My very first sermon when I was in college was at my parents’ church, and the topic was “spiritual gifts.” I remember this sermon well, not for what I said, but the conversation that followed. After the service, I was standing outside doing the handshaking thing, when a self-described curmudgeon came up to me. Readying myself for some kind of complaint, he took my hand and smiled, saying, “That was the best sermon I ever heard.” I'll be honest with you, it was nowhere close to the best sermon!
Out of curiosity, I asked him what it was about the sermon that connected with him. He replied that it was good because I had recognized that all people are called to whatever they're called to. He said most of the time when he hears that sermon, the pastor talks about their call and what a call to ministry is, and so on and so forth. But at that service, I spoke about how somebody could be called to be a veterinarian or even an accountant, and how that would be serving God.
While people could easily connect a veterinarian with serving God, since they are caring for those whom God calls us to care, but an accountant, that is a different matter! From later sermons when I spoke of the same thing and mentioned accountants as having a calling from God, even accountants have balked. So I have to explain that Jesus makes a point of sitting and ministering to the tax collectors. Yes, they are not accountants, but they share a stigma that accountants also face. Yet those same tax collectors that Jesus met with became central to the early church, and it is because of good financial people that churches are able to be around today.
I know in our church, we would not be able to do what we do without the finance team that works with our church. Their gear house gives us the ability to do the ministry that we do and to connect with people in a very real way, because we can afford to and we have gotten the priorities met by our budget.
It's easy for us to look at things and be able to make a quick determination as to what is godly and what is not, but that's not our purpose as a church. Our purpose as a church is to be present with the community, and to help facilitate individuals’ relationship with God. In order to do this, we have to be honest about the call and recognize that no matter where someone is called, we are all called to be the church, and that God will use our gifts in many ways to serve him.
I think this has a lot to do with the problems that we are seeing in our community. We place labels on things being “good” or “bad,” “Christian” or “not,” foregoing the faith that God does have a plan and a presence in the world. I think this is at the root of the conflict and crisis that we are facing in the society.
The norms that we thought we knew are changing. Just like Jesus saying to the tax collector that you have a place in my church, the church and community is having to rethink our whole understanding to ask how are we propagating the message of Christ and recognizing how God has given all people gifts to serve and help the church grow!
It almost feels as if our nation is having a midlife crisis. Up to this point, we had a pretty good idea of who we were, or at least we thought we did. But today, the things of the past¾things we haven't talked about, things that undergirded our society¾are starting to bubble up, and it is becoming evident to many that who we thought we were is not who we are. This disruption in our society is really difficult to deal with on so many levels. And for money and leadership and for those in our community, it's hard for us to see where we start.
At this point, it's not even an issue of attacking one thing over another or trying to fix systems. Our issues are deeper, and really require us to do a major overhaul of all the power you can approach, being a community together. More than anything else, we need to do what Christ was trying to do when society had gotten far away from their faithful relationship with God and comfortable with their power and presence in their communities.
For the different sects of Judaism that were around at that time, so much of what they were doing was establishing a point of view, and not necessarily being faithful to God. Much of what we see in the New Testament is not anti-Semitic; it's more that people had lost their way, putting their comfort in their ideology, rather than in God.
So we recognize that all people are called to God. We are all given different gifts and called to use them in different ways. We recognize that our world is changing, and we must question whether we’re acting on the side of God or if we’re acting out of line, watching out for our own comfort by excluding people and their gifts from our call to be the church of all God’s children.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen