Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"God's Hands and Feet In the World". A sermon from Littlefield Presbyterian Church on October 20, 2015, for our observance of Bread for the World Sunday

"God's Hands and Feet in the World"
Mark 10:35-45

The twelve disciples had been going around with Jesus for some time.  He’d been teaching them about the way of self-giving love.  But they don’t seem to get it.  Mark tells us that James and John “come forward” to Jesus, pushing ahead of the other disciples. 
            “Teacher,” they say, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
            Jesus says to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”  And they say, “When you come into your GLORY, grant one of us the privilege of sitting at your right hand…and one at your left.”
            Now, some people dismiss the Zebedee brothers.  They see them in this conversation, at least, as pushy, ambitious seekers of a place of honor and power. 
            But I think it’s obvious that James and John had great faith in Jesus.  They believed in him, and their personal hopes were completely woven into his destiny.  They loved Jesus.   But what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples about being a suffering servant is hard!  It’s hard to understand--  and harder to live.
            One of the reasons that the Christian message has been twisted and distorted and misunderstood—is that it’s so paradoxical.  The Christian paradox is that our Lord and Savior came as a suffering servant to save us… and to show us the WAY.
            Jesus defines greatness very differently from the ways we’re used to thinking about it.  When we follow Jesus, as his disciples, we need to struggle with the paradox that—in God’s kingdom—we gain by losing.  We become great by serving.  And we get to be first by being last.  In the kingdom of God, things look very different than they do in the world.
            “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be a servant.  This teaching is so critical to understanding Jesus’ ministry…and such a key to being a disciple—that the gospels record it no less than eight times.
            What does it mean for us to follow a servant savior?  
            Among other things, it means setting aside self  in order to take up the cause of others.  It means serving our neighbors.  It means living out our faith in terms of kindness, openness, empathy, and compassion.    Never perfectly, never fully—for we’re not capable of perfect servanthood.        
            As part of Christ’s body, when we’re at our best, we are a servant church.   When we’re not at our best, we’re an organization filled with people each trying to get their own needs met…  trying to get something out of church… and trying to get the church to be the church we want it to be.
            When we’re being the servant church, we’re feeding the hungry, calling on the sick…visiting the homebound.   We’re serving those in the community who are needy and hurting, through friendship and practical kinds of help.  When we’re being the servant church, we share in Christ’s ministry in the world by generously supporting the mission of the church with our tithes and offerings.
            Today has been designated as Bread for the World Sunday.   Friday was World Food Day. 
            We who have plenty to eat are reminded that many people don’t… and many of those who are hungry or food insecure are children. 
            Bread for the World reminds us that nearly 16 million children in the United States — one in five — live in households that struggle to put food on the table. Many of these children have parents who have job and work hard, but their wages aren’t high enough to cover the high costs of rent, transportation, and utilities — and daily meals.[1]
            So our federal government’s feeding programs serve as a lifeline for vulnerable children and families. Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition,  nutrition programs aimed at children are particularly important. 
            A healthy start in life — even before a child is born — pays off for years,  not only for individual children and families, but for communities and our nation as a whole.
            Only one out of every 20 grocery bags that feed people who are hungry come from church food pantries and other private charities.   Federal nutrition programs, from school meals to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), provide the rest.   Our government’s child nutrition programs serve millions of children each year. 
Locally, and in the short term, we are helping to alleviate hunger when we give to the Presbyterian Hunger Program through our Two Cents a Meal offering… when we support Church World Service…when we support the mission of the Open Door…or Focus Hope… or volunteer at Gleaners.
            But we also need to work on the systemic causes of hunger.   For a lot of us,  hunger and poverty seem overwhelming.  But we don’t have to do it alone. 
            Bread for the World is a faith-based education and advocacy organization that I’ve belonged to for some years.  The reason I support Bread for the World is because they have a remarkable 
record of helping win
 passage of bipartisan 
legislation that addresses hunger.   As a result
 of this advocacy,
 children in the United
 States receive vital 
nutrition.   Emergency food reaches refugees from famine and conflict in Africa.  Agricultural development is enabling hungry people in various parts of the world to grow enough food to feed their families.

            As Teresa of Avila famously put it, "Christ has no body now on earth but yours… no hands but yours…  no feet but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which God’s compassion will look upon the world.  Yours are the feet with which God will go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which God will bless others now."
            We are called to serve—to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
When we respond to Christ’s call and work together, we can help to change the conditions and the policies that allow hunger to persist. 
            We are called to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into our house… to care for basic needs of those who are marginalized.
            Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God promises us that we will not have to do this alone.  When we call, the LORD will answer.  When we cry for help, God will say, “Here I am.”[2]
            If we remove the yoke, the speaking of evil, if we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
Then our light shall rise in the darkness.
            This is a blessed promise and vision: 
The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places…
you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt…  you shall be called the repairer of the breach.. 
the restorer of streets to live in.
            So be it!  Amen!

Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
Dearborn, Michigan
October 20, 2015

[2] Isaiah 58

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