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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday Thoughts
September 14, 2017

Facebook, that “great informer of the masses” about nothing in particular, had a brief vignette this morning (so my wife tells me) of a group of folks who had stationed themselves at a rest area on the Florida-Georgia border on an interstate highway in the last couple of days. They were offering free food and water to any and all who stopped, as they were fleeing Hurricane Irma’s relentless trudge up the western coast of our southernmost state, promising to leave a cataclysmic mess in her wake. I don’t know how many folks they served, how many gallons of water they gave away, how many sandwiches and bags of potato chips they gave away, or how many they may have missed. I don’t know whose Church, if any, they represented, how long they planned to be there, how they were funded, or any of a hundred other questions... but this I do know: It was an act of love. God’s love. I doubt there were any church judicatories involved, no study commissions, no committees, no boards, no hearings... just a group of folks who, for the love of God, went out to serve some of His children by giving them a bit of food, and a cup of water, and if I know southern Christians, probably a prayer for their safe passage to a place of shelter and for all they’d left behind.

“Be a disciple of Jesus Christ who is a lifelong learner who influences others to serve.” That’s what our bishop, Sharma Lewis, said all through last June’s Annual Conference! It’s a version of what I tried to convey last Sunday from the pulpit....i.e., “Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself.” Did you ever give yourself away to some cause, some activity, some “higher” purpose? Coached a ball team? Swept the floors after a meeting? Cooked for a large gathering? Baked and taken a cake to someone you didn’t know well, who lived across town? Taught a Sunday School class full of wiggly elementary schoolers? Sung in a Choir? Gone out of your way to be sure that another’s needs were met? Dropped everything to take up the service of someone else? In the mystery of our faith, at times all three “loves” are caught up together, as indistinguishable from one another as the array of ingredients of a cake all meld into one.

I’ve been told that a well-known biographer of Mother Theresa of Calcutta followed her around for several days as the diminutive nun went among the dying folk being cared for by her order. She was washing them, changing their wound dressings and bed sheets, holding their hands, wiping their teary and sweaty faces, ignoring the smells and traumatic sights, and doing all the kinds of things that were her ministry to them. At some point, late in the afternoon, he muttered under his breath that “I wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world!” Apparently, Mother Theresa heard him and replied in an equally quiet voice, “Neither would I.”

So what is it that motivates folks to take up station in an interstate highway rest area and hand out food and water to passersby? What inspired a customer to go way “above and beyond the call of duty,” and give up the last generator in the store to a teary woman he didn’t know, so that her kinswoman’s oxygen could continue to flow when the power went out? What persuades folk to fill up semi-trailers with buckets full of supplies to clean and restore the homes of hurricane and flood victims they’ll never know?

Some years ago, Ray Boltz offered a song called “Thank You for Giving to the Lord.” It was a dream of going into heaven and being met by a series of people who thanked him for giving their time, talents, and treasures to the use of God... as a Sunday School teacher, a missionary supporter, and a line of folks “as far as the eye could see.” None of them great and universally proclaimed, but they offered a host of little acts of kindness, “sacrifices made, unnoticed on earth” - but mattering in eternity. The chorus of the song still rings in my heart and mind: “Thank you for giving to the Lord! I am a life that was changed! Thank you for giving to the Lord! I’m so glad that you gave.” (I hope you’ll Google the lyrics, and spend a moment listening to the song, and find your heart warmed by the intention of the singer.) That’s the motivation!

It is our identity, as those who “walk the walk” of faith in Christ to be learners “all our lives long” what that identity means - in our hearts, as well as in our minds - to serve Him, via His people in the world. While in Arlington, Virginia, I served on the Board of Directors of the National Capital Area of the Salvation Army, along with a dozen or more people of “considerable means.” One Board member owned and ran a successful moving company, another was a lawyer, others led large firms of one type or another. Our command area’s budget was in the 10's of millions of dollars, and the ministry was to many thousands of people, and included dozens of facilities inside and outside the beltway. And yet, across the board, they were men and women of extraordinary faith, who gave generously and liberally of their personal resources, their businesses’ time and funds, and their influence among those with whom they had contact. They were about influencing other to serve Christ and His people, as Bishop Lewis has recently challenged us United Methodist Christians to do.

As I understand it, the most important characteristic that “millennials” and Gen-X’ers” are looking for in a church these days is this: “Are they serving the needs of the world around them - community, area, region, nation, world?” You see, our life-changing witness is not so much about resource management as it is about the way we serve others... including “the least, the last, and the lost.” How are we giving ourselves away in serving the elemental needs of humanity around us? Pray for and with them. Listen to their stories. Wipe their tears. Give them a cup of cool water or hot coffee, and maybe a PB&J sandwich at an interstate rest area. Use your influence to gather up a group of friends and family and co-workers to extend the hands of Christ to His world. It’s our role, beloved in the Lord. Take it seriously!

Grace and peace.

Jim Earley, Pastor

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Last update: September 18, 2017 4:39 AM