8-2-16 INTO THE MINISTRY
I completed this sermon as an assignment for Licensing School in Springfield; and it is directed at the students, like myself, completing the final step of training to become Licensed Local pastors.
"This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24), even if we are preaching a sermon for a grade... or we are having to listen to, and grade, yet another sermon today!
As you all know, after we filled in our name on the wall chart with the date and time we would give our sermons, Dr. White gave us a gospel reading for a specific date in the lectionary. He then also gave us the option to base our sermon on one of the other readings for that date. So I looked up the gospel reading I was given, which is Luke 18:1-8. A good passage, I thought, about being persistent in our prayers, and never losing heart. This would be great for all of these students who are praying to graduate from licensing school, as well as one that I could later easily preach to my congregation. But the Holy Spirit within me said that this wasn't the verses I should preach on. So I looked up what the epistle reading for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost will be, and it is 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. First I read the verses in chapter 3, which say, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." And I paused there and thought, 'this too would make excellent sermon material'! But again, the Spirit said "Keep reading¦". So I read the first 5 verses of chapter 4, and they say, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage; with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." After I read that, I was not the least bit surprised when the Spirit indeed said, "Yes, these are the verses that you are to base your sermon upon." I truly felt in my heart that this passage spoke an important message to our class.
Why? Because Paul wrote those verses to a rather young candidate for the ministry, like some of you: Brennan, Cameron aka Danger is my middle name, Jesse... and of course all of the ladies, since the oldest of us is only 29, right ladies? (That's called "diplomatic grace"). Earlier in 1 Timothy Paul said to him, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young", just as the Lord said to Jeremiah, "Do not say ˜I am too young', but you must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you". However, Paul's words apply to anyone who is about to go into the ministry, no matter their age, because whether you are a Timothy, or a Peter, or the woman at the well, you all have been issued the same charge to preach the Word. And what did Paul say next? Did he say you can preach a well-researched, thought out, prayed about, Spirit-directed sermon when you expect the pews to be full; but on an 'off' Sunday you don't need to put in near as much effort? Or did he say be prepared in season - and out of season? Did Paul say we are just supposed to preach about how God wants to bless us, because that's what the people want to hear, and that will fill the pews - and the offering plates? Or did Paul say we are to not only encourage - but also to correct and rebuke with great patience and careful instruction? Yes, he warned us that people don't necessarily want to hear the truth, even though that is what God's Word is, and what we are called to preach. And they might insist that if you do have to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth - which you do if you truly are answering God's call - then they will at least expect a good heaping helping of sugar-coating on that truth. That does seem to be the accepted style these days, just as Paul warned that it would be. With all of the sugar-coating on Biblical doctrine going around lately, it is a wonder the entire Christian community isn't suffering from spiritual diabetes! But I encourage you to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit as you prepare your sermons each week, as you answer that question about doctrine that a parishioner asks you, or you minister to that couple that asks you if their life choices are blessed by God. Don't fall into the devil's trap and think you are doing the church a favor by watering down the message. Don't tell someone they are going to be blessed by God, when you know in your heart that they are going down the wrong path. Don't be afraid to use words like sin and repentance, to point them to Jesus and their need for Him - not just for whatever blessings they are looking for in this life, but for eternal salvation.
Paul told Timothy going into the ministry wouldn't be a walk in the park. He told him he needed to keep his head in all situations. He warned him he would endure hardship, even that of licensing school. He told him he might not be appointed to a full-time church with a parsonage and a pension plan and a congregation of 750 members or more. And he might not always have a worship leader, church secretary, and numerous committees to help him with all of his duties. There could be times the head of the PPRC will confront him and ask him to conform to the church's wishes even if they are definitely not in line with God's Word and the Holy Spirit's leading, or (Lord have mercy) the Book of Discipline. He might even lose some members and feel as if he failed, and question if he did the right thing by ministering as God requires him to. But he must be prepared for any of this - and more. And he must be willing to pay the price, as Chuck preached in his sermon. And so, must all of you, and so must I. Plus keep in mind that this is just within the church! We are also called to go out int the world, and during Kevin's Bible study this morning on John 15, we were reminded that the world will not merely dislike us, but hate us, because it first hated Jesus. With all of the terrorism in the world today, a church that preaches the Gospel boldly, and is out making disciples for Christ for the transformation of the world, might as well paint a bullseye on their roof. Are you strong enough to live with that?
Jesus himself said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62). And so I ask you, are you prepared no matter where God leads you from here? I pray that you are. May the Lord go with you, guide you, protect you, and keep you strong in the faith, and in your fight for the faith. And when the day comes that you stand before Jesus, may you be filled with joy at hearing him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant".