Today is the last week of this sermon series. We have talked about prayers, presence and gifts, and today we end by talking about our service, which reminds me of a story. A man spoke with the Lord about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you Hell,” said the Lord. And they went into a room which had a large pot of stew in the middle. The smell was delicious and around the pot sat people who were famished and desperate. All were holding spoons with very long handles which reached to the pot, but because the handles of the spoons were longer than their arms, it was impossible to get the stew into their mouths. Their suffering was terrible. “Now I will show you Heaven,” said the Lord, and they went into an identical room. There was a similar pot of stew and the people had the same identical spoons, but they were all well nourished, talking and happy. At first the man did not understand. “It is simple,” said the Lord. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”
Today is the first Sunday of October, and every year on this Sunday we celebrate World Communion Sunday. This is a day that the world comes to the Lord’s Table and we, as the children of God from the four corners of the world, feast on the body and blood of Christ. Today we will join in this tradition and as we celebrate we are reminded that we are not the only ones in this world.
I have to be honest; Lynn and I have been planning the Meals for Learning event for nine months now. We planned it for this time of the year because of World Communion Sunday and I would have loved to be able to do it on this date but due to the fact that Lynn isn’t here and some other things we planned it for next week. Today though we have brought forth our gifts in order to do this program. We need $3000 dollars to be able to provide 100 children with a school meal for nine months. I don’t know of any other program that can have such a dynamic impact on a group of people. If these children do not get a meal at school they will not go to school because they will spend that day looking for food to eat. This program is not only providing a well needed meal but also is providing education.
Nine months ago I thought this would be no problem for our church and I was excited about it. Yet as we have gotten closer our present economic issues started to arise. Now in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we find ourselves in the midst of this mission project. Not exactly what Lynn and I had in mind, but maybe God did.
As we focus on this project we are reminded that it is our Christian duty to reach out to others. Mark read, Matthew 28:16-20, which is also known as the Great Commission. Jesus is sending the disciples and us, “to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus tells us to go into every nation. In John’s passage this morning Jesus tells us we will be known as his disciples if we love one another. It is through our love for our neighbor that we are known as a disciple of Christ.
When we give our membership vows we promise to be faithful in our service because the Christian faith is not stagnate. Our faith moves us, pulls us, and sometimes drags us into action. We are not being faithful if we simply sit here in our sanctuary and say yeah God. We are not being Christ’s disciples if we only see the people that are within these four walls. We are not being Christians if we are only concerned with what is ours, for we are told by Christ to be concerned with others first.
Before I got to my previous appointment one of their old Sunday School classes finally disbanded after many faithful decades. At the peak of their class they had more members in it than the church did when I arrived. Over two hundred people use to attend this class and when they disbanded only seven were left. What I found extremely unique was their name. They were called the Joy Outlook class. Nothing too flashy and I thought nothing of it until I learned what it meant. On the main wall of their classroom they had big brass letters that stated the mission of the class; Jesus, Others, Yourself. After talking with one of the seven still left in the class their purpose and perspective came through. They called themselves the Joy Outlook class because they were teaching to put Jesus first, others second and yourself last. And if you take the first letters of Jesus, Others, Yourself, you get Joy. Their mission was to have a JOY Outlook.
This is to be our vision as well. We are to put Jesus first in our lives and to seek to follow him in everything that we do. We are to model ourselves after him and follow his teachings. To do that though leads us to others. Jesus reached out to the least of these in his community. He ate with sinners, healed the sick, and did all this despite how others saw him. He calls us to do the same. And so we concentrate on how we can serve the needs of those around us and around the world.
There is a story of Col. Sanders, yes the Kentucky Fried Chicken guy. When he was 89 he was on a Western Airlines flight to San Francisco. After making himself agreeable to staff and fellow passengers, he sunk into his seat, dropped his chin, and closed his eyes. Somewhere in the back of the plane a child had been shrieking for some time. One flight attendant told another helplessly, “I’ve tried candy, books and games but nothing seems to make any difference.” “I’ve got to speak to that child,” said the colonel. He rose to his feet and, with aid of his cane, made his way to the back of the plane. The staff watched and shrugged, as if to say, “What can he do?” When the colonel came back, not long afterward, his charm had produced a minor miracle. There was only the sound of chatter, and newspapers now in the plane. The flight attendant came up to him and said, “thank you for helping us, Colonel.” “I didn’t do it for you,” he replied, “I did it for the child.” Then he sunk back into his seat and closed his eyes again.
When we reach out to others in service it is not about us, it is about them. It is about us showing love to them and when you show love you are not concentrated on yourself. So when our conferences sends mission teams to over twenty different countries, they go to provide the resources of doctors, builders, dentists, and money that those countries or areas just don’t have. What they are bringing though is love. When CCM is feeding the people of Thomasville who are in need and who will receive all the cans that we brought today, they are not showing them pity, they are showing them love. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is our denomination’s disaster response committee. They will roll into any area in the world after a disaster, just like the Red Cross. Except UMCOR, as it is better known, doesn’t leave until the work is completely done. We are usually the first on the scene and the last to leave. In 2004 the Western part of our state was ravished by floods and landslides from hurricane Frances and then Ivan. UMCOR has just finished their work there this year. Four years later they are finishing up their help. They are still in New Orleans and the gulf and I just dropped off flood buckets this week from our congregation for a group to take down to Texas. I tell you all this because after the Red Cross and FEMA have left, UMCOR is still there offering love to those in need. That is service, that is what we promise to do as members of this congregation.
I truly love the show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. Mike Rowe travels the world and finds people who do the grossest jobs. He has helped inseminate cows, cleaned up owl vomit, and worked with demolition crews. He introduces hardworking men and women who do the dirtiest jobs that just need to get done in order for our world to function. Service is like this as well. In order to follow through on the call that Jesus has put on all of our hearts we have to get in there and get dirty. This means we need to pay our apportionments which help fund the many different ministries of our conference and denomination. Every dollar you give to our apportionments goes way beyond anything we could do here just at Trinity.
But our job is not over yet. We need to get dirty and support Habitat this weekend and help out in the blitz. We need to get our hands messy by helping to make 18,000 meals next week. We will need help out in November by bring a toy for children who won’t get any on Christmas. We will have to put up with the pain of a needle and give blood which will save lives on December 13th.
But our job is not done there. Did you know that there are people just outside this door that need our help? Just down the street there is a school where children go home on Friday and can’t wait to come back on Monday because that is when they will eat next. There are fifth graders who cannot read on a first grade level. There are third graders who are looking for someone to simply sit down and have lunch with them. Last year in Thomasville City Schools 28 teenagers gave birth and 57 people dropped out of school. In all of Davidson county there were 148 babies born to girls under the age of 19 and they had a 3.5% increase in their drop out rate which brought the number up to 386 students who dropped out. That is just the teenagers and children.
Hang out at CCM and you will find more and more people coming asking for help to pay their bills, to fill their pantries, and to seek help. Go to Thomasville Hospital and you will find people suffering from horrible diseases who haven’t had a visitor because there is no one at home. Go to Britthaven, the Piedmont Center, and Centerclair and I will show you people who are in desperate need of someone to just come and visit. We are surrounded by people who are just looking for love, the love that only God can over. We are the hands, the feet, the voices, and the hearts that are called to bring that love to those who need it.
Today, we and the rest of the world will be coming to the table of God to feast at this heavenly banquet. It is here that we are nourished and fed. It is here that we get strength and courage to live out our faith. It is here that we, Trinity UMC, can feel the presence of God and God whispers into our ear what he wants us to do. We promised, each and every one of us promised to be faithful to this church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. God is holding us accountable and it is at this table that we can find what we need to live our promises out. Let us go to the table, let us fall on our knees, and let our hearts be strangely warmed by the loving God we serve.
And all God’s people said…Amen.