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Are You Able?

October 17, 2015

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Denise and I flew back to Alabama in September to be on Staff at Alabama Presbyterian Cursillo #34 which was held at Episcopal Camp Beckwith near Fairhope, Alabama. In addition to Cursillo, I was honored to officiate at the wedding of two wonderful young women on the lake in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. To be honest, the whole week was a bit surreal. I had lived the last seven years on the Gulf Coast of Florida and Denise had spent the major portion of her adult life on the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Louisiana. But now we live at a slightly higher elevation (7,522 feet above sea level to be exact) in a place I never dreamed I would be living! As I look at it, this is just another instance of God saying, “Are you ready, Michael? Are you ready for what I have in store for you?”

When I graduated from seminary in 1986, I worried about whether or not I would be able to preach every Sunday and have something new to say. I remember one of my first sermons (in 1984) being something that exhausted Scripture, me, and the congregation when I preached in a wee little town in Wisconsin! Somehow, they survived! The three years I preached at the two little churches I pastored in North-Western Minnesota (Western Presbyterian Church near Fergus Falls and Lawrence Presbyterian Church in Wendell) saw me struggle and grow as a pastor and preacher. When God called me to Active duty in 1990, I was once again answering a call while at the same time not quite sure how I was going to do it. When I landed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, I was the lowest ranking Chaplain on a staff of eleven Chaplains. Over the course of the first month on duty, I had about fifteen times more counseling cases than I had in the entire three years in Minnesota. Once again, I wondered… am I able?

After twenty-one years on Active duty, I hung up my uniform and became a pastor once again. Landing in the small community of DeFuniak Springs, I had to adjust to the pace of a small town and life as a pastor. At times it was relatively easy. At times it wasn’t. There were times when I wondered, Lord, am I able? There were times when I doubted my ability thanks to “stuff” going on in that town and even  in the church. So when God called me away from Florida to Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies and a church nearly three times the size of the one I had been serving, I again wondered… Lord, am I able?

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As I sit on the deck at Coffee on the Rocks near our condo, I am reminded once again of God’s providence and grace! Estes Park is offering both Denise and I some amazing opportunities for service as a couple and as individuals. Are we able? The Lord seems to think so… And we are, at times, overwhelmed by God’s amazing grace and love!

So what does this have to do with the Gospel reading for tomorrow? Everything! James and John seemed to think that they were able to take the lead with the disciples. Lord, we want to sit at your left and right hand in glory. Really guys? Isn’t that a bit brash of you? Especially when you consider that Jesus has been talking about the first being last and his being handed over to the officials who will condemn him to death? Were you even listening?

Jesus responds to their request with a comment and question: “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” (Mark 10:38 CEB) In their brashness, they seemed to think that they were able. The other ten disciples, upon hearing this request “became angry with James and John.” (Mark 10:41 CEB) It became apparent to Jesus that the disciples were having another adventure in missing the point. Guys, look at the ones the Gentiles call rulers. They show off their status and lord it over the others. Is that what you want? If it is, you are going to be sorely disappointed. That isn’t the way it is going to be in my Father’s kingdom. “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave/servant of all…” (Mark 10:42-44 CEB)

Unlike your Padre who is often troubled by self-doubt, James and John were troubled with overconfidence. They told Jesus that they felt they were able to drink the cup he was going to drink. Me? As you can read above, I often wondered if I was able to do what the Lord was calling me to do, let alone drink his cup!

James, John, and the other disciples would come to find out exactly what drinking the cup of the Lord would entail. They would find out what it meant to be servant/slave of all. They would find out just what drinking from the Lord’s cup meant. They would find out that they were able… not on their own terms or accord… but by the grace of God. John, the beloved disciple who ran away when Jesus was arrested would write the beautiful Gospel that bears his name and live out his life in exile on Patmos. Peter, the one who denied Jesus and ran away, would end up being the leader of the Apostles and dying a martyr’s death. Was it by their own strength that they succeeded? Nope! It was by the power of the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus before he left them, that they would succeed.

Are you able, dear reader? Are you able to go where he calls you to go? Are you able to do what he calls you to do? If you doubt it, you are not alone. For in doubting our own abilities (rather than being puffed up with pride in our own image of who we think we are) we leave the door open for the Spirit to enter. When we are weak, it is then that we are strong according to Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). When we are servants of all, then we are leading in the way of Christ. Am I able to do what I do in ministry because of who I am? No… I am able because of the grace of God who equips me. And in the same way, you too are able to serve. In my ordination (and installation) vows, I answered the constitutional questions with the phrase I do and I will. The last question asks: “Will you be a faithful ruling elder, watching over the people, providing for their worship, nurture, and service? Will you share in government and discipline, serving in councils of the church, and in your ministry will you try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ?” The answer? “I will with God’s help”.

That, my friends is the answer we should have when the Lord asks us if we are able. “Yes, Lord, we are, with your help!” May God help us to be such servants today and always!

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