The Service of the Saints
By Beth Hewlett
Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28
Good Morning. Please join me join me in prayer:
God of the people, God of Grace, Glorious God Almighty: We gather today to worship you, we gather today to thank you for all that you have done for us. And we gather today to see a glimpse of you, to see a glimpse of you glory, a glimpse of your wisdom, a glimpse of your ways. Blow your Holy Spirit into our bodies, our minds and our hearts. Allow us to hear your scriptures in a new and transforming way. And Lord, as your humble servant, I pray that the mediation of my heart, be pleasing to you and that each person present hear the message that only you know they need to hear. Amen.
I was here about a month ago. It was the Sunday you were celebrating Cuba and learning about their culture. I was fed both spiritually and physically with a great sermon, heart lifting music and wonderful black beans and plantains. I even got to glue tops on a beautiful mural, blow bubbles as I chatted with old friends and made a new friend of two.
I thought this is an awesome place to worship, and as I drove home that Sunday I wondered. I wondered about all of the people who have attended this church. Imagine how many people have walked through the front doors since 1860, the sermons that have been preached, the prayers that have been prayed, the songs, the hopes, the tears, the joy. If only the walls could talk, if only the saints could speak. I would love to hear the theology of the past, of the present and even of the future. I would love to hear the stories of the many people whose lives have been transformed by spirit and the service of this congregation.
It is an honor and a privilege, for me to be here today, and be a tiny step, in the journey of this faithful, worshiping community.
Let me share a little bit about my faith journey. A term we like to use, but the truth is I am going to share with you a bit of the story of my church journey, which is often different than our faith journey. I grew up in a Presbyterian family. My parents were baptized as infants at the same Presbyterian church on the same day, and that was the church that they choice to married at and baptize their 4 children.
I am the number 4 child, and by the time my parents had the their third child, they had learned it was much easier to take your children on a Sunday outing, first thing in the morning whenever one else was at church, then on crowded Sunday afternoons when everyone else was out of church.
Therefore I was not raised in the church. When I was in my mid-twenties I had a summer romance with a cute blue eyed, red headed man who was attending seminary. I will call him Jack. Though we never prayed, or went to church together. We did talk a little about God, and about his faith and we talked a lot about life, and I realized what I liked about Jack was his attitude, he was hopeful, grateful and positive that no matter what life handed him, it could be handled.
At the end of the summer, our paths took us in different directions. He returned to school in California and I moved from NJ to Denver. After I settled here I thought I need to make some friends. I thought back to summer fling and thought I would like to meet someone like Jack, someone who was excited about life, so I decide the best way to meet that person was to go to church.
And it worked, I meet a number of wonderful people, people who shared the lessons of Christ through their smiles and their friendships, their stories, and being there when I needed help. I began to experience that same joy and that same hope that Jack had. And as I talked about my church adventures to my family, well, they must have thought they were missing out, because the next thing I knew my sister and then my mother, and ok it took several years, but then my brother-in-law also began going to church.
I often I try cruising the internet to find an address so I can sent a note or an email, or even a Facebook post to the cute red haired young man, who is no longer young and may not even have hair anymore, because he has no idea the affect he had on me and my family.
But enough about me. Let’s make this about God.
Our New Testament scripture is Romans 12 9-21 and I am going to read it from The Message. If you are not familiar with The Message it is a modern version of the bible written by a Presbyterian minister named Eugene Peterson.
If anyone of you have ever preached a sermon, or designed a bible study, or written a devotion, you know that there are scriptures where you say, this is an easy one. I got this. I know exactly what I am going to say. And that is exactly what I thought when I read these scriptures. This is a piece of cake. All I have to do is tell a story about a Christian or a Church who went out and used their financial resources and their time, and made a playground, or built a house, or started a foodbank, or something. The service they performed changed not only the people they served, it also changed the community and their church, but more importantly it changed them, they felt good about what they did. And everyone was happy, the people served, their community, their church and more importantly God was pleased.
Only one problem with that sermon is where I was going to preach it. I am preaching to Central Presbyterian church. A church that just completed a summer of service. You baked cookies, cleaned toys, helped in food banks, and built a house and you did so many other things this summer. And that was just during the summer. You are a congregation that spends the whole year serving others.
So I could preach on welcoming the unloved, helping those who need a friend. But then again I am preaching at Central Presbyterian church, you have a homeless shelter in the basement of your building. A shelter that I had the opportunity to tour earlier this year, and was very impressed with. That shelter is not an easy mission, it is a lot of work, it takes time, devotion and money. And I want to thank for what you do through that shelter, and the way you show love, and compassion, to those who have nothing. To those who are often hated, and not treated kindly in the community.
To tell you the truth, if a sermon is going to be preached today about showing Christ love through service to the world, then I should open up the pulpit for you to tell the stories. The stories of those of hours where you showed Christ Love and how that love changed those who you served, how they changed the city of Denver, and how those hours of devoted work changed you. I should give you an opportunity to give me a new understanding about showing God’s love and hope through the hard work of service.
But I might get in trouble with Louise if she heard that instead of me doing the sermon that I made you do it.
So let’s move on to the Gospel reading. It is Matt 16 21-28.
Ok to be honest. I don’t really like this passage of the bible. I feel sorry for Peter. Poor guy. He finds out this best friend, his mentor, the messiah who is supposed to change the world, is going to die and not just die but be put to death in a horrific way. And Peter shouts out, he shouts out because he loves Jesus, and he says I will not allow this to happen. What a great guy, Peter is. He wants to save his friend from dying. That is an unbelievable act of love and I hope all of us would have reacted that way, but Jesus was not happy with Peter’s outburst.
No, Jesus tells Peter very firmly that Jesus’ ministry, his death, is not about Peter, it is about God. About God.
I realize I don’t like the scripture because my ego tells life shouldn’t be about God, it should be about me. I can’t tell you the number of times I have prayed saying God Almighty, All Powerful God, here is what I want and here is how I would like it to happen, and if it could happen in the next 24, than that would be perfect. Oh God don’t worry I have this all under control. I just need you to do your thing, I will do my thing, and if you do exactly what I ask then your will, not mine, will be done.
So often I forget that God is more powerful than I am. So often I forget that God is charge and that he did not put me in charge. So often I forget, that I am a small speck in the big picture of creation, of the world.
But God is more powerful than I am. He more powerful than any of you are, he is more powerful than you and I together. He is more powerful then this congregation or if we put all the Presbyterians in the world together he would still be more powerful. Even if every single Christian joined together, God would still be more powerful than any of us. He would be more powerful than all of us combined.
He is more powerful than our prayers, he is more powerful than our will, and he is also more powerful than any of the countless acts we do to serve in his name.
Years ago I belonged to a group of Christian women. We were a weight loss group where we turned to God rather than relying on food to solve our problems. Each week we had time for a prayer of intersession. Praying not for ourselves but for those who we knew need God’s help. The next week we would gather and the woman of the group would report on the result of our prayers, which was not something I was used to. They would say remember we prayed for such and such who was dying of cancer, well now she is cancer free and is expected to live for another 100 years. Or remember we prayed for so and so who had no money and were going to lose their home, well someone paid off their house this week and then handed them a million dollars and also offered them a fabulous job that paid a couple of million a year. I know I am embellishing the truth, but these woman wanted to know the results of their prayers. And they wanted their prayers to be answered instantly. They wanted to know that their prayers mattered, that they worked, that God had done exactly what they asked him to do.
Let’s face it, we all want to know the results of our prayers, we all want to know that when we work hard to serve God, that it will make a difference to the people that we prayed for, that our service made a difference to the people we serve. We want our service to God to count. As humans we are result oriented. In some respect, when we look for results we are saying our service and our prayers are about us and not about God.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that when we are serving God, that we are selfish and doing it just for ourselves. I believe that when we serve in God’s name, when show God’s love, that through the power of God, amazing things can happen. So amazing that results may not be apparent on the day we showed God’s love. It may not be apparent during our life time.
Let me give you example. Some of you spent time this summer working on a house for Habitat for Humanity. At some point the house will be finished, the house will be dedicated and a family will move in. And those who worked on the house, will take a deep breath and say, wow our work is done. We are blessed that God allowed us serve him by providing this beautiful home. When that happens, our will, our agenda is done. And it is beautiful. It is something to be proud of.
And though our work is done, God’s work is not done, in fact it is just beginning.
We don’t know what will happen when we share the stories of our work with others. We don’t know what will happen when the people in the house share the stories of how people cared enough about them to give an affordable pace to live. We don’t know about the people who drove by and saw you giving up your time, how they were affected.
When you serve God, through a smile, through a homemade cookie, or through the building of a house, you open a door, a window, a crack for God to move in and allow his Holy Spirit to get to work, and yes the results may be instant, or they could take months, years, or generations.
It is overwhelming to think about how God can use our service to him.
There is a beautiful song that was written, that some of you might know, it is called Pass It On.
The lyrics go:
It only takes a spark to get a fire going
And soon all those around, can warm up in glowing
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone
You want to pass it on
Now I want to be bold enough to change those lyrics a bit.
It only takes a spark to get the fire of God going.
And soon all those around will warm up in His glowing.
That how it when you share God’s love
He will spread that love in amazing ways, ways we cannot even imagine.
And once you know His power, you want to pass His love on.
I want to thank you again for how each of you serve God by showing love his to your community. And I want to thank God for the ways he has used your service to transform the lives of so many, and I want thank God for the way he will continue spreading his love through your generous acts of kindness. Amen