Lots of organizations speak of the importance of service. Certainly our church does. One of the membership vows is to participate with our service. Serving is an important act of faith and community involvement. In fact, we have two service opportunities that we’re promoting for tomorrow:
It takes a vital church to have a day like we had yesterday. Any morning that leaves you reflecting on how bright the future is because of how bright the present is, including how impressive are our children, is a good morning. Any evening that has children telling parents, “That was fun” and asking “Can we do that again next year?” and adults have side conversations about “When we do this next time…” is a good evening for the church.
This Sunday begins a three-week series on Stewardship. This is a time of the year when added emphasis is given to stewardship. I hesitate to call it “Stewardship Season” in case that implies other seasons when stewardship is not a focal point. Can you imagine if we said it’s “Discipleship Season” and meant that the rest of the year we aren’t interested in discipleship? Every day, disciples are called to be stewards – caretakers of that which God has shared with us.
As promised in yesterday’s sermon, you can read my 2015 sermon that focused on divorce by clicking here. Yesterday we heard a sermon on most of the same verses, but the focus was more on the joining than the dividing. It’s not that all concern about divorce ended in 2015, but that Jesus seems to address the concern about divorce by raising the seriousness with which he takes the joining. Both are serious, of course. I’ve never discussed marriage with anyone who divorced casually. No, everyone I’ve talked with who has divorced has acknowledged the painful toll that it took on everyone involved.
I marveled at the large crowd at yesterday’s prayer service at the County Building. That the service was planned at 2 p.m. yesterday, announced after 2:30 and by 5:30 there was a strong crowd of people ready to stand together and pray is the result of both people wanting an outlet for our heavy hearts and of the growing interconnectedness facilitated by Helping Florence Flourish. People rose above what often puts us into factions and united around a common purpose: a prayerful response to an awful community tragedy.
As we heard in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 9:38-50), Jesus challenges his disciples about their resistance to someone outside their group doing good in his name, warned them about putting a hurdle between a child and him, told them to cut off their hands and feet and tear out their eyes if those cause them to stumble, and cautioned that not practicing self-discipline can lead to an unquenchable fire. He concluded, for them “be at peace with one another.” The transition is startling.
In the epistle lesson for this Sunday (James 5:13-20), James asks a question that is never without an affirmative response. “Are any among you sick?,” he asks. Tell me a single day, a single hour when there is no one among us who is sick. This week alone our congregation remembered the lives of three of our church family, all of whom died after a sickness. Family of our church family have died. We have had several people experience hospitalizations for their physical needs. We know of too many people with on-going sicknesses. Those that come to mind are the ones dealing with physical sickness, unless you are caring for or experiencing mental illness, then the ongoing challenges of that kind of sickness aren’t lost on you. There are spiritual sicknesses, too. Yes, James, there are people among us who are sick.
Rev. Cattenhead’s sermon yesterday invited us to be friends of God. My sermon reflected on Jesus’ frequent call to humility. I think the two concepts dovetail nicely.
Jesus returned to the subject of humility because the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest (Mark 9:30-37). It tells us something about humanity that people who had spent time learning from and watching Jesus continued to be influenced by worldly rankings within their band of brothers.
What a difference a week makes. I didn’t have to write this Words from Will early because there is no threat to our church or home right now. Skies are blue, wind is calm, even the rising waters won’t directly impact most of our homes. They are impacting our lives, however. Our hearts ache for the lives lost and disrupted because of the flooding. Our spirits are encouraged by the courageous and generous service others provide.
I trust you’re doing okay today. Florence, for the most part, was spared devastation. If you need some assistance, however, please let us know. If you don’t, you know others do. The worst of the flooding is yet to come. Continue to pray, but also consider giving financially. Maybe a good way to look at it is the think about the money you might have spent evacuating this storm, but didn’t have to. Could you give a portion of that to assist those who will be dealing with the storm’s aftermath for some time? If you want to give through Central, note the gift is for UMCOR and we’ll contribute the money to their efforts to help. They have already awarded our Annual Conference a $10,000 emergency grant to get relief support in motion.
The Words from Will are usually written the day of or the day before they are published. The exceptions to that are when I’m away for a period of time or when the weather threatens to make publishing them difficult. I want you to know that in case this email comes out in the aftermath of a destructive Hurricane Frances. As I write this on Tuesday, I have no idea if Friday will be beautiful with everyone enjoying electricity and the start of a nice weekend or a mess with trees down and flooded areas and power outages.
The healing stories in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 7:24-37) demonstrate both the abundant mercy of Jesus and of others who care. In both stories, it was other people who brought the needs of the afflicted to Jesus. As it turns out, in Mark’s gospel there are two healings that occur as the result of Jesus initiating contact with the afflicted, four that happen after the afflicted persons ask Jesus for help, and seven that occur because others brought the need before Jesus on behalf of someone else.
There is a difference between being happy (as in joyful) and being satisfied. I’m satisfied when I’ve worked in the yard and it looks good after my efforts. I’m happy when a hummingbird appears seemingly out of nowhere and enjoys the nectar in my yard. I’m satisfied when my team wins. I’m happy when my child or a child I’ve worked with takes what she’s been learning and uses it well in the right moment, a combination of effort and grace. I’m satisfied when I have enough and am capable enough. I’m happy when I realize the grace and salvation that mean I don’t have to be it all or do it all.
As our District Superintendent Rev. Terry Fleming pointed out in his sermon yesterday, begging is not something any of us want to do. It feels demeaning. We’ll ask. Some will command. Some just do whatever they think is right with the hopes that others will follow suit. But, few of us will beg. If we were to beg, it would be for the most significant of reasons.
Two messages emerge repeatedly in Christian theology: 1.) You can’t do it on your own; you need the Savior who has entered your flesh to redeem you and 2.) As a response to his gift of salvation, give your best self to honor your Lord. The invitation to experience eternal life, to take Jesus into your life as though your life depends on it, now brings both messages together.
The church is, at times, unfairly (and, at times, fairly) criticized for being focused on what doesn't matter to people and missing what does. At times our defense, to put it bluntly, is that the wrong things matter to people. Humans can get focused on some insignificant and unholy things. At times, though, we are indefensibly aloof to what does and should matter to people. When that's the case, we should repent. There is too much that matters and the gospel has too much that addresses it for us to be "so heavenly as to be no earthly good."
If my sermon yesterday sounded a little grumpy for someone just returning from a wonderful vacation, then you should know that the majority of the work was done before I left. Maybe that explains some of the edge. When I returned, refreshed and joyful, however, I still saw the value in preaching it. It's not that I've noticed a rise of malice and slander among our congregation, but that we're to "not make room for the devil" (Ephesians 4:27) and it feels like there has been a rise of anger and hardheartedness on a national and global scale. Thankfully there are counter-stories that show that kindness is not only still part of how our church lives and grows together, but how the country and world does.