“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.” A famous and inspiring line that is read at ordination services and placed in volunteer pamphlets.
It is quite a verse. Four powerful verbs that instill a faith filled confidence that we are truly part of God’s plan. A moving reminder to all of us that we all have a purpose in this world. Not only did God form and create us for a purpose, but God knows and claims for us our purpose, consecrates our purpose, and appoints us for a purpose. In regards to discipleship and membership into Christ’s church we talk a lot that God creates us all uniquely with various gifts to share with our community of faith and God’s creation.
Today’s text lifts up a great reminder of the cycle of discernment for how we are called to share our various gifts by serving God and God’s creation. May you lean on today’s text in those future moments when you find yourself in situations of discerning how to use your time, energy, and talents to joyfully and faithfully serve God.
The foundation of the discernment cycle are those four verbs in verse four. God truly has created, claimed, consecrated, and appointed you for a purpose. In fact God is continually consecrating your purpose and appointing you to particular tasks. God has created you with gifts for your purpose and tasks. God creating, claiming, consecrating, and appointing us for a purpose is God’s end of the relationship for our purpose in the world.
Our end is the more difficult part of the discernment process. Our end is commitment and accepting the purpose that God has created for us. As the task falls before you in your discernment you might reach a point where you are hesitant like Jeremiah and object. Maybe it does not feel like the right time or you know it will take you out of your comfort zone. Jeremiah paints a great picture of our human struggle to object to God’s created and appointed purpose for us, “AHHH, Lord God! Truly, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” As we look at scripture Jeremiah is not the only one to object to God’s call and purpose for him.
Moses is another great example of someone appointed for a purpose and task by God, who objects and hesitates. While standing on Holy Ground in front of the burning bush, God appointed him for the task to go back into Egypt and tell Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery. While staring at the divine sight of a burning bush that never was consumed, he quickly objected…”OH MY LORD, PLEASE SEND SOMEONE ELSE.”
Of course, not much has changed when it comes to divine calling and faithful discipleship. Pastors share call stories that they objected and denied for years God’s call into ministry, only to eventually stop their hesitation and respond to God’s call. It is our human nature to hesitate to God’s created, claiming, consecrated, and appointed purpose for us.
Just the other day I had the privilege to spend some time of fellowship with a group of people from our church, almost all have been ordained into office of Elder in the Presbyterian Church. All served at different phases and places in their life. Seeing this opportunity to get some perspective on our sense of call, I asked them a question. When the nominating committee of the church called you and asked you to serve as elder of the church, how many of you hesitated to say yes? Almost all of them raised their hand. I’m sure if I asked more follow up questions they would have had various answers for why they hesitated. Maybe they wanted to discern it more, maybe they were not sure of the time commitment, maybe they heard horror stories of church drama and weren’t ready for that. All legitimate reasons to hesitate to God’s purpose for them.
I am sure you might have had similar experiences when another church member or staff member has called you asking you to serve on this committee or if you can help prepare this meal or teach this class. In the that moment you might have hesitated, you might even have objected. You might have even told your fellow church member then or God later…AHH Lord God!…PLEASE SEND SOMEONE ELSE!
After Jeremiah’s objection the discernment cycle continues. God immediately counters the hesitation with a challenge and an expectation to go out and serve. “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.” While Jeremiah might hesitate, God is faithfully challenging Jeremiah to push through the hesitation and GO and to Speak. Sometimes it takes a challenge to get us out of our comfort zone and push us to new places to share our God given gifts.
While the challenge might overwhelm us for the task ahead, God is quick to remind Jeremiah and us of a great promise. “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” Assurance that no matter how uncomfortable you might feel using your God given and blessed gifts, God is presence will be with you and deliver you from any fear, anxiety, and apprehension.
When we explore scripture further we will also see that the challenge and the promise in the cycle of discernment is lived out at the end of Matthew’s gospel. After Jesus’ resurrection he appeared to his disciples and gave them this challenge, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” And then he offered this promise as they begin their new purpose and task, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Such reassuring words for the disciples as they approached a new calling and task ahead of them. Let us be honest, one of the hardest things about discipleship sometimes is that challenge by God to step out of your comfort zone of life and faith and step into something new and out of the ordinary. The uncertainty of what lies ahead or the known commitment of what lies ahead can cause us to hesitate.
As a church we are currently out of our comfort zone because of lots of transitions and unknowns. We are in the middle of a campus ministry transition, a music ministry transition, a new vision of children and youth ministry, and a neighborhood transition. While that might bring us moments of anxiety and hesitation the good news proclaimed today is God has created, claimed, consecrated, and appointed us for such a time as this. While we as a church are in the middle of being out of our comfort zone, God is giving us all new challenges to go and speak and share our various gifts in this new season of church. If your calling and gift is music and singing our choir would love your voice to join them.
Our children and youth need volunteers to join them on Sunday nights walk along side them in their faith and life journey. Our Campus ministry is looking for members to join the Ukirk committee and help guide and direct campus ministry. As our church has grown in number our welcome committee is looking for members to give their time and energy to be mentors to our church’s new members. Our property committee is seeking those to share their gifts to help bring an old facility into the middle of the 21st Century. Maybe you want to give your time to mission and share your various gifts with Bravehearts that meets in Baird Hall. Maybe your gift is making phone calls and writing notes of encouragement, the church’s Blessings Bunch would love for you to join them as they tend to those in need of congregational care. There are so many new challenges that God might be calling you to go and do.
As one of your pastors, I can tell you whole heartedly that Kathy and I are grateful for the ways you serve. We also want to make sure you never burn out on ministry, either because you are over worked or overwhelmed. We are all in a marathon of ministry and not a sprint. So while we want to encourage you to hear God’s new challenge of ministry at our church, you also may have our permission to take a break from an old challenge as you take on a new challenge in ministry.
While the calling of discipleship and the challenge of particular tasks that God is asking of us might put us out of our comfort zone and cause us to hesitate, may we always remember God’s promise. “Do not be afraid…I am with you always, to the end of the age.” As we hear God’s call to go into new challenges that make us uncomfortable, know that God’s spirit is empowering you every step of the way and a community of faith is present to encourage, support, and guide you along the way. The Spirit is our companion to help us discern how both to hear God’s new challenges and gives us peace and understanding to step away from God’s old challenges.
As we discern where we are stepping out next, I want to end this sermon where it started. As I mentioned earlier that very first verse of today’s text is the foundation of our purpose. As we go out into the world and face the unknown or find ourselves serving in new ways out our comfort zone may you serve in a place of gratitude. We have an amazing God who created us out of love and created us for a purpose, and claims us through Christ. May this good news bring you joy as you faithfully serve God in your appointed purpose. Alleluia Amen