God is at Work in You
Belmont UMC—May 17, 2015
Ken Edwards, preaching
Today is Confirmation Sunday and the words I have written have had the Confirmation Class in mind, but they certainly relate to all of us. These young people have been on quite a journey these last few months and I want to thank Pastor Heather Harriss and Richard and Martha Hooper, the class members, faith friends and ministry staff members and a host of others who have had a hand in this experience.
In Ephesians Paul writes that God’s power, the same power that was at work in Jesus Christ, is at work in us. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus is that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and understanding, and that the eyes of their hearts will have enough light to see the hope of God’s call and the richness of God’s inheritance.
I have a friend who describes the work of God in us as giving us a new way of seeing the world and a new way of being in the world. Some people might call those conversions or life changing experiences that happen all at once or over a long period of time. These changes come when we receive God’s grace. When we get too close to God’s grace, we find that grace changes us in unexpected ways. The Greek word for repentance (metanoia) literally means a new mind set—a new way of thinking.
Have you ever had an experience that changed the way you thought about things? A friend told me that he had always avoided people who lived on the streets until one day he was at a fast food place in the city. A man who was homeless asked him for money and my friend said, “How about I buy you something to eat instead?” The man who was homeless followed my friend into the restaurant and he said to the clerk, “I’ll have whatever he’s having.” To my friend’s surprise the man followed him to his table and ate with him. They talked for two hours and my friend realized that there was not that much difference between the man’s story and his. It changed the way he looked at the homeless and caused him to want to make a difference in their lives. We call those experiences paradigm shifts.
For our Confirmands this means that today is a very important day for you, but it is not the end of your journey. It means you are on the journey and have been for a long time, and God will continue to be at work in you and changing you and allowing you to grow closer to God and grow deeper in the way you see the world. You will always be changing and growing in God’s grace. That’s the adventurous part of the journey.
The work that God is doing in us is ongoing. When I was in UMY we used to have these buttons we’d wear with these letters on them: PBPGIFWMY. The idea was that others would ask you what the letters stood for and the answer was: Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet. That’s pretty sound theology.
In Life Abundant theologian, Sally McFague, writes about “four conversions, four experiences of such importance that they changed my thinking about God and my behavior.” (p. 4) I’d never really thought about my faith journey in that way, but I realized that most of us experience these shifts in the way we look at the world and the way we are in the world, as God is at work in us. I can trace my own faith journey through these transitions and shifts in my thinking. This is God at work in me, giving my heart enough light to see more clearly. God will continue to be at work in the lives of these young people and all of us if we are open to what God wants to do.
God is not only at work in us but God is at work through us. God has been at work through this Confirmation Class and their long time commitment to Heifer International. Through this global organization, people can donate money to buy farm animals and create systems of sustainability all over the world. These young people have been making a difference in ways they may never fully know. And they have learned, during their time at Belmont, that this journey of faith is about something bigger than them selves. God is at work through them.
God will continue to use us. Trust this! We do not know where God will use us but we can trust that it will happen if we open ourselves to God’s guidance. In 1977 I knelt at the altar of this church and a bishop laid his hands on my head and I was ordained a deacon, which at that time was the first step toward being ordained as an elder. If you had asked me then where God would send me and where God would use me, I would have told you I have no idea. I certainly did not expect to be appointed to Belmont exactly 30 years later. And I have no idea what the future holds for ministry.
And we do not always know when God is using us. We have to trust that our God will use our faithfulness. Over years of ministry I have had people tell me that something I did for them years ago made all the difference. More often than not, I don’t even recall the act of faithfulness. We are called to faithful, not successful. If we are faithful we can trust that God is using us.
A good way to begin each day is with a simple prayer, “Lord, I give you this day. I do not know who I will encounter, and I do not how you will use me, but let me move through this day with your Spirit guiding me. Let me be faithful to your call.” The day that is before us becomes an adventure!
Many of you know I like to read Anne Lamott’s books. She has a refreshing way of allowing us to peak into her spiritual journey. She can be authentic and funny and a bit edgy at times. In Traveling Mercies there is a chapter titled, “Why I Make Sam Go to Church,” Sam is her son, and at the time of the writing, he was very young. Lamott started going to the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, a small multi-ethnic church, when she was pregnant with Sam. She had found her way to the church one Sunday morning when she was hung over and shaky from alcoholism and she heard the sweet sounds of hymns floating out the windows and into the little flea market nearby.
One Sunday at the end of the service she stood up and told the congregation that she was expecting a child and everyone clapped and clapped. She reported that even the people who had been raised in those Bible thumping churches of the deep South clapped. She was not married and this was not the reaction she expected.
The people reached out to her and brought her clothes and casseroles. They kept referring to her baby as “our baby” or “my baby.” They gave her money. An older woman named Mary Williams, who lived on Social Security, would bring her baggies filled with dimes.
Long after Anne Lamott was on her feet financially, Mary Williams would still bringer her baggies filled with dimes. Lamott would give them to the homeless people on the street corner. She wrote, “Why do I make Sam go to church—none of his other friends go? I make him go to church because someone brings me dimes.” Lamott wrote that when she looked around St. Andrews, she saw the face of God.
God was at work in Anne Lamott’s life through these people. God was changing her and giving her a new way of seeing and a new way of being in the world. God was at work through her as she faithfully shared God’s love with others.
To these young people today and to all of you, know that God is at work in you. God is at work through you making a difference in the world.