"The Desire To Make A Difference"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 9/10/2000
James 2:1-10; Mark 7:24-30
A woman, who was obviously familiar with Jesus' ministry, approached him with a request to heal her daughter. Jesus' response to her was very different from the one we might expect. He said, "Let me first take care of my own people. It is not right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Possessing a keen mind the woman responded, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's leftovers." Jesus had to smile at her rather candid and direct nature and responded, "Because of that answer, go back home, where you will find your daughter well."
As disciples, we reflect this initial response of Jesus more than we care to admit. Congregations tend to attract and keep those people who resonate with their message and mission. Not everyone who visits St. Matthew's for the first time stays long enough to see what we do. They are looking for something else and that is fine. The point is that every congregation develops a culture and a style that is unique to itself.
One of the unique characteristics of St. Matthew's is that we do not care where someone comes from, we do not stand in judgment of what beliefs they hold, and we do not hold a position concerning what parent denomination enabled them to give expression to their faith. What we do care about is making a healing difference in each other's lives. This is exactly how Jesus responded to this woman. Her beliefs were different. She was not even a Jew. These issues did not matter to Jesus; he brought healing anyway.
Each church family has to deal with a recurring temptation to be self-serving. Church families naturally want to feed and nurture their own people. A number of people reason, "Why should we go halfway around the world to make a difference in people's lives when there is so much need right here at home?"
We have just heard a number of eyewitness accounts from members of our team who traveled to Juarez, Mexico that have answered that question. Perhaps if we stretch our imaginations a bit, we will see that all mission work happens when those who are outside of a congregation's culture "Eat the children's leftovers." And during that process, God heals both the giver and the receiver.
While in Juarez, our money, our presence, our talents, and our time are all "leftovers." Basically, what we gave that family was a very short week out of our lives. It took us a day to travel there and a day to return home. But for that family of five, our "leftovers" gave them a cinder-block house, many smiles and laughter, and a lot of unspoken language that communicated that we cared about them. What we came away with was the difference that family made to our lives.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal and ever faithful God, thank you for creating us with so many varied and unique talents. Some of us have learned to heal with our smiles and words. Some of us use our hands to repair machines, stock shelves, lay brick, stitch wounds, and create art. Some of us teach and nurture children. Some of us volunteer so that the burdens of others are made lighter. Help us remember, O God, that every task is one that serves others. And as we remember who you called each of us to be, open our eyes to the vast mission field that greets us each day. As the world continues to evolve toward a community where wars and rumors of wars cease to exist, may your Spirit guide us to love one another as you have loved us. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, how often we feel overwhelmed by life. We look at our world and believe that there is so much to fix, so many people to save, and so much that needs to change. How tempted we are to cocoon ourselves and live in and take care of our "own backyard." We thank you that you have created us so that we can resist temptation.
We thank you for the number of times when we have witnessed to our faith and been surprised by joy. How simple it is to give away a smile, a helping hand, a word of encouragement, a complement, a word of praise, or an expression of gratitude. Sometimes we realize that we might never measure up to the stature of the Apostle Paul, but you have taught us that who we are is enough to make a difference to someone. How wonderful it is that you can take our small gifts and move mountains with them. Teach us not to hold back because of how mind-boggling any task appears. Some of us have learned that houses can even be repaired and built by young people who have not done either of those tasks before.
As we listen to the experiences of others today, all of us thank you for the many opportunities our church family offers anyone who is willing to say "yes" to being involved in the mission of our church. We pray these thoughts in the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .