Archive for May, 2011

Improving our Serve

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Don Parker
May 22, 2011

I’ve got a Bible trivia question for you. Where in the Bible is tennis mentioned? (In Genesis where it says, Joseph served in Pharaoh’s court)
When it comes to tennis, the outcome of the game may be determined by who has the best serve. The emphasis in the Gospels is a little different.

According to Mark, in the scripture we read this morning, Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done. He came to serve, not to be served…”
What does it mean to serve like Jesus? That’s the question we’d like to explore this morning: with a couple of Bible stories and a couple of personal experiences.

You remember the story of Elijah from 1st Kings.
Elijah was “on the lam”. He was running away, and running scared. Only a short time ago he had astoundingly defeated the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He had shown he was faithful to God, and he had trusted in God to bring fire on his offering. Now he was running from the wrath of one woman, Queen Jezebel. Granted, she was a mean and evil person, and had threatened to have him killed. But suddenly Elijah’s faith in God’s protection left him and (quoting I Kings 19:3) “Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.”

So here he was, hiding out in a cave high up on Mount Horeb. And God spoke to him. Not with words of comfort, but of challenge –with a question: “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

God is still asking that question of people today. Maybe God has been asking that question of you? Elijah answered with a string of complaints sounding like a “pity poor me” response. And God said, in effect, “We need to have a talk.”

Elijah needed to see again who was in charge in the world. He was allowed to witness the greatness and power of the Lord in a great storm, in an earthquake, and a huge fire. And then he was called again to acknowledge who was in charge of his life –and soul. For the God he needed to hear at that time was not in the wind, fire, or earthquake, but in the “soft whisper of a voice”. God said again, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
There, in the stillness following the unleashing of nature’s fury, Elijah realized that he was not alone. He rose from that revelation of God’s presence and God’s care to respond to the call to be about the Lord’s work.

Jesus was in a somewhat similar circumstance as was Elijah (as recorded in Matthew). He had just heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded. It was natural that he would recognize a real threat to his own life. Out of sadness for his cousin and forerunner, he went off to a lonely place to be with his Father and pray. Yet when he arrived there and found that the crowd had followed him, he didn’t complain. As Mathew describes it, “When he saw the large crowd, his heart was filled with pity for them, and he healed their sick.” Then he spent all day teaching them.
Late in the afternoon, when his disciples would have sent the crowd away (justifiably concerned about their welfare and need of food), Jesus took a few loaves and fishes and, in a miracle of sharing, provided enough food to satisfy all 5000 of the people there.

Jesus had more concern for the people and their needs –for both spiritual feeding and physical food—than for himself. Finally, at the close of the day, Jesus sends his disciples on ahead and goes up into the hills to pray alone.

Unlike Elijah, Jesus did not need a reminder from God about keeping his focus. He knew “what he was doing here”. Luke (Luke 2: 49) tells us that when his parents asked him, at age 12, what he was doing in the temple (having missed the bus going home and instead hanging out with the professors), he made it clear: “Didn’t you know that I had to be here, dealing with the things of my Father?” He never wavered from that vision and that mission until he could cry triumphantly from the cross, “It is finished!” Through the cross and his resurrection, Jesus completed God’s mission for him, and he was able to write God’s love in huge red letters across all history.

Now shift to modern times.
Like Elijah, I had to have my own reminder call from God. It was at the end of October 1998. I wasn’t running away from anything or hiding out in a cave on some lonely mountain top. I was just enjoying my comfortable life in a cozy house watching the leaves turn colors outside and blow about in the swirling autumn winds. At that same time a monstrous wind was pounding Central America with unrelenting rain and floods that were devastating entire countries. But God was not in the storm. Instead, God whispered to me in the stillness of my heart, “What are you doing here?”

This event has become such a powerful focus in my like that I’d like to share that story with you. When a call came from the Church of the Brethren headquarters to join a medical team to Honduras, just two days after Hurricane Mitch had blown out of the country, I asked for a day to think about it. Joyce and I talked about my going into a disaster area in Central America on such short notice. I went to bed with a prayer that God would guide me to the right decision. When I started to wake up the next morning, there was the melody of a hymn singing in my head. As I slowly came awake the words of the hymn began dropping into place: “Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” I have never received so clear a call.

And God’s leading did not stop there. The team of 11 CoB medical personnel came together in a week, from across the denomination from Massachusetts to Oregon. Congregations in northern Ohio poured out a contribution that raised in 48 hours enough money to buy all the medicines and supplies we could possibly carry with us on the plane. By the time we left for the mission at the end of the week, the fund had topped $21,000, helping to pay our transportation costs. While we were in Honduras we felt God’s presence in our travels –jeep rides over heavily damaged roads and boat trips across flooded rivers with bridges washed away. We were warmly welcomed by our Christian brothers and sisters working through CCD (Christian Commission for Development). We were in-country for 10 days, seeing sick people in churches and schools that had not been destroyed, sleeping on the floor, eating whatever the resourceful cook that CCD sent with us could get together –and not one of our group got sick (a first for any service group I have ever traveled with in developing countries).

I share this as a personal testimony to what made a big impact in my life. I feel that we can be encouragers of each other when we share from our life experiences in community. I’m sure each of you could share a story or experience that made a deep impression in your life and helped you in your service to others.
We need to look for opportunities to do that. What a great service we offer to each other when we encourage someone in ways that will strengthen their daily walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Joyce will share an experience she had in being available to serve in obedience to God’s nudge.

The last part of the Mark text we read says: “(the Son of Man) came to serve, not to be served –and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held in hostage.”
In the Gospel of John Jesus carries this thought further: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . .
I have called you friends . . . —John 15:13, 15
Oswald Chambers wrote about these words in a devotional: “Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him. …It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God. …it is contrary to our human nature to do so. (Yet) if I am a friend of Jesus, I must deliberately and carefully lay down my life for Him. It is a difficult thing to do, and thank God that it is. Salvation is easy for us, because it cost God so much. …(God) says, in effect, “Now you work it out in your life, and be faithful to Me, even though the nature of everything around you is to cause you to be unfaithful.” Jesus says to us, ‘. . . I have called you friends. . . .’ Remain faithful to your Friend.”

There are many ways that we can serve by “laying down our lives” in faithfulness to Jesus. I’m sure you can name many ways that you do so in your lives. Here are a few ways that suggested themselves to me:
We can graciously accept those inconvenient moments when our help is needed by someone.
We can do with less to be better able to help others more.
We can risk misunderstanding and emotional stress when we are called to be peacemakers and reconcilers to help others in conflict.
We can give up hours of personal time to be available for those in need of companionship and physical help.
We can sacrificially serve where there is no recognition, and where the work may be drudgery, or even repugnant, and avoided by others.
We can hold our tongue when we are unfairly criticized; we can pray for someone who may have wronged us, and seek ways to show unmerited love to that person.

So, whether on a tennis court or in the game of life, let’s all practice our serve. It may be the most important part of the match we are called to play.

What was that? What did he say?

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

John 10:1-10
My 15, 2011
Steve Hammond

Who else has hearing aids here besides me? Not everybody likes to admit they need them. But, hey, I’m glad to have mine. It took a bit of encouragement from people like my wife and Sarah Lockard who took away all excuses by giving me Vinio’s hearing aids. But now I wear mine all the time. It’s amazing the things I am able to hear that I couldn’t before. I like being able to hear the little things like paper rustling, a cup being set down on the counter, the keys in my pocket, not to mention more important things like what people are actually saying.

Hearing aids come in a variety of price ranges. But my experience, and what others have told me, as well, is that hearing aids are an example of you get what you pay for. You get cheap hearing aids, they don’t help very much. If you spend the big bucks they can help a lot.

Now everybody, of course, isn’t a fortunate as I have been. Some people just aren’t helped that much by hearing aids. And the fact is that no matter how good your hearing aids are, there are some things you are not going to hear. And it has nothing to do with the ears.

I get distracted easily. So I can miss a lot of things, not because they didn’t register in my ears, but because they didn’t register in my brain. “My sheep hear my voice.” Well, sometimes. But there are the distractions.

There are things like militarism, nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, and consumerism that are really loud and distracting, not to mention, often appealing. Think about all those celebrations when word was released that Osama bin Laden had been killed. If people were listening, what might they have heard Jesus saying? Lady Gaga was The American Idol the other night. She wasn’t wearing a lot of clothes. That is a show a lot of young girls watch. If we had been listening, what do you think Jesus was saying?

There are also things, though, like the bills that need to be paid, trouble at work, home, or school. There are roofs to be fixed, cars that need repaired, obnoxious neighbors, or broken relationships with families that need healed. There are medical tests, kids in jail, sick parents or sick children. There are all kinds of things that we are hearing while Jesus is trying to get our attention, there are all kinds of distractions that can keep us from hearing his voice.

It’s not like we are a bunch of monks who have the calling and ability to go off somewhere and spend hours and hours everyday listening for what Jesus is saying to us. And monks really have other things to do, as well. Like raise food, or money, and do all the things you have to do to keep a community together.

Most of us are always going to have distractions that keep us from hearing the shepherd. One challenge is to learn how to hear him even when there is so much else going on. Another is not to mistake another voice as his. Those other voices may not have our best interest in mind, like the shepherd does.

It’s no wonder, as we are reminded in the scriptures, “we are all like sheep who have gone astray.” It’s no wonder that we find ourselves lost. But Jesus is a good shepherd. He keeps calling us. We can still hear his voice in all the chaos and clutter. And it’s the voice of life.

I don’t think sheep are as stupid as we imagine them to be. They, at least, have enough sense to listen for the voice of the shepherd. We aren’t always so good that. They know the shepherd is not like one of the hirelings or sheep rustlers that Jesus talked about. They don’t trust those voices and even run away from them. The shepherd really cares about his or her sheep, and the sheep know that.

The sheep are also smart enough to know that there is safety in numbers. They need the rest of the flock for their survival. That’s why Jesus kept and keeps telling us we need each other. We need the community church provides. We need to be in this thing with each other. There may be times when we aren’t listening for the shepherd because we are distracted. But the others are there to help us see the shepherd is taking on to new pastures.

I also think we give sheep a bit of a bum rap when we imagine they are all pretty much alike and don’t have much going for themselves. We don’t live in a culture where sheep and shepherds are a common sight. But when Jesus was saying this, sheep and shepherds were common. Because sheep and shepherds spent so much time together (“while shepherds watched their flocks by night”), the shepherds got to know their sheep pretty well. They knew their different personalities and even named them. They could tell one sheep from the next.

I do realize I have fallen into the trap that most passages about sheep and shepherds can lead to. This story isn’t really about the sheep, it’s about the shepherd. If we hear the voice of the shepherd and know it’s a voice of safety and life, then the real question is not what it means to be sheep, but what is the shepherd saying? Trust God. Welcome the outsider. Be compassionate. Be merciful. Make peace. Tear down the walls that divide you from each other. Love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul. Love your neighbor as yourself. God loves you. It’s not about money or status or even being religious. I am the living water that bubbles up into eternal life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am with you to the end of the age. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. [What else?] That’s what we need to be listening for no matter what the distractions are, because that’s what the shepherd, who is willing to lay his life down for the sheep, is saying to us.

What’s makes the Good Shepherd so good, is that even when we aren’t listening, even when we find ourselves lost in the wilderness, going away from him rather than toward him, he still comes looking for us. The shepherd goes after the lost ones, even if there are 99 who aren’t causing any trouble. How did Jesus put it that time? “It’s not God’s desire that any of us perish.”

Whether we are good sheep or bad sheep doesn’t really matter in the story. What does matter is that the Shepherd is good. And it matters that we keep listening for that voice as if our lives depended on it.

So I’ve got these hearing aids. The first cornea transplant was done in January and the next one is coming up in three weeks. Eyes to see and ears to hear? Not really. It’s a metaphor that has nothing to do with miniature electronics and somebody else’s corneas. I need to pay attention, to hear the voice of the shepherd in spite of the distractions, like any sheep who knows what’s good for her.

There’s another thing I have learned about hearing aids. You need to start using them before you really need them. If you wait until your hearing is really bad, it’s hard to get used to them because you have grown so accustomed to the silence. Many people end up keeping those expensive hearing aids in the drawer because they can never readjust to all the background noise that confront us.

The background noise is always going to be there. But if we find ways to keep listening for the voice of the shepherd we just might have ears to hear, even if it takes a hearing aid or two.