I am not sure if you all are up-to-date on the ins and outs of the ordination process of the United Methodist Church. But here is a quick rundown. All ordained clergy have to go through this process. First they have to have both a Bachelor’s Degree and then a Masters of Divinity. That right there is 7 years of schooling, four for the Bachelor’s and then three more for the Masters. Once that is done you can go in front of the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry for your Probationary Interviews. A candidate has to write papers for three different committees; Call and Discipline Life (who they are and their calling into ministry); for Elders like me, Preaching; and Theology (what they know about God). You have to write around 75-100 pages total for those papers and then sit through a 45 minute interview will each committee. If you pass you are commissioned a Probationary Member of the Conference and serve three years before you can go up in front of the boards again; writing all papers and going through interviews again, to become Ordained. The process can take 10 years if you go straight through. For me it took 11.
My third year of Divinity School I was eligible to go up in front of the board for probationary status. I wrote my papers, recorded some of my sermons, and prepared for interviews. Fellow Divinity School students would gather and we would do mock interviews with one another. We would help each other articulate our answers so we would feel prepared. Since I went to Duke there were lots of people from this Conference going up at the same time. My best friends were from the North Carolina Conference and the South Carolina Conference. They went to their interviews before me and both of them passed. They came home excited and we celebrated this milestone in their ministerial lives.
The day of my interviews came and I remember sitting in there petrified. I was really nervous and scared. I don’t remember a lot of my questions but I thought they went ok. As I waited to hear about the results two people came and got me. Two people were never good. One person meant you passed, two people meant good cop, bad cop was about to be played. One to share the bad news and the second one to console you as you curl up in the fetal position and weep. Sure enough I didn’t pass. I passed theology. I passed preaching. I didn’t pass Call and Discipline Life.
I couldn’t articulate my calling well and they weren’t feeling that I was quite ready to be a pastor. I walked out to my truck, I closed the door, and broke down. I had passed theology. I passed the test about what I knew. I passed preaching. I passed the part about what I would do. I didn’t pass Call and Discipline Life. I didn’t pass who I was. I didn’t pass my calling into the ministry. I felt deeply hurt because I knew I was called into ministry but I didn’t know why I couldn’t articulate it. I didn’t know why I could not express that calling to the people on the committee. In my tears the pain sunk in, deep into my soul. My family, Alycia and her family were all waiting to hear the news. I had to call them and tell them I didn’t pass. All my friends from Seminary were waiting, waiting to celebrate like I celebrated for them. I had to face them, broken, dejected, and utterly modified. I was modified because I didn’t pass the part that was supposed to be the easiest, who I was. I had even heard one that one of the people on the committee, a lay person, said that she wouldn’t want me as her minister.
In this moment, it just stunk. There are other words I used to describe this moment in my life but they are not appropriate for me to say from behind this pulpit. They gave me a spiritual director that I worked with over the next year. I had to go in front of that committee again the following year and I passed that time. I am here and I am ordained. But to see this from way back there was impossible.
Looking back I can see what happened. I can pin point exactly why I didn’t pass. Here is what else was happening in my life at that moment. In my third year of seminary I only had to take three classes a semester instead of four because I took a class over the summer. So my class work load was a little lighter. I was working part time at Heavenly Ham and was doing an internship in Rougemont, NC. I was preaching every week in a three point charge about 45 minutes above Durham. There was a three point charge up there and I would join the pastor of the charge for the 9:00 service and then I would go preach on of the 11 services and she would preach at the other church. It was a great experience and I learned a lot preparing a sermon each week and preaching in front of tens of people.
On top of all that I was also engaged to Alycia and we were busy planning our wedding for May 25, two weeks after I graduated from Duke. Then about three months later we were moving to England for a year where I would be in charge of three churches just northeast of Manchester. Then I also had all this work for commissioning to do. I had a little bit on my plate. Ok, I had a buffet load on my plate. I was attempting to juggle about 12 balls at once.
What had happened in that interview was the manifestation of having too much on my plate. By saying yes to so much, I didn’t have enough space, enough mind power, enough spirit to give it my all. I couldn’t formulate sentences to express what I did to connect with God. I completely forgot to tell them that my roommates and I would gather in the crypt in Duke Chapel to pray for each other every week. I completely forgot to tell them how I felt 100% myself when I was doing ministry and no other place in life made me feel that whole. I didn’t have the words because I was attempting to pull myself too thin. Writing papers for class, writing sermons each week, working part time, planning a wedding (ok Alycia and her Step-mom did 90% of that) and planning on moving to another country. It was all too much.
In the gospel of Mark we get this unique story of Jesus doing something I couldn’t do in 2001-2002, say no. It is only the first chapter of Mark’s gospel and Jesus has already done a whole lot before we get to the 29th verse. He came onto the scene and was baptized by John, taken out to the wilderness to be tempted for 40 days, came back and called the disciples, and three out some demons. Now he finds himself in the house of Simon healing his mother-in-law. After he does that the whole town shows up with their sick and demon possessed and he heals all of them. I don’t know about you but that seems like a really busy couple of months right there.
Then we get to verse 35; “early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” Jesus knew exactly what he needed to do. After giving so much of himself; lasting through the temptations; healing and casting out demons; Jesus needed to be alone with his father. He needed some peace away from the hectic world. He needed to be still even though the world kept demanding him to keep producing.
The disciples are hunting around looking for him and then they finally find him and what do they say? “Everyone’s looking for you!” Where have you been? There is work that has to be done! We need you to heal the next hundred or so people that showed up this morning! What is amazing is what Jesus does. He does the opposite of what we think Jesus should do. When we think of Jesus we think that he would say; “I know they are waiting for me, let us go and heal them all of their wounds. Let us go and cast out the demons. Let us make the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear.” But what does he say; verse 38; “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.”
His disciples are telling him about all these people that need him. They are seeking out his care, his grace, his compassion and Jesus says, “There are a bunch of people over there? Let’s go this way instead.”
What is simply amazing is why. He goes the other way because he knows who he is and why he came to the earth. He knows that he is the Son of God sent here to preach to the world. Not just one place. Not to only heal those who came from Simon’s mother-in-law’s town. He came to heal the world and the people who existed before him and after him, all of humanity. He knew his mission and he knew his purpose.
That is something that I am feel we as a church need to wrestle with. One of the articles in the newsletter this month is requesting your help with creating our mission statement. The Church Council wants your input on defining our purpose and our mission. Why are we here? What is God calling us to do for Indian Trail and the world? We need to be able to define that, speak it, remember it because it defines who we are and hones our ability to be church. Jesus knew it. Jesus understood it. He didn’t get swallowed up in life because he found time to be still. He escaped and went away to a quiet place to be still and talk with God.
How are you doing with your devotionals? Is it easy to find time for God in your day? It is only ten minutes, can you find the time? Being still takes practice so I hope you will continue to do the work this month and if you did not pick up a devotional there are some more in the back on your way out. Join in and walk this journey because we need time to be still and know who God is and understand or know who we are.
I wasn’t still enough in my third year of seminary. I was on a bullet train and didn’t even realize it. I knew I had a lot to do but I thought it was all possible. That reality came crashing down, hard. During the skit Leslie and everyone else did a great job depicting the stresses in life that can fill us up. All of it seems necessary. All of it is calling for our attention. All of it demands 100% of who we are. But when it piles up it can be too much. We lose sight of who we are and why we are here. We lose our purpose and our mission that God is calling us to do when we accept all the demands and stuff that life can through on us.
What I find exciting about this piece of scripture is that I am find assurance in knowing I can say no. Jesus said no. He saw all the people that gathered and he went the other way. He knew what he was supposed to do and what he could get accomplished in what time he had. He knew what was most important. Even though those people needed to be healed he knew his task was bigger than that.
I think many of us think that being Christian means we have to say yes to everything. I mean what good Christian doesn’t say yes? But every time we say yes to something we are saying no to something else. Let me say that again so you can hear it and let it sink in; every time we say yes to something we are saying no to something else. It is like the children’s sermon. I know I can only juggle three balls at a time. If someone tosses me a fourth I have to let it drop because I cannot handle it. If I attempt they all will fall. But if I put one down and pick the other ball up I can handle it.
Maybe you desire something more out of life. Maybe you want to make sure you are the best parent for your kids but life keeps getting in the way. Maybe you have always felt God calling you to help in some way in our community, to reach out and tutor a child, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or something but you cannot find the time. Maybe life feels like the skit and you are we being weighed down by all the demands in life and you can’t do any of it well because there is just too much.
Maybe we should take note from Jesus and learn to say no. By saying no to the things we need to say no to we can actually say yes to the things we truly desire to say yes to. Life can eat you up and spit you out. If you actually tried to do everything your kids school asks you to do, the church asks you to do, your kids ask you to do, your work asks you to do, your family asks you to do, your spouse asks you to do, and God asks you to do, you cannot do it all. YOU CANNOT DO IT ALL!!!! Jesus couldn’t so why do you think you can!
We need to learn our purpose and our mission as individuals and as a church so we can know who we are and say no to the things that get in the way of that. To do that we need time to pray, to be still, to push everything away in order to reprioritize and get in tune with what God says to us is most important of all.
May you find time to be still in order to know who you are, whose you are, and what you are supposed to be doing.
And all God’s people said…Amen.