The following is a sermon preached in ACU Graduate Chapel on September 14, 2016.
Sermon Text: Amos 8:4-7
In 1967 my husband Charles Siburt and I came to ACU for graduate school to prepare for ministry to the church. I earned a Master’s in Education/ School Counseling and Charlie an M.Div. While here I taught school, and Charlie preached in Lingleville over by Stephenville. We were rich students … we had no idea how rich our time at ACU truly was and how it would change our lives forever. We had the experience of studying under the likes of Lemoine Lewis, Abraham Malherbe, Everett Ferguson, Carl Spain, Tom Olbricht, John Willis, and others.
New worlds opened to us. We were taught how to think, how to learn, and how to develop the life of the mind. It allowed us to make lifelong relationships with people who shared our calling, our values, and our commitment to ministry. We began to form a “good” theology that included knowing and enjoying God and training ourselves so the communities where we would contribute would flourish.
You students are answering the same call to ministry we responded to almost 50 years ago. You are learning what it means to truly live out spiritual worship. You get to talk about God. You are challenged to learn from others who have thought about God, read about God, and spoken about God over the centuries. You get to dialogue daily with contemporaries who also have committed to live out God’s good and pleasing will for their lives.
As one who has experienced this process as the wife and ministry partner of the late Charles Siburt, as one who has raised two sons who both sat where you are today as M.Div. students, I can assure you the process of “renewing your minds”—learning more of God—is worthwhile. It will bear fruit throughout your life IF the renewal of your minds leads you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. For the Apostle Paul, knowledge cannot be isolated to one’s brain. It is how you behave especially when in secret, when no one is watching. How you live out your worship is to love God and love your neighbors, and to remember that loving others shows our love to God.
In Philippians 4, Paul gives us tips on how to live out true worship, how to be distinct and different from the world.
In verse 4: Rejoice, be full of joy. Not like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, “It’s too cold, it’s too hot, it’s too dry, it’s too rainy.” He is never satisfied. Be grateful! So others, by your joy, know that Christ is in you.
Be considerate of others and think of others before yourselves. Be gentle, not harsh and impatient.
Do not worry and fret. As Christ said over and over again, “Do not fear.”
Then the God of peace will be with you. We cannot be at peace with God if we are not at peace with our brothers and sisters on this earth.
In verse 9: Keep practicing all the good that you have learned. I like that word practice. I had a friend who was a very good tennis player all of his life, even up into his 80s. He quoted Billie Jean King: “I like tennis because there is no such thing as a perfect game. But I kept playing and working on my game.” My friend Wiley was a tanned, handsome, athletic guy with a head full of beautiful white hair and a sense of fun that blessed all who knew him. He said, “I decided to be good at tennis. Along the way I would keep finding good teachers and coaches to help me. Every time I took a lesson, something clicked in my head and I got better and I would remember things that I had learned before.”
In Amos 8, the prophet lets the people “have it.” It is not their worship in question, but their behavior after leaving their place of worship. They would sing, “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our God, our maker.” Then would leave and go about their “busy religion,” forgetting what they had just learned. What they wanted was praise for themselves and they used the poor in order to be recognized as generous. They would crush the needy and they lived greedy, self-centered lives. The prophet makes clear that the problem was their attitudes and behaviors. It was the problem of their minds and hearts.
Someone said, “We have a far greater need to be reminded than to be informed.” If the process of transformation you are engaged in does not lead to new action and new behavior, then there is a chance you could be like those Amos left in a “sea of mud.” Your time spent here at ACU will be in vain.
Let’s let Paul remind us of true worship from Romans 12. Pastor Eddie Sharp calls this passage Christian Kindergarten. You may not remember the poster going around years ago, “All I need to know I learned in kindergarten”—saying please and thank you. Playing nice with others. And washing your hands after using the restroom. Stuff like that.
Christian Kindergarten from Paul:
- Don’t pretend to love others … really love them.
- Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
- Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.
- Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.
- Rejoice in our confident hope.
- Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.
- When God’s people are in need be ready to help them.
- Always be eager to practice hospitality. And hospitality is not just having someone over for a meal. It means taking them on as a project, to be of genuine service in their time of need.
- “Keep putting into practice all you have learned and received from me … then the God of peace will be with you.”
The good news is that the process of “renewing our minds” and “preparing our minds for action” is not solely left up to you and me. This is not a self-help process. It is the work of the Spirit of God.
May God renew your minds and prepare you for action. May this season of formation prepare you all to present your body as a living sacrifice. May you submit to the work of God’s Spirit and may you be equipped to lead lives worthy of the gospel.
In the book of John, Jesus says, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything.… I will send him to you and he will lead you in all truth” (14:26; 16:13).
And we can live out our spiritual worship every day.
For our benediction today I ask you to view this 15th-century Russian icon, The Descent of the Holy Spirit.
Here we see the miracle of Pentecost, and as we observe this lovely rendering may we be reminded of the gift of God’s Spirit given to all. Let’s pray:
Dear God hear our prayer as we remember that you are:
God for us, we call you “Father.”
God alongside us, we call you “Jesus.”
God within us, we call you “Holy Spirit.”
Together, you are the Eternal Mystery
That enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Even us and even me.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
Judy Siburt is a retired school counselor who served in public schools for 34 years. She partnered in ministry for many years with her husband Charles before his death in 2012. Judy is a trained professional counselor and served for 15 years on the staff of the ACU Ministers Support Network. She is on the ACU GST Advisory Board, is a member of the ACU Summit Planning Team and continues to encourage ministers at every opportunity. Judy enjoys her two sons and their families, especially her four grandchildren. She lives in Abilene, Texas.