I recorded the intro to my podcast last night and edited it and then never uploaded it and there is a part of me that wants to re-record the intro (because I say, “It’s Monday, January 22nd” and now it’s Tuesday), but there is a bigger part of me that is just going to go with it because imperfection is a sign of grace, bible study starts in 30 minutes and I love Harrison squealing at the end of the intro I recorded last night.
So I’m going to go with it!
Here is my sermon from Sunday. I preached on the call of the disciples, quoted the village people and shared some of my struggles as of late. Enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
January 21, 2018
This Is Not About Us
Sometimes I find it harder to preach on the more familiar and well-known stories in the bible than I do the obscure ones. This story – Jesus calling his disciples – is one that basically shows up in the lectionary every year. In fact, we looked at a different iteration of this story last week in the Gospel of John when Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael. My Tuesday morning bible study is also familiar with this particular story; we are currently studying the Gospel of Matthew, which also tells this same story where Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John.
Suffice is to say, this idea of leaving behind my life to follow Jesus has been on my mind a lot lately. And this is an easy one, right? Jesus calls the men to be his disciples; they leave what they are doing and follow him. How hard could that be? You fish for fish and Jesus teaches you how to fish for people! It seems fairly straightforward and what this whole proclaiming to be Christian and coming to church thing is all about in the first place.
And yet, lately I am realizing that – like with many parts of our faith – this is so much easier said than done. Truth be told, this is kind of hard for me. Because to truly drop what you are doing and follow Christ means letting go of a certain amount of control and letting God lead you on your journey, even if you do not know what the journey is going to look like.
And, personally, I like the security that comes from knowing what is coming next; I like having control.
I know you are all shocked to hear that.
Which is why the past couple of months at the church – as we once again found ourselves without a settled Music Director (particularly in those few weeks before Aaron came back to help us out) – have been somewhat challenging for me.
For what it’s worth, I will say that from the moment this transition started, I knew I was going to learn something from the experience. I cannot explain it other than to say, I felt like God was up to something.
So I went with it.
But only sort of.
Confession time: Even though I truly believed God was going to teach me something through this transition and I trusted God to carry us through and bring us where we needed to be, I immediately jumped into an over functioning mode where I scurried around behind the scenes to make it look like I had everything under control. I did not want worship to be interrupted by the fact that we did not have a settled Music Director; in fact, I almost wanted to prove that we did not need one. We are talented, I thought to myself! We can do this! We have everything and everyone we need, right here in our congregation, to create beautiful music. And so I worked with the Music Committee and the choir and organized solos, duets, combos, etc. Every week someone stepped up and shared their musical gifts with us.
And here’s the thing: If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing; because, for the past three months, we have had the most beautiful and uplifting music in worship. And even as we move forward and hire a new Music Director, I hope this special music in worship continues; because it really has touched my heart and I know it has touched a lot of yours. I always say worship needs to be relevant, meaningful and accessible to all. Everyone who has sung or played or performed in some way over the past three months really has helped make that happen; and for that I am very grateful.
So, thank you.
That being said, I did learn something from this experience, but, of course, not exactly in the way I expected.
When I was planning for Advent, one of the dates I completely fixated on was December 17th, because that is the Sunday we had originally scheduled our Christmas Cantata, which – understandably – we had to cancel. But I so desperately wanted the music to be really, really good that Sunday, because I felt like you all deserved to have a great musical Sunday during Advent.
And so I made it my personal mission to make sure that happened. I called Mary Bee to come sing, I had Brandon come in with his drums, Dan played the bass, Aaron went above and beyond that week to find music and rehearse and that Sunday morning I was PYSCHED; because I knew the music was going to be good.
Which, by the way, it was.
I was wound up – giddy, almost – because I knew it was going to be good and I knew it was going to make people happy and there was a part of me that was just feeling a little prideful about the whole thing. Because we had done it; we had held it together. In the words of the (church in the) village people, “You can’t stop the music! Nobody can stop the music!”
However, as I was robing up that morning, I looked in the mirror and heard God say to me:
Sarah, this isn’t about you.
Now, for the record, I did not hear a booming voice or anything.
But the message was clear.
This was not about me. And even more than that, this was not about the church. This was – and is – about God. We gather here to give glory to God; through this church, we enact our faith and try to do what God is calling us to do. It is here that we respond to the call to drop our fishing nets and follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is not about our (okay, my) pride. This is not about having control. This is not about needing to prove anything to anyone. This is not about doing things the way they always have been done. This is not about making changes because it is the trendy thing to do. This is about listening to God speak to us, calling us to be disciples of Jesus Christ, here at this church, within our community, in our lifetime.
To be clear: It is okay that I wanted to hear and create beautiful music in worship. But it kind of comes back to the why, right? We should want incredible music so that we can enhance our worship and allow everyone to connect with God; not so it would look like I had everything under control.
In fact, everything we do at this church should circle back to giving glory to God; we should constantly be asking ourselves the question, how do our worship services, programs, community events, etc. connect us to God and point us back to the Gospel?
Which begs the question: Why do you do the things that you do? In life, in work, in your relationships, with money, as you parent, when you interact with people – why do you do what you do? Does it come from a place of pride? A need to control? To please people? Because it is the way it has always been done? Because it makes life easier?
Or do you do these things because you believe they are what God is calling you to do? Because you believe they somehow point you back to the path Jesus is leading you on?
Very often the lives we want to lead – the lives the world encourages us to lead, the lives that are comfortable – are not the same lives God calls us to live. Our plans are not always God’s plans.
And I really do feel that this scripture – the call of these four disciples to follow Jesus – boldly calls us to look at our needs, our wants and our desires with what God needs us to do, with what God wants us to do and with what God’s desires for us.
First and foremost, this – being church – is about following Jesus. It is about displaying a level of commitment as deep as the one demonstrated when hardworking fishermen dropped their nets and abandoned their boats – their livelihood – and followed a man on faith. It is not about us. It is not about us having control or looking perfect or getting our way or doing things the way we want to do them. This is about following Jesus.
Now I joke about my control issues – and they are, for the most part, pretty comical – but I do think they are an example of real issues many of us share when we get caught up in the human world we are living in and we lose sight of the grace God is calling us into.
This is not easy, because it requires something of us; it requires a lot of us, actually. These men not only left their jobs, but also the people that they knew and loved. James and John left their father in the boat and all of the men who worked for them.
But it was not about them; it was about following Jesus.
It is not about us. The way we live our lives, the way we govern this church, the way we care for one another – this is not about us, it is about following Jesus. And I truly believe that if we focus on that – on following the Gospel and listening to God speaking to us today – everything else will just fall into place.
Perhaps through this story we are not called to literally leave our lives and follow Christ, but rather we are called to leave the parts of our lives that draw us away from God and closer to our earthly desires. This story points us back to Jesus; it reminds us that, as Christians, we are called to follow him and try to emulate our lives based on the Gospel.
And I think if we do these things, we will be amazed at how everything just kind of falls into place.
So as you leave worship today and enter back into the busyness of your week tomorrow, I would encourage you to stop for a moment; look at your reflection in the mirror and remind yourself, hey this is not about me, this is about God. Think about why you do the things that you do. Point those things back to God. And see what nets you might drop, what boats you might abandon, what people you might leave behind as you follow Christ and spread the Good News of God’s love in this world.
As it turns out, this easy and straightforward story from the Gospel of Mark – that, in one way or another, I preach on every year – kind of called me to task. But I do think if we all take this message to heart and boldly apply this sense of call to our lives, we will – like Jesus says when he comes into Galilee – believe in the good news.
Thanks be to God!