Friday, September 18, 2015

Will you go where you are sent?


Sermon preached to the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary
16 September 2015

John 21:15 – 22
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18) 

Every Methodist Minister is asked this one question: “Will you go where you are sent?” This question is asked when a candidate offers for the ministry, this is again posed as one of the conditions of ordination, and this is an implied question every year when the Bishops meet in a stationing committee. The tradition of being willing to go wherever the Methodist Conference sends you is drawn from the ancient monastic vow of obedience – a vow rooted in the Biblical conversation between Jesus and Peter at the lakeside in John 21.
 

The story of John 21 takes place after the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore after the appearance of Jesus at the tomb and later in the upper room. This is no longer a conversation about the good news of resurrection, and about reassuring frightened disciples. Instead this is a conversation about what comes next……
Jesus speaks to Peter:
Peter do you love me?
Yes Lord.
Then feed my sheep
Here is a threefold repletion: “If you love me, then feed my sheep
Here is the commandment to become a servant of God. In essence, the commandment is to show love through caring and service. And then to make his point, Jesus says these words to Peter: “Will you go where you are sent?”
Well – not exactly those words, but close enough:
Joh 21:18  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go."

To paraphrase this –
“Peter: when you were young you went wherever you decided was best: but as you mature into a Christian leader, you will need to be willing to go wherever you are needed – even if this means going where you do not want to go! Now - will you go where you are sent?”

It sounds really heroic to stand on the floor of a church Synod and commit oneself to going where you are sent: but as time passes we all begin to think we know best.  We become important and powerful in the church. We become Senior Ministers, and Superintendents, and Bishops. And with this comes the temptation to become powerful:
-      We are consulted by business leaders and politicians
-      We are invited to conduct state funerals and very important weddings
-      We exercise power over who can come to Holy Communion and who cannot
-      We exercise power over who can be baptised and who cannot
Most frightening of all: we even think we have the power to decide who God loves, and who God does not love!

It is at this point that the health of our souls demands that we surrender our power ….. before we use this power to become destructive!

The best way to surrender our power is to remember that we are under the discipline of those who have been placed in leadership over us: In fact nobody should have spiritual authority unless they are under authority. The tool the church uses to remind us that we are under authority is this question: “Will you go where you are sent?” And more importantly – will you do the work that is asked of you by your local leadership, or Superintendent / Bishop / Presiding Bishop?

Just when I think I am a person of status and power, I meet a poor, struggling outcast on the margins of society who asks me to kneel down and care for her.  
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Just when I think that I am an important and powerful preacher – the Superintendent phones me and asks me to take a service in a very unimportant little community.
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Just when I think I am an important and powerful Superintendent – the Bishop phones and asks me to go into another circuit and chair a very difficult meeting.
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Just when I think that I am a very important Chaplain at a Seminary – the Presiding Bishop phones me and tells me that he is moving me out of the seminary...
Will you go where you are sent?

The Apostle Peter’s reaction to this question reflects his human frailty: He looks over his shoulder and sees John sitting next to Jesus and says “But Lord what about him?” Is this not true of all of us? When we are asked to be obedient – we look around to see if anyone else is being asked to make the same sacrifice. And we might say something like “Lord this is unfair – what about him / what about her? They are getting a better deal than me!!”
Will you go where you are sent?

The way we test whether we are willing to surrender our power to God’s plans is by asking this one simple question:
“Will you go where you are sent?”


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