• dlhawkins007

October 6, 2019 Sermon

World Communion Sunday

“Keep on Keepin’ On”

Old Testament Scripture: Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am grateful to God-whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did-when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.

This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do.

But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Sermon: Keep on Keepin’ on.

For the month of September, we’ve been exploring some of the Apostle Paul’s writings about what it means to live a disciplined, Christian life. We’ve looked at the discipline of stewardship, of living simply, the discipline of confession, and the art of giving and receiving advice. I’ve tried to offer this sermon series in the spirit of learning from the words of Paul, rather than as a how to guide, or even worse, a new code of behavior that we have to follow in order to be Christians.

That is not my intent. My hope is to simply unfold some of these letters that Paul wrote to different folks in different churches, and try to see how they fit or don’t fit in our lives. Above all, please don’t take my words, or Paul’s words as an additional burden that you have to bear. God forbid. If anything I have to say is a blessing, I am glad. If not, please feel free to ignore it.

This week, we are exploring the idea of perseverance, the discipline of keepin’ on keepin on’, living, working, serving, and continuing to serve, even when that service hardly seems to make a difference, even when that service results in hardship.

We can see in today’s scripture that Timothy is wrestling with this issue. Timothy obviously is having some problems with his ministry. There is something going on that isn’t really named that is causing Timothy to reconsider his Christian vocation. Something has happened that has made him think that maybe this Christian life isn’t everything that he thought it would be. Something has made Timothy to feel ashamed of his Christian identity.

Now we don’t know what exactly has happened, but we can imagine his feelings. Because there have been times in our lives when we have done something for purely altruistic reasons, out of the good of our hearts, and our efforts were either dismissed, ignored, or stepped on. It seems like we wasted our time, and everybody else’s time as well.

Gene reminded me of this reality yesterday, when we were talking about the book of Lamentations. Jeremiah was feeling down, as he was want to do, and he was complaining, as he normally did, and he heard a word from God, which happened a lot, and the word was this: I didn’t create you to run against men, but against horses.

And that’s a great reminded that we need not compare ourselves to the efforts or abilities of other people. Our self-esteem need not come from the appreciation of other people. Our sense of self-worth need not be based on whether or not other people applaud or even notice what we are doing. We do what we do out of a sense of gratitude for what has been given to us, and our efforts are for an audience of one.

And sometimes, we need to remember this. Because the reality is, there are times that being a Christian means feeling like a fool. This business of forgiving 70 times seven, of giving your coat as well as your shirt, of praying for your enemies, of exposing yourself to the diseased, the poor, the thief, the prostitute, the outcast, the tax collector, all of it is really kind of stupid, on the face of it.

The idea that we can trust in God for our security, that we are called to welcome the immigrant into our community, that we give ourselves in every way we can to the benefit of others is not only foreign to us, it’s dangerous on the face of it.

Who wants to put themselves in that position? To be mocked, ridiculed, taken advantage of, even hurt, betrayed? What could possibly motivate us to take that kind of abuse?

And what’s the payoff? What’s our reward, our thanks for putting ourselves out there like that? Where are the cheering crowds, the academy awards, the ticker tape parades for people who put themselves into positions of service, who speak for the voiceless, who clothe the naked and feed the hungry?

Well, we know that answer to that. The reality is, there aren’t any. A life of Christian service is a hard, thankless, scorned, and occasionally dangerous job. After all, look where it took Jesus. All the way to a cross.
And so, the question remains, why do it? Why continue to put ourselves in a position of serving a world that doesn’t recognize or appreciate the effort? What’s in it for us?

And sometimes, it’s not even about doing what we do for other people that’s the problem. Sometimes, it’s just about getting up in the morning and putting one foot in front of the other that is the problem. Sometimes getting out of bed is the problem.

I know from personal experience that illness and injury can make you consider just giving up, giving in, and quitting. That sometimes, the journey ahead looks too hard, too much, and it would be easier to just stop trying. I mean, who really cares? Does what I do really make a difference, or am I just fooling myself?

The world can beat you down, and sometimes it can get the best of any of us.

But when I think that it’s just too hard, I’m reminded of my childhood baby-sitter, Twila, who has come to church here a couple of times from Lubbock.

Twila has always been the hardest working person I’ve ever known.

When I was very young, I remember Twila, twelve years old, driving the tractor on my dad’s farm, with her brothers bucking bales up onto the trailer. Later, she and I would pick fruit in the orchards up on Antelope Hill. She saved every dime from her farm work and babysitting, and put herself through college, eventually earning her doctorate in Psychology from down in Lubbock at Texas Tech. She is the first person in her family to go past high school.

She has spent her career counseling hard core criminals in the Texas Prison System, first up here in Plainview, and now down in Lubbock. Many of them are mentally ill, or have been destroyed by years of drug abuse. Some come from abusive families and some from no families at all. They are manipulative, cruel, and dangerous.

Some of them cut themselves with anything they can find in order to find relief from the demons in their brains, or the pain of drug withdrawal, or simply to relieve their boredom. Twila’s job is to keep these people alive. To try to find ways to help them see that even they, even in their horrible condition, still have worth. And so, every week, she visits them, and ministers them in ways that you and I can hardly imagine.

And I wonder why? Why does she do this? Nobody cares. Most folks would just as soon see these hard core criminals succeed in the attempts to kill themselves.
And I realized that there are people in the world who simply do the work that has to be done, that nobody else wants to do. Like the trash collection guys at 5:00 in the morning, or the nurses that clean up bedpans, or the volunteers at the animal rescue, or plumbers, or social workers in the inner city, or like countless other people around the world, working in the background, working behind the scenes, Twila is doing the work that has to be done if we are to remain a civilized society. She has somehow found a way to see the humanity behind these hardened faces, to see them with the love Jesus sees us, and to find the image of God even there.

Being a servant means being the adults in a world that rewards the children. Being a servant means doing those things that nobody else wants to do, because it’s hard, and it’s time-consuming, and there’s no thanks or appreciation or recognition.

And this the heart of what it means to be a servant. That there isn’t a bottom-line reason to do it. There aren’t any strings, no conditions. There aren’t any compunctions, there aren’t any threats. There aren’t any incentives, there aren’t any carrots, or sticks.

Being a servant comes, not from an outward imposition of rewards or punishments, but from an inward recognition of the mercy and grace that we ourselves have received.

Being a servant means that we do what needs to be done, not because we are afraid of going to hell if we don’t, or that we might get to go to heaven if we do, but because we would rather this world look a little bit more like heaven than hell, if only for a moment.

And, as Paul reminds Timothy, being a servant means that we recognize that God has given us an amazing gift in Jesus Christ, who came to us as a servant, who took our sins and died for us, and our hearts can hardly contain it, and our lives can’t help but reflect that gift.

There are so many ways to be a servant in our community, by tutoring in the schools, or volunteering at the food bank, or in this church, from serving meals on wheels, to helping in the kitchen for potlucks, to helping out on church work days.

But real servanthood is a way of life, not a particular act. It is an inner sense of having received far, far more than we can ever return, and consequently, dedicating our lives to giving whatever thanks we can, in whatever ways the world needs, whenever the Lord calls us.

Thanks be to God. Amen.
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