First Congregational Church
July 10, 2015
8th Sunday after Pentecost
"Look No Further Than Here"
Jessie Grant, preaching
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
(Instead), speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:15-16
Before I begin, will you take a minute and please pray with me!
Lord I pray that in these next few minutes, you would speak through me. May every word that comes out of my heart and through my mouth be from you and glorifying to you. I thank you for loving us and constantly being by our sides even when we choose things besides you or try to do things on our own. I pray that you will reveal more of who You are in our stories and in our lives and that we will truly put You first because You deserve no less than that. May we shine for you no matter where we are and may we glorify you in all we do. May Your will be done in our lives, In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Throughout my life, I have been incredibly blessed to go on eight mission trips to places such as Romania, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Appalachian mountains, and a native American reservation in California. And this church has helped make it possible for me to be able to go to the Dominican Republic and Romania. A quick summary of my trip to Romania: I visited there for three weeks with a group from my high school mission program. While we were there, our team supported a local church that had been there for hundreds of years and took on many tasks they asked including construction, Vacation Bible Schools, playing with kids in orphanages and engaging with the local people.
While there, I was struck by two huge problems that the people there faced. The first was sex trafficking. More than 1000 young girls and women annually vanish and unwillingly find themselves caught in this trade. Many of them are from poor villages are are just looking for something that would take them out of their struggles. That’s a very conservative estimate and this number continues to rise. The second was discrimination. There were two classes of people – the Romanians and the Gypsies – and the discrimination runs deep. Sad to say but neither of these problems are confined to Romania – and they are something that basically every country is embroiled in.
The Romanian gypsies are distinguished by their darker skin and when I first saw a young boy coming to one of VBS’s named Chris with darker skin I though absolutely nothing of it. But it was different for the Romanian people. They immediately started laughing and making fun of him because he looked different and his clothes and body were streaked with dirt. Once he came into my group, everyone kept their distances from him and he also stood away. I went up to talk to him and he was even hesitant to do that. As the day progressed, they still kept a distance from him. Finally at the end of the day they were all playing games and it came to the time when it was Chris’s turn to do a three legged race with another boy. The other boy wouldn’t even link arms with Chris, but they ended up beating the other teams and instantly the discrimination vanished! The team came around and high-fived them all while cheering.
It was amazing to see how games could bring people together and overcome their differences.
Serving on each of these trips has been incredible. God has revealed himself in astounding ways and has truly shown me a deeper love for His people and how Christ is alive and active everywhere I go. As westerners, we love to do what I’ve been able to do! Build houses, have vacation bible schools and camps, give people food, and do things where you can see the tangible results of our labors or donations.
And don’t get me wrong, these people are in need of help, but I think we often overlook those around us. We go out and serve those across the globe or maybe those at a local food pantry and yet we often forget those that are closest to us.
What I have found is that often those people we tend to serve are materially poor but so rich in their relationship with Christ and their communities. These people depend on God and those around them for everything. And because of that, I have been able to learn so much from them when I serve alongside them. God is literally the one that sustains and provides for them and they realize this. PAUSE They lean on each other for whatever they need as a community and are incredibly close because of that.
We are quick to give money or our own time to people who are materially poor. But what about those who are spiritually or emotionally poor?
You see, the amount of people in these two categories is continuing to rise to astronomical numbers in many western civilizations. Depression and loneliness are higher than ever before. 1 in 10 Americans are affected at one time or another by depression and there is an estimated 121 million people around the world that suffer from depression (healthline). And that number is increasing by 20% per year. And the situation is also on the rise for my generation. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students and it’s estimated that one in five Americans suffer from persistent loneliness.
How often do we respond, “I’m okay” or stay silent when asked “how are you doing?” And that is honestly so far from what we truly feel.
We believe that we’re burdening others with our problems when they have so many of their own to deal with. Sometimes we as Christians and myself included think that we’re serving the church and others by thinking that we don’t matter. We might do things so we look more selfless or appear more godly, but that is far from the truth. I know I have done this countless times. I may be struggling with feeling unworthy or something else, but I don’t share it. I keep it all to myself and think I can figure out my problems all on my own.
And I know that there is a risk when you let your guard down. There’s a vulnerability when you let people in. When you reveal your hurts and struggles, it gives people more power to hurt you. And while that’s true, there is also so much freedom in letting others listen to you and therefore letting God speak.
What would it look like if we as a church actually came together and served those around us by being genuinely real with each other?
What if we were unafraid of the judgements when people saw that our lives weren’t perfect and that we were hurting?
What would it look like if we began calling out for help when we needed it?
That we wouldn’t be afraid of being perceived as weak or alone?
What if we truly changed and began doing this together. Because here’s the thing, we are nowhere near perfect. And yet, in the church and in other places, we often feel like we need to be seen as perfect and having it all together. But we aren’t meant to go through this life on our own.
God didn’t create it to be that way. That is why the church was created. So that we could learn, encourage, and be there for those in the body of Christ. We are supposed to do life together! Even when it is messy and you might feel alone. When we are connected to the body, Christ gives us what we need to serve Him and others.
After all, a body doesn’t function solely by one part doing all of the work. Instead, each part (whether the hand, neck, heart, brain or kidney) has to do its role so that it functions the way it is supposed to. That is the same for us as the body of Christ. That’s in part why sharing our stories of what God has done in our lives is important. And basically all that means is just sharing about what’s happened in your life and how God has worked in the midst of that.
We share our stories because Christ works in and through them. They are ultimately not about us and what we’ve done, but how Christ has made himself evident in each of our lives. It is through those moments of deep transparency that God works. In that process our stories can also be such a witness of God’s faithfulness in our lives.
Often when we are going through trials, we think that we are alone in it and that no one else has been through it. But that is a lie from the pit of hell. In reality, there is likely someone pretty near that has actually been through the same things. And so in those places of deep hurt, others can often come alongside you and walk through life with you.
The power of the words “me too” or simply just sitting next to someone can mean so much. God has equipped each of us with of a story of His faithfulness that we can show through our lives. He moves through each of us whether you believe it or not.
And ultimately, it’s not our stories to share, but God’s story. By not sharing our stories, we’re saying that we know better than God. And I for one know I’m not even close to how wise or omniscient as God is. So, will you let him work through you by sharing what He has done in your life with others?
Are you willing to be vulnerable so that God can work through you in building others up?
Will you take the time and truly listen to those around you like Christ calls us to?
When we share our stories with others it also helps us see that God was faithful even if we did not see it in the moment. And if you don’t see it yourself, those around you can often point it out. Furthermore, when we share our hurts and pains, we are allowing God to work in those places so that he can redeem them and make them whole.
If you personally don’t feel that you can share with other people yet, I urge you to share it with God. He already knows exactly what we’ve been through, and when we choose to let Him in, He meets us right there in our place of deepest emptiness. He gives us His strength in place of our weakness. He gives us His love in place of our selfishness. He gives us His joy in place of our despair. He gives us His hope in place of our hopelessness.
It’s God’s nature to give, because He is love. And so that’s why being vulnerable feels like the worst thing but is really the best.
I love how author Caroline Coleman puts it:
“Sometimes God allows us to go to the deepest pits because it is in those times that we truly see how we are dependent on Him. We have to let Him take control because we cannot do it on our own. He uses the circumstances of our lives, especially our places of woundedness, brokenness, disappointment and rejection, for good. We are all completely and utterly reliant on God all the time –but we often don’t realize this.
“The very brokenness that we hate and try to hide and forget about, brings us to a place of such vulnerability that our hearts finally melt with compassion and love when we encounter other people. When circumstances and other people hurt us, and we start to live dependent and vulnerable to God out of our brokenness, we discover that we receive and are able to give of His perfect love.
And when we feel like we can’t do it, and we don’t want to be vulnerable, and we’re too afraid to trust God – we can remind ourselves that God became utterly vulnerable to us.
Jesus died naked, abandoned, and alone on the cross. Even His Father turned His back on Him on the cross, so that Jesus could experience hell for us so that we would not have to.
If God didn’t scorn the shame of the cross, who are we to be ashamed of anything?
Just as the cross is ugly, and yet God transformed it into the most beautiful thing, so our shame, rejection and vulnerability seem ugly to us – and yet if we bring them to the foot of the cross, God can transform our weakest ugliest most shameful places into sources of transcendent beauty.”
God ultimately desires you and your heart. That’s it! While God does delight in you serving others, he delights in nothing more than being with you and knowing you for who He made you to be.
Whether your life is out of control right now, or you are hurting or in pain, or you are doing good, God wants you to simply sit and be with Him.
And during those times he will sort through what’s happened, the mistakes you’ve made, and the times you don’t understand. And in those moments, if you choose to let Him in, he will come in and redeem those events, sorrows, and hurts.
God wants to sit with you, wherever you are and he wants the church to do the same with others. To sit with each other in the muck and mess of life. To be a shoulder for someone to cry on. To let someone know that they are not alone in what they are going through.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Let Jesus take whatever you are carrying, give it to Him! Give Him all of you so that He can reveal how He has worked in your life.
I encourage you over this next week to begin taking steps to serve those closest to you.
Jesus calls us to serve so that the body of Christ is built up wherever they are. And maybe the first step for you is just writing out your story or whatever you’re feeling just like David did in the Psalms.
For me, writing it out, made me truly reflect on what God had done in my life and illuminated that He really was there even when I didn’t necessarily see it. Maybe for some of you, it’s crying out for help to others when you need it. Or it’s just sitting down with someone and listening to their story and pointing out all that God has done.
Whatever it is, I pray that you will let God work through you to serve those closest to you because it can be absolutely incredible to be on an adventure with Him.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.