This sermon was originally preached on September 9, 2018 by Rev. James Morasco.
Today’s sermon is about commitment and follow-through. Growing up, I was never one to commit to anything. You see, when you live in a crazy environment, where everything’s out of control, it’s all about survival. That’s why, when, in my mid-thirties I made up my mind to join a protestant church, it was a surprise to many. Especially those whom I grew up with, who always prayed I would someday return to the Church of my childhood. For me though, this was the first real organization I said yes to, and I took it seriously. Obviously, since I’m standing here today, it changed my life and sent me on a new direction. I’ve never looked back since. But to join a church is one thing; living as you believe is another. This is especially true if you have a reputation as being “less than saintly”. But, if you search the Bible, just about everyone described started out as “less than saintly”. They doubted themselves and their abilities. Like most of us, they asked God – You don’t mean me? Some even ran away from what was being asked of them, but eventually they too had to say “yes”.
How many times do we talk ourselves out of doing the right thing? Like electricity, we want to follow the path of least resistance.
I like to watch America’s Got Talent and other shows that spotlight amateur entertainers trying to make a name for themselves. Inevitably there are those that have a lot of talent, but when they get on stage in front of all those people, they talk themselves out of performing well. The amazing thing to watch however is the people who come out on stage and are very shy. They sometimes stutter seemingly afraid of the task ahead. But once the music starts, they transform into another person and they nail the audition. They have committed 150% to what they came there for and succeed.
Such is the kind of commitment we are called to do. Every day we are given a choice; do I go about my business as usual or do I stop and think about how my words and behaviors are an example of God’s love?
History is full of people that have made an enormous impact on the lives of others. They risked their safety, their lives, and the lives of those close to them – because they couldn’t say no when called upon to respond.
Such a man was Levi Coffin, an unsung hero of the American anti-slavery movement. In the 1820’s Coffin moved to Newport, Indiana and opened a shop. His home soon became a central point on the famous Underground Railroad, a pathway from slavery in the USA’s South to freedom in Canada. People like Coffin would take enormous personal risk to help fleeing slaves on their journey. Coffin provided refuge for up to 17 refugee slaves at a time at his house, and so active was he that three major routes on the Underground Railroad converged at his place which became known as Grand Central Terminal.
Because of his activities Coffin received frequent death threats and warnings that his shop and home would be burned. Yet he was undeterred. Like many of the whites involved in the Underground Railroad he was driven by his Christian convictions. Coffin was a Quaker and explaining his commitment said “The bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about color.”
Levi Coffin is just one example of a person who decided to do what he could about an injustice he saw. And his action resulted in hundreds of oppressed slaves finally finding their freedom.
But how is this relevant today?
What would you do if you were 19-years-old, living in a foreign country, not even able to speak the language? As did many millions before you; you have come to work and better your life. You are a hard worker and an asset to the farmer that has hired you on. You have been granted the right to work, but your paperwork has somehow been slowed. One day you are picked up, transported thousands of miles away and held in a prison. Upon eventual release, the doors open and you are thrust out into a community you don’t know, with $20.00 and directions to the bus station. You must somehow navigate a world where communication is difficult at best. You are told you need to call your relatives in Texas in order for them to wire money for the ticket. The problem is your cell phone doesn’t work. What do you do? Where do you go? How do you ask for help when there’s no one that understands your language?
This sounds like a sad story from the history books. Like a story from some far off country that cares little about humanity. Would you be shocked if I told you that in reality it was Batavia this past Tuesday? Unfortunately it’s something that happens all too frequently. Some of us in the community, when made aware of these situations, do our best to assist the stranger on their long journey.
Now there are at least one-hundred Bible verses that speak directly to welcoming the “stranger” among you.
One of my favorites is Hebrews 13: 1-2
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)
If you have committed your life to serving Jesus Christ, this isn’t a question. For me, it’s a duty. I can either lie to you and myself about the commitment I’ve made or do what I think is right.
Last night Martha and I watched the movie “The Miracle Season”. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see it I would recommend it. Ironically Martha grew up knowing one of the main characters, Ernie Found. The Founds lived next door to her and Ernie graduated best friends with one of her brothers. He eventually became a Dr. and moved out to the mid-west. In this true story, he loses his daughter who is a star volleyball player and captain of her high school team and his wife to illness within months of each other. His daughter is one of those “larger than life” personalities that everyone in their small town knows. She led the team in winning the state championships during her junior year and was positioned to repeat it again her senior year. Than tragedy strikes and she is killed in a moped accident. The family, the team, the entire town is devastated. The movie does a good job showing how they all had to pull together to overcome their sorrow, to go forward when they really didn’t have it in them; and for the team, to pull themselves up from a slump to go on and win the state finals for the second year in a row. It’s exactly what I’m talking about today. Finding the courage to follow through on your commitment, give life 150%, even when you feel you don’t have the strength to go on.
During the deepest, darkest days of apartheid when the government tried to shut down opposition by canceling a political rally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared that he would hold a church service instead.
St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa was filled with worshippers. Outside the cathedral hundreds of police gathered, a show of force intended to intimidate. As Tutu was preaching they entered the Cathedral, armed, and lined the walls. They took out notebooks and recorded Tutu’s words.
But Tutu would not be intimidated. He preached against the evils of apartheid, declaring it could not endure. At one extraordinary point he addressed the police directly.
“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”
With that the congregation erupted in dance and song.
The police didn’t know what to do. Their attempts at intimidation had failed, overcome by the archbishop’s confidence that God and goodness would triumph over evil. It was but a matter of time.
Source: God’s Politics by Jim Wallis
For Desmond Tutu, it wasn’t a question. It was his duty.
We are either all in or all out, there is no in between.
My final story is about water pistols.
Once upon a time there was a fire in a small town. The fire brigade rushed to the scene, but the fire fighters were unable to get through to the burning building. The problem was the crowd of people who had gathered not to watch but to help put out the fire. They all knew the fire chief well – their children had climbed over his fire engines during excursions to the fire station, and the friendliness of the fire chief was legendary. So when a fire broke out the people rushed out to help their beloved fire chief.
Unfortunately, the townsfolk were seeking to extinguish this raging inferno with water pistols! They’d all stand there, from time to time squirting their pistol into the fire while making casual conversation.
The fire chief couldn’t contain himself. He started screaming at the townsfolk. “What do you think you’re doing? What on earth do you think you’re going to achieve with those waterpistols?!”
The people realized the urgency of the situation. How they wanted to help the fire chief. So they started squirting more. “Come on” they encouraged each other, “We can all do better, can’t we?” Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.
Exasperated the fire chief yells again. “Get out of here. Your achieving nothing except hindering us from doing what needs to be done. We need fire fighters who are ready to give everything they’ve got to put out this fire, people willing even to lay their lives on the line. This is not the place for token contributions.”
This story was originally told by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He was urging us to realize that discipleship to Christ means much more than token levels of support to the church and God’s mission in the world. It calls for wholehearted and total life commitment.
Source: Story retold from Kierkegaard
Now we all can’t lead a revolution, speaking eloquently about human rights as they relate to Christ’s teaching. We all can’t make a huge impact on the world stage. But we can draw attention to injustices when and where we find them. We can do our part, where we live. We too can entertain “angels unawares”.
The young man we helped on Tuesday looked tired and scared. When I approached him he looked at me wearily, as if to say; OK what does this Anglo want from me? The first thing he said, somewhat defensively, was “I don’t speak English”. I opened up my bag filled with snacks for his long trip and handed it to him. His eyes opened wide in disbelief as he said “for me?” I wasn’t the only one to help him. I found out later the scene was played out at least three more times that day before he left on his journey back to Texas. Some bought him a meal; others brought snacks and gave him money. We found out by Friday that he did make the trip safely to his brother’s in Houston. His brother said he was overwhelmed and grateful for the treatment he received. Imagine how surprised he was, after all he had been through, when people that didn’t even know him opened their hearts and their wallets to make sure he made it home. The stranger among us, so very far from home!