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Signs and Wonders
Celebration of Ministry Service, Louisiana Annual Conference
June 9, 2018
Long, long ago and far, far away – "What’s your sign?" was a clichéd pick-up line, referring to your zodiac sign.
Does anyone remember the song No Matter What Sign You Are by Diana Ross and the Supremes? Didn’t think so – it didn’t meet the legendary Barry Gordy’s expectations and never made it to Casey Casum’s the top 40.
Ya’ll know I am a big Motown fan and if it had been a hit, I would have known it.
Okay a bit more contemporary – "What’s Your Sign?" by British artist Dis’ree??? Anyone?
Anyway, not the kind of signs and wonders we are talking about today. Just wanted to get your attention.
The signs and wonders we are talking about are those miraculous moments that we get the privilege to witness.
The book of Acts is filled with signs and wonders. As a matter of fact, 10 of the 17 references to signs and wonders in scripture are found in Acts.
We are in a beautiful place to watch, to experience miracles happen right before our very eyes.
We have the responsibility to shepherd people toward their miracles – broken people, healthy people, sick people, rich people, poor people. The young and the old.
The young and the old, experiencing, seeing God at work in and through them, signs and wonders pointing towards the one who gives us life.
There are few people in the world that get to experience what we get to experience. We have the honor and privilege of living and dying with people.
How many times have some of us gone from holding the newborn baby in one hospital room to the next room as we pray with a family as their loved one breaths their last breath?
How many times have some of us gone from the blessing of a marriage to the commending of a body to God?
How many times have some of us gone from a difficult administrative meeting, to a reconciling conversation?
From a graduation celebration to a conversation with someone who has lost a job.
I could continue but you get my drift, we are companions, shepherds, or better yet that ancient word “curate,” ones set apart to help others find healing.
Not many people get to do this!
My hunch is that this community described in the book of Acts did that. They ate, together, prayed together, worshiped together, lived together and they died together.
In the beautiful words of Richard Rohr, "the kingdom of God breaks into this world whenever people act as God would act. They acted as God would act."
Sometimes it is tough for even the church to operate at kingdom level but you have the distinct privilege to change that – to act as God would act. You get to choose.
This is not just true for ordinands and other preacher types, it is true for all of us as the community of the baptized, we all have the distinct privilege to create places and spaces where God can break in, where the tent, the container can be big enough to hold all that God has in mind when the words “thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven” are uttered.
To act as God would act.
This happens when we join together. This happens when we trust God and trust one another. It happens after we, a community of believers unite and share everything.
You can’t just think this up in your head. That’s not where the gospel happens and it really shouldn’t be where it remains. It doesn’t’ happen in your head. It happens when you choose to be in relationship with one another.
It happens when we take seriously that we are “one in the Spirit and one in the Lord,” that we are grafted into the body with our distinct gifts, functions, and roles.
Jesus reminds us over and over again that the gospel happens especially when you choose to be in relationship with the other –
the poor, the weak, the marginalized, the rich, the outcast, those we choose to throw away, the immigrant, the gay, straight, conservative, progressive, republican, democrat, right, left, center. As you have “done it to them, you have done it to me.”
How we choose to be with anyone mirrors how we relate to everything and everyone else.
I love books. Amazon makes a delivery to the house at least once a week, sometimes more. The Anatomy of Peace, is a book that has literally changed my life. It doesn’t have an author per se but is written by the Arbinger Institute. It uses parable to help us see the ways in which we easily find ourselves in enmity with the other.
I wish I had read it earlier in my life. It would have made me a better parent, spouse, friend, human being.
I won’t give it all away because you need to read it but it places a group of unlikely people together in one space with one goal in mind – to save their child’s life.
They bicker, they disagree, at times you think they might come to blows because in the words of the writers they approach all of life with a heart of war vs. a heart of peace. They see each other as objects v. human beings. They basically see the worse in everyone and every circumstance and cannot see that in many ways they make their situation worse because they come at it from a heart of war, not of peace.
I have given away more copies of this book than any other.
The group of folk described in Acts 2 has a heart of peace. They find joy in sharing all they have - including themselves.
Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we BELONG to one another.”
We must never forget that WE belong to each other.
I did this exercise recently suggested by my good friend Missy Buchanan who writes a lot for and about seniors but anyone can do this you don’t have to be old like me.
I am going to invite you to look at your hands.
Look at every wrinkle, every vein, fingernail, age spot – think about the countless things those hands have done over the years – 8 years, 28 years, 98 years.
Look at your hands.
The meals they have prepared, the miles they have driven, the hands they have held, the people they have helped.
Now with new possibility - look at your hands again – think about how you might use those same hands today, tomorrow and the many tomorrows. How might your hands help you act more like God?
We have the opportunity to use our hands, our hearts, our minds to transform the world.
Can you imagine if we worried less about bulletins and carpet color and worried more about ushering people to be their best selves to act more as God would act?
We must help one another learn to share our experiences of God. Share how we have experienced the overwhelming love of God. We ought not to be able to contain ourselves. I think this is what we call old-fashioned evangelism. We must be a witness to the world! Pointing people – look what God is doing in the world, your world, my world!
Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher, and activist reflects on what he calls his own “further journey”:
[There are] moments he says when it is clear—if I have the eyes to see—that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me. In those moments I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden like a river beneath the ice. And . . . I wonder: What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?
He then began to understand that it is possible to live a life other than one’s own...
I ran across the old Quaker saying he said, “Let your life speak.” I found those words encouraging, and I thought I understood what they meant: “Let the highest truths and values guide you. Live up to those demanding standards in everything you do.” . . .
Today, some thirty years later, “Let your life speak” means something else to me . . . : “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen to what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
One of the things I have learned from being a follower of Richard Rohr is that you don’t find your own center, it finds you.
You have to be willing to go where it takes you. And friends sometimes that is not a comfortable journey.
Many of you who will be ordained, commissioned, licensed have been on this journey for a while. It has taken you through many twists and turns. It has probably taken you many places you would have rather never gone. Leadership in the church places a yoke upon us. It tethers us to the body of Christ and enters us into a sacrificial yet sanctifying life.
I often have friends who are not part of the church say – “you get to go to places where no one wants to go. Yipee” Often they mean places on the map and while I think that is true I also think it has nothing to do with geography.
As followers of Jesus, we get to go to places with people that most don’t get to go. Whether you realize it or not you have already been at that work. Now ordination has come not as the end of the journey but as the beginning.
Ordination is not the end of the journey. One of the things I love to do is to meet with the ordinands and learn a little more about them. Because many have been on the journey for a while I like to listen to what they think will be different once they are ordained.
In my conversation with them, I heard about validation and confirmation of a journey and of a call. And I also heard a resounding theme of love and transformation.
I heard stories of people who found their own center often as a result of brokenness and pain. I even heard stories of those who found themselves at a center they never imagined.
Often a center someone else led them to or a center someone recognized in them that they never saw coming.
That is what it means to be together – in community. When you lead people to prayer, to be their best selves, to be united and share everything – you find yourselves in places you never imagined. Places where signs and wonders are all around.
I have high hopes for you and pray that you will be the kind of servant leaders that find hope and create spaces and places where lives are changed.
Where people are nurtured and loved.
Ordinands, you have completed your theological education, have served the required allotted time prior to ordination and commissioning and now you are here.
You can exegete the heck out of the gospels or at least I hope you can. You also know by now that you should not put cold water in the baptismal font minutes before you baptize the prize grandchild of your administrative board chair? Babies, no matter who they belong to, won’t like that so much.
You have practiced holding the baby in the vintage gown that belonged to great, great, grandmother Sue, you know the one, it goes to the floor and it is hard to tell where the baby ends; if you haven’t it could be tragic.
And you do you know how hard it is to break a loaf of gluten-free bread right?
At my installation service 6 years ago, many of you were there, we were very thoughtful and all the bread was gluten free.
Someone had baked these beautiful loaves, but...they were the size of cinder blocks and when I turned to pick one up to break it, I couldn’t even get my hands around it.
You may have a Masters of Divinity but you must also learn to master the covered dish dinner. Scope out the whole buffet before you start filling your plate or if you want to make sure you don’t offend anyone by not eating their prized recipe put one teaspoon of each item on your plate.
I could go on and on but I will spare you. The point is that you have learned a lot but some of your best training is yet to come when you enter into a deeper relationship with the people you get to serve with.
There are amazing lay people who have much to teach you.
The list of those who shaped and continue to shape me is forever long. It is likely that every area of expertise is sitting somewhere in your sanctuary on Sunday morning waiting to be asked to help.
I got a letter not long ago from one of these persons – almost 22 years later. She said she had been sitting in her pew coming to church faithfully every Sunday but it wasn’t until I plucked her from her pew and asked to help with the pictorial directory of all things that she became more fully engaged in the life of the church. She thanked me – 22 years later.
There are people sitting in your pews waiting to be plucked.
Waiting to be asked to be part of an amazing community of faith - one that I pray looks like the church described in Acts.
A community committed to learning, committed to each other and to their community, a group of faithful believers who are willing to sell all of their possession and share their proceeds.
Willing to share meals together, to worship together and here it comes: : To live in these ways so that the Spirit has the space to “add to our number those who are being saved.” We, and the communities we serve becoming witnesses of these signs and wonders!
The greatest gift you can give the church is the passion to be a life-long lover of Jesus knowing full well that it might take you to a center that looks frightening and amazing all at the same time.
Once again from Parker Palmer...Today I understand vocation not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach [ordination]but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth.
I know that sounds like it only applies to the preacher types but I honestly and truly it is for all of us.
Listen to the voice in here.
A voice of peace.
A voice that hears the heart of another.
That is what our call is all about!
Our call as pastors, teachers, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends - Our call is to listen for that voice that says you, yes you! Are a child of God. You are my child. And so is the difficult family member, the annoying church member, maybe even your enemy. They are my children, too.
See one another with a heart of peace, a heart that loves. Act as God would act.
One last word. I have used the last paragraph of the Anatomy of Peace as a prayer – a blessing if you will and I share it with you this day...
Look at each other...everyone in this room is a person. As are your children on the trail, and your enemies, real and imagined.
May you have the honesty and courage to do what our homes, our workplaces, and our communities most need: to see all as people – even, and perhaps especially when others give you a reason not to.
Love as God would love. You will be astonished by the signs and wonders!
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