Friday, May 23, 2008

Call Sermon

I haven't shared a sermon with you for a while and thought it was high time. Here is the sermon I preached the day I was officially called to the congregations. I am moving this weekend and as soon as the internet is hooked up in the parsonage, I promise I will give a real update. Enjoy!

For decades, Alaska’s commercial fishing industry has been listed as the most dangerous job around. The Alaskan crab season can last anywhere from a couple days to a few weeks, usually during the fall and winter months. It takes place in the Gulf of Alaska where over 200 fishing vessels are docked at Dutch Harbor, ready to set out.

To crab fish, the workers must drop 800 pound steel cages covered in herring meat where they will rest for a couple days. The fishermen then return to each trap where they hope and pray each cage is filled with crab.

The men and women will often work 18-20 hour days, creating intense mental strain and exhaustion. They risk getting caught in the coils or on traps. The winter waters in the Bering Sea can cause hypothermia within seconds and the risk of capsizing is high due to rogue waves.

Those working on the fishing vessel must labor as a team day and night. Each brings their individual gifts to the work, baiting the traps, bringing in the traps, filling the tanks, removing unwanted catches, cooking the meals… They must listen to each other and more importantly their captain. Renegade fishermen often cause disaster either putting them at risk for losing their catch or their lives.

Today we celebrate the Church; it is the day of Pentecost. We remember how upon Jesus’ ascension into Heaven we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of our Trinitarian God’s continued work in the world through the Christian body. It is the Spirit’s working through us, acting as our captain to guide us in the work of the Church.

The word for Spirit in the Greek is pneuma, often translated as wind or breath. It is the word used to describe Jesus breathing the Spirit on the disciples, and it is the same word used to describe God’s act of breathing life into Adam. It is a word that encapsulates life and energy. The Spirit is the life breath of the church, motivating us, comforting us, encouraging us along the way. Like the captain of commercial fishing boat, it is the drive that moves us into action. It is the breath that unifies us to fulfill a common mission.

As with the crew on a fishing boat, we all bring many and varied gifts to the ministry. In fishing, the captain will identify the gifts each individual crew member has and will accordingly assign them to their different tasks. In the body of Christ, the Spirit breathes life into church, offering unique and wonderful gifts for each individual. These are the gifts of the preacher, the teacher, the musician, the sexton, the health care worker, the quilter, the steel worker…. The Spirit has empowered the Christian body with incredible diversity in order to fulfill the mission of sharing the Good News to the world.

They are gifts which come in a variety of ways, some spectacular, demanding our attention, and others more quiet, gradually coming into notice. In crab fishing one is much more apt to notice the intense and dramatic work of the people on deck, bringing in the crab pots and emptying them. The cook downstairs, however, is much less noticeable until everyone becomes hungry and shares in a meal.

This past Friday at the seminary, a class of over 40 students graduated with degrees which will give us some of the tools needed to do the ministries to which we are called. We were told with the degrees in hand, we were now prepared to go out and serve in hospitals, social ministries, as professors, and as pastors. The president of the seminary placed in our hands a beautiful certificate with our names on them, claiming us as bearers of a Master’s of Divinity, ministerial studies, or other such degrees. It was claimed we now have what it takes to do the ministry to which we are so called.

Each of us in this graduating class, are much like the crew members of a fishing vessel. We came from a variety of backgrounds and bring to the ministry a wide variety of gifts. Some will go out to minister in hospitals. Some will go out to combat zones to minster as military chaplains. Some plan to write books or teach. Some hope to work as associate ministers while others feel called to rural ministry. Though we lived together, ate together, and sat day in and day out in classrooms and libraries united as one class…we are now to be scattered throughout the world.

And yet though we are scattered, we are still united as one Christian body. The greatest preparation we received over the last four years together and throughout our lives was not the education or that beautiful, wonderful certificate that was placed in our hands. It was not even the relationships we built with each other over the last four years. Rather, it is the way in which the Holy Spirit, our life breath, has guided us through this journey in ministry, fed us through word, sacrament, and community. It is the way in which the Spirit has gifted us with the tools needed in order to fulfill the calls we have been given.

As the body of Christ, we are all called to be active participants in the Church’s mission. In baptism, we were told to “let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”. Through the water and the Word proclaimed, we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and called to go forth proclaiming the Good News of God’s grace. This light we were called to let shine is the light of Christ and the good works we were called to perform is the work of the Spirit through the gifts we have been given.

This commissioning to be active participants in the Christian body can be laden with fear and anxiety. Much like the disciples in the upper room that evening, we can lock the doors of our hearts and minds for fear of getting hurt. Though we may not fear for our lives as the disciples did, we can often be scared of embarrassment or failure. At times, the gifts the Spirit gives us are not the kinds we would have chosen. We may not want to be the deckhands or the cooks. We may not want to be teachers, preachers, readers, greeters, or ushers. We may not feel we are capable of doing the things to which we are called…and yet the call continues to beckon to us.

Even when we can close the doors of our hearts and minds, Jesus will enter our locked rooms. Not by breaking down the door or picking the lock. Jesus simply will appear, extend his hands, and call out “peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And we are in turn given the gift of the Spirit.

We are not sent out to use the gifts given empty handed. Our loving God knows that without the Holy Spirit, we would all be failures. There is no way our simple human nature could perform such great tasks. And yet with the Holy Spirit, all things are possible.

This is the way in which the Spirit works in all of our lives. We have been given gifts for ministry that are wide and varied. Not all are called to the public forms of ministry such as becoming pastors or diaconal ministers. We are not all called to be organists in the congregation or teachers in the classroom. And yet we are all given the gift of the life breath of the church, our captain, the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that guides us in our call to ministry, uniting us as the Christian body to fulfill the Church’s great mission.

There is no need for us to fear failure, as this is not simply our work. If it were, we would have reason to fear. Yet the great God who appeared in locked rooms, who rose from the dead, and who poured out the Spirit is the same God who will act through each of us to share the Good News to all. Amen.


Sue said...

Good Luck on the move. As always your sermon moves me . . .I am sure that is why God has called you and chosen a flock for you to lead.

Paul & Denise said...

Your sermon reminds me of the hymn "I'll go where you want me to go, Dear Lord." It's not always what we plan (in fact, maybe it's rarely what we plan), but His will is so much better than we could have imagined.

Good luck w/the move and the new responsibilities.