Recognizing Women in Ministry

The Nebraska Synod would like to continue to recognize women in ministry during the month of July. In honor of this celebration we would like to share the following sermon written by Rev. Juliet Focken, Assistant to the Bishop.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, the creator and the redeemer.

I thank God for you and the mission and ministry that we are able to do because of you and the work of the Gospel that you do.  Thank you for being the church that struggles with the difficult work of the ministry.  Thank you for the work you do.

It seems odd to write a sermon in advance these days, everything changes so quickly day by day that it is difficult to know where to best put my voice. In a time when we could step forward in peace and hope, we are wrenched with pain and grief at the inequality that strikes our land.  In a time of worry and pain we look to God in a hope of what could be, when change can come and when we can be part of the new life of hope.

I wonder if that is also where the Israelites were in our first passage.  They have just run from Pharaoh and have the image of Pharaoh’s Army being crushed by the power of God in the water of the Red Sea.  They still have the grit of running in the dry sandy wind in their teeth.  They are still unsure of what is next and probably not totally believing that they are God’s people.  Things have changed so quickly for them that it is difficult to stand up and trust anything.

Our first passage starts with the Israelites on the edge of what will be.   They have been freed from the slavery of Pharaoh, but have not yet learned what it means to live into their new freedom.  So, God takes the time to form a covenantal relationship and to teach them.  I wonder if God is using this new time we live in to teach us new behaviors?  Is this where the church is today?  Freed to do the work, looking at what could be, but also stuck in the mindset of our old ways?  God, knowing what our people need, sets about to put in place a formal relationship of hope.

Now remember, this is the God who created the world, with just his voice.  This is the God that brought us into life with his breath.  Now this is the God that loves us so much that he wants to declare that we would be his “treasured possession.”  Out of everything in the earth, God looks at us and lifts us up, setting us apart for his work.  I wonder if we’ve brought him pride with our actions.  Have we lifted each other up and set each other apart to do the best they possibly can?
I wonder, if we need this time to stand on the edge of something new with hope in our eyes and let God place in our hearts where he needs us to go next.

To continue the story of God sending out his people, we join the Gospel writer as Jesus sends out his disciples into the work force.  There is a fascinating word play in the Gospel text from Matthew.

From chapter Matthew 10:1-2a

“Jesus called his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits so they could cast them out and heal every kind of disease and sickness.  Now these are the names of the twelve apostles...”

Did you see what happened there?  In one sentence the twelve went from disciples to apostles.  In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus is teaching his students, about all the things they will need to know to do the work that they will be sent out to do.  A disciple is a student, a learner someone who is assimilating information and thinking about possibilities.  An apostle is one that is sent out with purpose and mission.  Someone who has done the studies and the work and is now pushed out of their comfort into ministry.  In one moment, they have gone from the comfort and care of learning into being called into action.

I wonder if this is where we are right now as the church?  It feels like we have been preparing for this moment for a significant amount of time.  It feels like the church has been disciples, learning and researching, figuring out what could be best, but that in the last months we have been forced to look at everything in a new way and try to figure out what is really needed for ministry.

Each one of us at some time during these last months has been locked down, and afraid.  There is such a fear that is pervasive that even when we slowly start to step out now, when someone coughs in public we automatically respond by stepping back.  We are afraid, everything has changed and we aren’t comfortable.  Church, isn’t that a wonderful place to be?

We aren’t comfortable, going out to the store, completing our regular routines, and we’ve had to reassess everything that we do.  We have had the time to look at what is important to us, and what things need to be let go.  We have looked at who is really hurting and how we can help.  But we still bring the old routines that have held us captive and the fear of how much has changed, not being able to yet see clearly what we are being pushed out into.  We can no longer say, “this is how we’ve always done it” because we’ve never done this before, how can we use this time to look with fresh eyes into the possibility of what we could be as a people of God?

How do we use this time to look at the fear and hurtful behaviors that have enslaved us?  How do we look at our own hearts and take this time to realign them with what Jesus asks us to do?  Each one of us has convinced ourselves that our choices are right and just, what if we use this time to really look and question our perceptions?  This pandemic has changed all of our normal routines, isn’t it time to dig into the depths of our hearts and see what else we need to change? For too long, we have been the church that sits and listens, now is our time to act and change to let the Spirit push us into ministry that we don’t understand.  This is exactly the moment we’ve studied and lived for our whole Christian lives.  We’ve been preparing for a change, and we are living it.

I’ve been amazed as I walk around the neighborhood what changes have happened.  There are neighbors out working on their houses, there are children playing in the streets and everywhere there are dumpsters in people’s driveways as they clean out their houses.  We finally have the time to go through all the junk and stuff that we’ve accumulated over the years and take a realistic perspective as to if we need it or not.  It’s automatic as we spend more time at home to do this with our houses, I wonder how much time at home we will need to be able to do this with our hearts?  Since we have more time to think without distractions, have we cleaned out our hearts?  Is this why in our online church meetings we often hear now about haircuts and house cleaning, is it because we aren’t comfortable yet talking about the places in our hearts that need to change?  The places that we need to get out the old ideas, the old thoughts and make some room and some space for God?

Did you see that in this passage, Jesus prays that God will provide the laborers and then in the next passage, the disciples are sent out?  What does it mean to pray for change?  It means that when we pray for change, it’s followed by action.  We are not called to pray for change and continue to sit back and wait, we are called to pray for change and then step out as the church to make the changes that are needed.  The grace of this pandemic, is that we’ve been given the gift of time, we have to work on ourselves and our own routines, because everything else has been taken away.  We’re forced to look at ourselves and see where we need more work.  How can we use this time to become the laborers that God needs next?

Church, we are being given a gift.  The gift of time and focus, we’ve never had this before.  We have time now to think, to breath and to change so that when we are pushed back out into our communities, we can be the change that God needs us to be.  I wonder what this looks like for you?  I wonder what it would take for each of us to take a micro step each day towards change?

Our world is hurt, we are sick, we are in pain… what is God calling us to do?  What is next?  How do we grow?  Church, people’s hearts are open and raw, they are needing the hope that we live, how do we bring it when the doors are still closed?  This week, you have a choice, you can continue to sit and learn, or you can live out the ministry that you are called to do.  I wonder what that will look like this week?  How will you live out what God is calling you to do?  What does the passion look like in your heart for others?  Not just the people in your house, or the people that gathered with you in church in the time before?  How does your apostolic heart cry out for justice for those who have never had a voice?  How are you drawn into ministry for people that you don’t know?  How are you pushed out into using your voice for this new life we are living into?

I’ve been thinking about pain and all the ways that the church has used our authority in the past.  But I don’t think it’s enough to stop there, I’ve had to really struggle and get in the uncomfortable spot of thinking about how I have caused others pain.  Where were the times I didn’t stand up?  Where were the times I was silent, and knew better?  Where was my voice?  It was hidden in fear and worry, behind pews and hymnals.  But now those things are gone, so what holds me back from being the voice that lifts others up rather than holding them back?

You see, that’s also the dark side of fear.  Fear can push you out to try new things, or fear can lock you down and turn you inwards.  It’s normal to feel fear, but it’s not our call to live there.  It isn’t our call to turn inwards, it’s our call to be pushed out. 

Church, you’ve been taught and prepared, we’ve prayed for years that God would bring change.  The change is here and is happening. 

It is time to act.

All Bible passages are taken from the NET Bible translation.


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