Sermon: The Rev. Linda Ferguson
Sermon: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Remember in the Gospel Jesus’ words in the parable?The Passion Translation: Luke 17:7-10“After a servant has finished his work in the field or with the livestock, he doesn’t immediately sit down to relax and eat. No, a true servant prepares the food for his master and makes sure his master is served his meal before he sits down to eat his own. Does the servant expect to be thanked for doing what is required of him? So learn this lesson: After doing all that is commanded of you, simply say, `We are worthless slaves or we are mere servants; we have done only what we ought to have done!'" undeserving of special praise, for we are just doing what is expected of us and fulfilling our duties.”This is not a comfortable image for Christian people, and perhaps that’s why this is not one of our most loved parables. We don’t like to think of ourselves as “worthless slaves;” we prefer to see ourselves as a “special people.” But we cannot ignore the obvious expectation of Jesus in this parable; Jesus calls Christians to pack a lunch pail, put on a hardhat, and spend time by serving others.Two churches, two different agendas. One church sees its mission as to care and be cared for by the members of its congregation. The other church sees its purpose as to reach out to a world in need; to be the hands and lips of Jesus in every age. So which one is it? Are we called to care for one another in our congregation, or are we called to reach out and care for others? Yes. The Church is called to do both, and the Church becomes unhealthy whenever its focus drifts toward just one or the other.
In 1991, a Gallup Poll survey learned what the average American needs in their life. Among the things that made the list of needs are the following:● There is a need for shelter and food. No surprise there. This is why the mission of Habitat for Humanity has taken on such a dramatic role in our society today; because it concerns itself with the most basic needs of humanity.● There is a need for community, a sense of belonging that can only be met when people are in intimate contact with one another on a regular basis. Gallup reported that nearly 1/3 of Americans admit that they have been lonely for a long period in their lives, without close friends or a sense of community.● We need a sense of purpose; we believe that life is only meaningful if we have a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Albert Schweitzer was a brilliant theologian, he was the greatest authority of the music of Bach in North America, and he was an accomplished physician, but his life did not find its meaning until he traveled to Africa and spent his years caring for lepers in a leper colony.● And we need to have faith in something or someone larger than ourselves. We want to know that there is a Grand Designer of the cosmos, and that even though the world seems at times to be spinning out of control, we need to believe in a God who is still in charge. And we need practical help to grow in this faith; it is not something that any of us can do on our own.
That survey speaks loudly to the Church of the 21st century, because those are our needs too. On Sunday morning, we have people entering the doors of this church with those desperate needs in their lives. And then on Monday morning, we drive by countless homes and schools with people who weren’t here on Sunday, but they have the very same needs. If we only care about ourselves, we stand indicted of being an exclusive club where membership has its privileges.However, if we only reach out to others, we discover that the affection and the accountability we share as a congregation can become quickly undone. The discussion as to whether we should be a church of warm hearts or a church of calloused hands is the question. And the answer, we must be both. In order to be healthy, we must be both. And I believe we are.An example of this would be the board in the church hall showing how members are serving here at St. Patrick’s and also outside the church. I invite each of you to take a moment and look at the large board in the hall with all the sticky notes. Each one of those sticky notes show that there are many of us living out our gifts by not only serving here at St. Patrick’s, but also serving those in the community and out into the world. I also invite each of you to take a moment and look at the easels in the back of the hall listing areas of how St. Patrick’s can increase our presence in the surrounding community. These are examples of where our hearts are and how St. Patrick’s is living out our faith.
The church in our hands, the congregation in this place, is a vibrant, growing Body of Christ. But now is not the time to celebrate our accomplishments. There are people within these walls whose needs are great. And there are people beyond our walls who are dying to find out if Christians really walk their talk. So, members of St. Patrick’s, who have warm hearts and calloused hands; don’t give up, don’t ever give up being the Church that God has called us to be. Let us pray:Dearest Lord, even Your wisest disciples needed strength to fortify their faith. We pray for the same strength, so that our faith in You may never waver. Increase our faith so that we may share it with others who may need to be shepherded back to You. Strengthen our faith, so that we may be ready to face any doubts that might block our path. Even with faith the size of a mustard seed, we know that anything is possible in Your name. We humbly ask this of you in Christ’s glory. Amen.