CALL TO SERVICE – CALL TO LOVE
A SERMON PREACHED AT CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
JANUARY 29, 1995
BY: FREDERICK R. SURRETT
For the past few months, I have been going through what has been,
without a doubt, the most exciting time in my life. I have been
privileged, due in great part to Centrals generosity, to attend
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, there to persue my long
standing dream of entering the ministry.
When I first arrived at Garrett, I expected the majority of my
classmates to be people just out of college. Young adults who had
received the call to ministry early in their lives, and to whom the
path to ordination had been what use to be a typical one of attending
Sunday school, making a decision for christ, majoring in theology in
college and then going on to seminary for their Masters of Divinity
degree. But to my surprise, that was generally not the case. I found
myself to be one of the younger ones in my freshman class of 72
adults. And like myself, most of them had careers and education that
had very little to do with the ministry. It’s been a enjoyable
surprise though, to be with a group of people who have gone through
many of the same life experiences that I have. People who know what
it’s like to actually live and work in the “real” world. People who
have family responsibilities. People who have had to make some pretty
big sacrifices, both of their time and resources, to follow their call.
I found to that there was another thing I shared with them. Most of us
had had our sense of vocation, a feeling that we were meant to be in
the ministry, for quite some time. For some of us, it had been a
period of many years. And during that time, while we heard the call,
we tried as hard as we could to avoid it. And it was easy to come up
with reasons why we shouldn’t follow our call to ministry. A month
ago, I sat in a room with some of the other new students, and as we
talked about our callings, it turned out that we had all used pretty
much the same excuses to ourselves for not coming to seminary. For
some, it was the money issue. For others, it was our family or job
responsibilities. But as we talked more about the subject, we began
to talk about deeper reasons for avoiding what we felt called by God
to do. We talked about how we all felt, in one way or another,
inadequate to the task. We all had felt, in the deep recesses of our
souls, that we were somehow, not worthy, not good enough to be
ministers of the Gospel.
Not good enough? I bet a lot of us here have thought that. I’ll go
further then that, I wager that all of us in this sanctuary have
thought at one time or another that we are not worthy, not good enough
to be ministers of God. To spread the good news of the Gospel to
those who need to hear it’s message. We look at ourselves and we see
our faults, our secret and sometimes not so secret sins. We think
that “What good can I possibly do, poor sinner that I am?” “How can I
be worthy to spread Gods word?” And it’s true. We all are poor
sinners. We all have our faults. Let’s face it, we’re human beings,
with all the frailties and weaknesses that go with being human. But,
the thing to remember is that God already knows about our faults. God
already has seen our hearts, and even though we are not perfect, God
still can and will work through us to serve the cause of faith. It
doesn’t matter that we are not perfect, it doesn’t matter that we may
not be the most intelligent of people, it doesn’t matter how old or
young we are. All that’s really important is that we open ourselves
up to Gods call.
When we look at the passage from Jeremiah today, we see that Jeremaih
was afraid to follow the call to God. It’s hard to believe isn’t it,
that Jeremiah, one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, was
afraid, was unsure of himself. Even though God spoke to him directly,
Jeremiah tried to make excuses to get out of the mission God wanted
him to fulfill. He said “I am only a boy, I don’t know how to speak”.
But God reassured him, for God already knew all about Jeremiah. God
knew him so well, so intimately, that even before Jeremiah was born,
God knew everything about him. Before Jeremaih was born, God had
already consecrated him, God had already appointed him a prophet.
And God promised that he would be with him. God would put the words
in Jeremiahs mouth, and teach him what to say.
And Jeremiah is not the only example of this in the Bible. When we
read chapter 3 of the book of Exodus, we see that Moses himself was
afraid to answer Gods commission. When confronted by the burning
bush, he said “who am I, that I should go before pharaoh and bring the
people of Israel out of Egypt?” But God told him that “I will be with
you”. Then Moses, still trying to get out of it, asked God what he
should do if the people didn’t believe that God had sent him. So God
gave him powers to perform acts that would convince the people that he
was indeed sent by God. God gave Moses the power to change his staff
into a snake, and to make his hand appear to be leprous. Then finally,
Moses told God that he was a terrible speaker, that he was slow of
speech and tongue. So God appointed Aaron, the brother of Moses, to
go with Moses on his mission and to speak the words Moses wanted to
Then there is the example of Jonah. God wanted Jonah to go to the
city of Ninevah and tell the people of the terrible fate that awaited
them for their sins. Jonah, when he heard what God wanted him to do,
literally tried to run away from God. Of course, no one can run from
God, and eventually Jonah did what God wanted.
There are countless other examples of people trying to hide from their
call, trying to evade the Lord. Eventually though, it becomes
impossible. If we are called, God will find us. If we try to make
excuses, God will show us how to overcome them. And God sometimes
chooses those whom we would consider very unlikely messengers. People
whose lives had been anything but what we would consider holy. Again,
look at the example of Moses. He had had to flee Egypt because he had
killed a man. Of the original 12 apostles of Jesus, one was a Tax
collector, some were ordinary fisherman. One of them would even
betray Jesus to the authorities to be crucified. None of the 12 had
the courage to stay with Jesus throughout his trial and ensuing
execution. But yet, they were all chosen as messengers of God.
Saint Paul was the biggest oppressor of Christians in the early
church, but yet, God choose Paul to bring Christianity to the
Gentiles. Our pasts don’t matter to God. Our frailties, our
backgrounds, our past sins, don’t mean a thing. All that matters is
that we open ourselves up to hearing the voice of God in our lives,
and accept Gods call to us when we receive it.
That call can take many different forms. We are not all called to the
same ministry. We are not all called to be ordained as elders in the
Methodist church for example. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he
writes “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these
members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are
many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We
have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift
is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is
serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach, if it is
encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of
others, let him give generously, if it is leadership, let him govern
diligently; if it showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully”. We
respond to God’s call to ministry and function as ministers, according
to our different gifts. Some of us in the ordained ministry to be
sure, but some of us in other offices, such as teacher, trustee,
layspeaker, evangelist, and other posts in which we can use the gifts
God has given us to serve the cause of Christianity.
There is a problem though, in that for some people, it is hard to
recognize their own gifts. A lot of us do have, for whatever reasons,
poor self images. We think that there is nothing that we can do right,
not a job we can perform that someone else couldn’t do worlds better.
But each of us does have one gift in common, and need to recognize it.
The capacity to love. It’s a gift we can see that quite clearly in
children. How a child can give complete, unconditional love to a
parent or caregiver, a brother or sister, or even some other family
member. It’s something each of us are born with, the ability to love.
We learn to be selfish, and concerned only with our own self-interest,
but that capacity, that gift, of being able to love, always remains
with us. And it is the most important gift each of us possess.
In our reading today from 1 Corinthians 13, we see the importance of
this gift. All other abilities mean nothing without being able to
love. Without it, we have nothing, we can gain nothing, we are
nothing. But with it, we can do anything God requires of us. And
since we all have the gift of being able to love, we all have the
ability to serve God, and to answer with confidence the
call to ministry each of us receive as people of faith.
And again, that ministry can take many different forms. There is no
one way of serving God, of doing ministry in the world. It can be as
simple as holding the hand of someone whose scared and alone, and
assuring them that there is someone who cares for them, someone who
will be there for them, and who loves them for what they are. That’s
ministry in it’s truest sense, to be able to mirror the love that God
has for each of us, and show that love to someone who needs it. It’s
something that each of us can do, that we all have the gift to do.
During my time as a hospital chaplain, I’ve seen how powerful that
basic gift can be. I’ve seen the comfort and peace that I’ve been
able to give to others not by preaching, or reciting chapter and verse
of the bible. But just by being there with them in their troubles.
By holding the hand of someone sick and in pain, who just needed to be
reminded that they were not alone in their suffering.
The call to ministry is God’s call to service. Service to God, and to
God’s creatures. It is a call we can try to avoid, but cannot deny.
It is a call we all have the ability to fulfill, with a gift each of
us has been given, the ability to love. Because in it’s most basic
form, God’s call to each of us is to love both God, and each other. We
need to hear the voice of God in our lives, and accept Gods call to us
when we receive it.