(given June 26, 2008)
These last few weeks have raced past and I have gone back and forth between excitement and anxiety. I expect you are feeling the same. Here we are strangers in this life, but members of the same Christian family. I am wanting to do my best for you, and you are wondering if I can really serve you.
I have no idea what the final outcome will be, but I would like to share some words our District Superintendent Cody Collier gave us during the PPR introduction four weeks ago. In that visit, he said he looks for three qualities when filling an appointment: the ability to listen, the ability to love, and the ability to learn.
Those words remind me so much of the Greatest Commandment Jesus gave his disciples: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus followed that with a second commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
During licensing school, I found myself returning to Cody’s words and I realized just how powerful those three words really are. They are so important to my own philosophy both in teaching and in daily life. You may have heard that I teach school, not just a regular English class in a traditional high school, but I teach in the Gateway Educational Center, which is the alternative program serving Johnson County.
Just trying to explain what I do is complicated. I teach communication arts, yes; but I also am responsible for the social studies classes, a hobbies class, and the organizational structure of our program. When the program was launched in 1995, the program was staffed with five teachers, a director, a secretary and custodian. In 2002, we suffered through a budget cut back to just two teachers. A complicated story, but alternative education has been my ministry for 13 years here in Johnson County, but also for the nine years I worked at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington.
In that ministry of teaching listening is critical. We must listen to our students. We must listen to our administrators. We must listen to our own thoughts and hearts. Teaching cannot occur without listening skills and Cody said that we need to listen as pastors. We need to listen to what God says, to what the parishioners say, and for the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Look to the scriptures and see how God has been telling the faithful for generations:
1. In Deuteronomy 30, Mosses tells the Israelites, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
2. In 1 Samual, “The Lord called Samual a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, you called me.’ Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ”
Now those are strong words. We must listen. We are not particularly good at listening. We do not listen in our own homes to our spouses or to our children. Listening to God is not easy. There is no physical body there, but we must learn to listen to Him.
But God did not give up. In Proverbs, which I refer to as God’s Life Instruction Book, he tells us two more times how important listening is:
1. Proverbs 18:13—He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.
2. Proverbs 12:15—The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
As we work together, I will work to listen to you. My hope is that as we listen to each other, we listen first to God. We want to make sure that what we do is as God desires us to do.
Of course that means we cannot forget to love. If the Greatest Commandment and its companion commandment focus completely on that one small, four-lettered word LOVE, then we must focus on it completely. We must love God, each other, strangers, enemies, and even this earth we depend upon for life.
Why if God can love with such complete compassion that he “…loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal live.” Why can we not love each other. John Wesley understood this. He said,
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
Is this not love? I see that God and Wesley only wanted each of us to love each other. Wesley takes love and moves it into action.
Paul also gave us guidelines for how to love. Look at Romans:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Did you hear that? Our Bishop continues to follow the Methodist philosophy. He had to hear in Paul’s words the need to practice hospitality, and with the fervor of Wesley, he adds the word, practice radical hospitality. Hospitality reaches into the hearts of all of us. It warms us. It welcomes us. It shows our love for others.
Cody added one more quality in his expectations for us to fulfill: learn. There is no way that any one of us can listen to each other or to love each other without learning. We need to continue growing in our faith. As a church, we have the responsibility of providing the setting for others to continue learning. This may not mean just sitting in a chair, reading the Bible, and talking in a small group; it may mean providing a setting for others to learn.
Learning how to be Christians definitely requires study of the scripture, but it also means discussing the ideas that we read and develop as rational thinkers. Wesley also wanted Christians to depend on the Holy Scriptures. We are to take the scriptures, read and study them. We are to look back at history and consider what has happened and how it was handled by early Christians. The third part was to review our personal experiences. Life has a way of teaching us lessons which challenge our beliefs and hopefully strengthen them. Wesley believed that we were to review all three of these factors and then use our own ability to reason through it for the life lesson. This is the quadrilateral, a four-part process to discern or to learn God’s message for us today.
As we begin working together, let us turn to the scriptures for direction as in Isaiah:
“…learn to do right!
Encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
Plead the case of the widow.”
Learning together helps us to make better decisions. It helps us to grow in our faith. We can do just as Isaiah told us to do because it is much easier to be Christians when we exist in Christian fellowship. We will learn how to grow in our faith as Paul explained to the Hebrews in chapter 5 verses7-8:
“During the days of Jesus; life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears. …Although he was a son he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. …”
We must carry on conversations with God through the reading of the scriptures and through conversations with other servants. By doing this, we are listening, we are loving, and we are learning to be the servants of Christ that Wesley strove to teach us to be.
The results can only be good. We will listen to God and to each other. We will love God and each other. And from this we will learn. Just as Jesus said in Matthew:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We will learn, and our life will be easier.
I will do my best to see that I meet Cody’s expectations to listen, to love and to learn. I will be teaching full time, but I am here to serve you. I will do my best to listen to you. I am here to love you for who each of you are individually and as a whole. I know that I will also learn so many stories; I will learn your life stories; and I will learn how God can lead us to the joy of his grace in Christian community.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for bringing me home once again to this congregation. Thank you for giving me the strength to serve your people. Guide me as I listen, as I love, and as I learn from their lives and from your Holy Word.