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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

Just Say Yes to Your Calling

Acts 11.19-29
February 12, 2017
Rev. William Bills
UUMC

Every single Christian is called to some kind of ministry. In United Methodism we subscribe to Martin Luther’s doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. As he was separating himself from Medieval Catholicism, Martin Luther told people that it was not only the clergy who were called to be ministers of the gospel. All Christians are called to be ministers of the gospel. Each one of us has some spiritual calling to fulfill.

Some of you completed a spiritual gifts assessment as the result of last week’s sermon at the urging of Rev. Chu. Thank you for doing that. If you haven’t, you can do it at any time. There will be more opportunities for that as we go through this year. The church must help every follower of Jesus understand how to serve God and their fellow human being.

Completing a spiritual gifts assessment can be fun because it may give one new insight into oneself. It is always fun to learn something new, especially about ourselves. Remember, though, that knowledge is only as good as the implementation of what is learned. This is especially true when it comes to spirituality and ministry. Spiritual gifts must be used in practical, real-world ways or they are wasted.

Verse 28 of Acts 11 speaks about a severe famine during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. This was a real world problem that affected real people in a profound way. People could potentially starve to death or otherwise be harmed. The Christians in Antioch knew that they could not count on the emperor or the government to do the right thing. Rather than wait on the emperor to do the right thing, the Christian church decided to take action and do the right thing.  Real life issues require that we use our gifts for real life responses.

Verse 19 speaks about righteous and God-fearing people being scattered around the world due to persecution. In Acts chapter 8, Stephen became the first martyr when he dared to speak up for the grace of God he had come to know in Jesus. For his courage he was stoned to death. Paradoxically then, it was his courage to stand for the truth, even in the face of opposition that took his life, that helped the gospel to spread. Saying yes to your calling requires courage. Saying yes to your calling may be risky.

What might God be calling you to on this day? Is God calling you to help this church clarify its vision and values for the immediate future? Is God calling you to help implement changes in this church to push us out of our church and into the community where real life problems are causing real life suffering for real people? Are you feeling most concerned about coffee or screens in our church?

Perhaps you are concerned that our brothers and sisters down the street have posted signs in their building offering instructions about how to respond if one is contacted by the FBI. Might we one day need to post such signs here? How is God calling you to respond to real world needs?

It is a good thing to simply share good news. It is great to just tell someone that God really does care for them, that God really does love them. It is even better to take some kind of concrete, practical action that will make someone’s life less hard. God calls everyone not only to believe certain things, but to do certain things, because of what one believes.

When Christians in the first century said, “Jesus is Lord,” they also meant that Caesar is not. They didn’t simply wait on the emperor to do the right thing. Christians did the right thing based on what they believed about Jesus. When they saw real world needs affecting real world people they responded in real world ways, invoking the courage and the power of the spirit of Jesus.

Everybody has a calling to some kind of ministry. Say yes to your calling. But say yes knowing that something may really be demanded of you. Courage. Sacrifice. Time. Saying yes to your calling will require that you say no to something else. Saying yes to God means saying no to something else you would rather be doing.

In the Vital Church Initiative process we speak of inward focus and outward focus. We speak of purpose and preference. It might feel good, safe, to stay focused inside our church. It might feel good, safe, to focus on personal spirituality. It might be safer to focus on what we prefer to do for ourselves. Just know that God’s purpose rarely matches any disciples’ preference. God’s purpose may include doing what is good and right for us inside this church. But it does only insofar as doing what is right for us inside this church encourages and empowers us to get outside this church and meet real world needs for real world people.

First century Christians in Antioch knew they couldn’t depend on the emperor to do the right thing. So the Christians did the right thing. Paul and Barnabas didn’t sit inside the church wringing their hands and lamenting the fate of people during a severe famine all the while hoping the emperor would do the right thing. They got outside the church and did something to help.

We are twenty-first century Christians and this is not the Roman Empire. Nonetheless God is calling you to do something. What are you going to say?

First century Christians faced persecution because their religion was unacceptable to the government. That is happening to people today. They didn’t circle the wagons, though. Those difficulties are what caused the church to spread and grow. People in the church said yes to their calling and the church thrived in the face of adversity.

Barnabas had the gift of encouragement. He inspired people to be faithful in adversity. Agabus had an eye on the future. He could see what was coming and he helped people organize and prepare. Elders in the church were able to do things to meet very practical needs for people in very practical ways.

What we don’t ever read in the Book of Acts is Christians hunkering down in their churches saying, “Things are getting really bad out there, let’s just stay in here and wring our hands and worry.”

We read over and over how people said yes to their calling. How they took on problems and difficulties. How they stood with the neglected and the marginalized. How they endured hardships to carry out their callings.

As part of our Vital Church Initiative we adopted a new mission statement: "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world". I have a little issue with that. I am afraid it could be construed as a mandate to convert folks who may have no interest in Jesus or me or my church. On the other hand, if I am about transforming the world and someone sees me working to make the world become what God intended it be, they may choose to become a disciple because they see me fulfilling the ministry God called me to.

If a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jew or an atheist decides to work alongside me in transforming our world I am going to receive that help gladly and not expect them to become as I am. Jesus said if they are not against you then consider them for you. If someone only gives you a cup of cold water because you are saying yes to your calling, that person will be rewarded by God. If someone sees you saying yes to your calling and because of that transforming the world, then they may be inspired to follow Christ. Or they may only be inspired to help you transform the world. Either way, real world people get help with real world problems and the real world starts to look more like the kingdom of heaven.

In our book, “Just Say, Yes: Unleashing People for Ministry,” Bishop Robert Schnase suggests making a graph on a piece of paper. On the left side of your paper make an up and down line and write down any profound human needs that you think need to be addressed. Across the bottom make another line and write down the gifts God has given you. Write down your skills, your passions and your interests. Spend some time with that and pray about where your gifts and skills and passions intersect with profound human needs. That point of intersection is where you are called to go to work.

That point of intersection, your gifts and the profound needs of other people; that is where God is calling you to ministry. Will you say yes to God’s stated purpose or will you tell God that you would prefer to do something else?

The church has done you a disservice for too long. We have led people to believe that ministry is reserved for the clergy, for paid staff, for bishops and superintendents. I want you to know today that you are called by God to ministry at that point where your gifts can meet real world needs for real people.

Everyone in the church is called to be in ministry. Everyone must engage some need in meaningful ways inside the church and especially outside the church. Make your graph: profound needs up and down the left side of a sheet of paper; your gifts, skills, talents and passions along the bottom of the paper. When you find the point on the page where the two intersect, think about it, pray about it; talk to a brother or sister about it. After all that, just so you don’t mess up, here is the correct answer: “Yes, Lord! Here I am. Send me!”

When you have said yes to your calling remember these things. You are an ambassador for Christ. Build up, don’t tear down. Always seek justice and truth. Treat others well. Resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves doesn’t mean fleeing from these things or ignoring them. It is a high calling to resist these things peacefully. Your calling will make a difference to someone who is suffering, afraid or uncertain. Saying yes to your calling might make your life a bit harder but it is going to make someone else’s life a bit easier.

That is the way it is supposed to be. For the son of man came not to be served, but to serve. And it is in the giving of our lives that we receive eternal life.