A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Easter + May 13, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Seventh Sunday of Easter + Year B
First Lesson: Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
Second Lesson: 1 John 5:9-13
Gospel: John 17:6-9

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

32332166_1732015776889671_4793583441100668928_nWhen I was a child, I never dreamed that I would one day be a priest in the Episcopal Church. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know the word “Episcopal” existed until I was a junior at Auburn.

I went to school to study music education with the hope that I would one day get a great job teaching choral music to high school students and enjoy a long career as a choir director. When I made the decision to study music in college, I felt sure that it was the right path for me to take. Music had been such an important part of my life in junior high and high school, and being a choir director was something I knew I could do well, something I knew I would enjoy doing. 

So, I worked hard and eventually graduated with my bachelor’s degree in music education. I began teaching at a high school in Savannah, Georgia, and for the most part, it was great! After years of hard work, I was finally getting the chance to do the work that I felt called to do. But, something happened during my first year of teaching. I began to ask myself some surprising questions. “Is this really what God has in mind for my life?” “Am I really being called to be a music teacher?” “What if God is calling me to be a priest?” “A priest! How ridiculous!” I thought. “I’m still a freshly-confirmed Episcopalian! There’s no way that God could be calling me to be a priest.” So, I quickly dismissed the idea and continued my careers as a teacher, but those thoughts, those questions, never completely left my mind.

About two years later, as I was teaching music at a high school in Alabama, I was finally able to tell someone about these thoughts. I was finally able to say out loud, “I think that God may be calling me to be a priest.” I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced such a weight lifted from my shoulders as I did in that moment. It felt as if I was finally able to pass through this door that God had prepared especially for me, a door that God was waiting for me to walk through.

The Church has a name for the process that someone goes through when he or she is feeling a call to ordained ministry. It’s the same process that I went through after I was finally able to admit to myself and to others that I felt called to be a priest. We call it the discernment process, which is an appropriate name but also a little misleading because discernment is actually something that all of us are called to do as followers of Jesus. It isn’t only for those who are called to serve as a deacon or a priest.

All of us are called to ministry, and discernment is a way for us to intentionally and prayerfully seek to discover how God is calling us to use the gifts that we’ve been given in the building up of God’s Kingdom. It’s a way for us to remain open to the Holy Spirit, the breath of God, which moves in us, and through us, and around us. Discernment implies that we’re going to carefully consider what it is that God is calling us to do, and thankfully, we never have to go through this process alone. We have the community of believers and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us through it.

Our lesson today from the Acts of the Apostles is all about discernment and the willingness to remain open to the movement of Holy Spirit. Soon after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, Peter gathers with a crowd of believers in Jerusalem and says to them that a new apostle must be called to replace Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. The crowd proposes two candidates, “Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.” We don’t know very much about either of these men, but we do know that both of them were with Jesus during his entire ministry, beginning with his baptism at the Jordan River and ending with his ascension. Beyond that, the only thing that we know for sure is that Matthias was the one who was chosen to replace Judas as the twelfth apostle. There’s no other mention of either of these men anywhere in scripture.

What I love most about this passage from the Book of Acts is that it helps provide for us a foundation of prayer in our journeys of faith. In the story, before Matthias is chosen, Peter and the crowd offer a prayer to God, saying, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” The disciples recognize that a decision this important must involve prayer and the guidance of the Spirit. They believe with all their heart that God has a plan, and they want to be a part of making God’s plan a reality. This is what discernment is all about. It’s about putting aside our own selfish ways and being completely open to what God has in store for us. It’s about trusting that God’s greatest desire is for us to have full and joyful lives but also realizing that God’s call may not always align with our own desires. Frederick Buechner once wrote, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” My friends, this is the place where God call us to dwell, at the intersection of our “deep gladness” and the “world’s deep need.” But, in order to discover that place, we have to discern. We have to pray and remain open to the fact that the Holy Spirit may lead us to places beyond our understanding or imagining.

Think about Matthias, one of many, who was eventually lifted up among his friends and called to become one of the twelve apostles. It’s hard for me to imagine that he ever thought he would be called to fill such a role. But, he was, and he did.

Now think about the other man, Joseph called Barsabbas, the one who wasn’t chosen. It’s hard for me to believe that he wasn’t at least a little disappointed when he wasn’t the one called to fill the empty seat, but don’t think for a moment that he wasn’t called to serve. He was called. Just like all of us, he was called to serve Christ in a particular way. It might not have been as an apostle, but he was called. We have no way of knowing for sure, but I like to think that he eventually discovered God’s desire for his life, the place where his “deep gladness” met the “world’s deep need.”

There will be moments in our lives when it seems like we have no idea where God is calling us to go. There will be moments when things seem to come together as they should, like Matthias who was called to become the twelfth apostle, and there will most definitely be moments of disappointment and frustration. But, through it all, we have peace in the knowledge that God will never abandon us to figure things out on our own. We have peace in the knowledge that God has a plan for our lives if we’ll only stop to discern- to pray and listen for God’s voice.

I have a prayer that I often go to in moments of uncertainty, a prayer that brings me comfort in knowing that God is ever-present, even when we feel lost or confused, a prayer by Thomas Merton.

Let us pray:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen.

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