January 13, 2008
"Every Day God Equips"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
I grew up in construction. My Dad worked in construction either for someone else or later for his own construction company. I learned about tools and how to use them early on. If Dad was working on something and hollered for a Magillacuddy's double-barreled left-handed wedginator, I'd better know what it was.
When I was in the Coast Guard, I was a marine diesel mechanic and while in school we had a week long class on tools. Until that time, I'd never met anybody who didn't know how to use the business end of a screw driver or didn't know the difference between a flat blade and Phillips head screwdriver. But I discovered there ARE people like that.
The instructors of the school pounded into our head that there was always "the right tool for the right job." Of course, once we graduated and went to our first duty station we found out that for most people the right tools turned out to be a crescent wrench, a pair of vise grips and a hammer. If they couldn't fix it with one of those, then the military motto came into play. "If it doesn't work, hit it with a hammer. If it still doesn't work, hit it with a bigger hammer. And if it still doesn't work, paint it gray, mark it 'Out Of Commission' and order a new one."
Tools are important. Every occupation has it's bag of tools. You wouldn't go to a surgeon who used auto mechanics tools, a chainsaw and a pocket knife for surgery. And you wouldn't want the computer technician working on your computer with a 12 lb sledge hammer, even though you felt like using it yourself before you brought it in for repair. NO, we want them to know and to use the proper tools for their particular trade.
Earlier we heard the passage from the Gospel of Matthew which we know as the Great Commission. We are a Called and a Sent people. We are Called to accept and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. And once we have accepted that call, we are Sent into the world to proclaim the Good News and make Disciples. That's our job. Those are our marching orders.
And part of the Good News is that our Every Day God, Equips us for our task. In other words, God supplies the tools we need to carry out the Great Commission.
Listen to what Jesus tells the Disciples in the Upper Room on the night He was betrayed and arrested.
John 14:15-27 (NRSV)
 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."
 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?"
 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
Last week we talked about the power of the Holy Spirit, how through the waters of our Baptism and the Presence of the Holy Spirit, God empowers our lives so we can live as faithful Disciples. Through the Holy Spirit we are reminded that we are the beloved children of God in whom God is well pleased.
In this passage Jesus was telling the Disciples that after His death and resurrection things might get a little scary, they might feel cut off and alone. But did you hear what He said? "I will not leave you orphaned." And He promised us a companion in ministry, "the Advocate, the Holy Spirit." And the Holy Spirit . . . Will teach [us] everything and remind [us] of all that [Jesus] said."
Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we discover the tools we need for our Calling. Every Day God Equips us for ministry. So, let's look at some of those tools.
A. If you are building a house or piece of furniture or a picture frame you have to have a Straight Edge, something with which to draw straight lines. When I was building my house on the farm, we used an aluminum level. It served a dual purpose. Not only did it make straight lines but it also told us if what we were doing was level or plumb.
In our daily lives the Holy Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus said and did. The Holy Spirit keeps us connected to God through Christ so we can live Christ's Commandments and have a Holy Heart. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Christ with us Every Day, because we have an Every Day God who Equips us for ministry.
B. There was a college student who spent a year living with a group of Navajos as part of his doctoral studies. As he did research on and with the Native Americans, he lived with members of this one Navajo family. He slept in their home, ate their food and worked side by side with them every day. As much as was possible, he tried to live as one of them.
The old grandmother of the family spoke no English and the student spoke no Navajo and yet a close relationship developed between the two. They spent a great deal of time together. Despite the language problems, they shared a common understanding of love and friendship. And of course, over the months, they each learned a few phrases from each other.
When it came time for the young man to return to college, the tribe held a going away celebration for him. The next day, as he prepared to get in his pickup and leave, the grandmother came to tell him good-bye. With tears in her eyes, she said, "I like me best when I'm with you." (1)
We can say the same thing about our relationship with Jesus, "I like me best when I'm with Jesus." Jesus said He "would not leave us orphaned." And when we are with Him, Heart and Soul, we ARE the best we can be. When we are with Jesus, when we belong to Him, He is the Straight Edge which guides our lives and allows us to have a Holy Heart.
A. When Grandpa and I built our house on the farm thirty some years ago, we did it all with regular hand tools. Oh, we had a circular saw and jig saws. But we didn't have all the electric and pneumatic tools we have today. Instead of a nail gun, I used a 20 oz framing hammer or a roofing hammer or a 12 oz finish hammer. Now days, nearly everything is built using pneumatic tools or electric, which makes the job go quicker and makes the average carpenter about ten times more powerful than I was.
In our daily walk, the Holy Spirit, the presence of Christ with us Every Day is what give us the power to be the Children of God. One of the Greek words used to describe the Holy Spirit is "Pneuma."
B. Through this "pneuma" or air power of the Spirit, God Supplies the tools for the ministry God calls us to. God doesn't always call the equipped but God always equips the called. That means we don't go alone. Knowing that we don't go alone fills us with a Holy Boldness.
That boldness reminds us that there is no place you can go that God hasn't already been. There is no place you can go that God already isn't. There is no place you can go that God won't follow. God goes ahead of us and prepares the way. If God goes before US, preparing us, preparing our hearts and our spirits for a relationship with God before we're even aware of the presence of God, then God does that same thing in other people's lives.
God has already prepared and established a relationship with all of us through creation, the work of Christ and the work of the Holy spirit. God has been whispering the invitation to that relationship from the moment of conception. All that has to take place in anyone's life is their response, their acceptance of the relationship God desires and has already established. Knowing that we are not alone and that God has gone before us and prepared the way, is what gives us Holy Boldness in our ministry.
Dr. Bob Tuttle, Professor of Evangelism at Asbury Seminary's Florida campus told of taking a trip to China. For part of his research, he and his interpreter were on their way to the Northern regions of China up near the Korean border. To say they were in the hinterland would be putting it mildly. He said they have been driving on one of the back roads for about three hours and had not seen another vehicle. They hadn't seen a home in about an hour. They decided to stop at the first house they saw and make sure they were on the right road.
About twenty minutes later they came across a small house and stopped. An elderly Chinese woman came to the door. She confirmed that they were on the right road and then invited them in for a bowl of soup and tea. In the conversation which followed, the woman asked what they were doing and why. They told her and she asked what a Seminary was.
They began describing it as a place to train ministers and mentioned Jesus. She stopped them and asked who he was. She had never heard the name before. So, they began explaining to her the story of Christ, everything from His birth to His death and resurrection. She sat quietly listening.
When Dr. Tuttle finished the woman said something to the interpreter. His face turned white. His eyes got huge and he had the most shocked look on his face.
Dr. Tuttle asked, what did she say? The interpreter, still with the shocked look on his face replied, "She said, 'So, that's His name." And then began to explain how Jesus had been at work in her life but she never knew His name, she'd never heard His story. But she knew Him. If I remember right, they baptized her before they left. (2)
The point is, God prepares the way for the work that God calls us to. And because God has prepared the hearts and minds of those to whom we are sent, we can go with a Holy Boldness because we don't go alone.
A. Every profession has their own set of tools. For me, it's the Scripture, commentaries, movies, stories and people. I keep track of all of that on both my computer and on my Palm handheld. A couple of months ago I got a new Treo Smartphone. It's both a phone and a Personal Digital Assistant. It combines the phone and palm handheld all into one. It has a little thumb keyboard that is quite handy and I've gotten pretty fast. But when I really want to type something quickly, I pull out my iGo Stowaway Keyboard. It's even wireless.
With both of those devices, I can pretty much leave and travel without my laptop and I can still write and/or edit my sermons almost anywhere. It's just another tool in the toolbox of preachers and business people. But I really like the name, iGo.
You see, no matter where iGo, I can be empowered with the right words. No matter where iGo, God is my Stowaway. It doesn't make any difference if I can't think of what to say, Jesus said, the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will remind us of the words of Christ. Paul even goes on to say that the Spirit will guide our words. When we trust in God through the Holy Spirit we will be able to speak Holy Words.
B. You know all those spy movies and cop shows where the undercover agent goes into the room wearing a wire and an ear piece that looks like a hearing aid so the police or handler or whoever can tell them what to say? Well, that's sort of what the Holy Spirit does for us. When we're called upon to bear witness, we don't have to rely on ourselves. We don't have to rely on OUR words or OUR power. Instead we're called to rely on the power of God through the Holy Spirit to supply the words, the Holy Words we need.
I've been in the ministry for 31 years. I've been in situations where I had absolutely no idea what to say or do but God has always lead me. All we have to do is trust the Spirit. We are not alone. God is our constant companion who won't abandon us. The Spirit WILL fill us with the Holy Words we need when we need them.
When I was in seminary at Perkins, I had the honor to meet and get to work with the premier United Methodist theologian Dr. Albert Outler. I remember him telling about a small town in the Northeast he once visited. This town had three churches in it, and each of the three churches, he said, had an architecture which reflected the essence of their theology.
The Roman Catholics had a cross on top of their church; the Congregationalists had a weather-vane; (which may be, unfair to the Congregationalists but that's what he said).
And the United Methodist Church? It had a lightning rod! Dr. Outler said the lightning rod symbolized the fact that Methodists were once struck by lightning and set on fire for God. He said the lightning rod symbolized the faith and the hope that it would happen again and again and again.
Because we've been struck by lightning, just like the early church, we are a Sent people. We're called to go into all the world proclaiming the Good News, That's kind of scary stuff. But part of the Good News is that my Tools Instructor in the Coast Guard was right, "there IS a right tool for the right job."
And for us, Every Day God Equips us with the right tools A HOLY HEART, A HOLY BOLDNESS AND HOLY WORDS.
Our Every Day God Equips us for ministry. All we have to do is be ready to use the tools.
1. Preaching Well, Volume IV, Number 5. www.voicings.com
2. I heard this story at the 2008 National Congress on Evangelism
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