[Note: this column excerpts portions of the sermon delivered by Conference Minister Shari Prestemon at Annual Meeting last month. Find the full text of the sermon, reflecting on Matthew 14:22-33, here.
“A Call to Courage”
Across the country, fear has taken hold of us….and it’s popping up in all sorts of surprising and sometimes horrifying ways. We in the Church are far from immune from this; we have our own set of fears.
In our congregations, the fears are sometimes very practical. You watch the numbers who attend worship or give faithfully decline and you fear a future for your congregation that looks nothing like its more robust past. You fear not being able to pay the bills or keep the pastor you love. If you are the pastor, you might fear that niggling sense you have that no matter what you attempt or do, it’s just not enough, that somehow you are not enough. You might fear saying something too bold, too prophetic from the pulpit lest someone in your pews gets angry. Or perhaps you fear the knowledge that the changes you know must be made if your congregation is to have a bright and vital future, are the very changes some of your folk will resist with a vengeance.
So what are we to do with all these fears? How are we to faithfully navigate the rocky waters we are in amid our own continuum of worry and of fear? What might it look like to meet those understandable and perhaps inevitable fears with a persevering spirit of faith-fueled courage?
I commend to you three calls to courage :
- Have the courage to wrestle with the things that are ‘rocking your boat’. Sometimes we have to be willing to go where we really don’t want to go, to talk about the things we’re scared out of our wits to talk about, to stay in that uncomfortable place for awhile to understand what’s really happening inside ourselves or inside our churches and communities. Whether that uncomfortable place is a hard financial spot for your congregation, conflict that is dividing your church, or a social issue that is calling you to respond, confront it with love and mercy and with open, gracious spirits. Call on the strength and wisdom of God to be with you in the mess.
- Have courage enough to reach out and ask for help when you need it. Call on God’s power and purpose through a steady practice of prayer and discernment. Call on your wider church family—a neighboring congregation, a colleague in ministry, your Conference staff. Build relationships with others in the Conference and draw on them for support and assistance.
- Have the courage to persevere in service and in ministry. While fear itself can paralyze us, courage makes room, conversely, for risk and innovation and cultivates a wild openness to the movement of the irrepressible Holy Spirit. Faithful courage compels us to discern where God is calling us next, how God is calling us to best steward whatever gifts we have in service to God and others. Courage puts us out there on the front lines of need and injustice because that’s where our faith would have us be.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Beloved Church: don’t let your fears keep you from pursuing God’s bold call on your life and your congregation’s ministry. May God grant you and all of us unflinching courage for these days.
Courage in the struggle,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister