So You're Not An Expert... - 1st Corinthians 15:58
How often have we used the excuse, among many others, when asked to do something, that “we’re not an expert,” “we’re not trained,” “we don’t know what to do,” “someone else could do it better,” and so on? Those are the excuses that we are going to attack this week as we consider our vow of service.
We have been journeying A Disciple’s Path seeking ways that living out the membership vows of the United Methodist Church can actually help us to grow in our relationship with Christ and become better, stronger, closer disciples…more Christ-like in our lives.
We considered how prayer, especially as we pray The Lord’s Prayer is not so much about changing God, as allowing God to change us.
We considered how being present, with one another allows us to help one another learn, practice loving, helps us hold one another accountable, it provides us with one another for encouragement and support.
We considered, last week, how giving (all we can)—in the ways of John Wesley, after gaining all we can and saving all we can, helps us to rely and trust in God for all we need.
So today we come to the vow of service.
Service…it involves the giving and commitment of our time and talents to God’s work. God may call us into His service in a variety of ways. God may speak to us directly. It might not necessarily be a burning bush, but it might be a strong urging that He lays upon our hearts. It might be through a conversation with a brother or sister in Christ. It may happen when the calls go out each year from our Nominations committee, asking folks to serve in a variety of ways in the church, or it may simply be a conversation in which, together, a need is recognized. It may simply be a call for volunteers to help with an activity or mission trip.
There are three excuses that we primarily give when it comes to service, and our inability to serve in the church (or world) when asked.
The first excuse that we offer is quickly dismissed. The first excuse we come up with is that we “don’t have the time,” we “have too many other things going on.” That excuse is easily put to the side, because while our calendars may be filled at times, we, every day, prioritize what we are doing, and find the time to do the things that are important to us.
The second excuse, or round of excuses, is our litany of excuses, “I’m not an expert,” “I’m not trained,” “I don’t really know what to do,” or “Someone else could do it better.” When asked to serve, we are always quick to lift up our inability as a reason not to serve.
When we begin to make excuses about our inadequacy, we join a great cloud of witnesses. God told Sarah that she would serve by bearing the child that God had promised would lead Abraham to be the father of many nations, and she said, “I am too old.” God called Moses to lead God’s people to freedom from slavery in Egypt by confronting the Pharaoh, and Moses said, “I stutter, I can’t really talk in public.” God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, and he said, “I’m only a child.” Those excuses did not work for them, or for others of the Bible who tried to make excuses for why they could not do what God was calling them to do, and they will not work for us. God calls us to give of our time and our talents, and to be accurate, He is asking us to give us of his time and his talents, for without him there would be no time for us to have, without Him time would not exist (Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.)[i] Paul tells us, it is God who gives us the gifts He asks us to use (Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.)[ii].
God enabled Sarah to conceive and bear a child. God placed His words within Moses’ mouth, and placed Aaron alongside Moses to speak as well. God filled the young Jeremiah with the wisdom of His words to speak to the people. As someone once said, “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips those who are called.” If God calls us to a task, God will not leave us to struggle through it without the ability to accomplish what He desires for us to do…and if God calls us and equips us, God is going to see it through. That is why Paul wrote, “Therefore my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Be steadfast…If God calls us to serve Him, we need to be steadfast in our service. We have to see it through. When something else, maybe a temptation to do something different (something easy, something fun) comes along, we need to remain loyal to completing what God has set before us. When we grow tired, we need to keep pushing along. When we hit speed bumps and potholes along the way, we need to hold steady. When folks tell us that we can’t do it, we need to resolve to trust in God to get it done.
Be immovable…If God calls us to a task, let us be like Noah, who when ridiculed and made fun of by those around him, for building an ark in a place that had never seen one drop of rain fall from the sky, was unwavering in his commitment to complete the task that God had set before him.
Always excelling…When serving God, we are called to give God our best. God doesn’t want us to serve in a half-hearted manner; He doesn’t want our left-over efforts…He wants us to offer Him our best…
We may not be asked to get a person out from under a fallen tree, but we may be asked to help build flood buckets for someone who has had a tree fall on their house. We may not be asked to feed a person who has only had two pinecones to eat in six days, but we may be asked to feed someone who is hungry in the community. We may not be asked to protect someone from a bear, but we may be asked to prepare hygiene products to help stave off diseases. It may not be in testifying to a stranger (or it may be), it may simply be teaching a Sunday School Class. It could be preparing a meal for someone who is sick or grieving. It could be helping with a fellowship event to draw folks closer together. It could be singing, reading scripture, serving communion, or any number of parts of worship. It could be to chair a committee, lead a group, take minutes, or some other administrative task. It could be to move tables, cook barbecue, shovel snow, wash dishes, or sweep the floors, or any of a number of other ways.
Finally, there is the third objection…voiced in a variety of ways: “It won’t do any good;” “we’ll never see any results;” “It will never work;” “We can’t help everyone, there will still be hungry and sick and homeless and poor….”
Paul responds to the first of these by saying, “you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Paul reminds us that if God has called us to do it, God’s Will will not be impeded, that no matter what happens, no matter what we see, all our efforts to work for God’s Kingdom will make a difference.” God will take our efforts and make them effective. We simply have to put forth the effort.
As for whether not we can help everyone, I offer this story by Loren Eisley in closing:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “Don’t you realize there miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bend down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”
In the name of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the One who stooped down to pick us up off the beach of sin and place us back in the waters of God’s presence. Amen.