Embrace the Grace #2 in Series
Once there was a church in a small town much like ours. One Sunday morning, the minister was rather preoccupied. His sermon did not make as much sense as it usually did. As the congregation listened, they became concerned about him.
At the close of the service, before he pronounced the benediction, he said, “You know that my wife and I have a daughter whom we haven’t seen in a while: She was living another kind of lifestyle, one that we didn’t exactly approve of. She left home, and we hadn’t seen her . . . Until we found her the other day. She was in an apartment with no heat, no warm water, no electricity. We also found her with our grandson, three month’s old. We asked her if she wanted to come home, and she said, “Yes, she would.”
“Many of you in our congregation will not approve of someone like that living in your parsonage. But she’s our daughter, and we love her. There are two doors to our church. I feel that some of you won’t be able to shake my hand this morning. And that’s okay. I’ll understand.”
And with that, he pronounced the benediction, went to the back of the church, and waited.
You know how it is on Sunday. For one reason or another, people are always slipping out the other door so that they can get away quickly. But, that Sunday morning, every member of that church went out the front door to shake their Pastor’s hand.
And it went further than just a handshake. The people of that church opened their loving arms wide, and accepted that young mother and held child into their congregation. Clothes seemed to materialize out of nowhere. A job was found so that the young mother could make her own way. Babysitters seemed to pop out of the woodwork within the congregation so she could go to work. To make a long story short, this congregation began to take Christ’s message of salvation, Jesus’ message of forgiveness, very seriously.
It wasn’t long before folks in the community began to talk. “Did you hear about the minister’s daughter who’s going to church now?”
But it didn’t stop there. The talk continued like all gossip does. Only this was different and with surprise in their voices, people began to say, “She going to church there and the church is letting her in! Sinners worship in that church!”
Yes, sinners did worship in that church. Suddenly that church wasn’t about judgment, it was all about Forgiveness and Grace; the free gift of God’s Grace offered to all. There were people who’d been members of that church but hadn’t been seen in years, but now were back, worshiping together. They hadn’t felt good enough to attend before because of some indiscretions or failures in their life.
But because of the way that church welcomed, cared for and loved the pastor’s prodigal daughter and her baby, they realized that not being good enough was exactly the reason they needed to attend. It’s amazing what one child can do.
But then that’s how this whole Christian movement got started isn’t it? Through an unwed mother, her Son, an understanding fiancé and a loving Heavenly Father, everything changed. Now Grace and Forgiveness are offered to everyone and EVERYONE is welcome. (1)
A church and a community were changed forever when a lost daughter and her child came home. A church and a community were changed forever when they remembered the purpose and mission of the church. It set their hearts and spirits on fire with a vision. A vision that helped them live the life Paul was taking about, “a life worthy of the Gospel.”
That sort of life, “a life worthy of the Gospel,” is what inspired the founding of this congregation. It inspired the people who inspired you. They who had a vision, which is “foresight with insight based on hindsight” (2) according to George Barna. The people who understood what God was and is calling this church to be. The people whose lives touched ours, lived “a life worthy of the Gospel,”
Let’s look at the passage from Philippians 1:21-30 and see how Paul describes “A Worthy Life,” or “a life worthy of the Gospel.”
 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer.
 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;
 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.
 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith,
 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel,
 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.
 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–
 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. [NRSV]
From that passage I think we can glean three things. In order to live “A Worthy Life,” “a life worthy of the Gospel,” we’re called to STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT; STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE; HAVE ONE MIND AND IN NO WAY BE INTIMIDATED BY OPPONENTS.
I. STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT:
FIRST, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US TO “STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT.” You know it’s one thing for a Pastor to brag about his or her church. But it’s really something when another pastor or pastors brag to you about your church and community. That’s what happened this week. A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine, Dr. Jesse Sowell, who was head of the religion Department at Texas Wesleyan Univeristy for 28 years before he retired, called and asked a favor of me. He asked if I would be on his reserve list for a retreat he and his wife Annette (also a retire Methodist Pastor) were leading at Still Water this week. I said, “Yes!”
A week ago Saturday he emailed me and said I was off the hook. Then Sunday morning, while I was winding up my sermon in the 8:30 servie, I felt my phone ring. After the service I saw Jesse had left me a voice mail, so I listened and called him back. It turns out, they needed me. Could I be at Still Water between 6:00 and 6:30 pm, Sunday night, to begin working with a team of fifteen young clergy from the Latvian United Methodist Church. They came to join us on this retreat.
So, about 6:10, I showed up. Introductions were made and I met the Latvian team at my table and the pastor I will be working with for however long the partnership continues. Janis Bauminis. Shortly after a light supper and all the introductions I noticed Janis was sort of distracted and looked uncomfortable. As we all got to checking, apparently he had some sort of episode on the flight over. Without going into all the details he needed some help.
After numerous conversations and hunting down a phone number, about 9:30 pm I called Dr. Schmidt, explained the situation and asked if he would see Janis the next day. He graciously agreed.
The next morning Dr. Schmidt’s secretary called and we set up an appointment for that afternoon. Janis, Annette and Gita (our interpreter) went to see Dr. Schmidt. He even called later, having given more thought to what Janis was experiencing and saw him again on Tuesday.
Monday morning, they wanted to see the church and hear all about our ministries. So, I told them about the start of the food bank and how many people it now feeds. I told them about the PreSchool and how many years we have been serving the children and families of the community. We talked about Helping Hands and how much the Thrift Store supports that ministry.
We talked about our banners, the new ribbon banner, the crosses above the choir, the screens and how we use them and some of the other creative things we do.
And I told them about the Thrift Store. How it got started in the 50’s. And how they sell most of the items. I even told them that if they wanted to shop, I’d by the bag. They asked all kinds of questions and then they went shopping. Janet Burkhart made an executive decision that blew the Latvian pastors away. She didn’t charged them anything. They had a great time shopping. Janis bought a child’s life-preserver for his son.
After everything was said and done, Wednesday my Latvian friends told me through our church and through Dr. Schmidt, they had witnessed and experienced a town with the most Christian attitude they had ever seen. They knew their sponsoring Churches were gracious but they had no idea a whole community would greet them that way.
Dr. Schmidt, I want to personally thank you for the witness of your faith as you reached out to my new friend and colleague in Christ. You touched me and I know you touched him and his whole group.
And Janet, thank you for being such a gracioius hostess at the Thrift Store. It truly touched and impressed them, both your friendship and the ministry of the Thrift Store.
I thought you needed to hear that. Sometimes we wonder whether our Church and our individual faith and lifestyle makes any difference. The answer is a resounding “YES!” Still Water, the Thrift Store, Dr. Schmidt, the Church and this community will always be seen by these new friends as a place where we carry out the Apostle Paul’s call to “STAND FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT,” every single day. And that Spirit is the Spirit of Christ.
II. STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE:
SECOND, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US TO “STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE.”
We’ve had some difficult times and difficult decisions to make the last couple of years. But we’ve worked and strived side by side to find the best solutions. That striving can be seen in the rejevenation of the Preschool, the remodel of the Youth Room, the remodel of the Kitchen, in what is happening in the Gibbs House/Parsonage while getting ready for your new pastor, Jonothan Farrer. Through our involvment in the Food Bank and the work of the Thrift Store.
But maybe the best example of “STRIVING SIDE BY SIDE” is Lord’s Acre. To me, Lord’s Acre is a beautiful example of unity, of striving side by side for a single common goal. Yes, it’s a lot of work. A lot of sweat, anxiety, a few tears, and massive quantities of energy are expended. And for what reason? Money? No way. That’s definitely part of the strategy. It’s definitely part of the goal. That’s definitely part of the vision.
But the main reason for Lord’s Acre isn’t money. It isn’t the building. It isn’t gain. Our main purpose in Lord’s Acre is to glorify God through the unity and spirit of this Church. And if you listen to what people who are not members of the church say, you find out that this is what impresses them the most.
Oh, their impressed by the amount of work we do, by the size of our Lord’s Acre, the barbecue the crafts, baked goods, silent auction, Auction, how much money we raise and everything else that goes on that day. But the thing that impresses them the most is our Unity both in work and in Spirit.
I believe Lord’s Acre shows the true spirit and personality of this congregation. WE ARE ABLE TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” BECAUSE WE “STRIVE SIDE BY SIDE.”
III. HAVE ONE MIND:
THIRD, TO LIVE “A WORTHY LIFE,” PAUL TELLS US TO “HAVE ONE MIND.”
When we have one mind, the mind of Christ, it won’t matter what storm comes our way, and we know that storms come, they always do. That’s just a part of life and faith. But because we are grounded in Christ and we “HAVE ONE MIND.” we’ll be able to “sleep when the wind blows” because we’ll know we’re safe and secure in the arms of Christ.
Years ago, a Cornish farmer owned a farm along the Atlantic seaboard. He constantly advertised for hired hands. Most people were reluctant to work on farms along the Atlantic. They dreaded the inclement weather. Storms would rage across the Atlantic, wreaking havoc upon the buildings and crops. As the farmer interviewed applicants for the job, he received a steady stream of refusals.
Finally, a small-statured man approached the farmer. He appeared to be well past middle age, nearly on his last legs. The farmer asked him, “Are you a good farm hand?”
In his Cornish accent, the little man quipped, “I can sleep when the wind blows.”
The farmer had no idea what this guy meant. But, he was desperate for help, so the farmer hired the little man. The man seemed to work well around the farm. He was busy from dawn to dusk and the farmer was satisfied with the man’s work.
Then one night, the farmer heard the wind howling off the ocean. He jumped out of bed, grabbed a lantern, and rushed next door to the hired hand’s sleeping quarters. He shook the little man and yelled, “Get up, a storm is coming! We’ve got to tie things down before they blow away!” The little man rolled over in bed and said, “No sir, I told you, I can sleep when the wind blows.”
The farmer became enraged. He was tempted to fire the man. Instead, he hurried outside to prepare for the storm. To his amazement, he discovered that all the haystacks had been covered with tarpaulins. The cows were in the barn, the chickens were in the coops, and the doors were barred. The shutters were tightly secured. Everything was tied down. Nothing could blow away. As the farmer inspected his property, he began to understand what his hired hand meant. And eventually, he returned to bed to enjoy his sleep as the wind blew. (3)
When we “HAVE ONE MIND” the mind of Christ Jesus, a mind to serve Christ and a mind to glorify God in all we do, then we’ll be able to say we “can sleep when the wind blows.”
I will never forget the very first church I served. I think my District Superintendent pulled it off a multiple charge just to give me the opportunity to preach. It was 45 miles from our house at the crossroads of the remains of a little bitty farm community. The community had a gas station/general store and a tiny Post Office that was open until noon every day. The Post Mistress and her husband were members of the Church.
At this church we only held Worship Services on the first and third Sundays. We had a choir of about four. The pianist knew three Christmas carols and exactly six hymns.. So, we would sing three one Sunday and three the next. The pianist and her family owned a dairy and on more than one occasion, she came right from the milking parlor into the worship service. All she had done to get ready was to pull a dress on over her overhauls. It truly was a site to behold and a little bit of a smell, too.
But I’ve never seen so much love for Jesus in a group of people, except maybe here. I received a whopping $110.00 a month as my salary. But, boy did we have fun. That’s where I did my first wedding and my first hospital visits. I learned a lot from that little church. That’s where I found out the meaning of this passage.
We only averaged about 35 in worship. Sunday school had about 30 in it. The major leaders in the church were Old Mrs. Foster and her daughter in law, Young Mrs. Foster. Young Mrs. Foster, who was the pianist, was at least in her mid fifties. But both Mrs. Fosters made sure that the children of the area came to Sunday School and Church. Every week they trooped in with half a dozen to a dozen children each. Some were their kids, some were neighbor kids. But everyone of them knew they were important because one of the Mrs. Fosters had called the night before to remind them about Sunday School and Church and promised to pick them up if they could go.
And then there was the Youth Group. It consisted of two youth 17 and 18 and four adult sponsors which included Young Mrs. Foster and Old Mrs. Foster, Mary and I.
The exciting thing about this little church was the fact that they truly fit the description of this passage. They STOOD FIRM IN ONE SPIRIT; THEY STROVE SIDE BY SIDE; AND THEY HAD ONE MIND. I’m convinced that’s why that little church is still there and still active today.
They knew who they were and whose they were. They fully Embraced the Grace of God. No one could dissuade them of anything different. And they took the great commission seriously. They recruited and taught and molded those children and the youth of that little bitty community in much the same way that Paul molded those early Churches.They did it through there love for God in Christ and their lifestyle. They lived the “Worthy Life,” “a life worthy of the Gospel.”
And that’s what you and I are called to live, so others will know the love God has for them. And the Salvation Christ offers to all.
We are called to Embrace God’s Grace fully and live “a life worthy of the Gospel.” You never know who is watching.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Adapted from a story told by David R. Palmer, “Becoming a Believer,” February 26, 1989, VIRGINIA ADVOCATE.
2. From Power of Vision, by George Barna, p. 28.
3. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), October 1999