September 18, 2016 – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Sermon Series: LORD OF THE HARVEST
Sermon: The Church God Envisions and the World Needs
Scripture: Matthew 15:21-38
PART ONE: Matthew 15:21-28 – Responding to Voices Less Heard
She was one of the voices less heard. She had cried out to many rabbis passing along her path. Like mothers throughout history, she was tormented because her child could not have peace. She had done all she knew to do. So, she asked for help from anyone she deemed to be a worthy resource. As Jesus passed by, this less heard voice cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord…” She persisted in her calls to Jesus. He seemed to not hear her. The annoyed disciples said, “Send her away; she is a pest.” But, Jesus did not send her away.
Jesus spoke words to her that seem exclusive and condescending. Yet, still she approached him. Now that she had his attention, she bowed before him to let him know that she was giving her full attention to him in worship. Her humility was so pure that Jesus listened to more than her voice; he heard her heart. He affirmed her faith; her daughter was healed.
Sixty years ago, fourteen miles from this sanctuary, a young woman knocked on a door and handed her newborn daughter to a woman she had never met. She said, “My baby is sick and I am poor. Please take care of her. The doctor tells me she will live less than a year.” The woman who now held the baby walked back inside the house and asked the other women who lived there to gather with her to pray about what they should do with this child. That baby was named Maria; she lived for 54 years and became the inspiration God used to begin Holy Angels of Belmont, a ministry of The Sisters of Mercy.
The Church Envisioned by God and Needed by the World Hears and Responds to the Less Heard Voices. This has been the St. John’s Way for 94 years. Let us enter a season of spiritual renewal asking God to help us hear and respond to the less heard voices calling to us today.
PART TWO: Matthew 15:29-31 – Responding Compassionately to Those Brought to You
They didn’t come alone. They brought with them their family members, friends and neighbors who had needs. They placed their loved ones at the feet of Jesus and he met their needs. And the people went forth praising God.
St. John’s, let us enter a season of spiritual renewal. Let us renew ourselves to God’s vision for a church that cares for every need placed before us in actively faithful ways. While we cannot be all things to all people, we can help people who bring their needs to us – and we can help those who need us to assist them as they meet the needs of others.
- If they are in need of mental health or counseling resources, we can network with others to provide care.
- For those in need of childcare while they work, we can assist them.
- If they have been ostracized or abused by their family or their church, we can offer them acceptance and the blessings of compassion, hospitality and friendship.
- If they are homeless or hungry, we can help alleviate their pain.
- If they are lonely or afraid, we will open our lives to them.
- If they need a healthy ministry for their children or youth, we can meet their need.
- If they need to explore doubts and quandaries of faith, we can provide safe space.
- If they are new to our city or merely searching for a community of active faith and a variety of pathways of service that help them live out the mission of God through fulfilling, life-changing ministry, we can meet their need.
- If anyone wants to be involved in peacemaking that can contribute to healing the wounds in our society due to gender bias, sexual abuse, racial prejudice or the hatred of theological fundamentalism, we can provide pathways for participation. A lesser Messiah would have traded in those first twelve disciples for a new team. Most of the time, they were seemingly incapable of being actively faithful faithfully active. Jesus had compassion on this group of people alongside the Sea of Galilee. They had been hanging out together on that hillside for three days and had not eaten. The disciples’ immediate response was, “Where are we going to find the resources – out here in the middle of this wilderness – to feed this multitude?” Jesus asked them, “What do you have?” They answered, “Seven loaves and a few small fish.” Evidently, a little bit is enough when fully entrusted to the Lord! Claude Broach, senior minister of St. John’s from 1944 to 1974, told the story about a small town newspaper that printed a detailed report of the monthly meeting of the local Music Club. The story went into great detail naming the hostess, describing how she was dressed; the table decorations; the refreshments; and who served. And then the article reported, “As the main feature of the program, Miss Bessie Smith whistled Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.” Of course, Dr. Broach’s point was this: ‘I don’t know what Miss Bessie Smith actually did, but one thing I do know – she did not whistle Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Nobody whistles it. It takes an orchestra.’
- Friends, this autumn, I call us into a season of spiritual renewal. None of us can whistle our way to the spiritual renewal of our congregation alone. Christian faith is always deeply personal; but it can never be private. Our active faith connects us with God, with one another and with the world. So, pray for a deepening spiritual renewal among us. Study the passages of the Bible that I will share with you in coming weeks. Commit yourselves to spiritual renewal. Make space in your lives for spiritual renewal. Let us renew ourselves to the Living God so we can continue to be the Church envisioned by God and needed by the world! Amen and AMEN!
- Friends, St. John’s does not have a resources problem. We have a great deal more than seven loaves and few small fish. Yet, each of us must entrust our resources to the Living God. We are actively faithful because God is actively faithful! We are faithfully active because God is faithfully active! We are involved in more than social work or humane efforts. Empowered by God’s Spirit, we are part of the Church envisioned by God and needed by the world.
- PART THREE: Matthew 15:32-38 – Entrusting Our Resources to the Actively Faithful God
- The truth is that some needs can only be found by going out into the life of the city to serve. However, because we are the body of Christ, some needs are brought to us. They may be brought to us because one of our members says ‘hello’ to some immigrants from South Sudan – Lost Boys lost in Harris Teeter. However any need is brought to us, let us renew ourselves to be the Church envisioned by God and needed by the world.