For the many of you who aren’t part of my church, this is a sermon from Julie Pfister, our Congregational Care Director, who leaves for Utah after this week. Prayers and best wishes to her. Take a few moments to read her sermon; it’s well worth it.
Just so you know, I did not ask to preach today and I’m not here because I am special or different from any of you. I was told that my story and my voice are important, because I’m a Christian
And that God uses broken people like me.
Although Bible study is my favorite part of the week, what I know about scripture could fit on the tip of a pin.
I guess if a Bible scholar is who they thought you should hear this weekend, they would not have asked me.
So, why did I agree to preach this weekend? Believe me, I have asked myself that question a thousand times over the last few weeks.
Well, I just couldn’t help myself.
Scripture tells me that I am a servant of God – that I am His witness.
I have worshipped with many of you here over the years, but just in case you don’t know me, Im Julie Pfister. I have been married for 27 years to my husband Steve and have raised three children here in Alexandria, just around the corner. I have been blessed to work in the church as a teacher in the Day School…. with the babies. And for the last year and a half, I have served as the Congregational Care Coordinator.
Many of you may know that I am moving in the not too distant future.
My husband must love me very much to have agreed to go to a no-stop light town in South Central Utah to take care of my ailing parents. It will be a long awkward good-bye as our plans change often depending on the latest updates about my father’s health and treatment plan. Although Utah is home for me, we have built a life here in this community. I couldn’t leave Aldersgate for any other reason.
I begged Dennis and Jason:
“please please please….just let me just go quietly into the good night. Let me hitch up my covered wagon and leave at dawn and head west.”
I pleaded….”It’s going to be too difficult to leave and say good bye to everyone. I will end up crying like a zillion times. “
Jason said he wanted you to hear my voice.
It’s not what I wanted.
Then, Dennis, in his infinite compassion and understanding, said
“Get over yourself.
We are going to cry and pray for you at a great party. Get ready!”
So I said yes.
Get over yourself.”
At its very core, isn’t that what knowing Christ is all about? –
Getting over ourselves and becoming a new creation in Christ.
Casting all fears, burdens, doubts, insecurities, hopes and prayers on HIM.
“As God tells the prophet Isaiah, “You are MY witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.
How could I say no, knowing that scripture tells me that I am to witness for Christ?
For the Apostle Paul, everything changed on the road to Damascus. Saul, as he is known before his conversion, encounters the Risen Lord in a flash of light. He is knocked from his horse and blinded. Jesus asks him why he persecutes Him. He is told where to find a man named Annanias through whom God would restore his sight. Annanias tells him that God has chosen him to spread the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles
He doesn’t shrug the whole thing off.
Sure, he was blind, and then he could see, but he doesn’t write it off and wonder “
What just happened here?”
That couldn’t have really been God?
There are plenty of people throughout scripture that tried to shrug off attention getters like that.
And we see it around us all the time – unwillingness to see the hand of God in our lives, even when His grace and mercy are as tangible as being knocked off a horse and blinded.
But there are also dozens of examples in scriptures of unsuspecting characters who accept God’s call, even when they were not seeking it. God sought them.
Noah wasn’t looking for an excuse to build an ark. Moses asked the LORD over and over to not make him go before Pharoah. David wasn’t tending his sheep thinking….hum….I think I want to be King.
There are many who believe that if God had not chosen Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and if Paul had not obeyed, that there would have been no worldwide Christian faith. Most importantly to remember it was not Paul by himself. It was as he said repeatedly, “not I, but Christ in me.”
So Saul becomes Paul, a new creation in Christ and is horrified to think that his old name Saul of Tarsis would dishonor God and freak out those who would hear him preach about Christ.
Paul doesn’t ask for this to happen. He isn’t praying for a testimony of the risen Christ. He doesn’t choose this role. He is busy persecuting those who are spreading the Good News of Christ.
But once God chooses him, He does not turn back.
Unlike Paul, I was already blind.
Blind from fear, mistrust, disillusionment. Blind from bitterness that led to the realization that by striving every day to live a good life, to do the best I could, that my life was not going to be the perfect little picture I had painted for myself and my family.
For me, everything changed one morning.
It wasn’t a conversion in the sense that I did not know Christ as my Savior before that morning. It was just that I was living on the fringes, powerless and afraid that my life would always fall short of being what and who God created me to be.
He just knocked me off my horse and told me that He would change my life. That He is who He says He is.
It was a moment of pure grace and mercy that is at the heart of everything I have felt, and believed, and loved since.
It was an ordinary morning during a moment when I was sitting in a chair and was told to get up and change my life. I did.
I have never looked back. I have faltered and experienced doubt, frustration, fear, panic and all the other emotions that are in our range, but I have never, denied or diminished how God changed me and continues to work in me and through me.
So, what happens when everything changes for you?
You wake up in the morning and start the day as it is required and planned.
Get the kids off to school. Get ready for work. Start a load of laundry. Make a few calls.
What happens when all that just stops and GOD touches you in a way that brings you to your knees?
Do you just shrug it off?
How do you fit a new creation – a transformed life, into a life already in progress.
What happens when you pray and pray and pray that God will show his face?
And then HE does.
Once we claim Him. He claims us.
Paul got over himself quickly, but it wasn’t without cost.
Can you imagine what courage it must have taken for him to seek out Peter and the other apostles to tell them that Christ had appeared to and spoken to him?
Returning to those whom he had persecuted-, even leading to the death of the beloved Apostle Stephen?
Asking to become one of them and to have their blessing to take the Gospel and bring it to the gentiles.
That kind of courage only comes with faith.
The meat of today’s scripture is verses 5-6
“Through Him and for His namesake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”
It is about obedience through faith.
Not Paul’s obedience and faith – but ours.
Paul is following Jesus example of obedience through faith.
That’s why for Paul there is really no difference between faith and obedience because having faith means obeying God’s ways all the way to a cross.
Rebellion is much more fashionable than obedience these days.
We think it brings freedom.
Freedom from rules.
Freedom from oppression.
Freedom from THE MAN.
Fleming Rutledge says:
“true freedom is not found in rebellion against God. Rebellion against God leads to the death of the soul and the spirit. Obedience to God may mean the death of the body, but it means life for the world.” How do we carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus?”
This church, these pews have been my trenches.
Many times when the church was quiet, I stormed through the doors, determined to not see anyone along the way, marching straight to the bottom of this gigantic cross.
That was the size of the cross I needed some times.
A giant cross to heal me and calm me from my fears.
To put me back together again.
In these pews and at the foot of that cross I fought for my family, for my children, for my friends, my sanity.
If I could have, I would have gone to the caves where David hid from Saul and cried to the LORD – How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
This is where I prayed my family together against great odds.
This is where I prayed that God would find a remnant in my heart “to take root below and bear fruit above.” That my family would be a “band of survivors.” And that the “zeal of the Lord almighty would accomplish this.”
The sign in front of the church asks – Does your faith fit your life?
Over the years, some people have gone so far as to tell me that I spend too much time here – –I venture to say that there are many of you out there that are even more of a church rat than I am.
I have been told that I should just get a bed and live here….
That I should “get a life. That I need to balance – yadda yadda.
This is where I got my life back.
This is where Christ became my savior and I became His.
This is where I serve the One who gave my life and my family back to me.
This is where I found my balance.
How could I NOT be here and spend myself for His church and His people?
My prayer has been each morning that God will show me the means to increase my faith, to know and believe that He is who He says He is.
I must listen for the answer to that prayer and recognize opportunities that arise each day to that end.
For the great majority of us, obedience through faith is lived day to day in the humdrum details – being prepared for the daily decisions that show us to be Christians as we claim.
The power in obedience – aligning ourselves with the power of God in obedience to the Spirit: this is the power that overcomes the world. The power that helps us “get over ourselves”
Paul calls himself a servant of Christ.
Paul was a willing servant and slave for Christ.
He was so overwhelmed at how he had been transformed, that he spent himself to express that.
A bond slave of Christ in debt to all.
Paul is the one who told us later in Romans that …
”the Spirit helps us in our weakness.
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to God’s will.
I have been on the floor at the foot of that very cross, face down, my arms spread – in the shape of the cross….with a prayer in the deepest corners of my heart that I could not give words to. I confessed to God that I had NO IDEA how to pray.
I used Paul’s word’s that told me that the
Holy Spirit would intercede and moan to the Father on my behalf.
I didn’t just know this, I learned this with my Aldersgate sisters as we have worked our way through a dozen Bible studies over the years. Relying on each other to help us through many storms.
I, like John Wesley, had my heart strangely warmed at Aldersgate.
My time spent here with you is sacred to me. Whether you knew it or not, you have been my scaffolding. As I prepare to leave, a part of Aldersgate, goes with me. It was here that I found God, or more precisely that God found me. It was here that a loving, caring congregation accepted me into your midst. I shall be forever grateful. And I know that you will do the same for anyone that walks through these doors in search of a place and a people to find and worship God.
I’ll use the words of Fleming Rutledge again to close. “
The purpose and meaning of worship with fellow believers is to be a people prepared for daily decisions that make our faith fit our life.
As we share the Lord’s Supper together, we rejoice to remember whose spirit it is that bears us up and links us together in the power of the obedience of faith – the faith that overcomes the world.
I offer this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen