A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sermon (March 3) - "Unbinding Your Soul: Humble Heroes"

Whenever I hear stories about heroes of the faith, I am inspired. Who isn’t moved by thinking of Corrie ten Boom hiding people in her home to save them from the Holocaust? Or Harriet Tubman risking her life to bring others out of slavery into freedom. Or John Wesley preaching to the masses.

Wow, it thrills me to think of these giants.  And with them being giants and all, it can make me feel pretty small.

Elijah was a prophet. He had done some pretty big and bold heroic things like confront the Queen. He actually told the Queen she was living an immoral life and God was not pleased with her. That little bit of unsolicited advice went over about as well as you’d think it would - not very well.

Elijah is running for his life at this point in the story. And Elijah is tired of sticking his neck out for God. He just wants to rest for a little while. But God finds Elijah hiding in the wilderness.

God wants Elijah to know that God isn’t quite finished with him yet. God needs Elijah to pass on his faith to a new person. God wants Elijah to teach a new prophet the ropes. So to encourage Elijah, God tells him that God will reveal the divine presence to Elijah.

“Go stand on that mountain,” God says. “I will show myself to you.” So, Elijah goes to stand on the mountain. And he waits. There’s a big, blustery wind. Trees are breaking and Elijah himself is shaking, but God doesn’t say anything.

Then, the earth starts to rumble, and a full-scale earthquake breaks out. But Elijah doesn’t hear anything from God in that either. Finally, there was a brushfire that swept the plains coming up against the hem of Elijah’s cloak. But Elijah did not see anything of God in the fire. Then, there was nothing. All Elijah could hear was sheer silence.

Elijah covered his face. He could tell he was in the holy presence of God. And at last, God spoke. What God said was, “What are you doing here?”

Sure, sometimes God does big and bold things, like parting the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross. But other times, God does small, nearly imperceptible things, like speak in silence.

Or slip down from heaven into a manger in a remote village called Bethlehem. God may reveal more of who God is to us in a big, brash way, but honestly, it’s not nearly as likely as God working through us in small, simple ways. And God may use us in highly heroic ways, but it is much more likely God wants to use us in humble, quiet moments of faithfulness.

“Great occasions for following Jesus come seldom,” Mother Teresa has said, “but little ones surround us daily.” She would know.

Martha Grace Reese who wrote our Unbinding Your Soul lenten devotional book puts it this way: “None of us is particularly impressive, but God can do amazing things with us if we’ll ask what God wants us to do, and then ask God to give us courage to do it!”

John was driving home from work one day. He was disgruntled with what was going on in the town where he lived. The local economy was getting worse as more and more businesses were closing.

As he drove by yet another empty storefront, John said, kind of as a prayer, just under his breath, “God, why don’t you do something about all of this?”

And at that moment, John said he noticed a school bus pull up to a pretty low-end motel. He thought it was unusual so he watched the bus for a moment. Soon, he saw a dozen or so kids get off of the bus and go into motel rooms there. “What in the world is going on?” he wondered.

John was compelled. So he parked his car, went into the motel manager’s office, and asked why the school bus stopped there. The answer from the manager, of course, was that kids lived there in the motel rooms with their families.

John stewed about this all the way home. He couldn’t sleep that night. It bothered him the next day in the office. Why were kids living in a motel in his own town?

Finally, he told a co-worker about seeing these kids get off this bus and go into motel rooms to live. At the end of the day, his co-worker handed him a wad of cash. She’d collected it from other folks in the office. “Here,” she said, “We want you to bring those kids dinner tonight.”

And suddenly, not in flashes of lightening across the sky, not in loud bells ringing, but in a small, significant way, God spoke to John. “Okay, I’ll bring them dinner,” John said to his co-worker. “But you have to go with me!”  John’s church soon joined him in serving meals at the motel every Monday night.

And his co-workers too. If you have ever asked God, “Why don’t you do something about this?” and heard silence as your answer, think about that. Could it be that silence is God’s way of answering?

It may be that God’s soft voice is asking you a question: “What are you doing here?” Just like God answered Elijah. I’m guessing that God is answering in a smaller way than you might have expected.

A beloved pastor named Fred Craddock once said that when we become Christians, we feel like we’re giving God this one million dollar check. We’re turning over our whole lives and saying, “Here, I want to follow Jesus.” But Fred says that’s when God surprises us. God gives us back the check in quarters. Then God tells us, “I want you to follow me one quarter at a time.”

God wants to use you in an amazing way, and it will start small. Like noticing a school bus at a motel. People in our church have been inviting their friends and co-workers to be in an Unbinding Your Soul small group with them.

This takes an amazing amount of courage―to simply ask someone to come. Don’t try it without prayer. Even if your prayer is like John’s, under your breath, a half accusation, “God, would you help me out here?” You’ll be amazed at the shifts prayer can make.

God will make a small opening. You just need your quarter to put in the slot. Your church is giving you a quarter today. It’s so you can remember to look for God in the small things, and to ask God to use you in small ways.

When you come forward to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, someone will be handing you a quarter. You might want to put this quarter where you keep your driver’s license in your wallet.

I heard of a mother who prayed for her children. She asked God to help her elementary-aged son and daughter have Christian friends around them. One day, a girl from school was over at the house playing. She heard her daughter ask if the girl went to church. “No,” the girl said. “My mom works on Sundays.” “Well, no problem,” the daughter said. “My mom will pick you up every Sunday!”

“Okay, God,” thought the mom. “Didn’t know we would be creating our own Christian friends. But I can at least pick this kid up one Sunday.” So the mom figured out how to squeeze that pick-up in the next Sunday morning.

Sunday came and they were running late as usual, of course. When the mom got there, this girl and her three brothers were all there, waiting for the ride to church. Let’s just say there were some seat-belt laws temporarily violated.

The next week, as the mom rushed into the front door of her home from the grocery store, bags balanced everywhere, the phone rang. She started not to answer it, but a very subtle sense told her to answer.

It was the mother of the children she had taken to church last Sunday. And she wanted to know, Could she get her children baptized in their church? And she said that she had never been baptized herself. Would they maybe baptize her also?

The mom sat down on the porch, cell phone in hand, groceries all around. And she heard the very quiet sound of God.

Friends, during this season of Lent, let’s pray. Ask God to use you. Do the very smallest thing that comes to mind. Follow Jesus one quarter at a time. This is what it means to be God’s humble heroes.

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