Matthew 20:25b-28 - Heartstrings at First United Methodist Church
In the spring of 2010, I decided to answer a call in the ministry. What I needed to do before I could go to school to become a pastor was finished my undergrad. So, I went back to school to finish my undergraduate degree and got done with that two weeks before I started seminary in the fall of 2011. From 2011 to 2014 I worked hard to earn what I needed to become a pastor. In 2014, I graduated from seminary. (One year after Chuck did).
I remember seminary graduation at Saint Andrews United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch. I remember the last song we sang. It was from our hymnal and you probably heard it:
Here I am Lord I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save. Whom shall I send? 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.
Of course, hearing that song brought me to tears. It brought us all to tears because that is exactly what we were doing! We had heard our call and we were being sent. We had heard a call… we had poured ourselves into learning about scripture… we had poured ourselves into learning about history and the world and brokenness and deeply understanding the world around us and now…. it was time to go out. To be sent into the world to bring that love… that knowledge… our whole hearts… into our calling.
Jesus says this about serving, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, starting at verse 25:
…Jesus called the disciples to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Tell me you’re a disciple without telling me you’re a disciple. If you are someone that lives their life in service to God and God’s love, would that tell the world you are a disciple?
If every single day you preformed 5 acts of kindness, if you turned towards love and helping and serving would that shape you more and more into a deeply committed disciple? Would it deepen your relationship with the one that created you? Redeemed you? Sustains you? If you were intentional about serving 5 times every single day, would it tell the world that this journey of faith matters to you?
As we travel through Lent we are, together, examining those practices that we put in place in our lives, day after day that shape us, form us, create us into deeply committed disciples of Christ.
I am going to say this again this week, because I think I need to say this every week, of this sermon series… these practices are NOT a way to earn God’s love, or forgiveness, or a way into heaven. These practices are a response to the God that already loves you, YOU right where you are! They are a way to grow to understand how deep, and wide, and powerful that love for you already is. They are the tools that help us become people so deeply formed by the love of God, so confident in the love we know, that fear is cast out, and others then experience a glimpse of God’s love through us.
In one of my favorite books on habits, Atomic Habits by James Clear, he talks about different levels or layers of change:
The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship, [following Christ]. Most of the goals we set in life are associated with this level of change.
The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice [worshipping weekly, reading scripture daily]. Most of the habits we build are associated with this level.
The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others [it is claiming in your very being, whose you are. It is looking in the eyes of every single human being and knowing they are beloved children of God too]. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level.
Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe. […]
The risk is that we add these new things into our lives, prayer, worship, reading scripture, serving, but we never allow them to shape the very core of who we are. We do these things, not to earn our way into heaven, not to earn God’s love or forgiveness, but because they shape us into the people we wish to become: deeply committed disciples. And scripture and tradition tell us these are the things we do.
I’m a disciple. I am a person that serves. I am a disciple, I’m a person that reads scripture, prayers, worships…. It is who I am.
Pastor Hire: here I am? Or I see you?
In the United Methodist Tradition, this is especially true years ago, all the pastor strove to pastor the largest, most prestigious churches in the connection. Back in the 80’s, one of those churches had come open, and it came down to two possible candidates for the job. One, was Senior Minister at First United Methodist Church in a city in Texas. It was a large prestigious church. That church was THE church! It was the hottest property in Methodism. When you got there, you had made it! This pastor was the best of the best… he went there when he was 33 and you know he was the real deal. Jim Moore was an Executive Associate Pastor at Shreveport. Which was another great church! Jim had been second in charge under a Senior Pastor that had been struggling with dementia for years. Really doing much of the work. These two pastors were coming from very different places in their ministry when Saint Luke’s in Houston came open. This was a great church in one of the wealthiest areas of Houston. They had narrowed their search down to these two pastors who came in to interview for the job. The young, mover and shaker, the hottest up an comer in Methodism, the one that all the young pastors wanted to be… showed up to the church for an interview… he just walked into the meeting, sat down and started making demands. The Parsonage wasn’t nice enough. His office wasn’t nice enough. Salary wasn’t big enough. If they wanted to get him they were going to have to make some accommodations. And then they interviewed Jim More. Jim entered the building and by the front door, there was a custodian buffing the floors. Jim said to him you must really, really enjoy your work. You must be proud of the work you do. I’ve never seen floors so shiny and beautiful as these floors. As he goes into the church he smells something come out of the kitchen, walks into the kitchen and there is the cook. He said, “You must really love your job. It just smells wonderful. I can tell you proud of the work that you do here.” By the time he got to the interview, they had pretty much decided who they were going to job to!
Who are we? We are deeply committed disciples. Serving others isn’t something we do five times a day, it is who we are, in every encounter.
As a side note, because it needs to be said: it doesn’t mean bowing to everyone’s demands. It doesn’t mean being a doormat. In fact, the only way to stay compassionate, to stay out of resentment, is to relentlessly hold clear, impenetrable boundaries. To be clear about what is okay and what is not okay.
Here I am Lord, send me. Send me on international mission trips. Do you think, as the world gets to the other side of the pandemic, that we will discover places around the world that desperately need a helping hand? That will desperately need someone to come look them in the eye, and witness to broken who humanity. To witness to the world that we can do better? How many lives could we change, if each and every one of us committed to going on an international mission trip once every 5 years? How would it change us, as a congregation, if every single one of us had stepped foot on foreign ground, and allowed the people we encounter to bring us healing and hope?
Here I am Lord, send me. What if every single year you made the decision to go on a mission trip here, in our country? Whether it be to care and share for a day to pack food, or Alamosa for a weekend, or San Francisco for a week? Would the people you encounter find in you a glimpse of sacred hope? Would that shape us, as a church, into a church that understands the need in our world because we have encountered it?
Here I am Lord, send me. What if, every single day, 5 times a day, you found a way to serve others? Pausing to hold a door. Stopping to help someone in need. Ann Lantz, who was the director of ESM, said that one thing that the homeless people she encountered on the streets wanted more than anything, was to be seen. What if, every single time you stopped at a light, and someone was standing there, holding a sign, you looked at them. Saw their humanity.
The Edge has for years been my main ministry area. Once a week we gathered on Friday evenings around a dinner table. We ate and we talked and we heard some personal stories. And what we noticed after the first year is on Friday night we had so many leftovers. And they were going to waste, and it was so sad. And at the same time, we have people just a block away hungry, starving, needing a meal. There was a group at The Edge that decided they wanted to match those two needs. So they came to the congregation and asked a couple of our members here at the church if they would help by providing some utensils and some to-go boxes so we can pack up meals and take them out every week. Jan Anderson and Karen Ruyle said “of course we will help!” They have been providing to-go containers for years. A group from The Edge pack up these meals and take them downtown. One evening we have a couple of young adults handing out food with the group. One of them raised in this church almost her entire life and another one not involved in church. So, the group handing out food that night included these two young adults. I was at The Edge building cleaning up after. For some reason that night the group were taking a really long time. They just weren’t coming back. I was even a little worried! Finally, they came back… They had taken so long because as they handed out food, like they always did, would stop and talk for a minute or two. And this time they gave a women in a wheel chair a meal, chatting with the woman for a moment, and that woman shared her story with them. She asked if they would pray with her. So, those two young women got on their knees in the middle of downtown Colorado Springs, held the hand of a person in need, listened as long as she need listened to, and prayed with her, and for her…
Tell me you’re a disciple without telling me you’re a disciple.