Committed to Christ: Service; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; October 17, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
It’s been an interesting season in my life these past couple of months as I’ve done sermon planning to the end of the year. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to share with you: you will be the last community where I will serve as pastor, and I want to share with you what’s in my heart and mind.
I’ve been told not to totally remove the possibility of serving in retirement out of the realm of possibilities. That is not my intention though I know it’s at least a remote possibility. Case in point, Bill Hemmig preaching at Hamlet these past several weeks, and my hubby at Harlan. Scott always enjoyed preaching but said he was done with that unless I needed him because of getting sick at the last minute or whatever, but when asked by the Superintendent to fill in, he said yes pretty quickly when I said it was fine with me. So there he is, spending Sunday mornings with some good people in East Allen County.
But I’ve heard the question asked—what if you had one sermon to preach—what would it be? Luckily enough, the plan is that I have about 10 more, so I do have to prioritize, but I don’t have to whittle down all I want and hope to say into one last sermon.
So this 6 week series that we’re concluding today based on the Spiritual Disciplines was very intentional. These practices that we’ve spoken about are basics and essential to our faith individually and in our life together. We are the best we can be when we’re a people who pray, who read our scripture, who worship together, who witness, who give and who serve. These are essential practices. You know how to do these things, and many of you have been deeply engaged in these practices for many years. But I wanted to talk about them, to focus on them, and to lift up their significance again. Because I know, as you and I engage in these practices in a committed way that we will be strong, we will accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished in the days ahead, and God’s will WILL be done. This I believe. In this I am certain.
As I shared last week, these final 2 disciplines of Giving and Serving are the most tangible ones. I guess that worship attendance is tangible, too—you know your frequency in worship and how your presence—whether you attend online or in person impacts your life and faith. But, since Covid began we haven’t been taking attendance, and though we have a number of faithful people who check in online and say, “Howdy, we’re here!” not everyone does. We’ve picked up some members to the congregation who we really aren’t certain where they live or how they found us. We’re glad to have them with us and are thankful for their “presence” in whatever way that’s possible.
Still, our financial giving and our serving are two very measurable Spiritual Disciplines. When it comes to giving, we actually make a request for you to make an estimate of giving: the one we asked you to prayerfully consider last week is for the calendar year 2022. We do that—every year—so we can plan ahead as much as possible. In a lot of ways we know how much it costs to financially support our ministries—which includes our building, our staff, our programming and outreach, so it gives us an idea about the decisions we need to make about next year.
But as I shared last week, giving is important for us in ways beyond intentionally supporting the ministries of our congregation. Giving is about who we are as disciples and about our need to give. About offering our best to God and being a part of what God is doing. Scott and I have already begun to talk about the ministries that we look forward to being a part of in the next chapter and before we find a new congregation to join. We really don’t know where that will be. But that is important to us, as will our giving when we settle in somewhere.
Serving, I believe, is as essential to our life as Christians as is giving. It is central to who we are: the blood that flows through our veins, providing oxygen and life. As I read through the surveys that 47 of our congregation completed a couple of months ago, I was sad to read that a full third of the respondents said “Yes, I serve, but only when I’m directly asked.” I thought, oh, my! I have known my whole ministry that the most effective way of receiving a response is to directly ask a person to do a specific task, and yet—how can I know everything that is in your heart and mind? How can I know what deep down inside you would really like to do? I don’t always want to assume that the teacher wants to teach, or the elementary school teacher would love to be involved in children’s ministries. Maybe they’re great at that sort of thing, but maybe they’d find joy in ministry with the poor, or on an administrative team! Or maybe the business person would LOVE to deal with something besides the finance and budget they deal with every day at work—like go on a mission trip or rock an infant! I’m not a clairvoyant! I can’t guess that!!
So, my request after reading these surveys is that you’ll look at the surveys that we’re distributing today and select a place where you’d like to serve without expecting a small group of people in the church who don’t know you as well as YOU know you to guess what you might like to do.
Please. We’ll talk about that more in a bit.
The fact of the matter is that we’re each called to serve. As Christians, we have each been given gifts of the Spirit that are intended—not for our own pleasure and personal gratification—but for building up the Body of Christ. They are given to EACH of us BY the Spirit to make the Church of Jesus Christ BETTER. STRONGER. More EFFECTIVE. More FAITHFUL.
We are each needed.
In this text that we read this morning from 1st Corinthians, Paul has written the letter to a Church filled with dissention. They’re new, they’re young as the church goes (we think it’s hard to be a 100 year old church in a nation where Christianity has existed since our beginnings, and yet can you imagine being a part of church where following Jesus is a completely new thing?) Paul wants them to know that their gifts come from God, and not as a reward of their own goodness or faithfulness; that each of the gifts are valuable, not one more valuable than the other.
We might re-interpret that for our setting: Well, I haven’t been asked to be on Staff Parish or Finance (or whatever) so I must not be very highly valued, OR—I HAVE been asked to be one of these things, so (gosh, I wish they passed out a little marshal badge when I said yes, wouldn’t that be cool?). But I have been asked to serve with children. How important is that job? (Oh, my gosh, don’t even ask that question: what an honor to be a part of raising our youngest members in the faith and showing them the joy of what it means to be a Christian!!)
ALL OF THE THINGS WE DO IN OUR MINISTRY TOGETHER IS IMPORTANT. I’m thankful for those who are willing to figure out what needs to be done with our building so it can once again be the toolbox that it has been for years, where we can gather and worship and learn and be sent out into the world again to fulfill our mission. I’m thankful for those who have the gifts of speaking and music so that you can all sing louder than me and I can sing out without having to hear my own voice because I’m pretty convinced that God smiles even when what comes out of my mouth is pretty limited in its gloriousness.
The Holy Spirit has given you gifts—YES YOU! And calls you to use those gifts. So the Church of Jesus Christ can do all the Church of Jesus Christ is called to do. Christ works through you. Through me. Through all of us together.
I know. It can be tempting to sit back. To wait: let somebody else do it.
Some years ago, we had a potter on stage at Annual Conference. The potter was actually throwing the clay on a potter’s wheel during each of the administrative sessions. It was easy to turn our eyes to him while we were talking about the Annual Conference budget. Or the Trustees report. We’d watch him work. We watched him form the clay into something we began to recognize. Sometimes he’d take it off the wheel and smash it back down and start again. Sometimes he’d lift it up and we’d look at it and wonder at what he’d made. We watched. To see what he was doing.
Sometimes that’s how we see the church. We can see the church…this church…as a place where we watch other people do what needs to be done.
We see the pastor…our staff…the heads of our committees and “super” lay people who seem to be everywhere at once…in the role of the potter on the stage.
Handling the clay.
Spinning the wheel
Working hard to shape the clay…the ministries…the programs…so they’re beautiful and just right.
We come into the sanctuary or we visit our website or we talk with friends and we try to decide whether the potters—the “experts” at church…are doing a good job. Getting things shaped in a way that pleases us.
Are the biblical messages on Sunday relevant and entertaining? (You know, a good balance).
Is the youth ministry thriving?
What are we doing about getting people back?!
What about the small groups and Sunday school classes?
What about the website? When’s the choir coming back? What about the sick? Those in the nursing homes or other care facilities?
Are the expert potters reaching out to people who haven’t been around for a while, letting them know they’re missed, asking what the church/(what they—the expert potters) can do to help?
The lights above the stage shine down and the floodlights from the back of the room light up the scene. We sit in our pew and watch the potters: the pastor, the staff, the really active lay people who are seen as “Spiritual Marines” working away.
We sit back.
Is it good enough?
The amazing thing about the God we serve as that we’re ALL invited to be a part of what God is doing. Jesus showed us that as he called and shaped his followers into disciples. He continues to call and shape us today, to mold us like clay into a people who love and serve Jesus, and in turn, love and serve others.
I’ve given you more than you want to deal with this morning when it comes to “stuff.” We’ve passed out descriptions of the active committees and ministry teams of our church so you can have a pretty good idea of what each of our ministry groups do. You’ll only need one of those per family, though if you have a partner who’s not so good at sharing, you’re welcome to each have one. There’s another sheet that has Time and Talents written at the top. I want you to take all of those papers home and spend some time with them. Where would you like to serve? I’ve been very specific about how many we need in each of the groups. There are several that say however many wants to be on this team are welcome to be a part of the party, and there are others that only have a couple of openings right now. Those numbers are determined by our Discipline. But even if you want to serve on one of those teams, please indicate on the sheet so we can have that interest when a vacancy does open. You’ll also notice there are a couple of teams where membership is required, and where the fact that you give to the church is important. That’s particular to ministry teams that determine finance and budget. It’s not about the amount someone gives, it’s about having skin in the game. If you’re going to help make decisions about budget then you need to be a part of creating what’s in that budget.
Maybe you’re ready to fill out your Time and Talent form and that’s fine, too. And maybe you’ve brought back your Financial giving commitment card that you took home last week. In a minute Tom/Kay will play and you’re welcome to bring whatever you’ve brought forward. In addition, I’d like you to take an apron when you come forward. The colors have no particular meaning, I just thought I’d offer you a choice. And it’s not an amazing apron that will protect you from every grease splatter that your bacon will create, but you’ll find a purpose for it, I think. The most important purpose that I offer is this: the apron is a reminder that we are a people who serve. We don’t wear bibs asking everyone else to take care of what needs to be done, to feed us—but we serve. We serve God and we serve one another.
We do it because we’re committed to Christ and we want to be his hands and his feet in our community and our world.