Exodus 19:2-8 St. Matthew 9:35-10:18.
Someone was talking to me about a former pastor and he used the expression, “I think that he was momma called.” At first I didn’t understand what he meant by that but as he went on to tell more of the story I realized that what he meant was, that in his opinion, his pastor was not truly called by God but instead was convinced by his momma to enter the ministry.
While there can be no doubt that folks get through our ordination process in the Anglican Church who are more momma called than they are God called, it is a rigorous process that involves a lot of discernment. The first step is to speak to your priest. Then you meet for a season with a discernment team that the priest has appointed. Their job is to either confirm your internal sense of call or to refute it. The thinking here is that you need a witness to your call. Your inward call needs to confirmed by the outward call of the Church.
If they confirm your call then it is put to a vote by the Vestry. Their recommendation is passed on to the Canon to the Ordinary and meetings are set up with the Bishop. Ultimately the Bishop is the one who invites you into the process and as you get your education you move from aspirant to postulant to candidate to ordinand. You also have to go through a pretty thorough psychological examination. I think that they require this because it helps if you are just a little bit crazy to be a priest. It’s not a perfect system but it is vastly superior to the momma called approach where anyone with a suit and a Bible can start a church.
As you can tell by today’s Gospel lesson the ordination process was much more streamlined with the Apostles. Step one, Jesus calls; step two, they answer. They didn’t need a discernment committee or a Canon or even a Bishop to help them with the process because there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that they were not being momma called. How is that so? Because when God in the flesh tells you to put down your nets and follow Him that is exactly what you do. And in spite of the fact that this calling of the Apostles is unique, there are still some important lessons for us today. There is a pattern here that we need to observe and even apply.
What is the pattern? First, Jesus sees a need. Second, He raises up people to meet that need. Third He gives them authority to do what He has called them to do.
First Jesus sees a need. As He traveled throughout Israel He saw a common theme. It did not matter if they were city folks or country folks, rich or poor, educated or illiterate. He saw folks everywhere that were harassed and helpless and He had compassion on them. They were under Roman occupation. They were being ruled by evil leaders like Herod. Their religious leaders, rather than pointing them to the goodness and grace of God, only added burdens on their backs with their manmade laws and traditions. The hope of a restored Davidic kingdom seemed now like a cruel joke and so folks were wandering through life as aimless as sheep without a shepherd. But rather than being vexed by this problem Jesus saw it as a wonderful opportunity. He proclaimed, “The harvest is plentiful….”
What was His answer? How would He demonstrate His compassion for all of the sheep who were without a shepherd? First He called on the disciples to pray. They were to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.
This call to pray for workers for the harvest makes me think of the shows where a commander is asking the troops lined up to volunteer for a dangerous mission by taking a step forward. When he is not paying attention the line takes a step back leaving one guy looking like he had just volunteered. So right after Jesus tells the disciples to pray for volunteers, Jesus volunteers them.
There is a third step in the pattern. Jesus sees a great need, He calls His disciples to meet that need and then He empowers them to do so. The text says, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and infirmity.” And to deepen their trust in the Lord they were not allowed to take any provisions with them.
Did this pattern work? You know that it did. As we follow the ministry of the Apostles we see the band of 12 spread the Gospel from Egypt to India. As the Roman Empire crumbled around her ears the Bride of Christ grew and spread to every family, language, people and nation. And this from 12 guys that we read about a few weeks ago who were locked in the upper room for fear of the Jewish leaders.
As I said earlier, this calling of the disciples who would become the 12 Apostles is unique. They will form the foundations of the Church and all subsequent work builds upon that foundation. So none of us need to wonder if we are going to be called to be an Apostle. I have met men over the years who claim to be but they don’t pass the smell test. Usually their title of “Apostle” is more a reflection of their egos than of a true calling.
But that said, let’s look again at the pattern. First Jesus saw a great need. How about today? Does Jesus see any needs among the people today? Do we have our acts together or are we just like the people of His day, harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd?
We have the largest prison population of any first world country. I learned recently that our immediate area has a serious problem with sex trafficking because of the convergence of several interstates. Additionally there is an increasing lack of civility on all sides and I doubt that our nation has been as divided as we are now since the Civil War. And I am describing just the tip of the iceberg!
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard folks attribute our personal and societal problems to our increasing rejection of God as a nation. And I agree with them. The more we move God out of our personal lives, the more we move away from civility. People have infinite worth because they are created in the image of God but when you remove God you remove worth and so we treat one another as worthless. As we saw last week, you show up to a practice game and start shooting people with whom you disagree politically.
And let’s be clear. There are no political solutions to the problems we face as a nation. Only a King can heal our problems and that King is Jesus. Even though we are not Apostles still we can carry their message that the kingdom of God is at hand and we can become healers and reconcilers and point the lost sheep to the Good Shepherd. Methodist Bishop Bill McAliliy said, “To be a disciple is not just to be apprenticed to Jesus, but SENT by Jesus. People with a missional mindset think like missionaries. They make the lost more important than the found.” But how do we do that? I don’t think that it is a great mystery.
In his book Ask Me To Dance, Bruce Larson tells of a woman named Maria who came to his church from West Africa. He described her as one of those souls who has an infectious joy. Maria attended a conference on evangelism and throughout the day they spoke of ways to appropriately distribute evangelistic literature ( I assume no Chick Tracts). Toward the end of the day they asked how they went about doing evangelism in Maria’s country. Maria apologetically said that they did not have the money to distribute books and pamplets. She said, “We just sent one or two Christian families to live in a village. And when people see what Christians are like they want to be Christians themselves.” I’ll pause right here for a moment while we all come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
Our entire faith is built around the Incarnation; that God became flesh and dwelt among us. So it only makes sense that the best way to spread our faith is through flesh and blood people. We are to be the kingdom of priests that Moses spoke about in Exodus. We are His Body on earth and it is our calling to bring others into His Body. Again, we may not have the authority of the 12 Apostles, but we can expect Jesus to back us up and to bless our efforts as we are sent out in His Name.
Most of you know that my wife Beth works for the State of Tennessee. She has changed jobs within her department in the last year but when she worked downtown Nashville she had the responsibility of overseeing 400 people in 12 counties. Having this kind of authority meant that she had to be very careful about mixing church and state. But when she needed to speak out as a Christian she did so and God backed her up. He gave her a lot of favor with her coworkers and they would come to her for spiritual as well as professional advice. She influenced them to read their Bibles, to pray and even to tithe. None of them became Anglicans that I am aware of but that was not the point. We are to proclaim that the kingdom, not Anglicanism, is at hand. What really tickled me was that on occasion I would get a call and be put on speakerphone to answer the theological questions of her coworkers. They didn’t know me from Adam but because they trusted Beth they trusted me. That is the kind of favor the Lord granted her.
I truly believe that if we will step out in faith and become a worker in the harvest that God will give us the same kind of favor that Beth experienced. Will we experience rejection? Did Jesus? As He says a few verses later than we read today, “A disciple is not above his teacher nor a servant above his master.” So just as they did with Jesus and just as they did with the Apostles, some will accept you and some will reject you as a bearer of the good news. Don’t let that stop you. If they reject you move on to the next “city.” You may have planted some seeds, you may have watered what is already planted there but you can rest in the promise that the Word of God never returns void but always accomplishes that for which the Lord intended.
The healthiest churches are the ones where everyone sees themselves as ambassadors for Christ. Where members are willing to take risks, even the risk of rejection, to see someone find the grace and forgiveness of God. The offertory sentence in the 1928 liturgy is such a great reminder of our calling. “Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” When you hear those words you are not being momma called, you are being God called. The question before each of us is; will we answer His call? Amen.