Apropos to this Sunday when we recognize and thank our Church School teachers and aides, the title of my sermon is “Miss Amy Womble Speaks Up”. I know that doesn’t give you much information, but trust me that when this retired first grade teacher did speak up in 1960’s North Carolina, the Holy Spirit was likely speaking through her.
Our scripture lesson for Sunday is Acts of the Apostles 15: 1-21, which is the account of the Great Council in Jerusalem where the Apostles wrestled with a major question for the first century church: should Gentiles–non-Jews–be required to submit to certain Jewish rituals before they could join the Christian church? After all, the Apostles had all been raised Jewish, and that’s what they had done, so why shouldn’t these new believers have to do the same thing we did? There was much discussion, and more to the point, much discernment, a word originating in Latin, meaning to “sort by sifting”, and ultimately “to distinguish”; “to perceive or recognize”; or to “make out clearly”.
In a spiritual sense, Episcopal priest Frederick Schmidt observes, “discernment is fundamentally a practice of asking “God” questions instead of “I” questions. Discernment is less focused on our judgments, conclusions, and opinions, and involves opening up to what God wants in a particular situation.”
My sermon is a follow up to last week’s sermon in which we heard the words of John Calvin: “We are not our own; let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own; let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us….We are God’s; let God’s wisdom and God’s will therefore rule all our actions.”
Those first Christian Apostles were in a discernment process, which involves framing the issue, hearing testimony, and looking to scripture, and making a decision. We’ll understand how they did that—and then understand how a Christian woman named Miss Amy Womble shared her testimony that ultimately carried the day.