By AmbStew | Monday, March 13, 2017 | 8:40 AM
Sermon for March 12, 2017
Acts 16: 6-10; Matthew 25:14-30
Thank you, God, for the gift of your Word, Jesus Christ. Now give us ears to hear him. Amen.
Where is Your Macedonia?
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35.
Two sentences, with one word repeated four times: love. That one word, love, is the essence of all the sermons preached in this discipleship series.
Who is our Lord? A God who loves us and invites us to love him.
Who are you? Beloved servants and children of that God.
Who is your Barnabas? Someone whose love for God mentors, inspires, and guides you.
Who is your Timothy? Someone with whom you want to share that same love.
Where is your Antioch? In small communities where you are loved and encouraged.
Today’s final question in our sermon series, though not our discipleship journey, is “Where is Your Macedonia?” Who, or what, is calling out to you, both personally and corporately, to be loved?
Professors of Homiletics, those who teach seminary students how to preach, often urge caution about using oneself as an example in a sermon. On the other hand, professors of Literature insist that one cannot tell a good story without having experienced something of it. This morning, I side with the latter because I cannot not tell a true Macedonia story, a story when I clearly heard a people cry, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
The year was 2002. I was coming toward the end of walking through the grief and disappointment of a broken dream. I would not be a priest in the Episcopal Church, which is where I thought my initial call to ordained ministry was leading me. Like Paul, I had planned to go in one direction, only to have the way blocked. To this day, I still do not understand the reasons except that God had another destination. That place was called Big Cove Presbyterian Church.
The call I received to that church was just that: a literal phone call from an elder there. He and I had a mutual friend (a Methodist) who put him in touch with me. He said that the part-time minister there was retiring, and that the small congregation (all of eighteen active people) needed someone desperately, apparently so desperately that they would consider a non-Presbyterian, non-ordained, woman.
The Land of the Presbyterians had not been anywhere on my roadmap. I was happy being an Episcopalian. My husband and I had reared our children in that denomination, and we were both active in our church. It would not be an easy decision to walk away from our beloved faith community. But the call from this elder occurred in such a bizarre way, and was confirmed in such bizarre ways, that we had no choice but to trust that God was making a way for us, which I learned afterwards is called “providence.” God had indeed called me to ministry; it just wasn’t in the place I had thought I had been going.
Big Cove was truly Macedonia and truly needed help. I began my ministry there as a Commissioned Lay Pastor, someone who is licensed by the presbytery to do everything an ordained minister can do, including celebrating the sacraments, but only within that local congregation. As I ministered with that faithful remnant, I realized that while they needed my help, I also needed theirs. They affirmed the call I believed God had placed on me. Together, we began to envision how God might be using this unusual relationship to build up his kingdom in the Cove. The enthusiasm was there, but the resources were not.
“Come over here and help us!” That plea in the Book of Acts became our plea to the churches in the North Alabama Presbytery. We were not asking for money, but we were asking for recognition and affirmation that we could be more than a little country church of eighteen people. One congregation answered our call: First Presbyterian Church, Huntsville. Whether Rev. Bill Cockrill had ever expected us to show up on his roadmap is questionable, but nevertheless, he came over our way, literally. Bill spent several weeks sharing his personal time, teaching an evening class on the Book of Confessions for us. He made space for us in the FPC monthly newsletter where we were able to report on what was happening in a sister church over the mountain. Bill encouraged his faithful church members to attend our Sunday services and other events so that when guests came, we would look bigger than eighteen. Many of you came and worshipped with us. Jo Stroud was our faithful pianist for eight years. Karen Madison brought the FPC Children’s Choir over to enhance our worship. Patricia Hacker shared music resources. In return, we opened our green space to the FPC Youth Group and co-moderated a PW circle in the Cove. When we grew enough to build a new building, you donated the money to purchase the 150 new chairs we needed. Big Cove would not be in the place it is today, where it has just called a new minister to help move the congregation of 120 forward, if you hadn’t answered the call to come help.
I was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament at Big Cove Church, and when I left in August of 2015, I left because I no longer had a vision to carry that church forward. As Proverbs states, “Without a vision, the people perish,” and I did not want that faithful community to perish. I was actually enjoying some sabbatical time when I received another call to come over and help, from you, or at least from your former interim Cary Speaker. I debated whether I wanted to be fully committed again, this time to a much larger congregation. When I spoke to a friend from Big Cove about it, she said, “How appropriate that you should be called to help the church that helped us.” That sealed it for me. So here I am, at least for a little while longer, but as these things usually work, you have helped me, as much as I might be helping you. I believe that is how Macedonia happens.
"Come over to Macedonia and help us!" Paul hears in Acts 16:9. Paul had intended to go to Asia; Macedonia was in the opposite direction--Greece! Yet by going to Macedonia, Paul paved the way for Christianity to spread in Europe. That sounds providential to me.
"Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (Acts 16:9). Macedonia is that place and those people to whom we take the love and presence of Jesus Christ. Macedonia may be some place or someone other than you either expected or planned.
As is becoming clear, being a disciple involves two parts: who we are here, in loving community with one another, and with whom we are willing to share that same love out there, beyond our walls. Discipleship is risky business. It involves believing that God has supplied us with all the talents and gifts we need, even when using those is difficult, challenging, or frightening.
“Where is Your Macedonia?” Going to Macedonia does not, of course, always mean going somewhere dramatic or unusual. The Macedonia that God has equipped you to enter may be in your home with someone ill who needs tending. Your Macedonia may, at this time, be raising your children, and God has given you the talents to teach them about his love and to model that love for them. Your Macedonia might be with a newly widowed friend who needs some companionship or someone who simply needs someone to listen. It may be offering to teach the children here at church, to lead a small group, to invite someone out to lunch, to offer prayer time for our ministries, or it may be to head out to Appalachia or to Africa.
We run into a lack of faith when we believe that we don't have the gifts to do the things that God, and the church, invites us to do. That is the point of our gospel lesson today. The Master (God) had given gifts to each of his three servants, gifts not meant to be hoarded but to be used and multiplied in order to bear fruit. The two "good and faithful servants" are those who acted, who took the initiative to use their gifts. The one condemned is the one who did nothing out of fear of failure. But failure would have been fine. Failure would have at least shown that some action had been taken. God blesses faithfulness, not success.
So where is your Macedonia, both personally and as a church community? Who is calling to you for help? Who needs to experience God's love? Go to the Macedonia that God keeps laying on your heart and share what God has already given you because, as Jesus promised, "By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."