When God Calls the Ordinary (Sunday July 8, 2018)
Amos 1: 1; 7: 12-15
When God Calls the Ordinary
We don’t often preach from the book of Amos, and I understand why. The book of Amos is extremely difficult to get through, especially in an affluent country like the United States. But I also lament that we don’t do more in the book of Amos because it is such a rich source of inspiration. One of the centerpieces, to me, of Amos‘s story is the idea that Amos is not really a prophet. He is prophetic, but not a prophet. He is really, in essence, “among the shepherds of Tekoa…a herdsman, a dresser of sycamore trees.”
Amos is a farm boy. And what’s most striking to me about Amos is that after the book is over, a rather abrupt ending, it’s kind of implied that he goes back to being a farm boy; one of the shepherds in the fields. There is some parallel to David being called out of the herds to go into be a leader to the people of Israel, but David never goes back to the sheep. Amos seems to.
It’s because of that I think Amos is extremely close to the way that God calls laity in our church. Amos was not me; he wasn’t the trained clergy, he wasn’t the one who spent years in seminary, he wasn’t the priest, he didn’t work at the temple, he wasn’t “a prophet’s son.” Instead he was ordinary. Yet God had called him, an ordinary shepherd, to preach. Amos says, “The Lord took me from following the flock and… said to me ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Like a Mary, like a Joseph, Amos was an ordinary lay person trying to answer the call of God.
In the United Methodist Church, we believe in lay ministry. The church in the United States was built upon lay ministry. Part of the reason that we focus on the ministry of the laity so much is recognition that God often uses lay messengers; especially when like Amaziah, the clergy have lost their way. Right before what was readAmaziahsays that Amos can “go, and he can prophesy, just don’t prophesy here in Bethel. Because Bethel is the King’s sanctuary, this is the temple of the nation, so don’t prophesy against the nation here. Go back home and do that.” Because Bethel is the King’s sanctuary.
But Bethel literally means “house of God.” Bethel was the location that Israel, as an idea, as a thing was born. It was the place where Jacob wrestled with God and was named Israel. And because he wrestled with God there he named it the House of God. And here, the clergy says, “no, this is not the house of God, this is the house of the King.” When the clergy has lost their way, God brings up laity from among the shepherds to preach.
The trick is I’m not sure we always are looking for whether God is calling us. That’s what I want to talk about: how you might look for a call from God, and then I’m going to discuss ways in which you answer a call from God in the United Methodist Church as a lay person. But first, I want to talk about just simply finding that call. To find the call of God, you must search for the call of God and expect that God will call you in some way. In a couple weeks we will look at the call of every Christian overall; the thing that all of us are called to do; but you must be looking and thinking that God is going to call you in some fashion first. One way you could look for that is to meditate on or study the scriptural stories of calling. If you want to know these, there is a long list of those on the Great Plains Conference website under “discerning a call.” Sufficient to stay there at the beginning’s of most of the prophet books, and of course the calling of the Apostles. But meditating on those calls stories is a good place to start
Really doing any sort of spiritual practice is a good place to start. I know I do harp on that a lot, but it’s true. Do a spiritual practice in an expectation that God will indeed lead you through that practice either indirectly or directly. For instance, when I was looking at my call, God was leading me in the direction of pastor. One of the ways God led me was when I began to plan out my future at the end of high school, the beginning of college. At that time, every time I got past college in planning, where I was going to be teaching, there was a nudge inside of me that said, “don’t get too far ahead of yourself. I have a plan for you that doesn’t quite involve that.” That was indirect action by God. Direct action; that was when I missed out on getting any job offer in the summer after I graduated college, and then in September right after school started, I was offered a preaching position that I would not have been able to take if I have been teaching. That was direct action. God was answering my searching both ways.
Lastly when you’re looking for a call, don’t box yourself in; allow God freedom of motion to what God is calling you to do. Your call could mean a change in occupation, but we believe that God calls us to follow within many occupations; and your call might not involve a significant change for you. It might be a short calling, like Amos, and it might be within your current occupation. It might not involve an occupation at all, but rather how you’re serving in the church on Sunday morning. Be open-minded, God might be calling you.
All right. So in the united Methodist Church there are many ways for a layperson to live out a call. I’m going to list these from the least involved to the most, but we don’t view them as less important or more important.
First off, we have volunteer ministry. This is where most of our laity are involved. Many churches have volunteers that will go out in the visit shut-ins, or they go out to visit the sick and the hospitalized. This is especially in the larger churches where they’ve developed teams of laity to do this. I would admit that in this charge I can get everyone 99% of the time, because were kind of a small charge, however if you feel that God is calling you to this it may mean that you have gifts and graces that are going to be needed, and I will gladly train you to help in this way if you feel called this way.
However volunteer ministry includes other things. It includes those who are working with our children; working in leadership roles within the church, such as lay leader; the ones were planning things for our future. Volunteer ministry might include someone like the secretary in Spring Hill, Jennifer. I know she gets paid, but that is her ministry: to help to the church, and that is also an answering a call. I believe those who might help us with our planning for the future and those who might help us to try and re-launch Sunday school next fall. All these are engaging in a volunteer style of ministry. This ministry does not require you to quit your day job; to engage in this calling you don’t quit, rather you simply follow the calling where you already are through the means you already have. You do what you are already doing; you just try and serve that little bit more.
If, though, you believe that God is calling you to spend more time in that kind of ministry, then we have official offices for that called Deaconess and Home Minister (Deacon was already taken by clergy. Why didn’t they just call both male and female home ministers? I don’t know, but that’s a different sermon). These people go through additional training and they are certified in order to go into a full-time position that helps to alleviate suffering, that eradicates causes of injustice that robs life is dignity and worth, that facilitate the development of all human potential, and that share in a building a viable community through the church universal. These people are laity that are expected to work somewhere that does all of that.
Now, if deacons, the clergy ones, who are also expected to find a position that serves justice in the world in similar ways, if the leniency shown in that definition there extends to home ministers, then that’s pretty lenient as well. But these people here would be expected to engage in a full-time position that fits that description. So if your current job does not fit that description, then you would be expected to change occupation here. This is that next level of commitment, where if you feel that God is really calling you to do this full-time there are ways in which we can help with answering that call, and giving you that certification that that might help you land the job if you wanted.
Laity are not just called to help out outside of the church walls though, there are ways in which laity are called to help out inside the church walls. One of the main ways that is done is through the position of lay speaker. These are people who have gone through training. If you go through one training, then you may speak in your congregation; if you go through two or three trainings, you may speak in any Methodist congregation. Laity train in order to lead worship when the pastor is gone. This is our bullpen right now; but it promises to be even more important as we move forward. But their primary job is indeed to lead worship when the pastor is away.
Lay speakers are extremely important for many reasons. I remember just two Decembers ago now I was getting ready to take my dog to the vet on Saturday night, and she got out on the highway, and I ran after her, and I tripped and I fell and I broke my arm. I spent Saturday night in the hospital and spent Sunday morning under sedation in order to have people fix my arm. I was not leading worship. On Saturday night I called my lay speaker they led worship. Even though the pastor was out we still had worship. I think this is vital that any church is not so dependent upon their pastor that if the pastor is sick one morning, or the pastor has a broken arm one morning, Church can’t go on. Church is supposed to be a community; we must be able to go on. And lay speakers help us to do that.
But lay speakers are also important because they often come from a very different backgrounds and clergy. At the very least they have a different educational background. When a lay speaker gets up and speaks three or four times a year, maybe even if just once a year, it can provide a very much-needed change of perspective and a different kind of message; the way the testimonials work so many places. Lay speakers are extremely valuable. If you think God is calling you to this position, then let’s talk and I’ll get you hooked up with the training that is necessary.
But for some people lay speaking is not enough to fulfill the calling that God has for them, and they go through even more training in order to try and become a certified lay minister. In a similar way to the volunteer ministry vs. home ministers, lay speakers would not be quitting your day job but a certified lay minister absolutely would. This is because a certified lay minister is opening themselves up to be hired; appointed is not the right word; to be hired to lead a church similar to a pastor. Laity in this role are now leading many of our smaller churches.
This is not always full time, and sometimes you do have a second or third job, but certified lay ministers are leading churches in Kansas and Nebraska. Now, they’re not assigned by the bishop, but kind of hired by the conference to fill a need, and so you have the opportunity to say, “I’m not moving.” That’s one of the big differences between this position and clergy in our church, but this is absolutely something that is happening more and more in our conference as we don’t even have enough certified lay ministers to fill all the extra pulpits. In fact, the bishop is trying in some small rural congregations to use a combination of lay speakers leading worship and volunteer lay team doing the other portions of pastor work in a kind of completely lay led church.
We need laity. We need you all to do what God is calling you to do. This week, I want you to engage in a practice that was described earlier in order to search for that calling. During this next few weeks listen for God. And then we’ll answer together what God wants us to do. If God is calling you to something that looks like anything I’ve described here today, I want you to come see me at some point, or give me a call or an email, and will help get you started down the road of being able to fulfill that calling. If not, come back the next couple weeks as we explore a call into ordained ministry, and the calling of all Christians in the world. May God bless us in our search. Amen.