"The Power of Encouragement"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 7, 2001
Luke 17:5-17; II Timothy 1:1-14
World Communion Sunday could not have come at a more meaningful time in our history. Traditional enemies have put away their arguments. Diplomats are talking. Heads of state are visiting each other. It is as if people all over the world are recognizing that a time has come when humanity must circle its wagons and join hands. How ironic that it was not love that brought us together; it was necessity. We need each other.
Did you notice that we had 579 people attend worship on September 16? Individually, there comes a time when we need to be with other people. St. Matthew's is like a lighthouse, a safe harbor, and a cheering section for anyone who wants what our church has to offer.
Even if our coming to church is infrequent, when emotionally charged events occur over which we have no control, we know that St. Matthew's is here. As we encourage each other, something very powerful happens to us. We are comforted. We are uplifted. Strength comes to hold up our heads as we walk confidently into an uncertain future. What happens on an individual level can also happen between nations.
Our lesson today comes from the Apostle Paul. It comes from one of his personal letters that survived the passing of centuries. Listen to how Paul encouraged a young man whose name was Timothy. Think what it would mean to receive comments like these:
When the Angel Gang meets on Tuesday morning there are generally two or three thank you notes that have arrived. These deeply personal notes come from those who are confined to a house or isolated in a hospital bed. They tell us, that from the moment they learned that the Angel Gang was praying for them, their spirits were lifted. They confide that each time they review the contents of one of the group's angel bags, they are encouraged.
We have had a number of people tell us that their cancer has gone into remission. We have read reports of tumors vanishing. Does encouragement and support make a difference? You bet it does! Just ask John and Marty Bridgewater how much this congregation and the Angel Gang means to them.
A number of days ago, I sat riveted to a television program called, "The Miracle of Ladder Company Number 9." A group of firefighters was helping a lady who had come down from the 83rd floor of the second tower in the World Trade Center. They met her around the 35th floor. She was exhausted. They promised that they would help her get out of the building safely.
They reached the fourth floor and she could move no further. As the group sat there encouraging each other and discussing their options, the stairwell suddenly became like a wind tunnel. That meant only one thing -- the second tower was now collapsing. They held each other and prayed. They lived to tell their story to Stone Phillips and to all of us in the viewing audience.
Today we can only speculate about what created the bubble of safety that allowed them to survive. No one will ever convince them that it was merely an act of fate. There is great power generated when we encourage each other. When we conquer fear, we have destroyed the real enemy to life.
Spaceship earth is shaped like an oval as it turns on its axis. Its inhabitants have no place to go where they can escape being with others. What we do to and with each other eventually influences everyone else. Maybe we finally understand this concept and are now ready as a world community to experience it.
Engraved on our coins are these words, "e pluribus unum." They mean "Out of many, one." As we come to the table this morning, may we pray that this truth is beginning to dawn in the minds and hearts of all God's people. Our beliefs, our creeds, our skin color, and our traditions do not have to be the same for this to be true. We are one and we need to start acting like it! The simple truth is that we need each other. No group can face tomorrow alone.
Just as the Apostle Paul did for Timothy during a fairly frightening time in his life, let us never grow weary of encouraging each another. Our world's survival depends on it. "Out of many, one." This was at the heart of everything Jesus taught. It is now our turn to put it into practice so that future generations will be around to experience the miracle of life in all its fullness and creative possibilities.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Gracious and everlasting God, thank you for this day that helps us recognize the Body of Christ around the world. Fill us with your spirit that our brokenness might be mended. Send us on our way eager to reveal your presence. As we nourish ourselves today with bread and the fruit of the vine, may our minds and hearts remain open. Help us recall that Jesus lived, died, and rose again so all people might know the truth. Thank you for our sisters and brothers in distant lands. Each of us may speak your message differently. Each of us may sing Jesus' song in a unique way. May all of us remember that love needs no interpreter, kindness cannot be hidden, and light always makes darkness flee. With grateful hearts, we pray these thoughts through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Eternal God, each of us always enters the experience of worship mindful that we come from a world- view and experiences that are not known to anyone else but you. There are times when we cannot find words that describe what it is we want, or how we feel, or what it is we would like to say to you. Yet you know us and accept us just as we come. You sent Jesus into our world and have inspired others to carry his message from generation to generation because you know us so well.
It does not take much to make us afraid. The seeds of fear are like weeds, they grow rapidly and have deep roots. If left alone, weeds can take over an entire garden and the crop can be lost. Lead us, O God, to trust you as Moses did when he stood facing the sea as an angry enemy approached. And may our confidence in you motivate us to take the lead in spreading the Good News to every land. May each of us take the hands of others so that the human chain might remain unbroken. May the day dawn when love will come to the earth in such a form that all of us will experience it together. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray ...