Are you Able? – October 18, 2015

Are You Able

Job 38:1-7 Mark 10:35-45


As far as I can tell we don’t have a James or John in our church family…someone striving for a position of power at the side of the person in charge. In fact when I announced a few weeks ago that the Leadership Development committee would be open to volunteers to help lead our church no one lobbied to be put in an important position. Instead…one of the questions to ask today is whether we have enough Samuel Brengles. In 1878…when William Booth’s Salvation Army had just been so named…men from all over the world began to enlist. One man…who had once dreamed of himself as a bishop…crossed the Atlantic from America to England to enlist. He was a Methodist minister…Samuel Logan Brengle. He had turned from a fine…successful…pastorate to join Booth’s Salvation Army. Brengle later became the Army’s first American-born commissioner. But at first Booth accepted his services reluctantly and grudgingly. Booth said to Brengle, “You’ve been your own boss too long.” And…in order to create humility in Brengle…Booth put him to work cleaning the boots of the other trainees. Brengle said to himself…”Have I followed my own fancy across the Atlantic in order to black boots?” And…then as in a vision he saw Jesus bending over the feet of rough…uneducated… fishermen. “Lord,” he whispered, “you washed their feet, I will black their boots.” Brengle blacked boots. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. How are we serving…how can we serve others…serve Jackson Grove United Methodist Church…an important part of our lives for many years…and how can we serve Jesus? In his first letter to the Christians living in what is now Turkey…the apostle Peter wrote…”you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy, now you have received God’s mercy.”(1 Peter 2:9-10 NLT) We’ll talk a little more about the important point known as possession in a few minutes. Let’s talk about chosen for a moment…right now. You see…the ancient Jews heard that word “chosen”…and thought it meant they were someone on whom God intended to lavish great wealth and power…a life of luxury. At the University of Southern California…the other U. S. C…. there is a distinguished emeritus professor of philosophy…whose name is Geddes MacGregor. He shared this prayer offered by a worship leader of what MacGregor called “orthodox pretend Christianity.” It’s the kind of prayer that some of the ancient Jews…hung up on the label chosen…might have offered. It’s the kind of prayer that we hear from those who preach what’s called the “prosperity gospel” today. “O dear, wonderful Father of our incredibly unbelievable experience, we like to feel assured that we may always come to thee when we feel like it…and now, dear Lord, we want quite naturally and simply and just in a word to ask thee very frankly, to give us our heart’s desire. Thou art the Comforter, as the old story puts it, and so thou are our friend, for we are very fond of comfort.” Let us NOT think of chosen in that way. Yes…you and I have been chosen…and we have committed to follow the one who chose us. But…he chose us to make disciples…not live a life of leisure and luxury. In that letter to people just like you and me Peter added…”…continue to show deep love for each other for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (1 Peter 4:9-10) In the three short months we have been together you have shown you are able to serve as God’s chosen people. Let’s reflect a bit. You have warmly welcomed me…though I am your third pastor in three years. We have worked through several committee meetings to prepare for the charge conference and catch up on some church business that has been neglected. There is more to do. Together we have planned for a Lord’s Acre celebration on November 22nd. I look forward to sharing the celebration with you and with our friends and neighbors. Some of you have visited in person and on the phone with those who are shut-in or hospitalized. Some took me to introduce me to those shut-ins personally. We have returned to celebrating the Lord’s Supper monthly and taking it to our shut-ins to celebrate with them. We have given support to our brother Michael Gossett. We have chosen a new, contemporary, large-print edition Bible…the New International Version…to place in our pews…so the Word can be more easily read and understood by all. With a little effort we will be able to dedicate them at our Lord’s Acre celebration. We have developed a comprehensive… monthly financial report that is posted for all to see. None of those activities will put our name in lights…give us an earthly life of luxury and leisure…but they are certainly part of what we have been chosen to do as we walk the earth that God has given us…and serve the church and community he has chosen us to serve. As we proceed through the next three months to prepare…then hold our church wide planning retreat…let us be like those chosen saints who preceded us at Jackson Grove United Methodist Church. Let us ask God for discernment to know His will for us…let us ask: How can we best nurture each other that we may grow in faith and witness as we proceed on our Christian journey individually and as a church family? What can we do to effectively reach out to our brothers and sisters in our local community to give them compassion, seek justice and become their advocates as well as advocates for Jesus Christ? How do we prepare ourselves to be witnesses for Jesus Christ and how do we proceed to faithfully and effectively witness for the one who has chosen us…the one we have chosen? Raise these questions to God in your prayers. Share them with your family. You might be astounded at the obvious answers you get when you raise them with your neighbors, your pharmacist, your grocer, or a first responder. Jesus’ life and teaching turns the world’s understanding of greatness and great works upside down. The greatest work ever done was accomplished by someone who gave his life for others. Self-giving service is the only greatness recognized by God. Only those who give of themselves for others will be the big winners with God. They are willing to let life go hang for the sake of another. Jesus invites followers to join him in becoming great and doing great things…not the way the world judges “great” but the way God judges it. Martin Luther King Junior said that everybody can be great because anybody can serve. He said “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know Plato and Aristotle. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics. You only need a heart full of grace…a soul generated by love. This attitude is shown in the character of Nancy Mannigoe in William Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun.” She says at the end of her life, “It’s all right. I can get low for Jesus, too. I can get low for him, too.” We can check on our own attitude on this score by looking at how we respond when given a little task to perform that we might judge to be beneath our dignity. God truly reigns when Jesus’ way of viewing life overrules the world’s destructive glory-seeking…stuff-seeking…ways of living. I told you we’d look at that word “ransom” again. Jesus’ “ransom” statement uses a metaphor to describe our predicament and his sacrifice. It suggests that we are enslaved to the world and many of its sinful ways and standards…and…that it is impossible for us ever to pay for our own freedom. Someone else must pay. Jesus’ death is not a tragic accident or courageous martyrdom, but an intended supreme sacrifice for all humankind…for you and for me. This image does not end the plight of the human situation and how Jesus’ death puts right that situation with God…but it does make clear that atonement is not something we can reach for ourselves. It comes as a gift from God. Jesus has paid with his life the infinite debt owed by humankind. He has delivered us from our captivity to sin. There is a catch. In the ancient world there was a law that the one who was ransomed became the property of the one who freed him. Paul assumes this principle when he told the Corinthians, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” You and I have been ransomed by Jesus Christ. We belong entirely to Jesus Christ. It is the one who has ransomed us and now possesses us that makes us able to leave the desires of this world behind and give ourselves entirely to Christ…to humbly…but with conviction…serve him by serving his people…and by leading his church…Jackson Grove United Methodist…into a strong future. “Lord…because of you…with you…and for you…we are able.”