Serving those who are responding to God’s call to love.

Sermon by Sally

Thank you for answering our invite to read this week’s BLOG. It’s actually a sermon my sister, Sally Henry wrote for church last Sunday at her church in Linden, NC. She had asked me a few others to read it prior to Sunday and when I read it, I asked her if we could share it on the LCI website. She said yes. And by the way, she is the serving president of our board of directors. Please enjoy how God may speak to you through this message.

SERMON BY SALLY…my sis

John 3:16 & Isaiah 53, Love All, 12-4-16

These aren’t the usual texts used for the Advent season. If anything, they get used more for Lent than Advent. But as we go through this Advent Conspiracy, as we “conspire” to live more fully into the kind of lives we know God wants us to live – we have to step back, or maybe step up onto the balcony and take in the bigger picture of what God has done and continues to do.

You see we don’t always see ourselves the way God sees us. God tells us through Jesus that we all are poor. We all are wanting, that is, in great need, and are not capable – ever – of being righteous on our own.

Jesus tells us in the gospels that He came to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives – to those imprisoned, to bring sight to the blind, to raise to life those who are dead, and to let those who are oppressed go free. (Matt. 11:5, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22)

The thing is that we never apply those things to ourselves – just to other people! When Jesus talked about the poor or those imprisoned we think He’s talking about someone over on the Hill or in an inner city or someone who’s been incarcerated for a crime.

We read about those who are blind or dead or deaf or oppressed and we think of people with disabilities, people in communist countries, or that guy Lazarus in the bible – Mary and Martha’s brother who Jesus raised back to life!

But friends, Jesus was talking about US, all of us. We’re the ones who are poor. We’re the ones who are imprisoned – by things from our past, by the messages of the media, by the words and actions of loved ones, by how we’ve limited God to only the ways we’ve experienced Him.

We’re the ones who are blind – to His work in our midst, to His Spirit at work, His power and wisdom and comfort available to us. We’re blind to those around us in need who are looking for help.

We’re deaf to the cries of the people God would use us to love in His name, we’re even deaf to His words of love to us many times. Or we hear them but don’t always fully believe them.

We’re the ones who are dead. We can be dead to the joy available to us when we abide in Christ, dead to the fulfillment and abundant life we can have when we serve others and give of ourselves.

No, we don’t always see ourselves the way God does…and God knew that we wouldn’t figure it out on our own so He sent Jesus.

I’m reminded of the story that Paul Harvey wrote about a man, some birds, and a barn…

You see there was a man, he was a good man and even went to church occasionally, but he really didn’t buy the whole Jesus thing – the whole “incarnation, God-becoming-man” thing.

And so one Christmas Eve he told his wife he just couldn’t go to church with her. He just felt like too much of a hypocrite going when he really didn’t believe that Jesus stuff.

So as his wife drove off to church he settled into his chair by the fire and looked out the window every so often as the snow really began to start coming down heavily.

After a bit he heard some thumping on the living room picture window, and as he got up to look he realized that a large flock of birds was out on his lawn becoming overwhelmed by the heavy snow and every so often some of them would try to fly into the living room through the picture window, thinking it was an entrance to some shelter.

It was bothering the man more and more to see and hear these poor birds bash into his window trying to escape the snow, and so he tried to think about what he could do, where the birds could go to get out of the heavy snow…and then he had it.

He pulled on his coat and boots and made his way around the flock of birds on the lawn over to his barn. He turned on the lights, flung the doors open and stepped out of the way, hoping that the birds would see the safe enclosure and make their way into the barn. But they didn’t do it, they didn’t follow his lead. In fact, they kept crashing into his living room window.

He tried walking around the flock trying to “herd” them towards the barn, but they just struggled flying in the snow and ended up back on the lawn. He realized that the birds were afraid of him thinking he was some strange, terrifying creature.

The man was exasperated trying to figure out how to get those birds into the barn and he thought to himself, “if only I was a bird then I could show them the way to go so they would live.” And as the church bells rang in the distance the light went on in his head.

He finally understood what God was doing when He sent Jesus to come and walk among us…to be with us.

What’s also amazing is that God sent His son Jesus into the same harsh world that you and I live in. A world of want. As Isaiah describes to us, The Servant wasn’t to be born into a family of royalty – although He deserved to be. No, the Gospels tell us he was born to a very poor family.

Jesus entered poverty so that we would not longer be poor, no longer deaf or blind or wanting.

This fall God has been working on me a lot, challenging me to look and listen for His Spirit. As I’ve read books and scripture, done a video study with the Wednesday night group I’ve been stretched to not only look and to listen for God but to act on what I hear or see.

I’ve been challenged to think about the difference between what it is to be a Christian, and what it is to be a Christ-follower. Because although one may have right beliefs and knowledge, the other – even if they don’t have all the “correct” theological answers or words – knows how Jesus lived and spends their life not only studying Him, but tries to truly live as He did, loving people, and taking up the challenges He posed.

So as I’ve been on this journey I’ve been bothered. Whether it’s God’s Spirit urging me on or my own guilt – who knows – but I’ve been convicted to do less talking and studying and take more action – and as your pastor I can’t help but wonder if I’m supposed to be bringing you all along on this journey as well.

This Advent Conspiracy has us focusing on four different things:
Worshiping (more) Fully
Spending Less
Giving More
and Loving All

Today was supposed to be focused on Worshiping (more) Fully, but Wednesday afternoon I went to a meeting with pastors and FEMA people and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance people talking about people who are still in dire situations from Hurricane Matthew.

I learned that just down the road off of exit 49 of I-95 there are over 120 hotel rooms filled with people whose homes were destroyed, some lost their cars, some their place of employment was flooded so they lost their jobs as well. And many of these people were living paycheck to paycheck before Matthew.

God, in the way only God can, convicted me that I needed to focus on the “Loving All” portion now rather than later. Because we know that we are called to share the love that we have experienced from God with others who are in need…we know that we are blessed to be a blessing.

For God so loved the world that He gave Himself. That’s our example!

I have learned that at the Motel 6 alone – people are in need of easy to prepare food (as some don’t even a microwave or fridge). Some need clothing – and a pastor friend has bags of clothes at his church, Sunnyside Presbyterian, that they could use help distributing.

Others have been turned down by FEMA and don’t know where to turn, but I’ve learned there are more options and sometimes people get so overwhelmed by the great loss and enormity of the problem that they just shut down. Some people just need a friend to help them navigate and understand the process. To be with them.

We always have a choice. I got involved a little at the beginning of the crisis and a few things were gathered…but then I got busy and turned a deaf ear and a blind eye. But I can’t turn away anymore.

God is in my head with the story of the sheep and the goats where Jesus separates the righteous before Him and as some are sent to His left He tells them, “…I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me…” (Matt. 25:42-43)

Are we simply Christians or are we Christ-followers?

I’m sorry this isn’t a “happy” Jesus-is-coming Advent message. But this IS Good News! God came to us in Jesus Christ! God saved us from the eternal consequences of our sin. But He has more for us as well…

“As poor people who have met with the righteous wealth of God, it is now our turn to model His generosity by sharing our wealth with those in need. In short, it is our turn to love as we have been loved. In practical terms it means caring for the poor in our midst.”

It’s not up to us to judge people on what help they need or accept. We are simply called to offer the cup of cold water, the clothes, the food, the love and encouragement as generously as God offered His gifts to us.

The need is great and they are pretty much at our doorstep hoping someone, anyone, will help them. Will it be us?

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