|photo by waterboard / flickr|
(I preached this sermon at the Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, South Carolina December 31. They will welcome a new Pastor next Sunday.)
I had thought about using that wonderful text in II Kings. The prophet Elisha was walking down the road one day and some mean boys came out of the town and made fun of him. “Get out of here Baldy!” They said it more than once. Well, the prophet put a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two bears come out of the woods and ate up the boys. So—you better be careful. No telling what might be out there in those woods.
Seriously—next Sunday you will have a new Pastor. And today I would like to give you some hints from this side of the pulpit.
A Human Being
So our text is found in John 1: 6. Early in the story—the writer says: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John .” So our first point is: There was a man…” Really what John is saying is that First, there was a human being. We’ve already seen it in the Christmas story. The real actors in the drama are not angels—they are real folk like you and me. Who? Well, Elizabeth who finally found out she was pregnant. Zechariah her husband who had almost given up hope. There was little Mary, not even married and her intended: Joseph. And there were Shepherds and Wise Men and even a Herod. Real people. Not just plaster saints we put in books on our coffee tables.
So when Paul wrote to one of the messiest churches in the New Testament. What did he say? “We have the treasure in earthen vessels…”Paul wanted that troubled, troubled church to know that God works, if he works at all , through earthen vessels…clay pots.
And one of the great surprises when you call a new Pastor is to discover they all have defects—just like you. Sometimes church members just write their Pastors off because they discover they have clay feet. The Billy Graham-Joel Osteen-Charles Stanley they thought they were calling was nothing like that. And if you were to take the makeup off the Grahams and the Osteens and the Stanleys—you’d find the same thing. Earthen vessels.
So you have called a real live human being—just like yourself. The only way the light shines today is through somebody just like you. I have a slogan I hold on to a lot: “There’s not but one Jesus” and sometimes my wife will remind me…I’m not it. And she is right. So when your new Pastor arrives next week—don’t be surprised when you learn one day that you have called a human being.
Second hint. There was a human being sent from God. God calls all sorts of people. Sometimes the most unlikely ones. Moses who had murdered a man…a sheep-herder—God called him. And Moses said: “Me…you want me?” Why I can’t even speak in public” and you know the rest of that story. We could tell a zillion stories just like that from the Bible. Did you know the first European convert was, guess what: a woman. Her name was Phoebe. Did you know that Jesus leaned on people like Mary and Martha even though he was supposed to only spend time with men. Paul often mentions people we never heard of like Claudia and Euodia. When we started struggling in the Baptist church about the role of women—people said: “Oh we can’t do that…not only will people be upset—but the Bible said men are in charge.“ And I always would say: Have you read Romans 16. 1? “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon in the church at Cenchrea.” And sometimes they would say: “Well, you know how these modern translations are.”
In1840 someone named Lottie Moon was born. in Virginia And as she grew older she thought she heard the call of God. Calling her to China as a missionary. And the officials in the Baptist church said: “Well, that’s nice but we don’t call women.” That didn’t stop her. She raised her own funds and headed for China. And she worked there until 1912 when she died. But when word first came back to headquarters that she was preaching and baptizing—they sent word that she couldn’t that. She was a woman and had not been approved. She wrote back: “When you send a man to do the preaching and the baptizing—I’ll stop. Well—they never sent anyone and she kept on preaching.
So God calls—and his call is not particularly to the male population. Women preachers have taught me a lot. Sometimes they open the Bible and take a text and see things I never thought of. They see the words through the eyes of women that God called. And they see it differently.
One Sunday I visited a Disciples’ church and it was Christmas and they had communion. And the woman who was Minister came down front…took the wrapped bread for Communion and picked it up gently, cradled it like a baby and moved through the congregation saying: “The word became flesh…” What male would have even thought about that.
You’ve called a woman to be your Minister. I would just remind you that God can work through her just like he can work through some men. Listen. Support her…and remember God’s call is never selectively male.
His Name Was John
Third hint: Thou shall not compare her to other preachers. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” John ? Wild. Needed a haircut. Dressed in strange clothes. Nothing like Moses. And nothing like Elijah. And nothing like Luke or Mark or any of the others. God called a man with a specific name. John. You’ve called Alison. And she will be different from any other minister. She will be Alison.
I’ve had more than one church where they tried to compare me with the last wonderful fireman. When I moved back to Clemson five years ago—the preacher of the church I served for 13 years would look at me like: Hmm. Not sure. He’d heard all these Lovette stories that got bigger and better after I had left. I told him. Let me tell you something: When some members that hated me come running up to me telling me how great I was and how lousy you are—I won’t buy it. Now they think I am the best preacher they ever had—past tense. I told our preacher I would support him and never talk behind his back —and if I had anything to say about him—I’d tell him. Nobody else. No comparisons, folks, it isn’t fair.
The first church I had they talked about Brother Glenn all the time. He was just wonderful. Why one summer he painted the whole outside of the church! Could I top that. Of course not. The first Sunday we were there—my 21 year old wife was sitting on the second row. And some woman in the back yelled: “Are you going to be President of the Women’s Missionary Union.” My wife, dumbstruck said: “I don’t think so.” The women muttered: “Well, the last one did!” No comparisons. It isn’t fair. They don’t want to hear how great the church was you came from…and you don’t want to hear how wonderful their last Pastor was.
Affirm! Affirm! Affirm!
Fourth hint: Affirm! Affirm! Affirm! I have another saying. Preachers are like dogs—if you pat us on the head we go crazy. And you can break our spirits if you choose to. We all need affirmation. Reuel Howe tells the story about a church that called a Pastor. And as he preached people would look at one another. Not too good. Sometimes downright bad. And so the Session met and said we’ve got have to do something about our preacher. So they called him in and told him that a lot of people were muttering. They didn’t like his preaching. Silence. And then he said: Well, I’ll just resign next Sunday. And you know what they said?
“No, we don’t want you to resign. We want you to stay. We called you and it is our job to help make you the best preacher you can be. We will stand by you, pray for you and support you in every way we can.” And we are told that when the history of that church was written the finest days were when this man had been their pastor.
You see we are in this business together: Pastor and people. And your Pastor can help meet your needs and be with you in those crisis times and times when you need a minister.
Dr. Larry McSwain tells the story about a Christian grade school class room where the kids were already studying. And the door opened and the Principal came in with a little boy. “Class,” she said, “this is a new student. His name in Timmy—I know you will welcome him.” And the class said, “Timmy welcome.” Timmy sat down and the whispering began. One little girl whispered to another. “He only has one arm. Look.” And the girl looked and told the boy behind her, This new kid just has one arm.” The news traveled fast in that classroom. The next day the teacher said, “Class—we’re going to do something a little different today. We’re going to build a church. So put your hands together like this.” And she showed them. “Now we say: ‘Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple—open the door and there’s all the people’.”” The minute she said that her heart almost stopped. The teacher forgot that Timmy only had one arm. She didn’t know what to do. But little Suzie saved the day. She got out of her desk and went over to Timmy and said, “Timmy and I are going to put our hands together and we will build a church.”
|photo by Trina Alexander / flickr|
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com