Sermon from 10/14 at Titusville United Methodist Church
Text: Psalm 90:12-17, Mark 10:17-31
“Kelly, I know you don’t feel ready, but I want you to serve on your church’s praise team.” God called me to serve on my church’s worship team in high school; so every Sunday for three years I was there at 7am ready to move boxes, set up equipment, and play music for the Lord. “Kelly, I know you don’t think you’d be good at youth ministry, but I want you to serve with the youth at this church.” God called me to work in youth ministry in college; so I took the job and gave everything I had to figure out how to best serve the young people in my church. “Kelly, I know you’re comfortable where you’ve always been with what you’ve always known, but I want you to go to Princeton Theological Seminary.” God called me to New Jersey to attend seminary where I didn’t know a single person and really didn’t know what I was getting myself into; so I have tried my best to be faithful and dedicate myself to my studies and my work here.
I feel like God’s call in my life has always been relatively direct and I have relatively done my best to answer those calls with faith and courage. These steps have not always been easy, but I could jump into the unknown or the scary because I knew it was where God was calling me. But then in the last year, God called me to something else. God asked to have the most vulnerable part of me, something it felt was going to cost me more than any other call. God was asking me to own my queer identity. For so long, I had avoided the questions in my life around my sexuality and around my gender-expression. I thought if I could just be faithful to God in all the specific calls I had heard to that point, maybe I wouldn’t have to do this incredibly hard, incredibly scary, incredibly vulnerable thing. I asked the dangerous yet worthwhile question that the rich man in our story this morning asked. It was like I was challenging God, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I felt pretty confident that I was relatively obedient and relatively on track with the commandments and calls on my life. And then just like Jesus responded to our rich friend, he said to me, “oh wait, just one more thing. This thing you’ve been holding on to, this thing you’ve been afraid to give to me, this thing that could cost you greatly – I want that, too.” Maybe you’ve been there as well.
I believe this is why Jesus continues on to say how hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. He’s not talking just about money here. This request encompasses all of the things we hold back or tuck away or outright dodge. God wants all of us so that all of who we are can be used to glorify God. If we keep any of that for ourselves because it makes us feel better or neglect it because it’s hard or conceal it because we’re unsure of how others might react, that’s like saying you have a better chance of winning if you don’t play the game at all. So just like the rich man in the story, God was calling me to surrender everything. And by the grace of God, I began celebrate that process and truly listen and pursue all that God created me to be.
And even after all of my work in naming this identity and coming out to certain people in my life and opening up to what might come from this part of who I am, God said, “you’re not done. That’s not all.” God called me to share this significant piece of who I am with all of you this morning. God was very clear to me that I am not fulfilling my call to ministry, my call to this specific body of beautiful and diverse and gracious people, if I am not inviting you to be part of my story, too. This is a vital time in our church…in our denomination…in our country…and my honesty and my celebration of who I am as a queer woman is a crucial part of the conversations happening in our lives right now. This has been simultaneously rewarding and frightening. Rather than grieve a loss, like the rich man in the text today – a loss of comfort, a loss of familiarity, a loss of expectation – I have chosen to try and trust that God is at work. God has been shifting my call once again and God has been giving me strength even when I haven’t been sure that I am strong enough to honor it.
Let me be clear: This doesn’t mean you have to agree with me or that we all have to feel the same way about everything or that we all have to automatically get up to speed on every issue that has ever plagued the church. But I do think it invites us all to remember the humanity and the contribution of every single person here this morning. As we continue in conversation from here, I pray we all can remember that.
Thank goodness, our parable continues. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” My going into ministry, my serving the church, my coming out have never been about my own strength. Your barriers, your challenges, your risks aren’t about your strength either. This is why beautiful, incredible things happen when we give everything to God. Because we cannot do it on our own. We are not that powerful, that creative, or that loving. God takes what we have and does something more grand, more inspiring, more wonderful, more impactful than anything we could do if we held onto it ourselves. God can take something as scary as selling all that you own and turn it into a heavenly treasure. God can take something as scary as questioning your sexuality and turn it into a magnificent love that helps you better live into your purpose. God can take something as scary as what you have and turn it into something absolutely beautiful, too.
My advice from one person learning to surrender to another? Strive to respond like Peter did. Take ourselves out of the bondage of the rich man and instead claim our liberty of being a disciple of Christ. “We have left everything and followed you.” Embrace the freedom in our potential to say to God, “Take all of me and use it for your glory.” It is very scary and very shocking, just like the rich man illustrated. But this is exactly what faith looks like. Peter’s confidence is what faith looks like. We have to trust. We have to take a leap into the unknown and take Jesus at his word. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” It feels like we are last on earth as we sacrifice all of who we are and really put ourselves out there. But there is a greater purpose at work. There is a greater design at play. Heavenly treasure and ultimate fulfillment are waiting for us.
Imagine if we prayed like the psalmist prayed. Lord, “satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands.” I have been praying fervently over the last year for God to thrive in the work of my hands – in this church, in my studies, in my life, in my relationships, in all of the challenge and heartbreak and struggle that come in those places. As we pray, as we open ourselves up, as we truly submit every piece of ourselves to God, we are satisfied in the morning, friends. Like the hymn we sang right before this, faith anticipates the sun. Faith is eager for the daylight, for the work that must be done. That’s what I think it means to be satisfied in the morning. We can rejoice and be glad in all our days. We are liberated to press into the favor God has put upon us and to do the work we are called to do.
God might not be asking you to give up your sexuality. God might not be asking you to give up all of your money. I couldn’t possibly tell you what you might be holding back or holding on to or hiding from. I have a suspicion you probably already know what that is. I pray the Spirit is communicating with you on that. What I can tell you is that, whether we realize it or not, whether we name it or not, just about all of us have something we are trying to keep. So I propose this morning that we are all open to what it is God is asking us to surrender, for the betterment of ourselves and all those around us.
Like the beautiful Howard Thurman quote that has stuck with me during my ministry journey over the last 10 years, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I don’t know why we tend to be so hesitant of what makes us come alive. Maybe it’s back to Jesus’ point that for humans there are things that are impossible. I don’t like to ask for help and I certainly don’t like to be challenged to give up the most vulnerable parts of who I am. So I tend to play it safe. I stick to what I know. I only take calculated and sheltered risks. I imagine I’m not the only one. However, as we return to the basis of faith, which is to trust in God with everything in us, we are charged to do some really hard, really scary, really vulnerable work. If you walk away with anything this morning, I pray you can know that with God all things are possible, and therefore we are empowered and we are challenged to give all of ourselves to the Lord so that God may prosper the work of our hands. Amen.