It is that time again, the time of the year when those in the United Methodist Church decide if they will be retiring, which sparks decisions by our Bishop and the District Superintendents as to who will be appointed. And it is that time of year when all of us United Methodist pastors might receive a phone call asking us to consider moving to another church. Moreover, this happens all across our denomination from California to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from Alaska to Guam.
We serve always at the Bishops discretion, for the first time in 12 years; my wife will be awaiting the phone call, because she will be moving as of July 1rst. I am reminded of the story of graduating seminarian student from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who had just received his appointment from the bishop. He was complaining and grumbling because the appointment did not fit what he felt he deserved. Another Student, in a loving but unsympathetic way patted him on the back and said, “You know the world is a better place because Michelangelo didn't say,
'I don't do ceilings.'"
Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but at first Michelangelo refused, he was a sculptor. He referred to himself as such, and vastly preferred working with marble to almost anything else that life offered. Before the ceiling frescoes, the only painting he had done was during his brief stint as a student.
Julius, however, was adamant that Michelangelo - and no other - should paint the chapel ceiling. What Julius wanted, he usually got. It took him a bit over four years, from July of 1508 to October of 1512, and now it is a treasure, many people on pilgrimage to Rome will visit.
Often we are called to service, to walk with Jesus along an unknown path, one that takes us down the road to places we feel unprepared, or even overly prepared for. However, being a faithful follower of the Prince of Peace, we commit ourselves to do what ever it takes, no sacrifice is too big or too small, no amount of work for the kingdom is too small or too big, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit resonates with the law that is written on our hearts so we will have the strength to serve wherever the road will take us.
We might want to object, just as we might when it comes to housework,
I do not do windows! I never knew the truth of that statement until I as an adult and responsible for cleaning windows how difficult it is to get all the dirt off, especially when you have to climb up on a roof to get the outside! And especially cause just as soon as you get them clean, they get dirty quick and all your hard work goes up in dust!
But cleaning windows also helps me remember how I need to clean away those things in my life that keep from seeing the law God has written on my heart. Create in me a clean heart the Psalmist writes as a prayer to God, to clean away the resistance to answering God’s call to be a faithful disciple.
This is the message the student was trying to share with his friend, when he lifts up the Michelangelo image of how to serve means to follow where ever the Spirit is working in you, even if it comes way of stubborn pope who wouldn’t say no! The world is a better place because of his art. Just as the world is a better place because
Moses didn't say, "I don't do rivers."
Noah didn't say, "I don't do arks."
Jeremiah didn't say, "I don't do weeping."
Ruth didn't say, "I don't do mothers-in-law."
David didn't say, "I don't do giants."
Mary didn't say, "I don't do virgin births."
Mary Magdalene didn't say, "I don't do feet."
John the Baptist didn't say, "I don't do deserts."
Paul didn't say, "I don't do letters."
Jesus didn't say, "I don't do crosses."
Now the interesting thing about all these folks, is that they were not the valedictorians of their class, they were not mayor of their cities, they were not known for their brilliance and oratory skills. In every case their lives were transformed when they listened to the Holy Spirit, and then followed God’s commandment to love one another with all your heart and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Moses had a lisp, but he delivered the 10 commandments, Noah was not a builder but he hosted all of creation on an ark, Jeremiah was not considered the greatest prophet, yet God’s words he preached came true. And Jesus, well Jesus was born in a stable and crucified next to the garbage dump on the most anti-climatic way, on a cross, like a common criminal.
For him to lose his life meant trusting God all the way through the difficulties, all the resistance, and all the hatred. Not exactly a glamorous job. However, as Leonard Sweet states: “If you want to be first, you have to be willing to be last. Do you want to be strong? You have to be willing to be weak. Do you want to win? You have to be willing to lose.
He goes on to say: “What is most weak, most despised, and most contemptible in your life and mine can become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what is most beautiful and most radiant, and what can produce the most blessing.” (The Gospel According to Starbucks, WaterBrook Press, 2007, p.26)>
The weak are made strong, the afraid are given courage, the angry transformed into passionate peacemakers, and the unfaithful are given trust. God clears away all the dirt and sin away from our hearts so we are reborn into a life of service.
In the next few Sundays, Palm Sunday and Easter, we will have wonderful reminders of God’s ability to transform death to life. We celebrate these two Sundays with great joy because we are a resurrection people, and we believe God, we trust God with our lives.
However, in between those two high holy days, it is good for us to remember that Jesus suffered, Jesus bled, and Jesus was crucified.
We might be tempted to ignore this part of his life, to gloss over the pain he suffered. We want our lives to be free from suffering, we want to receive the good stuff of life and be able to live comfortably. But this is not the way Jesus preaches, this is not the life Jeremiah preaches.
We will suffer if we choose to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. We will be in pain if we open our hearts to the suffering of the world around us.
We do not have to go looking for it; the world just is full of it already. Moreover, it is all around.
People have asked me why we spend so much time on prayer concerns and celebrations, so even reflect that they do not know the person we are asked to pray for. Nevertheless, I say, this is one of the most important ways that we open our hearts to hear God speaking to us. If you don’t think you can change the world it is okay, cause God has that covered, all we have to do is open our hearts, lose our lives for Jesus sake and we will be given the way to making the world a better place.
We never know what we might called to do, how our lives might be changed as we worship, but unless we give Jesus our lives each time we worship, we might live our whole lives without answering God’s call.
Last week, Jim M. and I were looking over the wedding brochure we give to couples contemplating using our facilities for their wedding. When I went to the Bridal Faire up at Cal-Poly Pomona in Feb., several couples asked if I only performed weddings at the church. I said, “No, I would go just about anywhere!” Therefore, I asked Jim if we could include language in the brochure that would reflect my willingness to go just about anywhere. Then I paused as I thought about the pastor who performed a wedding skydiving, or the one who performed the ceremony while the couple ran the Boston Marathon, or the couple who thought a bungee jump wedding could work, and I realized that I might not be as willing to go anywhere as I thought!
Yet, Jesus does call me to lose my life, to give over direction, to trust and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me, wherever that might be on my pilgrimage. Do I trust God that much? Do I believe God that much?
No but I am willing to try, to dedicate, to be open to new possibilities, and to allow god to use me where ever that might be. This is the kind of fellowship we are all invited into, to be a pilgrim people, to keep following Jesus no matter where the path might lead, no matter how much suffering we might feel, no matter how difficult the journey will be. When we let go and let God, then God can create a masterpiece with our lives and we can leave this world knowing we served faithfully and the world is a better place because of our service. Amen