Spirit Surprises

Genesis 15:1-6 ~ Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 ~ Luke 12:32-40                         

I’ve always tended to be a pretty cautious person. As a child, I was never the one to rush up the ladder to the top of the high slide; I always waited and watched a few other kids make the journey successfully. Once I saw how much fun they had whooshing down the hot metal, I would carefully make my way up.

In school I was always attentive to my assignments, and when I graduated from Valparaiso University ready to enter the world of work, I accepted a job with a big, solid company: GE. If I took risks, they were calculated, I would carefully evaluate before jumping in.

I’ve also always been a person who spent a lot of time in the church. I was baptized as an infant, always attended church with my family, and stayed busy with choir and youth group. When I arrived at Valpo as a freshman, I was excited that we got a break in the class schedule each morning to attend chapel, and I was elated when I was accepted into the choir that sang for most Sunday chapel services. After I graduated and moved to Cincinnati, Good Shepherd became my church home, and I stayed busy worshiping and serving there for most of the next 30 or so years.

Given my history in church, it maybe shouldn’t have been surprising that God started tapping me on the shoulder with the idea that perhaps I should serve God’s church as a pastor. The first tap actually came while I was in college, but, ….remember my reluctance to jump into something risky? Back then, of course, it was a new thing for women to be ordained. And to make matters worse, I had come from the Missouri Synod, where they still don’t recognize women as clergy.

Some years later God reminded me that the church could use me as a leader; by then I had young children. I was consumed with taking care of them, working part-time at Good Shepherd, managing the household, so I talked myself out of it again.

Then, our kids got to high school, and I was rapidly approaching that half-century birthday. I saw that I’d probably want to have more work to keep me busy, and as I looked around it seemed that work in the church would be the right direction.

The Holy Spirit finally drove my innate caution away…and at the age of 51 I found myself beginning a 4-year degree program. I’d be traveling to Columbus every week since I couldn’t go to seminary locally. I’d be very busy, facing many new challenges. My family would have to learn to manage things like meals, laundry, grocery shopping.  And at the end I’d be starting a new career …at a time in life when many people are thinking about retirement.

Part of my preparation for becoming a pastor was to serve a one-year internship. God was good, and I was able to travel just 20 minutes from home to Hope Lutheran Church in Colerain Township. It wasn’t much of a drive, but if you know anything about Cincinnati, you may know that traveling from the east side, where I live, to the west side is almost like going to a completely different city. So I got to experience a new culture, and work in a very different congregation than I was used to at Good Shepherd.

My supervising pastor, Lisa Arrington, was very attentive and intentional about the time we spent together developing my skills for ministry. Each week we met to discuss and pray about a different topic. In our last official meeting together, she shared an Old Testament scripture with me. She began with a verse in Genesis: Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you…’ Pastor Lisa was reminding me that as I left Hope and moved on in my journey, I’d be moving forward in faith, not always knowing where I’d be heading, but that God would be guiding me, and that God can be trusted.

As a preacher I always look to God for guidance, and sometimes, honestly, it can be tough to figure out what a particular word of God should say to God’s people in a certain time and place. Other times, we get the gift of a set of readings that seem to be perfect! When I first looked at today’s readings and put together that I’d be preaching on them on this Sunday, I immediately knew that they could help guide us to understanding God’s will in our lives: for me, as I continue on my journey in faith to becoming a “real” pastor, and for you, as you consider moving forward in faith to issue a call.

You, God’s people here at St. Peter, have a marvelous history of moving forward in faith. For one hundred fifty seven years you’ve been gathering as God’s people here in Trenton. Your founders had left their homeland in Germany to find a new home here—a great act of faith. Those early Lutherans built a sturdy house for God’s people, then enlarged and improved it many times through the years. You trusted God as you blazed a faithful trail in the 1980’s by calling a woman as your pastor. And if you vote next week to call me, you’ll join a rare group of congregations to call your FOURTH female pastor. Not bad for a little small-town congregation!

All of our lessons today remind us to live faithfully. We visit Abraham and Sarah in our first lesson from Genesis. The writer of Hebrews points to them as an example of living by faith. And in our gospel, Luke encourages the followers of Jesus to live fearlessly and faithfully, focusing on the things of God.

There’s a verse in that lesson from Luke that is one of my favorites: “… where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One of my mentor pastors used to put it this way: “show me your calendar and your checkbook, and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.” A person or organization can talk all they want about what really matters…but it’s how we spend our time and our resources that really tells the story.

And so, St. Peter is preparing to make a decision. I don’t want to sound like I’m lobbying for a particular outcome, although I do have my not-so-secret hope of how you’ll decide next Sunday. But what I know is this: you’ve walked in faith these last 157 years. You haven’t been afraid to take risks. You haven’t been afraid to follow where you feel God is leading, even when the outcome is unclear, the future unknown.

So now you’re deciding whether to put your treasure on the line: commit to moving forward with a called pastor and all that that means: working side-by-side as we learn how God will have us serve in the coming years and decades. Commit to follow God, trusting that God will lead. You could choose to keep your treasure safe, to not take the risks of calling a pastor. You could choose to continue with supply preachers, not risk having to work with someone with new ideas and different ways of hearing God’s will … and maybe you could stretch that financial treasure out as long as you can. My prayer is that you’ll make whatever decision that God guides you to.

The important thing to remember is that we’re not gathered here for our own sakes. We’re not gathered here for God’s sake. Certainly we each receive a benefit from coming together and worshiping God as a community. And God is worthy of our praise as we sing and pray together. But God’s church exists for the sake of God’s mission. And God’s mission is to serve God’s world, to love God’s world, with that special kind of love that God teaches us, wherever we go in the world. The love that sent Jesus to live among us, and that still guides us by the Holy Spirit each day of our lives.

Another favorite verse follows the one about treasure. It says: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit…” Last Sunday before worship I helped Bev check the liquid paraffin in our candles. Since we have these modern ones we don’t have to worry about dripping wax. As long as they have enough liquid, they’ll keep burning. So we keep them topped up. We want to have our lamps lit, ready for wherever God will lead us.

When we end the service and Bev puts the candles out, she’ll re-light the taper from the Christ candle before she snuffs it out. She’ll carry it down the aisle, right to the door. When we’ve said our good-byes to one another, we’ll follow that light down the aisle, out the door.

That’s how we live in faith. Following God’s light, without any assurance, without any guarantee, but trusting that God is good.

I’ll follow the light, waiting for God to guide me into the next step of my ministry.

You’ll follow that light, just like you have for 157 years, faithfully shining it in Trenton and beyond.

Little St. Peter in the small town of Trenton, Ohio has big work to do—and you can trust God to guide you each step of the way.

Preached at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Trenton, Ohio, August 7, 2016

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