Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Courageous Servant, Bravely Humble

I am so grateful that my priest has given me these opportunities to give the sermon at Trinity. I stress out a lot beforehand while I am preparing, but after lots of prayer, preparation, several drafts, and more prayer, the final product is so rewarding. I am always amazed at how God works in my life and the lives of others. Hearing from congregation members that something I said really touched them is so humbling. And the time that I spend in prayer and thanksgiving before, during, and after the weekends I speak is fantastic. I really enjoy intentionally reveling in God's wonder. I need to do that more often.

Here is the sermon I gave at Trinity. I hope you enjoy it. Once it's posted, you can hear the audio version here.

Courageous, Brave, and Faithful

Do you remember this little sing-song? "Here the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and see all the people. Close the doors, listen to them pray, open the doors and they all run away!"

Now as a kid, I learned that last part was not true, especially for those with kids at the 10am service which was followed by coffee hour. It felt some Sundays like were were stuck in coffee hour forever. 

But that's because my parents are part of the Trinity family. They have friends that they want to talk to, catch up with, ask how they are doing, see how things are going. They are part of this community.

Community is essential to our faith as Christians. We break bread together. We sing together. We pray together. We worship together. We talk about our Christian family around the world. Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even Jesus had companionship and community during his time on earth through the twelve disciples. And Trinity Episcopal Church is more than 130 North West Street. It is the people who come here and worship and the people who go out into the community to serve.

And God requires us to have the courage to step up to the plate and serve each other. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to be a friend to the friendless. And when you see someone in need, to help them whether or not it is convenient for you.

I personally have a hard time keeping that last one. I make a lot of excuses for why I don't have time or why I can't help. I often joke and say, "I wish there were more hours in the day," when really I should be saying, "I wish I used my time more wisely."

Every so often, God finds a way to share with me exactly where I stand. Which is usually not quite where he wants and needs me to be. This time, I got that message from the most unlikely of places.

I have the opportunity to sponsor a little girl in Honduras named Angela Nicoll Escoto Salgado. She is part of a program called Compassion International which serves children in extreme poverty around the world. She is 11 years old and lives with her single mother and grandmother. In addition to being raised in a single parent home in extreme poverty, Nicoll has a handicap. She is crippled in one foot and one hand. A single parent home, a severe handicap, and extreme poverty have molded one of the most encouraging girls I have had the chance to communicate with.

In addition to monetary sponsorship, we are pen pals, writing back and forth every couple months or so. I received a letter from her last week which literally brought me to tears. Even when I tried to tell my mom about it I got choked up. I'd like to share the translation with you.

God bless you, Emily. I hope you are well and your family, too. I want to tell you this, my dream is to be a pastor because this way, I can teach everyone that they should receive the word of God and that they are given a marvelous, marvelous gift of Jesus Christ our Savior. If I don't become a pastor, I will serve God another way, but I will serve him. Another one of my dreams is to be a doctor so I can help those who are sick, like my Grandmother. She has diabetes. I want to help cure this disease. And I know that God is our best doctor. I say goodbye to you with kisses and hugs. God bless you. Thank you for being my sponsor. Can I ask you a question? Have you accepted God?

Talk about humbling experiences.

This, out of the mouth of an 11 year old girl. She is facing extreme circumstances that I think would give her every right to complain, but instead she tells me about her dreams to serve God, heal the sick, and teach about the gift of eternal life.

It takes bravery to face seemingly hopeless situations and trust in God. And it takes courage to help someone when you are nervous, unsure, or are putting something at risk.

Like in today's Gospel (Mark 7:24-37), I'd like to point out that no one asked for help for themselves. This wasn't about someone touching Jesus' robe and being healed or someone begging to be cured. Mark tells us about a mother who leaves her possessed daughter at home while she pleads with Jesus for healing on her behalf and of friends who bring their deaf friend with a speech impediment to Jesus and ask for him to just lay his hands on him.

I think that takes courage. She risked a "no." She risked leaving her daughter at home while she sought after Jesus. They risked public humiliation. They risked traveling to Jesus with their deaf, mute friend.

But just as God requires us to be his hands and feet, he also needs us to humble ourselves to receive help and healing. It may be extreme such as in recovering from addiction or support when tragedy strikes. Or it could be much smaller. Those are the times when I find it most difficult to ask for support or help. I don't like admitting that I don't have it all together. I don't like letting people know that I can't do it on my own. I fear that I will seem weak or inadequate or dumb. But those are the times when we need to have the courage to humble ourselves and ask for prayer, for help, for healing.

You see, our God is a living God! He is alive and very much present in our lives. We hear about these ancient miracles and it is really easy to think "that was then, but this is now." And that just. isn't. true.

God is here.
 God is present.
He is listening, and you just need to ask.

But you have to believe that God is listening when you ask, waiting as you seek, and behind that door when you knock. Just as faith without works is nothing, so are our pleas without faith.

When the woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter, he replied seemingly harshly stating, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." I learned something interesting while preparing for this sermon. A biblical scholar named John Dummelow explains the passage like this:

"In this passage, 'children' refers to the Jews whom Jesus was focusing his mission on at this time. And Rabbis often spoke of the Gentiles as 'dogs.' So the statement is speaking of how the Word of God should go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. But here, here Jesus says not 'dogs' as the Gentiles do, but the exact translation is 'little dogs' such as household, or favorite dogs, giving the passage a different meaning. The woman catches this expression and responds cleverly that if the Gentiles are household dogs, then it is only right that they should be fed with the crumbs that fall from their master's table."
Yes, the woman responded cleverly, but without faith in Jesus' power to heal, her confidence would have been broken by a "no." And the men who brought their friend had unwavering faith that Jesus could heal him as they begged him to just lay his hands on him.

We should not let the pressure of this world allow us to swipe away the inconvenient needs of others. We need to humble ourselves and ask our Christian family for help and prayer when we are overwhelmed by life and in need of healing. And above all, trust in our Lord God to guide us, always and everywhere.

Mark writes, "They were astounded beyond measure, saying 'He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

This isn't just a story about what happened. It is a story about what happens when we have faith in our God, when we have the courage to serve, and when we humble ourselves to be served.


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