Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ October 16, 2011 ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
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18While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ 19And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.
20Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, 21for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’
22Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.
23When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, 24he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. 25But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. 26And the report of this spread throughout that district. (Matthew 9:18-26)
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Do you remember last Thursday? October 13, 2011. For you, was it a good day or a bad day? Where were you that day? How’d you spend your time? What did you accomplish? What was on your mind? Who were you with?
Last Thursday the high inSacramentowas 83 degrees and the low was 54, a bit above average for this time of year.
In news headlines last Thursday, twoU.S.drone strikes inPakistankilled an estimated six people. In Congress, the House of Representatives voted for more abortion restrictions under the new health law. President Obama vowed that he would plan to push for tough sanctions againstIranto punish officials accused of an assassination plot. The Dow Jones Industrials closed down 40 points at 11,478.
In the baseball playoffs, the Detroit Tigers stayed alive by beating the Texas Rangers 7 to 5. The Brewers beat the Cardinals 4 to 2. Former 007, Roger Moore, celebrated his 84th birthday, fashion designer Ralph Lauren was 72, and recording artist Usher turned 33.
Last Thursday, country singer Taylor Swift released a new perfume she calls Wonderstruck. Macy’s began selling the stuff for $59.50 a bottle. The Cowboy Pizza was on sale at Papa Murphy’s for only $9.00. I highly recommend it. And our local supermarket was selling red or green seedless grapes for only 69 cents a pound, a great deal which you now have missed.
So much happened around our world last Thursday, October 13th, 2011. For most of us, however, our experience of that day was largely limited to the very small realm of events and activities which, one way or another, directly affected us.
Last Thursday a full schedule got many of us out of bed in the morning earlier than we would have liked. Last Thursday lots of us went off to work. Many of us, though not all of us, were well paid for that work. Last Thursday many of us dropped our kids off at schools which, for the most part, are staffed by incredibly committed teachers and supported by highly involved parents. Last Thursday all of us spent at least a part of our day making sure we were well fed – shopping, cooking, sitting down for meals. Last Thursday many of us checked our e-mail, surfed the internet, paid our bills, enjoyed some television, read a good book. Last Thursday evening many of us went to bed, perhaps later than we would have liked, but nonetheless eventually fell asleep in homes where we slept in comfort and warmth and safety the whole night through.
What I’m trying to say is that for most of us, last Thursday was a day quite like every other day in the following sense. So much happened in the world around us and yet we were mostly aware only of the things which happened right in front of us and which directly impacted us.
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Last Thursday an elementary school only a few miles from here opened their doors once again to 350 children from the surrounding neighborhood, a neighborhood which is one of the toughest in our whole city. Many of those kids showed up to school hungry. In fact, every single one of them, literally 100% of them, received a free breakfast and lunch last Thursday to insure they had enough energy to learn. Some of them showed up without having brushed their teeth that morning because they don’t own their own toothbrush. At least it was warm last Thursday, or else lots of them who don’t own a coat would have arrived at school cold.
I’ve been told that a great many of these kids come from homes where there is almost no stability or permanence. Many of them, even at their young age, have already been directly exposed to violence or drug abuse. Others have suffered crushing setbacks. Some have lost parents. Others can only visit their parents in prison. Many of them are surrounded by adults who are constantly and unpredictably coming in and out of their lives. More than a few of them receive very little of the loving, intentional nurture we know all children need to thrive. A few of them are even homeless.
Now of course, there are more than a few other schools like this school in and aroundSacramento. Even so, I have to admit to you how easy it would have been for me to go about my business last Thursday without any awareness whatsoever that these sorts of things were happening in a school only a few miles from where I live.
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Last Thursday there was a village inAfricawhere most of the people living there faced another great struggle just to stay alive one more day. As you may know, a severe drought in that part of the world, the worst in nearly 60 years, has made some of the most desperately poor people on the planet even more desperate.
Last Thursday several parents in that village had to bury their children after helplessly watching them starve to death. Forget about providing opportunities for education, or socialization, or recreation, these parents are only trying to provide opportunities for their kids to have enough food to eat and enough clean water to drink.
Now of course, there are villages like this all overAfricaand other parts of the developing world. Even so, I have to admit to you how easy it would have been for me to go through the agenda on my calendar last Thursday and never once consider that these sorts of things were happening all over our world that day.
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All this leads me to ask the following question. Is it possible for somebody who is a devoted follower of Jesus Christ to go through a typical day of the week so consumed by his or her own agenda that that person is not even aware of other people in this world, either down the street or across an ocean, who are drowning in hardship? Put simply, can you be a Christian and ignore the poor in this world?
I am so thankful to find myself a part of a community of people who, for the most part, would answer that question with a resounding, “No!” I’m so grateful to find myself in a church that has affirmed time and time it is, in fact, not possible to follow Christ and, at the same time, ignore the poor.
You see, most of us in this church have rightly understand that if we are Christians that means, essentially, that we are going to be following Christ in this world. And if we are going to follow Jesus in this world that means that we are going to, with God’s help, go to the sorts of places Jesus goes, do the sorts of things Jesus does, say the sorts of things Jesus says, and love the sorts of people Jesus loves. Specifically, that means that as we follow Jesus, on Thursdays as well as Sundays, we are going to make certain that our own agendas and schedules don’t keep us from ignoring the poor around us in this world.
Why? Because the scripture we read earlier is one of dozens of scriptures we could have read from the Gospels which make the following point. Time and time again, as Jesus was going about his business, he never let the agenda of his day stand in the way of caring for somebody along the way who was in need. In fact, if you read through the Gospels you will find all sorts of stories that begin with these sorts of words: “As Jesus was traveling with his disciples to such and such a place, along the way he encountered…a man who had just lost his daughter…a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years…a man who was born blind…a little boy who was possessed by an evil spirit…a crowd that had nothing to eat…a leper who nobody else would touch…a woman who was thirsty in her body and her soul.”
You see, it is impossible to read the Gospels honestly and come away without acknowledging that if we claim to be followers of Jesus than we must also find ways to keep the personal agendas of our days from standing in the way of caring for those around us in this world who are in need. We must do this because, as Jesus taught, if we truly love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength then we will naturally, in turn, love our neighbors in this world who are, every one of them, loved by God and made in the very image of God. In particular, we will love our neighbors in need because, as Jesus once put it, whatever we do for the least of these in this world we do for him.
With this in mind, let me ask you, who is more “least of these” then children in our world who, whether in our own city or across the ocean, are struggling to find a way in life? Nobody. These children are the least of these. And so whatever we do for them, we do for Christ.
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Some of you know that early on in the history of this congregation the leaders of Faith wrestled with a difficult decision. At that time this church had no meeting place of its own and so had to rent space just so they could worship together on Sunday mornings. I can only imagine what a weekly inconvenience that must have been. Even so, when the opportunity came to finally construct our own facility, it was not as easy a decision as you might think because many in the church at that time feared that if we invested our resources into bricks and mortar, we would then be left with fewer resources to use to care for those around us in the world who were in need.
Now obviously, the congregation ultimately did decide at some point that it made sense to use at least some of our resources to construct this beautiful facility. Even so, great care was taken every step of the way to ensure that we never built more than we really needed or that we committed so much of our resources to our own needs that we had little, if any, resources left to address the needs of others. Even today as we once again find ourselves wrestling with the decision to expand a facility that is often overly cramped with activity, our current leadership still enters into all discussions of new construction very cautiously, and always with an eye to mission.
This commitment to serving beyond ourselves has long been a part of the DNA of Faith Presbyterian Church. In recent years, in fact, it is a commitment which has evolved in some wonderful ways.
Specifically, it has been nearly three years now since our leadership, after a great deal of discussion, research and prayer, announced our decision to commit ourselves to two long-term, congregation-wide mission focal points. In addition to all the other ways each of us individually serve, but also recognizing that with all the need in the world we can’t do it all, we asked God to lead our church to one global mission focus and one local mission focus. We called the effort “Faith Serves”, in part to remind ourselves of our mission statement: We are a community, loving Christ, building disciples, serving all.
You may remember that as we launched this effort we made clear that we were determined to ensure that at least these four things were true about both these projects.
First, we wanted to make sure each project provided opportunities for every member of our congregation, from the youngest to the oldest, to serve in some way.
Second, we wanted these projects to be rooted in relationships with those we serve. In other words, we don’t just want to send checks without ever knowing the people we serve because we firmly believe that they have at least as much to give to us as we have to give to them. We want partnerships.
Third, we intended for our commitment to these projects to be long term. We are determined, in other words, to stay the course.
Fourth, we agreed that we should set goals in these partnerships which are lofty, having faith that God really is able to do things beyond what we can imagine are possible.
Now, as most of you know, it’s been over a year now that we launched the first half of this effort by entering into a long-term global partnership through World Vision with the people ofAbaya,Ethiopia. Early next year, a second team from Faith will travel fromSacramentoto Abaya and have a chance to meet many, if not all, of the 100+ children who are sponsored there by people in this church. They will get to see firsthand clothes, and goats, and cows, and homes, and school supplies which have been purchased for these children and their families and their neighbors with funds you have sent. They will also get to tour a water reservoir constructed with funds from Faith which is now, we understand, making it possible for thousands of people to have access to clean water for the first time. They will get to witness the construction of a new school which is to be built, in part, by funds given from this congregation. Lastly, they will have the chance to listen carefully to the leaders in Abaya and learn how we can continue to be, in the years to come, their faithful partners.
Best of all, I believe that those from our church who go to Ethiopia this year will, on our behalf, meet Christ in the people of Abaya and receive from them blessings equal or greater to any blessings we could ever bestow upon them.
How wonderful it has been to see the emergence of the first half of our Faith Serves vision!
Which leads me to the reason why today is such a historic day in the life of our church. For today most of us will get our first glimpse of how we believe God is helping us to realize the second half of that same vision by leading us into a long-term partnership withFreeportElementary School.
At this point, I want to step aside and turn it over to some people will be far better able to introduce you to this exciting new partnership.
*To hear an audio recording of this portion of the sermon go to www.faithpresby.org There you can hear directly from the principal and some of the staff from Freeport.
I want to close this morning by asking you to use your imaginations.
For a moment, imagine with me a Thursday one year from today. Not a special Thursday, just an ordinary Thursday. And yet, on this particular day, as you and I go about the activities and events on our calendars, imagine that along the way we allow ourselves to be interrupted.
Imagine you are interrupted that ordinary Thursday by the face of your Ethiopian sponsored child posted on your refrigerator door and you pause, before you eat, to pray that her and her family would also have enough to eat that day. Later that day imagine you discover in your mailbox another letter from her, thanking you for the modest gift you sent which helped her family to buy a new cow which will help them plow their crops and give them fresh milk every day.
Then, imagine during your lunch hour that same day you stop in to spend an hour or so in the 2nd grade classroom atFreeportElementary School. As you enter, the teacher and the kids greet you by name. They know your name because you go there every Thursday during your lunch hour to help a group of them learn how to read.
Imagine with me what it would be like on that ordinary Thursday to, along the way, allow ourselves to be interrupted by Christ himself in the faces of those children. Imagine what it would be like to learn to love God more deeply because we are learning to love the people God deeply loves.
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The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
~ What would you consider to be the most important thing on your calendar this coming Thursday?
~ Read again the passage from Matthew 9:18-26. What do you notice here?
~ At what times do you find yourself most aware of the poverty around us in this world? When are you least aware?
~ What do you think he really means when Jesus tells us, “Whatever you do for the least of these in this world you do for me.” (See Matthew 25:31-46 for the context of these words.)
~ When we serve those who are poor, who gets helped most? Us or them? Why?
~ What are you feeling about our new partnership withFreeportElementary School? What opportunities excite you? What challenges do you envision we might face?
~ The leadership of our church has generally agreed that it is important for us to serve both the needs of people in our own community and the needs of people across the world. Do you agree it is important for us to do both? Why or why not?
~ When you imagine what our church could do to serve those beyond our own community who are in need, what comes to mind?
Further Scripture Readings for the Week:
Monday: Matthew 4:23-25 – Each of these passages this week recounts a time when Jesus stopped along the way to care for somebody who was in need.
Tuesday: Matthew 9:1-8
Wednesday: Matthew 9:27-34
Thursday: Matthew 14:13-21
Friday: Matthew 17:14-23
Saturday: Matthew 20:29-34
 Matthew 25:40.