God doesn’t always call us to the comfortable surroundings that we’d like. The Reverend Barry Ball brought that message home with great humor on Saturday night as he delivered the sermon at the Celebration of Ministry: A Service of Covenant.
Recasting a familiar story from the Gospel of John, Ball imagined a deceased Lazarus, happy in heaven and getting ready to bite a big slice of God’s miraculous chocolate meringue pie, when he hears his friend Jesus calling him from afar.
Lazarus looks in God’s direction. “Do I have to?” he says.
Ball quotes God’s reply as, “It would be to my glory. I’d ‘preciate it. And my son would be real thrilled, if you do.”
Lazarus chooses to please God and returns to his earthly calling — to a body, Ball said, that’s wrapped up like a mummy “in stinkin’ clothes that’ve been for four days on a dead body.”
When Lazarus is brought forth and unwrapped, he’s standing in front of a large crowd — naked.
As the laughter died down from Ball’s retelling of the Lazarus story, he explained his final points to the energized audience.
“There are times when God calls us, and it’s natural,” Ball said. “But, brothers and sisters, there are times when God calls us, and it stinks.”
“It goes against what we thought we liked. It goes against the way we did it before. It goes against what we thought we were gifted for. We just had to discover what God was able to give us.”
Holding up a Bible, he said, “In this book we are told that we worship a God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Amen? Nowhere in here have I seen where it says that MINISTRY is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow!”
Warning against complacency in our spiritual relationships, Ball said, “Sometimes we get in our tombs, and it’s comfortable.”
We need to listen, he said, when we hear the call, “Come out, United Methodists! Come out, and trust.”
Though our new calling may be scary, he said, “We exist for the glory of God.”
The “covenant response” portion of the service was drawn from a service authored by John Wesley. The assembly prayed in unison a Wesley covenant prayer that included, “I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.”
Dozens of worshippers then took the opportunity to visit a baptismal font where the water served as a reminder of their covenant with God. Those who felt a possible call to ministry could at that time share prayer and confidential words with someone at the altar rail.
The closing hymn for the service, “Build Your Kingdom Here,” had the congregants singing, “Awake the kingdom seed in us. Fill us with the strength and love of Christ. We are Your church. We are the hope on earth.”