given on Sunday, September 11, 2011
Wow! What a day to be alive and in worship together. The calendar identifies this as one of the country’s significant dates, a pivotal point in which our American lives shifted, and yet we have not seen a positive outcome. Instead we are living in a world numbed by needs.
Before 2001, a service learning structure began showing up in schools much like the character development programs did a decade or so earlier. The service learning structure has four phases: identify a need, develop a solution, carry out the plan and then celebrate: a comprehensive approach to serving successfully.
This concept is not new. In the historical perspective, serving existed long ago in our past. As Methodists, we have identified service as a key component to living a Christian life. John Wesley certainly exemplified how to serve and certainly did not allow anything to stop him. But Wesley is not where serving originated.
For two weeks, I saw Christ in action. He moved the idea of service into a way of life. He demonstrated how God’s grace can transform a world. Wesley demonstrated how God’s grace can transform a world. You have demonstrated how God’s grace can transform a corner of the world.
Service is taking God’s love and putting it into action. It is demanding work, but it is ‘loving one another as we want to be loved’. Service is dirty, hard labor. Service is physically draining and even mentally challenging. Service forces us to step out of a comfort zone in order to create comfort for someone else.
When the attack on September 11, 2001 occurred, our society appeared to be living at the peak of the mountain. Americans were comfortable. Security was a non-issue. Life was racing along at a dizzy pace. And, in a few moments all that crumbled.
Today we stop to remember. The images of that fateful day are etched into our own minds as clearly as they are captured and shared by the cameras rolling that very day. TV screens are flooded with the historical images of destruction, but amidst all the damage and the rubble rises images of God’s love.
In a recent blog from Bishop Schnase, those images are identified:
Images emerged of hope, courage, and heroism, of ordinary unknown people who sacrificed everything to save lives, of the hundreds of fire fighters and police officers and rescue workers who climbed stairs against their own instincts of fear to help strangers.
For me, one of the strongest images came from the words of the Flight 93 passengers. Those ordinary people flying from point A to point B were forced into one of the most agonizing situations—they were to be part of a massive destruction, but they made a decision. They fought back. They knew the risks, but they chose to serve.
When Jesus was serving in mission along the paths of Jordan, he knew the risks. He knew that his life was to demonstrate God’s infinite love to us. In the gospels, the words repeatedly record all the healing, all the love, all the tolerance God has for us. Jesus was there to provide evidence and instruction of God’s love. He gave us some advice in Matthew 7:7-12:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets.
Those words should provide us the groundwork, whether at Ground Zero or the ground around us in our own community, for identifying how to serve.
The decision to create an Emergency Relief Fund, especially in light of the winter heating demands, added a new element to the fair. Our frustrations of seeing the needs right outside our doors became the focus, not the dollars in the moneybox. The need was identified, a plan was put into action, and the work was carried out.
The call from the conference to Serve 2011 was difficult to hear, but when a local need was identified, a plan quickly was designed, and the work was done. The Senior Housing complex now has more curb appeal but also is in better condition for the residents living there—residents of our community.
While listening to Friday’s NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams was promoting the Dateline feature later in the evening. He referenced Tom Brokaw’s words published in the New York Times on September 28, 2001:
Every great turn of history’s wheel takes us in a new direction . . .
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 seem to have been every bit as jarring to most Americans as the Japanese attacks on Pear Harbor were for another generation . . . This new war on terrorism will be fought less conventionally, and it could lead us into a deep recession. . . . The lessons of David and Goliath are as fresh today as they were in biblical times.
On the home front, the success of the United States in World War II was due in large part to the common commitment of civilians as well as of those who were in the armed services. . . .
In this new fight, the American economy will take a hit, but it is coming down from a very high high. We’ve been living on a rich diet, and thought that may now change, many of the sacrifices are more likely to be inconveniences.
Today, we honor all those who served during the crisis on September 11, 2001; but we also celebrate that the lessons Jesus taught us has given us the courage to serve.
The decision to serve right here in our own communities has sparked so much energy that even when you were tired right down to the bone, you continued to serve. The decision to serve has resulted in heartfelt joy. The celebration may feel good, but I do not believe it can feel nearly as wonderful as the joy of serving feels.
Each one of you knows how tired you are, but each one of you knows that you made a difference. Each one of you is experiencing what it means to serve God while serving others. Each one of you now understands what it means to “feel strangely warmed” as Wesley felt. The needs within our community whether local or global are massive, but as we learn in Philippians 4:13: We can do everything through him (Christ) who gives us strength.
Today celebrate! Tomorrow know that the needs of our recession are asking for our attention. The demands are out there, now you just need to follow that process: identify a need, develop a solution, then go to work to provide the solution. Come back on Sunday and make sure that you thank God for the strength he has provided you as you have shared his love. Finally, celebrate. Take a few moments to enjoy the completed success, laugh it up, eat and rest.
But do not step away from the cries of those in need. Sometimes the cry is unheard, but the eyes reveal the need. Ask God for guidance, then develop a plan, and continue to serve. God’s love is unending and with the Holy Spirit to work within us, we can make disciples of Christ while transforming the world.
Dear Loving Father,
When evil attacks, let love answer.
When tornadoes rip us apart, let love answer.
When floods sweep away lives, let love answer.
We ask you to guide us in serving.
We ask you to show us solutions.
We ask you to provide the strength to serve.
Let us be your hands.
Let us be your shoulders.
Let us be Christ so others may know your love.