Gathering Disciples: Then and Now
Sermon Preached by Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
January 25-26, 2003
323 Fifth Avenue
West Bend, WI
The surprise of being called by GOD is startling. It comes when we are not ready for it.
The questions raised by a sudden call begin with the famous question that is unanswerable - Why?
Why me? Why now?
I expect that this is a part of what Simon and Andrew felt as Jesus came by and put before them a request they couldn't refuse. "Come with me. We'll transform this fishing job you have from fishing for perch and bass to gathering in men and women. Come learn to be fed by GOD and to feed others that they might be strong enough to be new creations."
Mark writes that they didn't have any questions but dropped their nets and followed Jesus.
Though that may have been their initial reaction, I suspect it wasn't long before they began asking about their involvement in this movement. The same was probably true for the Zebedee boys, James and John.
For most of us, this question of "Why?" comes much sooner than for Simon, Andrew, James and John. We are not quite so willing to jump in with both feet. Some of that may be because we have been burned before. The Church is infamous for asking people to serve and then not trusting them but micro-managing their gifts. The language we joke about but have all heard, and it is real, is "we've never done it that way."
Can you imagine Jesus being held back because the Temple and synagogues of his day said to him, "You can't do it that way because we have always done it this way"? In fact, don't we remember Jesus saying, "You have heard it said, but I say to you."
Can you imagine Jesus teaching his disciples to hold back from responding to the need to be leaders? He called people out of the blue. Some responded and some did not.
You came to this time of worship with a certain expectation that it would be safe. You didn't come expecting to get called to commit yourself to being a leader in the future of Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church.
After all, this is just my second week here. Surely I would spend more time finding out about your gifts and then gently tap you on the shoulder to talk about whether or not you had the time to devote to leadership for the congregation.
Well, this worship service is about to become a dangerous place. Out of the blue I am asking you to identify yourself as a leader in this congregation. I expect this will be as startling to you as it was when Jesus came by and invited the fishermen to see themselves in a whole new light - to fish for people, not for a job.
In your bulletin there is a sheet of paper titled "Opportunities for Service at Fifth Avenue UMC." Please take that sheet out of your bulletin.
We will begin with the bottom half. If you are currently on the Finance, Trustee, Staff-Parish or Lay Leadership Team, please check where you are being a leader.
If you are doing some other leadership or volunteer work here at Fifth Avenue, please check that and identify what you do.
Our Book of Discipline tells us that these teams and volunteers are resources for the mission of the congregation. The question is what these resources support. In our way of doing things, what needs support are the areas of Nurture (deepening the spiritual growth of our members), Outreach (broadening our involvement with the world around us) and Witness (clarifying our experience of faith to others).
Now, if you have not checked one of those categories of already being a leader here, this is the time to imagine that Jesus is walking down the aisle and crooks his finger at you, beckoning you to be part of the disciple leaders by learning a doing a new task for the church.
What could be more surprising? In the midst of worship you are called to be a leader!
I need to say that I expect we will receive more responses to the leadership needs of the church than we can use. Not everyone who identifies a willingness to lead will be needed this year. But we need a wide variety of people to begin asking to serve. The Lay Leadership Team will take this information and over the next month pray with these sheets in hand and begin to sort through them to develop some vibrant committees that will lead us forward.
I also need to indicate that there can be legitimate specific seasons in a person's life which would keep them from responding to this call for leadership. If you've served for six years you need the biblical sabbatical or seventh year off. If you are dealing with a disease or a recent significant loss you may not be ready to take on a leadership role.
But generalized excuses like, "I'm too old" or "I'm too young" simply don't hold up in the Bible which is our guide to life. Remember Abraham and Sarah, parents at 100 years old, and Samuel, prophet in his youth. Remember young Timothy and his grandmother Lois.
Now comes the call to you. You really are in a safe place, so close your eyes. Take a couple of deep breaths. Begin to imagine Jesus walking down the aisle of the church and coming to your pew. Imagine him looking at you and saying, "I need your leadership at Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church. I am going to give you three choices and I am asking you to choose which one best fits you."
Fifth Avenue needs to have the spiritual growth of its members deepened. If this calls to you, choose to be on the Nurture Team.
Fifth Avenue needs to be more broadly involved with the world around you. If this calls to you, choose to be on the Outreach Team.
Fifth Avenue needs to clarify for the community its mission and purpose and the personal faith of its members. If this calls to you, choose to be on the Witness Team.
Decide which option Jesus gives you that feel most drawn to. This doesn't take deep analysis. Which way are you prompted? Which way do you lean? Trust that.
Now that you know how you would respond if Jesus were to invite you to choose, quietly take another deep breath and gently open your eyes to mark your choice on the sheet of paper before you.
By offering your life in leadership to help bring GOD's heaven here on earth, you have worshiped GOD: in this season you are made in the image of GOD's work of the first six days. By acknowledging this is not the season for you to be in leadership you have worshiped GOD: in this season you are made in the image of GOD's rest on the seventh day. In these two acts we place ourselves in GOD's hands.
Thank you for being surprised in the middle of what you thought would be just another worship service. It is almost like Simon and Andrew and James and John who were surprised in the middle of what they thought would be just another day at work.
Now let us carry on the work of Jesus and the disciples of his day through the decisions needed in our day. Amen.