CHARGE CONFERENCE SERMON
Anna Mason Hill
October 5, 2015
Before I read the scripture for tonight’s message, I want to thank you all for giving your Monday night to be here. It’s truly humbling to see each of your support as I go through this journey, and I am overwhelmed by the love and encouragement I’ve already received.
So tonight I have two goals for this message:
First, I want to share with you what God has been doing in my life. I have sat down with some of you and had intimate and personal conversation about my call to ministry, I have had light conversation with others about my desire to enter seminary and ministry, and some of you may not have heard my story at all. But all of you have come tonight, so I feel that it is only right to share my story with you.
Second, I want to take time to remember that my story is really God’s story. I want to share with you what God has been doing in the life of one of his children. There are billions of people in the world, and God has called each of us to something. Whatever our calls may be, God helps us achieve them and within that, He is glorified. So this story is just one of the billions of stories that He’s been working on this past year.
I also want to take a moment to remind you all that tomorrow is my birthday…..so if you want to just unanimously vote me through then I’ll consider that a birthday present from all of you and you won’t need to feel obligated to get me anything else…really it’s okay…
So, if you have your Bible with you, I’d like to ask you to turn to the book of Psalms. We’re going to be looking at chapter 139 verses 1-6.
- O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
- You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
- You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
- Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
- You hem me in--behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
- Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
This passage has been close to my heart over the past two years. I honestly just stumbled upon it one day, and it has sort of become my comfort blanket throughout this entire call process. This verse has been a source of joy and peace, it has been a scripture I’ve shared with others, hoping it would offer the same joy and peace, and this passage has even seen me through heartache and confusion.
But whatever state my heart or mind has been in, this passage has been there. It’s hanging up on the wall of apartment, it’s highlighted in my Bible and it’s stored in my phone and my emails. We all need something like that, right? We all need a comfort blanket full of encouraging words that we can stick in our back pockets to carry with us and pull them out when we need them the most. These words remind us who we are, and most importantly, they remind us who God is.
The idea of God going before, behind, and laying His hand upon me is the idea that’s been carried around in my back pocket for two years. I read those words and I see God guarding a boxed area and placing me in the middle. If I turn around to run He’s there to catch me, if I walk forward into uncertainty, He’s always a step ahead of me leading the way. I look to my left and to my right and He’s just there waving and smiling with His “I’m not going anywhere” look. And even when I stop moving and I just sit in the center of the box with my head down, it’s His hand that is on me, passing on the strength for me to stand up again.
There is a lot that this scripture says about us, but more than being about us, this scripture tells us about God. These three words “behind, before, and upon” remind us that God never leaves. He loves us too much to do that. He loves us too much to push us to face new stages of life on our own. He loves us too much to allow us to look back at our lives and drown in regret, and He even loves us too much to leave us in the ordinary days. The days when we’re not conquering anything, but we’re also not turning back—He loves us then too. The days when we’re just sitting in the middle of our boxes, twittling our thumbs wondering what’s next or too afraid to move—He’s there too. And He’s still loving us.
Remembering that God is in the midst of our past, present, and future inspires us to look at what He’s done in our lives.
I remember when I was in high school and I would be crying about a boy or complaining about a teacher or being hurt by a friend, my mother would always say, “Well, Anna, I’m old enough to look back on my life and say that you will survive these things. I know it’s difficult for you to see because you’re in high school and you’re in the middle of this right now, but take it from someone who has been there. It will all be okay and you will grow from it.” And you know what? She was right. Crazy concept that most of what parents say actually turns out to be right. I can’t remember the name of the professor that I disagreed with, and I can’t remember what my friends and I were fighting about, and I can’t even remember what a boy whose face is so fuzzy did to upset me.
However, I do remember the lessons I learned? I remember the growth that took place and I remember the feeling I got when I outgrew whatever the problem was. My mother knew I’d look back on these situations one day and forget the details but remember the growth. And that’s exactly what God does for each of us.
Looking back at my life from the other side, seeing now what God has prepared me to do, I remember the moments during my childhood within this very church that contributed to the story I have now. I look back on pictures from my baptism in 1992 when I was held by my family who stood right there at the altar, I remember standing in this sanctuary as I was confirmed in sixth grade, and I remember growing up sitting in the floor of the balcony coloring while I ignored the pastors who stood right where I am standing now.
I remember being in the children’s ministry and being in the musical “Jonah.” I was bad, and my only line was “Jonah was a prophet,” and although it was fun I was not very good and that was the beginning and end of my church musical theater career.
I remember being an old soul at the age of seven and refusing to be an acolyte or come downstairs during worship for the children’s moments…and this was probably all due to the fact that I was in denial that I was actually only seven years old.
I remember attending the Hallelujah Carnival each year and spending my night going back and forth between the fishing game and the cookie icing station. I think I enjoyed these because they both required a little bit of effort but I received a whole lot of reward.
I remember leaving the Old Sanctuary and moving to the New Sanctuary and a few years later celebrating senior night in the gym where I proudly recited all 49 prepositions into the microphone for everyone’s entertainment.
I have all these memories because the Lord has placed me in an amazing church with incredible people. This congregation and this room are full of mentors and those who have loved on me and watched me grow in age and in faith. This church, without even knowing what you all were doing at the time, led me to answer a call to ministry today. When I turn around and look behind me in my box, I see each of your faces. And I remain thankful for that.
After I left this church for college I moved to Birmingham, Alabama where I attended Samford University. Samford was a great school and through being a private Christian university I learned a lot about the Lord and grew in my spiritual life, but also with it being a private Christian school, it began to feel like a bubble and I transferred to the University of Tennessee, which in case you were wondering is definitely not a bubble.
At UT, it was difficult to find friends to go to church and Bible studies with me. And while I was in the midst of this I kept thinking, “God why did you bring me here? This is not helping me grow in my faith.” However, now I am able to look back and see what God was doing. He brought me to Samford to grow my faith and then he brought me to UT to help me see the world I would be ministering to. It’s not that UT or Knoxville is a bad place, but it’s also definitely not a bubble.
I first heard my call to ministry during my first semester at UT in the fall of 2013. I spent the next year working through this call. Thankfully the Lord sent Drew and Sommer to help me discern this call, and it was a year later in November of 2014 that I finally accepted the call to ministry. I was with Sommer and we were in the parking lot of the Italian Grille and I told her that I think I was going to enter into this call. I told her I felt strange…I wanted to sit down and stand up at the same time, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time, I felt nauseous and calm at the same time and I felt like I was going crazy. Thankfully Sommer told me I was not going crazy, but that that feeling was the Holy Spirit. And she was absolutely right.
No matter our stories, once we’re able to see how the Lord has provided in our past, it is easier to fully trust Him with our futures.
So with these experiences and Psalm 139:1-6 in my back pocket, I’m venturing on to what is next. I am passionate about my call to ministry, and while I have no idea where it will take me I do know God’s hand is upon me. As I stand in the middle of my box, grateful for the past and hopeful for the future, God is right there with His hand on my head telling me He is giving me a story to share.
The thing with planning is that we like to think it is all on us. But the truth is, and deep down we all know this, is that every good and perfect thing comes from God. And while He’s before, behind, and upon us, He does use others to help in executing His plans. And that is where the church comes in.
Each of us is called to something. God doesn’t assign plans to some individuals and reject others. He wants us all to be a part of His larger plan. Yes, some people are called directly to ministry, but others are called to being teachers, doctors, accountants, restaurant servers, veterinarians, mechanics, and many other things. And sometimes our calls are not even directly related to our careers. We may be called to volunteer for something or open our hearts to forgive someone. Whether the calls for our lives are major life career choices or if they’re day-to-day calls like a change in our hearts, God has given us the church to help us identify our calls.
One question I have continuously been asked throughout this candidacy process is “How has your call to ministry been confirmed in your church?” Although those who ask this question probably want a lengthy complex answer, the answer itself is actually simple: my church has helped me understand my call, and that is confirmation enough.
God is always with us. He goes before us, He is behind us, and He always has His hand upon us. But God knows the importance of community. See, God didn’t just call me into ministry. He also called each of you to help me understand my call. And every day He calls us as the church to help each other understand our calls. A call is not just for one person. It is for the entire community of faith to work through and wrestle with together.
This is so important and it weighs heavy on my heart. It is okay to sit in the middle of our boxes. Sometimes we just need to stop and rest and let God comfort us. Sometimes we need to stop and discern what God is calling us to do next before we trudge through a circumstance that God may be asking us to bypass. But we cannot sit in the middle of our box without knowing that at some point—with the help of each other--we will stand up, trust God to offer grace and cover what we’ve left behind, and take a few slow steps forward as we trust God to carve a path for those steps to take us through.
As a church we need to continue being proactive in helping each other understand what God is asking us to do. Just because a member of your congregation has decided to go into the ministry and pursue certified candidacy for ordination does not mean that this is the only time we should all gather in this sanctuary to support someone in their mission to follow God. We need to be asking questions to everyone in our congregation to discover what God is laying on each of our hearts. We cannot be the body of Christ if we do not recognize what each of its parts are doing. Everyone in this room has a behind and a before. Everyone in this congregation has a behind and before. God’s hand is upon each of us. And it is an honor that He allows us, His children, to be a part of His plans.
So thank you for being here for me. Thank you for helping me grow in my faith as I grew up in this church. Thank you for your prayers as I went off to college. Thank you for welcoming me home when I returned to Crossville after school. Thank you for being patient when you asked what my plans were and I had no idea what to say. And thank you for supporting me when I finally realized what plans God was asking me to do.
Thank you for coming tonight. Someday this will be my behind, and I will add tonight to the memories I’ve had in this church. Thank you for helping me see and understand my call. I am humbled and I am grateful.
Thanks be to God.