Oh Master let me walk with thee…
April 22, 2018
Scriptures: John 10:11-18, 1 John 3:16-24
For starters I want to offer thanks for all who have responded to our roof fundraiser. It was personally very heartening to see such a broad and diverse level of support for the church which I truly believe reflects a deep belief in the importance of our efforts within the community. But it was also incredibly heartwarming to see that our projected budget for this year is actually in the black…not by much, but so very different from recent years where we needed to take so much out of savings just to get by…and that was without a full-time pastor! Truly each one of you here is dear to my heart…and so I thank you.
But, the truth is that now our work is just beginning. For our Lord has blessed us so in order that we might be a beacon of grace and hope to our local community and beyond. And as a firm believer in the intent of the words of our Lord in the 12th Chapter of Luke when he said, ‘to those to whom much is given, much is required’ I feel it is my responsibility to always place before you the needs I feel the Spirit has placed upon my heart…and so I will continue to do so…sorry…not really!
I once heard a criticism of a pastor who it was said took the lyrics of a hymn each Sunday as the sole inspiration for the message. However, many if not most of the hymns in our hymnal have something very important to share if we are willing to truly listen closely. And while I was choosing the music selections for this morning I thought of the lyrics to the first verse of Oh Master Let Me Walk With Thee which reads…‘Oh Master let me walk with Thee, in lowly paths of service free, tell me thy secrets help me bear, the strain of toil, the fret of care…’. And it was only after beginning to prepare the message that I realized how much those words captured the essence of what I am seeking to share…namely that the work that lies before each one of us in our endeavors to be a part of bringing in the kingdom of our Lord can be difficult…can truly be a toil that strains and a care that proves fretful. For the work that Jesus began and to which all disciples have since been called remains unfinished, and the opposition which Jesus first encountered to his message of love remains as well.
However in order to share that message as from the heart, I think we each need to remember and understand that we have a Lord who is intimately interested in each one of us…that we are God’s children and each individually the apple of God’s eye. We are a family under the Lordship of our God and workers called to tend the Lord’s vineyard. And as children of this God of love we are asked to live lives which reflect the blessing and grace we have received and to act in ways that spread the good news that God’s love is for all, without condition and without distinction whatsoever.
And so, on that note, it has occurred to me lately that there is a critical need for us as a church to continue to seek to build real, sustainable…and almost assuredly personally costly community. This is a call both for us as a church as well as individuals to reach deep within the extent of our own resources in order to offer more than just token assistance to our many neighbors in need. For too often I feel that we may be satisfied with simply addressing the symptoms of a problem rather than staying with it or truly seeking to engage the root of a particular need…content to give out food to those who come seeking or to give a stranger a used but warm coat before sending them on their way, not taking the time to truly invite them into the circle of friendship and fellowship we all enjoy together, not truly getting to know them well enough to perhaps discover why they were hungry or why they had no proper clothing in the dead of winter to begin with. James reminds us in Chapter 2 and verses 15-16, ‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
Here in our community we are literally surrounded by folks on the margins of subsistence…not quite getting by…numerous ones throughout the area and within our congregation. We have many who take advantage of our Food Pantry and of good used clothing at a bargain price in our Thrift Shop as well. But the deeper needs remain unaddressed far too often. We have prayed numerous times for sustainable housing for members of our congregation and the number continues to climb…we now have three right here in our church family whose housing security is day to day if that. And we have others who have other needs as well…perhaps those who do not have proper documentation to remain in this country, who do not have access to truthful and understandable information regarding their rights and options when confronted by an encounter with ICE. We have elderly folks who have lived in this community all their lives and whose house is probably paid for but who are struggling deeply to pay increasingly higher taxes on fixed incomes. We have multiple group homes within just a few miles of our sanctuary housing many individuals experiencing differing levels of ability who are often deprived of regular, normal interaction with true community such as we could and should be offering them right here in our own congregation. We have families torn apart by the twin scourges of domestic abuse and substance abuse…distinctly different challenges yet so often intertwined, the victims of which have no place to turn to for help that is close by or that is willing to be there 24/7.
All of these needs which cry out for more than Sunday morning prayer and cry out for more than a package of frozen chicken or a used coat are here in our midst…and seemingly greater than our resources individually or as a church. And I think that it often seems as though the work we are able to do to serve those in need around us ought to be sufficient and that we are already stretched to the limit in terms of having resources to address our own needs as well as those currently being met through our outreach. However the faith we proclaim as Christians is that we worship a God who has promised to provide all of our needs if we are truly seeking first the kindom or loving community of our Lord.
We need to come into the understanding that there are deep and difficult challenges affecting many within our community…challenges requiring not just financial resources although that is surely a part of it, but requiring as well a commitment for us as followers of Jesus to become more involved in mind, body, and soul in searching for answers. In fact, caring for one another needs to become our primary reason for living, our primary goal. ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you’, Jesus told us…and he meant it. He meant it for us as individuals as well as for us as the gathered body of his love and grace. And he also meant it when he asked us to follow him…to walk in the paths he walked, to trust in the Spirit’s leading and the grace that would follow along with us.
As God first told Abraham when he called him as a herdsman in the hills, ‘I will bless you so that you can be a blessing for others in turn’, so too does the Lord ask us to look at our own blessings and to understand that they were given for the same reason. But it is important to note as well that God did not say ‘I will bless you with such an abundance of goodness, blessings, and resources that out of your surplus you will be able to give out some assistance to the poor and needy’, but rather I think God meant to convey both to Abraham as well as to us that, ‘I have blessed you so that you can bless others, so that you can share your sufficiency with others that they too might have sufficiency.’
These sentiments are backed up as well by our scripture readings this morning. First John tells us, ‘…we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth…’. And again in the same passage, ‘Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.’
And perhaps all of this seems like things we have heard many times before. But the feeling I get deep within when I consider what we do, and what we have done, is that we have been building a foundation upon which the Lord plans to build something more, something that will have an even far greater impact on the lives of those within our community. I truly believe that God is now speaking to us of deeper things, of his desire that we draw nearer to one another in seeking to follow ever closer to his every footstep…and that we covenant together to walk through that valley of shadows all around. And that we shall truly be unafraid for his rod and his staff shall comfort us and keep us safe along all of the pathways we travel, even unto those places where the table is set before us in the presence of sworn enemies of love, confident that mercy and goodness are following close behind us.
We can do more…and we must find the way…for our Lord shall provide if we trust and if we keep our eyes fixed on the prize of the promised day of kinship, love, and universal peace. However such a walk is not without cost…it shall not be easy, and it shall require that we reach deep into our own sufficiency. For our God tells us, ‘I did not give you a king’s ransom for you to live like a king, rather I have the ransom of a king and have made it available for you to distribute to all in need that many might live along with you in a state of near sufficiency…provided for but still dependent upon me. I did not give you a castle in which to live, but rather gave you enough of the king’s wealth to leave the castle and live in ‘the forest’ along with all of my people in need…for one day the castle shall surely fall and all will live in the new garden of sufficiency you have helped to prepare outside of the castle walls along with all of my children…’
We have such deep needs within a stone’s throw of our church…needs that require our full commitment as followers of Christ, as those who are willing and actually do take the time to seek the voice and counsel of the Spirit…and then trust in the answers received. Even when, and perhaps especially if those answers seem to fly in the face of conventional, tried and true wisdom, for our God does not like to be forced into home-made boxes of how we think God should behave or where God is, and is not allowed to butt into our business.
Truly the work remains…and the scope can seem overwhelming…but even the longest journey must begin with the first step. But what are those first steps? What are the ways we can begin to do this? How can we utilize our existing infrastructure, our buildings and programs to positively impact our many brothers and sisters in need? First we need to recognize and affirm that our church fellowship and community is akin to family…close family…family you would lay down your life for. Second we need to hold a passion for justice wherever we see injustice…and a commitment to work to bring about an end to it. Third we must have a profound willingness to trust in the Lord in all ways…and for all things, which may involve the greatest challenge if we are asked to surrender our self-acquired security in exchange for the promised grace the Lord will provide for all who seek the face of love. And finally we need a willingness to extend love and support to any the Spirit places before us, without condition and without regret, for in that moment we are serving not just a brother or sister in need but rather the Lord our God directly.
We can do more with the blessings we have so abundantly been given…and the time to begin to do so is now…