This was the message that I gave at Walker Valley UMC for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 8 July 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 2 Kings 5: 1 – 14, Galatians 6: 1 – 16, and Luke 10: 1 – 11, 16 – 20.
When you were growing up, I am sure there were tasks that you didn’t like doing, tasks that you would avoid at all costs. And there were tasks that you liked doing and would do no matter what. For me, it was cooking and doing the dishes. I didn’t mind cooking but I certainly hated cleaning up the kitchen.
My father graduated from Cornell University in 1943. And in his notes about his days at Ithaca were some comments about his time riding horses. My father learned to ride horses while in high school in Virginia and continued the hobby while in college. Now, my father attended Cornell because my grandfather, who was a Colonel in the Army at the time, had worked it out so that he was part of the R.O.T.C unit. This, in turn, allowed my father to attend Cornell.
Anyway, my father wrote that any time that he rode a horse, it was expected that he would clean the horse, the stalls and put everything back and the level at which the work was to be done was at a higher level than it was for any of the other unit members, because 1) he was the son of the unit commander and 2) he was also the R.O.T.C leader. Such tasks, as you can imagine, were not the most pleasant of tasks. But, any time my father took a date out for horseback riding, the sergeant in charge of the stables always told my father not to worry about taking care of the horses after the riding was complete; that he would look after everything.
Sometimes we are asked to take on a task that we don’t want to do but in the end provide us with some reward later on. In the Old Testament reading for today, the king grieves for what will be the loss of his kingdom. He takes the messages that are given to him to mean that he must personally heal Naaman. And he fears the consequences should he not be able to provide the healing that was sought. Elisha hears of the king’s worries and sends a message to him that he can heal the commander. Elisha sees the opportunity to demonstrate the power of the God of Israel.
The king thought that he had to solve this dilemma by himself. Time and time again, the Bible shows us that when faced with such situations, there are ways as a community that we can work together. In Genesis 2, the partnership between Adam and Eve is established to overcome loneliness and isolation. In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law admonishes him for trying to personally take on too much responsibility. In Acts 4, the new Christian community pools its resources for the welfare of all.
Clearly, the biblical narrative offers the message that life’s burdens as well as its bounties are to be shared. Different people have different gifts for various tasks. We are obedient to God when we realize that we need one another and work to help each other.
As a community we are faced with a number of tasks. In September, we resume our Sunday school. As I mentioned last week, we are looking for a teacher for the older elementary kids. We will also start a junior high and high school confirmation class. To begin the new school year, we are hoping to revise the traditional "Rally Day". What can you do to help in each of these three parts of the Sunday school?
In October, we hope to bring a choir for New York City up. This event will require some publicity and planning. Will you be a part of that effort? The Bishop is coming to visit with us and preach on the first Sunday in December. Again, that visit (perhaps the first time the Bishop has come to this area in a long time) will require publicity and planning. Will you be a part of that special Sunday in the church?
Dennis Winkleblack, the District Superintendent, will be here the first Sunday in November to preach and then hold our Annual Charge Conference. I will be sending letters out to the members of the Committee on Lay Leadership (that’s the new title for what was known as the Nominations & Personnel Committee) to begin thinking about the officers of the Administrative Council and committee members for the coming year. The question, of course, that they must ask is "Who will serve Walker Valley this coming year?" What will your answer be?
And lastly, we set as our goal this year to reach out to every member of this church, to encourage them to return and be a part of this community. Part of that effort was a letter from Sandee Scheel, the membership secretary. Have you returned that letter? Even if everything in the information page was okay, did you return it? Have you taken the time during the week to think about someone that you haven’t seen in a while and given him or her a call, telling them that they are missed?
A number of people have indicated to Sandee that they wish that their names be removed from the membership list. I am not totally sure why some of these people have left. They may have felt that their church future was somewhere else. I know that some felt that there were no opportunities here.
But I also know that there are opportunities here to do many things and that many things can be done. They do not require that everyone in the church take part. That is not a requirement of a community. The one thing that I have discovered and the one thing that makes me personally certain about the future of the church is that the members of the church do work together, that a certain freedom is given to each person to take on whatever task is necessary and get it done, because it is what needs to be done. This is not the same as an individually deciding that they are the only one who can do something because they are acting individually without consultation with the community.
Our word for "strength" stems from a word that means "twisted together". It a comforting thought to realize that God strengthens us or twists Himself with humankind to help us bear life’s load. His Spirit intertwines with our spirit and demands that we strengthen others at their lowest times. The words that Paul wrote in the Epistle reading for today express that very idea. Prison, chains, torture, inquisitions, and questioning played significantly upon Paul’s mind. He could thank God that he had a Barnabas, a Silas, and a Luke who could strengthen him at his spirit’s inner depth.
Paul spoke of the community coming together in a fellowship or partnership, showing that the success of one of one was the success of the community and that the success of the community was the success of one.
The difficulty today is measuring success. In too many churches today, the measure of success is in numbers and other measurable items. But, if we tie the success of a church solely to a set of numbers, then we are asking for trouble. Such results are often so fleeting and so variable that the true results are burnout, discouragement, and weariness. Jesus warned the disciples that despite the fact that they were representing the Kingdom of God, not everyone would be interested or tolerant.
Some people do not want to serve Christ for they think that means doing mission work or preaching the Gospel. And I happen to agree that there are plenty of examples of people who approach the work of Christ in that manner, some good and some bad.
Though we do not all have to enter mission fields or preach the Gospel, we should, through our lives and how we live our lives, be able to show and tell others what Christ means to us. The Spirit given to us by Christ has a remarkable effect on our success. The seventy disciples came back from their first mission work filled with joy and happiness because they set out on their task with Christ in their lives.
Success should mean finding meaning, purpose, and happiness in life. The purpose of the church should be to give hope to those seeking hope, to be a haven for those seeking solace and safety, a place where people can find the purpose and meaning for their lives.
The task at hand for us today is not simply a matter of numbers; rather, it is finding ways to let others know that this place, Walker Valley United Methodist Church, is a place where hope exists, where peace can be found and that success, true success, can be obtained. All that we do in the coming months should be to allow others to know the joy and peace that come from knowing Christ.
The celebration of communion today is a reminder of the task at hand for us and the rewards that we will gain. For as we come to the table we are reminded that Christ knew what His future would be. He knew that it would be seen as a failure to some because He died on the cross. But the resurrection shows that His work was not a failure. We come to the table knowing that His death gives us the hope of eternal life. We come as well in celebration of the success based on that promise.