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Uniquely Yours
January 12, 1997

2 CORINTHIANS 5:16-6:2

We have just sung that God takes lives in whatever condition and makes something beautiful, something good. I know we could go around the room this morning and hear testimonies of how God has made and is making something beautiful and something good. For what purpose? Why does God help us? Why does God redeem us? Why does God call us to the church, call us to be the body of Christ? Not so you can feel beautiful and good! God redeems and calls us to do ministry; makes us beautiful and good, in order for us to do God's work.

Last week, I encouraged us to begin this new year with Jesus. Get your priorities straight, and put Jesus first in your life. On this day in the church year, we traditionally remember and celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Jesus was baptized by John, the baptizer. Jesus then began his ministry. As a disciple of Jesus, a follower of Jesus, you also have a ministry. Discover, design, and do your unique ministry. In the Scripture lesson read this morning, Paul told the Corinthians that God has given us a ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors of Christ, he wrote. The us in the passage includes us in Merced. Us includes you. Everyone in this room this morning has been given a ministry, and is a minister of reconciliation. Our bulletin reminds us every Sunday that the ministers of this church are the church members.

Many of you take the ministry very seriously, and are very dedicated and committed ministers. I rejoice and thank God for the saint who gave sacrificially $10,000 so our church could fulfill its responsibility and do its fair share in our denominational ministry. This saint takes ministry very seriously.

The other day I called Doris Barrett (and I didn't tell Doris I was going to tell this story so I don't have to call her anonymous!). Doris was elected secretary of the Administrative Council. I called to tell her the first meeting of the year will be Sunday evening, February 2. She gulped and said that she would be there. I asked her if there was a problem. "Well," she said, "my grandson is competing in a regional gymnastic event in Las Vegas where my oldest daughter lives, and he and his family are going there from their home in Washington." I said, "So you are planning a mini family reunion as well as supporting your grandson in the gymnastic event." She replied, "Yes, but I won't go. I accepted the job as secretary, and I will be at the meeting." Now, that is dedication and commitment! You might be interested in my response. I told her, "You go to Las Vegas. Your first priority is to be a grandmother. It's in the Bible!" She said, "Oh, I shouldn't miss the first meeting." I said, "We can struggle along without you. You go be with your family. Besides that, you can give the church 10% of your winnings!" She said, "Oh, I don't play those machines!"

Yes, we have many dedicated, committed ministers in this congregation who take ministry very seriously. My challenge this morning is that all of you realize that every one of you is a minister. Every one of you has a ministry, a ministry that is uniquely yours. Find it, develop it and do it. We are trying to change the way churches do their business and their ministry. The Nominating Committee is challenging our committees to rethink their role. Somehow churches have got the idea that we elect people to committees to do the church's work. No, committees do not do the work, and when committees think they are responsible to do the work, the work accomplished is quite small because committees are composed of just a few people. I've heard people lament, "Oh, our committee is so small. There are not enough of us to do all that needs doing." Sisters and brothers, committees are not supposed to do the work. The congregation is supposed to do God's work. You are the ministers. You are the doers. Committees talk; ministers act. The committees are to define the task and recruit the rest of us to do the work. A good example was the Work Day last fall. Over 80 people painted, repaired, polished, and cooked to feed the workers. There is no way a committee of nine trustees could do all that work. Committees are not the ministers, the doers. You are the ministers.

What is ministry? Ministry is doing God's work. Wherever you can bring people to reconciliation-- reconciliation with God and with one another-- is ministry. Discover your spiritual gifts and teach, or lead, or administer, or heal. In Christ's name, perform acts of mercy. Jesus had compassion for the poor and mistreated, and challenges us to do the same, for the sake of the little ones, as he called them. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, visit those imprisoned. Some of you are public school teachers. If that isn't ministry, I don't know what ministry is. Look upon your teaching as doing Christ's ministry. Pray for your students. Be alert for the opportunity to speak a kind word, an encouraging word. Love them as Jesus loves you. Whatever your work, look for ways to make it your ministry. Consider yourself an ambassador for Christ, a minister of the United Methodist Church of Merced. Several of you are engaged in the teaching ministry in our church and doing an outstanding job working with our children, youth, and adults. Several of you are engaged in the prayer ministry, undergirding everything we do with prayer.

Doing your unique ministry does not necessarily mean that it is public. Perhaps the most significant and important ministry you can do is done quietly, without fanfare. Ruth Harms Calkin has written,

You know, Lord, how I serve you

with great emotional fervor in the limelight.

You know how eagerly I speak for you at a women's club.

You know how I effervesce when I promote a fellowship group.

You know my genuine enthusiasm at a Bible study.

But how would I react, I wonder, if you pointed to a basin of water

and asked me to wash the calloused feet of a bent and wrinkled old woman,

day after day, month after month, in a room where nobody saw

and nobody knew?

What is your ministry? God is making something beautiful and something good out of your life for a purpose, so you can do your ministry, the ministry that is uniquely yours.

If there is one common thread that runs through a congregation such as ours that needs to addressed and challenged, I believe it is the tendency of all of us to think too small. Paul urged his followers not to think too highly of themselves. Our problem is the reverse. We think too small. Is it out of humility? Or lack of courage? Or a poor self-image? Too many Christians think they are insignificant, that the little they do doesn't count for much, and that they can't do very much. A church is small and insignificant when its people think they are small and insignificant. Expand your vision of yourself and of what you can accomplish.

A Russian Czar was inspecting troops and failed to notice an enemy soldier whose rifle was aimed at him. Fortunately for the Czar, one of his loyal soldiers noticed the attack, and yanked on the Czar's horse which pulled him out of the line of fire. The Czar was extremely grateful, of course, and told the soldier, "Tell me your secret wish and consider it granted." "Your Majesty," replied the soldier, "My corporal is a cruel man. Please send him to another company." "You fool!" cried the Czar, "Why don't you ask for you to be made a corporal?" The poor soldier thought too lowly of himself. He didn't see himself as being worthy of being a corporal. Sisters and brothers, don't think too lowly of yourself. There is a unique, important, significant ministry for you to do.

In the 1880s, Dr. Charles W. Eliot was president of Harvard University. One day a humble looking couple from California showed up in his office. California was not a very important state in those days, but he agreed to see them because the man had recently been elected to the U.S. Senate. The couple explained that their only son had died of typhoid fever a year earlier. As it had been the young man's dream to attend Harvard University, they wanted to build some memorial to their son at the university.

"What did you have in mind?" Dr. Eliot asked. The man replied, "Is there a building you need?" Dr. Eliot said, "It costs a great deal of money to build what we need. You may want to consider endowing a chair in honor of your son. I suggest that you go and talk to our academic dean."

The meeting was over. Dr. Eliot stood up. But before leaving, the wife asked, "How much would it cost to duplicate this entire university in another part of the United States?" Eliot was astonished by the question, and stammered, "I suppose it would take $5 million," which was a lot of money in 1885. Leland looked at Jane and said, "Well, Jane, we could manage that, couldn't we." Before Dr. Eliot could recover, the Stanfords were gone.

What would Harvard University be like today if President Eliot had not been such a small thinker! What would California be like without Stanford University and the Stanfords who thought big!

Don't think too highly of yourself, but don't think too small either! God needs you. Your church needs you. Merced City and County need you. There is a ministry that is uniquely yours that needs doing. Even shut-ins can have a ministry. Do it. You will feel better about yourself. You will feel better physically. You will feel better emotionally. Pray God to show you your ministry. If you have not yet taken the Spiritual Gifts inventory, talk to Jody. She will be glad to share it with you, and interpret the results. If you need some encouragement or assistance to begin your ministry, please talk to me or Jody.

This new year, begin with Jesus, and do your ministry.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris