Sarah Crosby was one of the earliest women preachers in Methodism. She began by facilitating group meetings. When she was leading one of those meetings in 1761, some two hundred people showed up – which made it impossible for Sarah to lead discussion as she usually did. She had to do something extraordinary because the occasion called for it: she had to preach. At this time, early in the Methodist movement, women were not allowed to preach, so she consulted with John Wesley on the matter. He agreed that, even though he was generally against women preachers at the time, she did what the moment had required. This incident and others like it gradually persuaded Wesley to change his mind until, years later, he licensed Sarah Crosby and other women as preachers.
Rising to the occasion because we must, and giving of ourselves to others even when we haven’t planned ahead for it is often the Christian way of life.
Rising to the occasion because we must, and giving of ourselves to others even when we haven’t planned ahead for it is often the Christian way of life. The Spirit moves, and we follow.
Stewardship campaigns ask us to plan ahead. Members of your congregation commit to a certain level of giving over a period of time, so that the church finance committee can project what funds will be available, so that plans can be made for which ministries to support and how much the church can afford to fund. So in the context of a stewardship campaign, it may seem odd to think about The Way of Necessity as a way of giving.
Remembering that your primary job as pastor is not fundraiser but spiritual shepherd, however, even a stewardship campaign can provide a perfect time to talk about spontaneous giving. The congregation’s mind is on money and commitment. Now you have the opportunity to offer a corrective: When special circumstances arrive, we often discover we have much more to give than we thought.
In the text from Acts, Peter explains to his fellow believers why it is that he baptized people who were not Jewish, and (contrary to Jewish law) joined them at table. Peter offers these words: “who was I that I could hinder God?” Peter is given an extraordinary vision and an extraordinary opportunity, and it leads to a new direction for the nascent church.
But we do not have to be Simon Peter, Sarah Crosby, or John Wesley to have our expectations challenged by the Holy Spirit! Think over your own life in the church – not only in ministry at this and other churches, but perhaps in seminary, as a layperson, or as a child. Can you remember a time when a ministry suddenly took a direction you had not anticipated? Can you remember a time when you had to step out and give of yourself – of your money, or your time, or your effort – in a way that you had not done before?
Perhaps the church you are serving has an experience of this as well -- when a ministry that was meant for one group accidentally expanded to another, or when something that started small suddenly became big. Congregations love to hear stories about their own experiences. But be careful not to turn it into a story that glorifies a few people rather than glorifying God!
Perhaps friends or acquaintances outside the church have an experience with this – maybe collecting for a family that had a house fire, or finding oneself with emergency house guests, or twice as many people as usual showing up for lunch at a soup kitchen. When God surprises us in this way, the moment demands a rapid response – a near-spontaneous commitment to give in a way that we were not prepared for.
We are called to both kinds of giving – to the routine setting aside of some of our resources for the church to use in the service of God, and to give generously and spontaneously when God places an unexpected opportunity before us. This latter kind of giving is the Way of Necessity – giving because the moment demands it, and because if we do not, the moment will pass.
“Who was I that I could hinder God?” Is there something extraordinary that God is calling your congregation to even now? If not in this season, then be assured that the Holy Spirit will pop up when you least expect it. As Mark tells us, Jesus said, “What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!” (Mark 13:37)
Further preparation notes:
- If you are celebrating Communion this Sunday, you might choose to highlight the words in the Great Thanksgiving: “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world…” noting that this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to startle us with new opportunities, even as Peter was startled by his call to the Gentiles, and Sarah Crosby was startled by ten times as many people as usual showing up to her meeting.
- Because much of the emphasis in this sermon has been on the action of the Holy Spirit, if you use visual aids in your service, you might want to use similar imagery to what you might use at Pentecost.
- If you are planning a children’s sermon, you might want to talk to the children about surprise visits. Have they ever had a friend or relative arrive, and it was a surprise? How did they feel? What did they do?
- Possible hymns include:
Whom Shall I Send? (United Methodist Hymnal, 582)
Guide My Feet (The Faith We Sing, 2208)
The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve (The Faith We Sing, 2241)
Praise God for This Holy Ground (Worship & Song, 3009)
We Will Follow (Worship & Song, 3160)
Exploring Stewardship with the Saints: A Sermon Series (Introduction)
St. Luke the Evangelist – The Way of Generosity
Francis of Assisi --The Way of Poverty
Mary McLeod Bethune --The Way of Authority
Sarah McGiverin is a writer, worship consultant, and public speaker.