the color of their uniforms.
Friends, as people of faith, we are not in it for forty minutes. We’re in it 24/7, every day of our lives. To be a disciple is to be a disciple in our church and in our family, in our work life, in our play life. Indeed, the truth is that there are times when we all harbor self-doubts, when we are afraid we will soon be revealed to the world for the frauds that we really are.
It does feel like we are being suited up for a major contest in our country these days. It does feel like game time is nigh for people that follow in the path of Jesus. We feel like it is a contest brewing between hostility and hospitality, between health care for the rich and health care for everyone, a contest between caring for people of all faiths and banning people of some faiths, a contest between working for the common good or rewarding people for personal goods. It does feel like it is a contest that we are called to as disciples in this world. Let’s be honest. Sometimes the stamina leaves us and our strength is in doubt. After you have set up one more cot for Family Promise, you wonder whether homelessness ever end. After you have spent one more night with a loved one in a terminal illness situation, you feel so powerless against what they are up against. After you have returned from Washington, D.C. and you have marched, you feel so jazzed and fired up. But then you come back and what difference has it really made. You feel that your battery is running on empty and your tank is low. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we admit feeling confident and strong is no sure bet, no sure thing. It comes and it goes, it waxes and it wanes. One minute we feel strong and the next minute we feel like a child, tossed to and fro. That happens, friends, even when we pray for strength and courage from God. We still feel weak. Which is why I lift up the disciples among us, not just the disciples who followed in the path of Jesus at that time, but the disciples throughout the ages who have turned to God again and again for strength and power and will and drive when their own spirits were flagging.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we’ve talked about many times, was in prison. He participated in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He died in prison in the 1940’s. And in his letters and papers from prison he wrote a poem where he revealed the depths of his own heart. And this is what he said,
“They often tell me I would step from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly like a squire from his country house.”
But the poem goes on to describe the great gulf between what they see—confident, rational adult, prayerful, faithful, courageous person—and what he knows is going on inside his own heart: the weakness, the loss, the inner whimpering and the dread. “So which is me?” Bonhoeffer asks.
“Which is me?” You know what his answer is? “I haven’t got a clue. I haven’t got a clue. God has to settle that. I don’t have to decide if I’m brave or cowardly, whether I am confident or really frightened, or both.
Who I am is in the hands of God.
Remember last week, we talked about Jesus’ last words to his disciples.
He said, “Abide in my love. Make a home in my love.” What matters is that we are held in the love of God. You see, I don’t think that’s the way it goes, it’s not quid pro quo. It’s not that you pray to God for strength and courage and then boom it happens. It’s not like you turn on a faucet and the water pours. It doesn’t work like that at all. Even when you pray to God for strength you still feel cowardly and weak. May we all find that place where we can feel and know that we are held in a presence and a love of God.
You see, why I think this is so important is that inherently we are relational beings as human beings. Pierre de Chardin says “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” This is to say that the relationships we have with the spirit are fundamental to the strength and courage and power and will that we find in our lives. That is why millions of people throughout history have again and again have found it good news to say “Behold my strength and refuge is in the Lord.” That’s why they vowed it to be good news and not a fraud and not a scandal.
One last thought. Paul says, “We are equipped as saints for the ministry so that the church can be built up. So that the body of Christ can be strong.”
I have been reading the Micah Moments lately. Sarah, I am glad you are here this morning. Sarah Whitten wrote a Micah Moment. And in the Micah Moment she wrote about being in the grocery store in the pet food aisle, having an offhand conversation with a woman about Fancy Feast cat food. And how an offhanded conversation in the grocery store led to a most profound encounter. This stranger said to Sarah, “The love of my life is dying of cancer.” And the tears welled up. Sarah said “Right there to this stranger in this most public place of a grocery store I reached out and I hugged her.” We need each other to show us what it is to be disciples, what it is to be equipped as the saints of the church to do the ministry. We hold on to one another, even to strangers we never knew, so that we might be reminded of the God that holds on to us all. And we say “Thanks be to God for all the disciples in this midst and you disciples listening on the radio and the internet for you encourage each other and, by your witness, you equip each of us to be the disciples that Christ calls us to be. Amen.