Summary: Being a disciple of Christ means setting aside all personal ambitions and serving God's kingdom selflessly.
Each of us is claimed by God in our baptism, and we are called to serve God’s kingdom in a special way. This is what Martin Luther referred to as the “priesthood of all believers,” which means that though all of us might not make ministry our profession, each of us has a ministry to do. While I recognized God’s particular calling in my life when I was 15, my road to professional ministry began late in my college career. Two very important events happened that set me on the path that has brought me to this place.
I was student teaching, working with a middle school and high school band program in Greer, South Carolina, when one day after lunch my supervising teacher (the director of the middle school band) looked at me and said, “Clair, this is a tough job, and it takes complete dedication to do it well. Can you imagine yourself doing anything else with your life, because if you can, this isn’t the job for you?” And I could imagine myself doing something else. God was already working in my heart, directing me toward church ministry. Then, a few months later, after applying for Masters Programs in conducting at several schools, I got a letter from UTK, my first choice. I had been rejected. With the letter in hand and tears in my eyes, I walked into my next class, band rehearsal, with my mentor professor and conducting teacher getting prepared at the podium. I went to him, showed him the envelope, and then told him the news. Again, tears came to my eyes and I said, “Its okay.” At that point, my mentor gave me a big hug and said, “No, it’s not okay. It’s not okay.”
I share those two stories with you in order to say this; one of the things I realized in those moments was the way my life had been molded and shaped and impacted by many adults who had dedicated their lives to selfless ministry not only to me, but to many young adults. I started thinking back over my junior high, high school, and college years, remembering all the people who had made a difference in my life; three different mentors in college, my choir director from First United Methodist in Oak Ridge, my youth director, my private trombone instructor. And I realized that God was calling me to work, serve, and minister in such a way that I, too, could impact the lives of young people. First, that took me into the teaching profession, then into youth ministry, and now here. I’ll save that story for another time because this isn’t about me; it’s about the people who offered themselves in ministry to others.
Last Sunday as we sat in a Leadership Team meeting in the Fellowship Hall, Thomas, looking at the plaque of the people who served on the building committee for the Fellowship Wing shared how those people had touched his life as he grew up in this church. And I understand exactly what he was conveying. The truth of the matter is, we all can, because each of us has been touched, molded, shaped, and cared for by certain people who in various, but particular ways have made an investment of themselves for our sakes; which brings us to the reading from Luke’s gospel this morning, what is known as the parable of the rich fool.
Obviously, the primary focus of this parable is money and earthly treasure, and there is an important message here about what it means to steward the resources God has given us. But what I want to focus on this morning is not so much the problem of wealth, but instead the problem of self-centeredness that drives us to distraction and a primary focus on earthly matters. See, when we are working with the sole purpose of building bigger barns and accumulating greater wealth that means we are only concerned with ourselves. And when our personal concerns are primary in our lives, then our role as disciples of the Kingdom takes second place. But as we were reminded in Jesus’ teaching earlier in the service, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves [deny themselves]….” At its core, this parable is not about investments and dividends, it is about distractions, the things that keep us from doing the work we need to do as Christ’s disciples.
I don’t think there is any question that the pursuit of material gain can easily deter us from God’s course for our lives. But have you ever thought about what it can mean to be so distracted that we get off course in our discipleship? Or have you ever given consideration to other ways we are distracted from our ministry for God’s kingdom? Of course, the obvious problem of not investing our lives in the way God has called us to do, is that we don’t impact other people’s lives for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. If my mentors, and teachers, and music directors hadn’t gone “above and beyond” to do more for me than just teaching or directing, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If Alex Gamble, and Elbert Long, and the Prices, and the DeFrieses, hadn’t invested their time and energy in this church decades ago, many of us wouldn’t be sitting here (or even in any other church) today. Do you see this? When we get distracted, when we become concerned only with ourselves and our own personal gain, God’s whole kingdom and many who are a part of it suffer.