Tangible Hope23rd Sunday after Pentecost
In my 45 years of ministry, I have never taken this many weeks “off.” Trust me, it is not easy for me not to work. During this time, I haven’t been the religious leader, I haven’t prepared sermons or worship elements, or moderated Session. It has been a relief to pause that involvement in the details of daily ministry because I’ve had other things to focus on; I had to recover. But while I was away, worship continued, Session continued to work, care for the people in our congregation continued because you who stepped up and you who continued to do what you normally do to serve as the community of faith.
I am especially grateful. Wayne Stretch helped me to be “off,” to relax knowing that things were covered. He assumed the duties of administration, worship, and pastoral care. I am grateful for the tremendous amount of effort of all who planned and participated in collaborative worship with Knox, Trinity, and St. Andrews. Many of you arranged rides, provided quiet meditation here in our sanctuary enhanced by Christine’s gifts, and those who said yes, and joined in shared worship with our fellow Presbyterians.
For all these weeks, I have been encouraged by those who dropped by, who brought goodies, who sent cards and emails and texts and said, “we are praying for you.” Their blessing relieved my stress and guilt of not being here and doing what I normally do. Without exception, you were gracious and made my recovery so much easier emotionally and physically. I received your gift of service that was personal and deeply appreciated. We experience hope in our service to each other.
Our Psalm for today reflected in our call to worship is Psalm 43. However, Psalm 42 is a confession of the Psalmist’s lack of hope and his soul thirsting for God that must be answered with the hope found in Psalm 43. So, I wrote the call to worship as a call and response between the two Psalms. The speaker in Psalm 43 recognizes his own great need and brings his needs before God.
In both of the passages we read today, from Micah 3 and Matthew 23, the religious leaders are on the hot seat as Micah and Jesus challenge their false sense of service.
In Matthew, Jesus uses the Scribes and Pharisees as an example to teach the disciples what is important in their leadership. The Scribes and Pharisees don’t practice what they teach. Their ministry was about show and their purpose was to be recognized. Jesus teaches that the greatest among you will be your servant.
Micah was challenging a system of false prophets who said that it is just business as usual; there is nothing we can do about those proverbial problems that have become normalized. Sound familiar? Micah is engaging in a battle against despair but he is not afraid to counter that despair with hope and say, “But as for me…”
During my first year here at St. Andrews, John Mitchell was a constant presence for me. Every Sunday, he would find me in my office and bring me my lapel microphone. He would check my stole to make sure it was straight. He always wanted to provide for me, asking what I needed or wanted. His constant sensitivity to make sure that I was comfortable in this new place was a reminder that I wasn’t alone and that I had an encouraging partner.
Who is your example of this kind of care? Who has brought hope to you in tangible ways?
This is the kind of model that this scripture draws out for us. When Jesus was talking about service, it was not a position of power or religious leadership. We are all empowered to be a servant. The person you imagined and experienced as serving you bridges the gap between being a receiver and you taking on the role of that servant that has been modeled for you.
We seem to be living in a time of fear and anxiety and preoccupation with survival. What if it is, instead, a time for the church to restore hope? Hope doesn’t count for much when everything is going well. Hope is most relevant in struggle.
Hope comes for Micah when he is able to say, “But as for me..” In other words, it is my responsibility to take on what is hopeful.
Hope comes for the disciples when Jesus tells them, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” Jesus doesn’t talk about what it means to serve but over and over throughout his ministry he got in among the people and showed what it means to become a servant.
Hope is incarnated in our service. It must be lived out in flesh and blood as we meet the needs of people around us. How will you bring hope to others in tangible ways?