Are You Willing
Sermon delivered at the United Methodist Church of North Chili, July 10, 2011
Scriptural Basis: Genesis 22:1–14 and Matthew 10:40–42
I’m going to ask you a very simple question today. “Are you willing?” And when I ask it, I’m looking for you for a very simple answer from you, each time that I ask it; “Yes, I am willing.” “Are you willing?” “Yes, I am willing?”
Jesus asks this question of every would-be disciple, “Are you willing? Are you willing to be my disciple? Are you willing to pick up your cross and follow me? Are you willing to go where I send you? Are you willing to do what I ask you? Are you willing to give up what is most important to you? Are you willing to receive who God sends you as God’s messenger and spiritual and corporate leader? Are you willing?
What a challenge! The reason I have come here to North Chili to be your Pastor is that I am willing. I am willing to listen to God’s direction, trust God’s direction, and obey it.
“Because I’m willing” is the same reason I went to Gouverneur, to Danby before that, to Odessa before that, and to Adam’s Basin and Rochester: Lake Ave. before that. And it’s the reason I left the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse field to enter pastoral ministry fifteen years ago. When God asks, I respond “I am willing.” And I’ve learned not to put up too much of a fuss about the details, because when I’ve trusted and obeyed the Lord before, the Lord has provided.
The people in Gouverneur wanted to know what I would be doing different in North Chili that I was doing in Gouverneur. Oh, I imagined some things, but I told them this; “The truth is I don’t know. I won’t know until I get there.” What I do know is that God said, “Go” and I said, “I am willing.” They asked me if this is a bigger church or a promotion. I was reluctant to answer that question, because I didn’t care.
Really, it doesn’t matter what your size is. It doesn’t matter how prestigious this appointment is. I’m told Gouverneur was a prestigious appointment. That is unimportant. That is irrelevant. There is something important that God wants me to do here with you. There is something important for us to do together. Wherever I’ve been, there’s something God wanted me to do while I was there with the people that were there. And we accomplished what God intended. And I am willing to do it. Are you willing? Let me ask you again, “are you willing?”
There’s a group of Islamic mystics called the Sufis. The Sufis believe that there is one God and many ways to God. There’s a song that they sing that goes “Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah. Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah.” What this little phrase means is “God is love. God is lover. God is beloved. “
This reminds me of a Christian Trinitarian formula “God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit.” They sing these words as part of dance performed by whirling dervishes or in folk dances. In the folk dance version there is an added verse” “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you. All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”
The dance goes like this. In this case I will begin as God’s Partner. Then you will be my partner. The dancers spin around, their hands in the air, looking skyward and sing “Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah. Ishkallah ma buddallah, ishkallah ma buddallah.” They spin as they sing these verses to God. Then, as they come out of the spin, they take the hands of the first person they see and dance first in one direction singing, ” “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you. All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you,” and then in the opposite singing the same. Then you repeat the sequence. It is a wonderful, spiritually intoxicating experience.
This song is an expression of the Great Commandment. Are you willing to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and soul, and are you willing to love your neighbor as yourself with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul? Are you willing?
What is willing? Willing in this case is receiving your pastor as God’s gift, God’s messenger to you. You know, when I enter this pulpit, I am no longer speaking for myself. I have said things from the pulpit that I would not have said from my ordinary perspective. I have challenged and encouraged myself as well as congregation from the pulpit. It is God’s word, not mine! And I’ve been willing to receive and deliver God’s word. Are you willing to receive and trust and obey God’s word? Are you willing?
And willing in this case is fulfilling the very vision, mission, core values, and core beliefs that you have set forth in your churches vision, mission, core value, and core belief statements. Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is? Are you willing to proclaim the gospel by your actions? Are you willing for the word that first became flesh in Jesus to become flesh in you? Are you willing?
Gee, Abraham was willing to place his child Isaac on the altar to sacrifice him to God! And God was willing to place his own child Jesus as a sacrifice on the altar of the cross? Are you willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to make a living sacrifice of your life? Are you willing to go where you have not gone before? Are you willing to go where no man or woman has gone before? Are you willing to go, as a Church, to where this church has not gone before; where no church has gone before? Are you willing?
You see, I am and you are, like the first disciples, ordinary people. But God has used ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. It is my intention, as God is willing, to be an extraordinary Pastor of an extraordinary church. And what will make us extraordinary is living out our mission.
God has given you a vision. Without a vision a people will perish, but you have a vision! God has given you a mission. Without a mission a people have no direction and purpose, but you have a mission! God has put certain core values in your heart. Without core values a people’s life is worthless and meaningless but you have core values! Without core beliefs, people flounder, but you have core beliefs.
Now God wants you to live into that vision, fulfill that mission, and express those core values and beliefs in your lives as individual Christians and as a Church. And for this to work you have to be willing. As individuals and as a church: Your will has to be God’s will. Your heart has to be the heart of Jesus. Your mind has to the mind of Jesus. Your body has to be the body of Christ. Are you willing?
What pleased God about Abraham was his willingness, his commitment to act upon his beliefs, to receive God’s word, heed God’s word and respond positively to them. The reason Christianity, Islam, and Judaism exist today is because of Abraham’s willingness.
And don’t you think that what God asked of Abraham was easy! Yet look what happened for Abraham. God provided!
What pleased God about Jesus was the same; his willingness, his commitment to act upon his beliefs, to receive God’s word, heed them, and respond positively to them. And he did this so completely he was the embodiment of God’s Word. And here we stand because of Jesus’ commitment. As God looked at Jesus God proclaimed, “This is beloved son. With him I am well pleased!” And when Jesus obeyed God, even dying on the cross, God provided, rising Jesus from the dead!
What pleased Jesus about his disciples is that they did go out and preach, heal, drive out demons, and baptize in his name. And, pleased as they were with the results of their actions, he told them that they had not seen anything yet, that they would do even greater things than that, if they were willing to follow through, follow through even when he was no longer with them. Look what the original 12 and 72 have become! Look around you in this sanctuary, across the United States and around the globe! Are you willing? When you are willing to do God’s will you will succeed!
God has more in store for us! The work Jesus has left the Church to complete remains before us! Are you willing? Are you committed to God’s Word? Are you committed to following Jesus? Are you committed to God’s Reign? Are you committed to life in the Spirit? Are you committed to the Vision, Mission, Core Values and Core Beliefs God has given you? Are you willing?
Are you willing to care for the least and last of these; for the children, the outcasts, the poor, the people different from you? These are among the people you have determined to welcome. Are you willing to go out and meet them, greet them, join them, invite them, welcome them, include them in the Church, the community of all God’s people as a sign of what God’s reign on earth will be like? Are you willing?
Remember God is 100% committed to you! God is100% invested in you! God believes in you 100%. God has entrusted you, the Church, the disciples of Jesus with the Gospel! God has and is giving you everything that belongs to God! That is God’s promise to you!
How willing are you? 10% . . . 20 . . . 30 . . . 40 . . . 50 . . . 60 . . . 70 . . . 75 . . . 80 . . . 90 . . . 95 . . . 100? 100 % willing? Can you see yourself 100% willing now! Wow! Are you willing to try? Are you willing to succeed? Are you willing to exceed all expectations? This is what constitutes the reign of God! 100% in!
Remember what Jesus said; “As you sow, so you reap.” And he said, “Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will they pour into your lap. For with the measure you give, it will be measured back to you.” Are you willing?