Let us pray: Holy and awesome God, you are the creator of all that has been, of all that is, and of all that is to come. You have breathed into us your Spirit-breath and have empowered us to live as your witnesses in this world. Grant us strength, in the face of much hatred and violence, to respond with peace, with civility, with justice, and most especially with love. Empower us to speak against evil in every form in which it presents itself, and you yourself equip to resist all forms of evil, oppression, and injustice in whatever ways they present themselves. Empower us to move beyond our zones of comfort and to wholly offer ourselves, our resources, and our gifts in service and ministry to you. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the faithful grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolation. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sarah Crosby was one of the earliest women preachers in Methodism. She began by facilitating group meetings. When she was leading one of those meetings in 1761, some two hundred people showed up—which made it impossible for Sarah to lead discussion as she usually did. She had to do something extraordinary because the occasion called for it: she had to preach. At this time, early in the Methodist movement, women were not allowed to preach, so she consulted with John Wesley on the matter. He agreed that, even though he was generally against women preachers at the time, she did what the moment had required. This incident and others like it gradually persuaded Wesley to change his mind until, years later, he licensed Sarah Crosby and other women as preachers.
Rising to the occasion because we must, and giving of ourselves to others even when we haven’t planned ahead for it is often the Christian way of life. Rising to the occasion because we must, and giving of ourselves to others even when we haven’t planned ahead for it is often the Christian way of life. The Spirit moves, and we follow. Earlier last week, a friend of mine shared the story of her latest triathlon. She and her son were competing in the Sprint Triathlon: a ¼ mile swim, an 8 mile bike ride, and a 3.1 mile run. After finishing her swim, she began the bike ride anticipating that she would have a faster finish time than she originally thought. After riding for a period of time, my friend looked down and realized her odometer had stopped working. She didn’t think too much of it and just kept following the pack. A while later she realized that she was covering terrain that was part of the longer 1/3, ½, and Iron Man races. She had missed a turn for the sprint course. Her race was done. She pulled over at the next water station and waited for a race official to come around. When the race official did come around, he came with a woman who dismounted her bike, dropped to the ground and began sobbing. My friend went over and asked, “What’s wrong?” The race official, speaking for the woman, said that her bike had busted and she was done. My friend asked, “What race are you doing?” “The full,” the woman replied. She had traveled from Alaska to Florida to do an Iron Man Triathlon with her brothers for one of their 40th birthday. “How tall are you?” “5’4” “What size shoe are you?” “7.” The woman was the exact same size as my friend. “Here, take my bike.” Now, the bike that my friend has is a carbon fiber, 18+ gear, sleek Fuji racing bike with mounted aero bars. The woman asked if my friend was serious. “My race is over. Now go finish yours,” she said. After exchanging names and numbers, the woman took off on my friend’s bike and at 1:15am on last Sunday morning, she completed her Iron Man Triathlon. What would have happened if my friend had not gotten off-course? Or, if she had ignored the Spirit’s prompting to see if she could somehow help.
As I talked about last week, and as we heard from Bill this morning, we are in the first week of our stewardship campaign. Stewardship Campaigns ask us to plan ahead. Over the next few weeks we are being asked to consider the stewardship of saints past and present as we discern for our families and ourselves what level of giving we will offer during 2019. The commitments we make are a commitment between God and us, but let’s be honest. The commitments we make will also shape how much and which parts of our mission and ministry are funded in whole next year. So, why as we enter into a time of discerning our planned giving, would I share with you the stories of two saints who offered themselves in ways beyond what they had planned?
Our text from the book of Acts this morning recounts Peter’s exchange with the apostles and the church after he had baptized Cornelius and his household and had stayed with them for several days. Peter understood the customs and the purity laws of his time. When he experienced the vision of something like a sheet coming down upon which reptiles, wild beasts and wild birds were contained; when Peter heard a voice say, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat,” he knew that this was not how one stayed connected to God, but that consuming these impure animals would cause him to become impure as well. Peter responds, “Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” The voice spoke again, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” Peter understood his role as an apostle: to proclaim the gospel and to join his resources with the church to give to all who were in need. Yet, in this moment, Peter receives a call to expand his understanding of Church to the uncircumcised Gentiles, and in response to God’s call, Peter goes, baptizes, and teaches Cornelius and his household.
From the time I was young, I have always held the underdog in my heart. At least once a year, my mom would receive a call from the school because I had hit a bully who had been picking on someone else. I remember telling my friend Jeffrey not to make fun of an elderly couple who lived on our street, and I reminded him that he did not like to be made fun of because he was African American. When I became a speech therapist, I specifically chose to work in the school system because I wanted to give kids who had no voice the skills they needed in order to learn and to be heard. I loved my job. I enjoyed my students; I had a great group of friends, and yet God was calling me to do more. God was calling me to move beyond my comfort zone of working with children and families and to speak the Gospel, to dedicate my life to spreading the gospel through preaching and teaching the word, through administering the sacraments, through acting in Christian service to the community and world around me, and by ordering the life of the church. God was calling me to give up a job I loved, to move from a community of friends I loved, to leave home again, and to pursue ordination. As I look back on my life, it is only the hand of God who could have taken a girl whose intentions were good but whose actions were often misdirected, a girl who did not like to stand up to males in authority, a young woman who was so afraid to speak in public she sobbed openly every. Single. Time, a young woman who had been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, and had only been a member of The United Methodist Church for five years when she began seminary. Only God could have brought me to this place.
Only God could have brought me to this church, whose gift of hospitality overwhelmed me from the moment I arrived. Each year as the leadership of our church plans for Summer Meal Ministry, we pray fervently. We pray because what we do in the summer is more than raise funds for mission and ministry. We become the hands and feet of Christ to everyone who comes into this place to share a meal. Year after year, we receive comments and additional donations from persons who experience the gift of hospitality and not merely a good meal for a good price.
Our mission, here at Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church is to share Christ with the community and the world by being a center for Christian Worship, education, fellowship, and service. We are a United Methodist Church with an ecumenical outlook, and our planned giving, and our meal ministries help us to maintain this vision. Beloved, this building is a center for worship, education, fellowship and service, but each one of us is called beyond this building. Each one of us is empowered by the same Holy Spirit that empowered Peter, Sarah Crosby, and my friend in Florida. Like these saints, we are called to examine what the Spirit is asking of us. We are called to trust that when God moves us beyond what we plan to give of ourselves, or what we expect to give of ourselves, that greater things that we can imagine will happen, and beloved there is not one person in this room who God and Holy Spirit are not already working in and prompting. May we all have the courage and the strength to follow where God calls us to go. Amen.