Worship – “The Real Miracle” Rev. Jamall Calloway, PHD – February 23, 2020

Rev. Jamall A. Calloway, PhD

“The Real Miracle”

Luke 13:10-13

I am going to start this sermon off by saying something that can come across as a little biologically silly. But I feel like what I am about to say will encapsulate what I’m trying to express in this sermon this morning. And that is, I believe, that the body has a mind of its own. I know that sounds funny because your mind, your brain, is a part of your body. Of course. But we often don’t think of it that way. We think we have a mind and then we have a body and that is because we, as cerebral creatures, as thinking human beings, live far too much inside of our heads on a day to day basis. We think of things in our mind quietly. We talk to ourselves in our mind as we drive, move and think. We think about things long and hard and when someone asks, “hey what’s going on?” Or, “Hey what’s on your mind?”, we say, “oh nothing.” Once again, we live so far deep into the crevices of our mind. We live so far in our heads that we don’t pay adequate attention to how was the rest of our flesh is involved in, and reacts to, the very condition of our thoughts.

For example, when you smile there is a slight chemical reaction in the brain, releasing certain hormones including dopamine and serotonin. So, with a smile you can literally feed your body positive neurotransmitters. But when you are down, or better yet, when you are stressed, your body responds to that, too. Sometimes we don’t notice that our back problems could be because of something on our mind. Sometimes we don’t notice that our shoulders are tense when we are stressed out. Sometimes we don’t notice that our headaches and migraines are a result of our worrying. Sometimes we don’t notice that we don’t take the deep breaths that we need to because we are so busy working and moving and always in a hurry. And sometimes, we don’t notice that our deepest regrets, our deepest wounds, our past decisions and memories that include a wish to do something over, affects our bodies as well.

And to be honest with you that’s what this sermon is about. Things in our head that make our bodies ache. Things like Stress. Guilt. Shame. Things that live in our memories that sometimes pop up in our minds and cause us to take a deep sigh. Let me ask you, what happens when we are so stressed out, that we don’t realize the constant damage we are doing to ourselves because we are so busy living in our heads?

And these questions bring us to our text this morning. They bring us to our text this morning about a woman whose body also reflected something going on inside of her. Now, I don’t know anything about this woman in our text this morning. I don’t know who she is or where she grew up or what she did, or what was done to her. All I know is, all we know is, the scriptures say she’s been walking around with a spirit that has literally disabled her for almost two decades. This thing, this spirit, was so severe on her body, it was so stressful, that she was permanently hunched over and unable to stand up straight. And I imagine if she tried to stand up straight, it would hurt. I imagine, it would ache; I imagine that it would ache so painfully that she probably would revert back to being hunched over to alleviate the pain of trying to stand up.

I want you to imagine her, too.

I imagine that she got used to it after 18 years. After 18 years she probably kept the pain of how she was feeling to herself. And to be honest with you all I’m sure you’ve met her or him or someone like them, or maybe between us, you are her, someone who’s grown so used to their own pain and stress or guilt or shame that you don’t even see the point in mentioning it anymore when someone asks how you’re doing. You’ve met them before. The kind of people who know how to smile and wave and tell you everything is fine, “no worries, I’m doing really good”, but deep down inside they’re in such pain, or they’re scared or stressed out or, they have regrets. But they would rather say nothing is wrong then to say “Hey, I’m not doing so good today…”

Now, I sincerely wish I was there to watch her face before she arrived in the synagogue that day. I wish I was there when they told her about this guy named Jesus from this small town. I wish I was there to see her countenance shift from “yeah right here goes another one of those religious leaders” to… “well maybe he can help me.” So, she packs up her necessities, and slowly walks to the synagogue. I am sure she wondered what she was going to say to him, but that wondering was for naught because the text says that when Jesus saw her, immediately he called her over to him. And I wish I was there to see her face shift from disbelief to nervous. Me? He can’t be calling me. Nobody ever sees me. Nobody ever really pays attention to me. They might notice when I’m in the room by my deformity, or they might notice when I’m in the room by my stressful spirit; they might notice when I’m in the room by all of these negative things, but those things prevent them from really looking at me. From really seeing me.

Have you ever felt like her? Overlooked and dismissed? Has anyone ever made you feel less than what you are?

And that is a child of the most loving, generous, understandable and gracious high God.

And when she gets to Jesus, he says something strange, something peculiar.

He says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

I am sure he called her woman because he may also have not known her name. But notice there was no talking. There was no discussion. She didn’t have to explain what she was going through. She didn’t have to try to convince him of anything. She didn’t have to pay him any money or sew any seeds into his ministry. She didn’t have to make any promises or declare that she would change something in order to receive something from him. He just looked at her and said:

Woman, you are set free from whatever is inside of you that is making you so sick and unable to stand tall.

Now, usually, we would read this story as a miracle story. A story where Jesus miraculously healed someone, gave them vision where they had none, told them to walk when they couldn’t, liberated them from a demonic force that captured them. I’ll be honest with you usually the Bible isn’t so kind to those with different bodies and disabilities or deformities. They’re used as sort of biblical props to prove that Jesus is a healer. But no. Not this time. He doesn’t yell at a demon; Jesus doesn’t say I now declare you to be healed, so to be honest with you, Congregational church, I’m not so sure that Jesus bent or twisted the natural elements of the world or spiritually intruded into her spine and nervous system at all. No. And you may disagree with me, but it seems to me Jesus did something much more natural, much more therapeutic, much more human, and I’ll say it, much more miraculous. It seems to me Jesus saw someone stressed out, either with guilt or shame or trauma or pressure or fear and said “Hey, I see you. I notice you. I care about. you’re okay here. You can Breathe.”

The next verse says: When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

It doesn’t say he miraculously touched her, and the issue vanished. It doesn’t say power went out of him and this woman could now stand up. It says he laid hands on her, he put his hand on her shoulder, or he possibly hugged her.

Apparently, she didn’t need a miraculously divine miracle. She didn’t need the laws of physics suspended for her or any biological manipulation. It seems she needed someone to notice her, to speak a kind word to her, to tell her that she is safe, to help her let whatever it was go, to let go of the shame, to let go of the guilt, to let go of the baggage, and to accept that things are going to most likely be okay.

I will not hold you long today. But I will say sometimes, you and I are so busy looking for God to do a miracle when the real miracle is on us to do something much more unnatural to ourselves. And that is to see each other, to notice each other, to get out of our own ways and our own heads and our own self involvement and touch and love on somebody else. We live in a world where it seems that being loving to one another without preconditions is more of a miracle than an actual supernatural miracle from God.

If you and I, want to see a real miracle, then we should start emulating Jesus by seeing those who need help, who need love, who need noticing and asking “hey, how are you doing?” … and meaning it. We should notice the spirits of stress on each other, and if you can, offer a kind word to help them stand.


Worship – “Communion Meditation” – February 2, 2020

Communion Meditation For February 2, 2020

Matthew 5:1-10, 13-14

Sermon on the Mount

Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar

Community Congregational Church

Of Chula Vista, UCC


Don’t you just love the beatitudes? It is some of the most beautiful writings found in the Bible, I think. There is so much to it. We don’t have time to go through each one but I want to re-read it using the version of The Message- as I think it will be made even more clearer to us. Please listen. I invite you to close your eyes if it is easier for you to listen, that way.


Matthew 5:1-10 The Message (MSG)

1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

Matthew 5:13-16 The Message (MSG)

13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.

(The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson)


So, which portion spoke to you the most? Was it one of the “you are blessed parts or was it the end when Jesus spoke about being salt-seasoning or when he spoke about “you are here to be light?”


I find it interesting that still early on in his ministry he chose to share these words with His disciples and others who were following him. Think about how humbling it must have been for them to hear these words. Because in essence what Jesus is doing is He is reversing the order of things. He isn’t saying, “blessed are you if you get your own way. Or “blessed are you if you are number one all of the time.” Nor is He saying, you are so worth-less that no matter what you do, you will never shine bright.


No, for that wasn’t the way of Jesus. Instead, Jesus lifts up what is considered to be humble and simple. He says, blessed are those of you who AREN’T number one. Blessed are you who struggle every day- who are hungry for spiritual food, for are grieving, when you cooperate instead of compete…


Jesus spoke plainly and openly, inviting them to His ministry and way of life.


Jesus still speaks that way to us today.


I invite you to close your eyes again. Take a few deep breaths. Now, listen to my question and answer it to yourselves silently. What is Jesus telling YOU today? If you see yourself as a follower of Jesus and Jesus were right here, today. What would he be telling you?


As we approach this communion table, where Jesus is the host. What is it that you feel He is telling you today? Is He encouraging you? Is he letting you know that you are not alone, that you have not been forgotten? Is He telling you that He knows the mess you are in but that He will help you get out of it if you only trust Him some more? Is he letting you know that no matter what illness you or your loved one has that Jesus will provide for your physical needs? Is He telling you that it is indeed sad what is happening in our nation but that all you need to do is speak the truth in love? Is He telling you that no matter how bad you have sinned that if you ask for forgiveness today you will be forgiven? Is He telling you that that is time that you stop hiding behind your arrogance? What is He telling you?






11-27 “A Pause for More Thanksgiving”

“A Pause for More Thanksgiving”

A meditation based on Luke 17:11-19

November 26, 2017

Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista

Dr. Sharon R. Graff

* * * * *

                   Today is a day not too often experienced in the Christian year…it is a pause, on a Sunday, for even more thanksgiving!  Usually, we go right from Thanksgiving Sunday (last week) directly into Advent.  But not this year.  This year, the calendar gives us a blissful extra Sunday before the waiting of Advent begins next week.  And with this extra Sunday of giving thanks, we’ve read one of Jesus’ best teachings on the topic of gratitude.

                   The story of the ten lepers, healed by Jesus, with emphasis on the one who returns to give thanks, is a story that inspires some questions.  Was Jesus teaching a lesson on good manners?  Always give thanks…go out of your way to show appreciation… practice gratitude and you will be rewarded.  After all, Jesus does say to the one who returns thanks, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  And yet, the other nine were healed, too, even without Jesus remarking on their faith or them returning to him to say thank you.  So it seems more than manners and more than faith that Jesus is teaching here.

                   Perhaps Jesus was showing us that healing sneaks up, sometimes unobserved, like it did for that one man.  Verse 15: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”  That verse packs a lot in!  The man was, like the other nine, following Jesus’ instructions to go to the priests.  Along the way, the man looked and noticed he was healed.  Can you imagine that moment?  The unbelievable shake of the head.  The stop-in-his-tracks sudden jolt of this new reality.  He was healed.  No more leprosy.  The condition, which had isolated him—socially, legally, religiously—isolated him from his community, from his family—that condition disappeared while he was walking away from Jesus and toward those priests.  Healing is like that, isn’t it?  We notice it, sometimes bit by bit, often in a flash of insight.  The pain is gone.  The wrong committed to us or by us is no longer a heavy weight on our shoulders.  The doctor says all tests are go.  In that moment of awareness, our bodies rejoice!  And, if we are awake, spiritually awake, like that one former-leper was awake, then we turn our attention immediately toward God and gratitude.

                   In our day, we are fortunate to live in a time where scientists continue to repeatedly prove the benefits of gratitude.  A few years ago, Harvard Health Medical School published an article that delineated gratitude’s health benefits.  A couple of leading scientific experts in the field of gratitude, asked three groups of people to write a few sentences each week about their lives over the past seven days.  One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week.  A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative).  After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.  Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.  Harvard Health reported that most studies published on gratitude support that association between gratitude and a person’s general well-being.

                   Forbes.com picked up on this, and in 2014, they published a variety of research that revealed seven benefits of regularly practicing gratitude. 

  1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships and new opportunities.
  2. Gratitude improves physical health.
  3. Gratitude improves psychological health, by reducing a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret.
  4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Grateful people are more likely to behave in a positive manner, even when others around them behave less kind; and people who practice gratitude are less likely to retaliate against others, have more empathy and a decreased desire to seek revenge.
  5. Grateful people sleep better.
  6. Gratitude improves self-esteem. Rather than becoming resentful toward people who have more money or better jobs—which is a major factor in lower self-esteem—grateful people are able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
  7. Gratitude increases mental strength. For years, research has shown gratitude not only reduces stress, but it may also play a major role in overcoming trauma.  A study found that Vietnam War Veterans with higher levels of gratitude experienced lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Another study found that gratitude was a major contributor to resilience following the terrorist attacks on September 11.  Recognizing all you have to be thankful for—even during the worst times of your life—gratitude seems to foster resilience.

The Forbes article concluded, “gratitude may be one of the most overlooked tools that we all have access to every day.  Cultivating gratitude doesn’t cost any money and it certainly doesn’t take much time, but the benefits are enormous.”

                   Earlier this year, there was an article published in Greater Good Magazine, a journal dedicated to science-based insights to help us live more meaningful lives.  That article indicated what we’ve seen already this morning, plus more.  While the practice of gratitude is clearly beneficial for those of us who are already relatively healthy, Greater Good showed that gratitude also benefits those of us with mental health concerns.  They invited a group of adults who were seeking counseling services for depression or anxiety to add to their therapy…by writing one letter of gratitude to someone each week for three weeks.  Two other groups were asked to write other things.  The results showed that those who wrote 3 letters of gratitude had significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.  This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial for all of us, whether we struggle with mental health concerns or not.  In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief. 

                   And that’s not all. When the researchers dug deeper into their results, they found preliminary indications that gratitude might actually work on our minds to increase our neural sensitivity in the parts of the brain associated with learning and decision-making.  More surprising, these changes in brain activity were evident on MRIs three months after those gratitude notes were written.

                   Sisters and brothers, Jesus was onto something!  When he said to the healed and grateful former leper, “your faith has made you whole,” maybe Jesus wasn’t talking about faith in the traditional religious way.  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was pointing to the benefits of practicing gratitude…of believing in those benefits…of using gratitude as a way to improve our health—in body, mind and spirit.

                   One more bit of anecdotal research, and it is from my own life.  Years ago, when our family was going through a most difficult year, I was reading a daily devotional book that recommended starting a gratitude journal.  I did so.  Nearly every night, before heading to sleep, I wrote a list of 10 things I was grateful for that day.  Some nights that was a challenge.  Other nights, not so much.  By the end of the year, I had survived, and I’m not sure I would have as well without that gratitude journal.  In addition to the professional therapeutic help our family sought and received, that regular practice of forcing myself to see through the muck to acknowledge the people and places and events and things for which I was grateful, that practice literally saved me. 

                   To this day, I continue a daily gratitude journal, and I encourage you to do the same.  Yours may be a list, a letter, a photo, or simply a mental note of your appreciation for another.  Your gratitude can take the form of a prayer, meditation or simply taking time to count your blessings from the day just past.  A regular practice of gratitude can be anything that serves to put you in a place of gratitude, as happened for that once-leprous, now-healed man in the first-century world of Jesus.  He saw himself healed; he turned around and gratefully acknowledged it before God and anyone else with ears; his faith in the healing benefits of gratitude is what saved him, “made him whole,” Jesus said.  Friends in Christ, the same is true for us…take a pause for even more thanksgiving!


Amen and Blessed Be!




11-12 “Covenants, part 1 and 2”

“Covenants, part 1 and 2”
A meditation based on Psalm 25
November 12, 2017
Community Congregational Church of Chula Vista
Dr. Sharon R. Graff
* * * * *
Part 1
Covenants! That’s what today is really all about. And the Bible is filled to overflowing
with teaching about covenants. From Genesis to Revelation, 380 times, the word covenant
appears. From the very beginning, as God is corralling the wanderers, forming them into tribes,
and eventually leads them into their own land with monarchs and structures and civic duties
and community privileges, that theme of covenant weaves through the whole story.
The first official covenant in scripture is the one God makes with Noah. Remember
that? God promises Noah and his family safety in the ark, then after the floodwaters recede,
God appears again to Noah with another promise for he and his family: “Never again will I
destroy the earth with floods.” And the sign of that promise? A beautiful rainbow in the sky;
and it seems no matter how many times we look up and see those vibrant colors arched across
the sky, they still take our breath away!
God and the people go on through history to make one covenant after another. Some
of the covenants promise land and prestige and family. Some promise loyalty and honor and
worship. Covenants in scripture tend to be two-way, with the promises moving in both
directions between both parties. So covenants were intended to bring the two closer together,
God to humans, humans to God.
Covenants form the relationship we have with God, that God has with us, and that we
have with one another. Covenants practiced through the years strengthen those many
relationships. Covenants are not tests. Nor are they grading sheets that record our failures as
big as our successes. Covenants are the foundation and the walls of our relationship with God.
And they also extend outward to form our relationships with one another as humans on this
planet. We covenant, for example, every time we get in the car to drive. We covenant with
our fellow drivers to color inside the lines, to follow the rules of the road, to watch carefully so
our actions do no harm to another.
One covenant teacher of mine years ago, referred to the image of a cross to describe
the full effect of covenants in our spiritual growth. Covenants move us up and down to
strengthen our relationship with God, and they move us back and forth to bring us more fully
into community. This is basic Covenant 101! And it comes directly out of scripture.
Now, fast forward from the scripture stories to this sanctuary on this day. You are
each holding a symbol of covenant…we call it a Lego. The word “Lego” means “play well…!”
We could add to it, couldn’t we?! Play well with others…Play well by yourself…Play well with
God…Play well everyday…Play well at work…Play well at school…Play well with your family…
Play well with your enemies… (Ah, now we’re just meddling…!). Play well mindfully and
intentionally…Play well with your time, your talent, your treasure… This “play well” theme
sounds like covenant to me!
And so it is that today, we pause to make covenants, one with another, and each of us
with God. In a few minutes, after we sing, you are each invited to come forward with your
Lego piece; if you have them with you, be sure to also bring your commitment cards forward.
If you got out the door this morning without your commitment cards, you may turn them in
later in the church office.
This is a time of great joy! Where you, as people of God in this place, step out in faith,
literally and symbolically! Your literal covenants are your commitment cards—where you
commit time, talent, treasure for the moving forward of God’s mission of love right here in this
place. Some of you brought these commitment cards today. Some of you will bring them in
later. Some of you make these important commitments of time, talent, treasure as the year
unfolds. However that works for you, it is blessed and it is good. In addition, I’m inviting all of
us to make a symbolic commitment today, by using this little “play well” Lego in our hands. As
we sing, hold your Lego, and think about the many ways you already do (or perhaps can), how
you embody the love of God right here. Let that Lego represent your personal covenant, your
symbolic covenant to God and to this community of faith.
Now, let’s sing like the saints God has called us to be!
[After song…]
Now it’s time for a commitment parade! Bring your commitment cards forward, and place
them in the basket. Bring your Lego forward…attach it to another piece or to one of the
bases. And let’s see what God builds through us today!
Part 2
[Looking at the creation on the altar…]
So I preached Part 1…now it’s your turn… ?
Check out this creation! Check out this basket! Both of these are signs of the covenant
between you and God, between you and you. So I ask, as you gaze at these two signs, what
does it look like you are you building here? I’ll bring the mic around, so all can hear.
What does it look like you are building here?
The psalmist has a great handle on what makes a covenant. Here’s how it breaks down:
• 2 parties: person; God
• Person’s part:
o Open up to God (To you, O God, I lift my soul…)
o Trust God (“My God, I trust in you…)
o Eyes open (“Show me your way…”
o Mind open (“Teach me your paths…)
o Future open (“Lead me…”
o Patient with confidence (“I wait all day for you…”)
• God’s part:
o Merciful
o Ancient, unwavering love
o Forgiving and forgetting “the what”
o Remembering “the who” with love
o Good, upright
o Paths full of love and faith
o Protective
o Healing
o Deliver
o Gracious
o Our only hope!
This table of fellowship—filled to overflowing with color and vibrancy and hope and
commitment—becomes today a table that points the way forward for you. You are, indeed, a
family of faith. You are, indeed, a place of safety and learning, of care and curiosity. You are,
indeed, a place where God is still speaking and you are still listening, and all will be well, and all
manner of thing will be well.
Amen and Blessed Be!

10-22 “Setting An Example”

“Setting An Example”
A meditation based on I Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NRSV)
October 22, 2017
Rev. Victoria Freiheit
I Thessalonians was one of the first letters written by St. Paul to the churches he
founded. That congregation was one of the longest relationships he had.
Thessalonica was the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia—an
important place in that day. That congregation kept his letter, and well they would,
since it begins with such words of praise for their actions. By Paul’s standards it was
warm and almost gushing. He uses the Trinity of Virtues here—Faith, Love and
Yes, that is the same list used in I Corinthians chapter 13, the one you always hear at
weddings. But this time, he puts hope last. Does it matter? Paul wrote to each church
according to their needs at the time of his writing. The church in Corinth had many
problems of division and strife within. And the church in Thessalonica did not—they
were united in their works of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our
Lord Jesus Christ.
Hope is what keeps us going when the going gets tough. Martin Marty, author and
pastor, tells of a time when he had no hope. In the depths of depression, he cleaned
out a file and decided to go through his Christmas cards. The notes he received from
friends and family and the message of Christ’s birth lifted him up and gave him hope
again. He came up with two house rules: 1)Hold the railing; and 2) No whining. A
good example for us.
I have another story about a good example—Arthur Ashe. He was a world-class
tennis player, and a world-class father. He believed in leading by example. He
remembered when he used to tell his daughter not to put her elbows on the table
during dinner. One night, after dinner, Arthur Ashe put his elbows on the table and
his little daughter said, “Dad, you have your elbows on the table.” Here’s his reply:
“You have to be man enough or woman enough to say, ‘You’re right,’ and take your
elbows off the table. In fact, I think she learned better by watching it happen, than
just by hearing me say it.” She listened and she learned. It takes actions rather than
mere words to teach our children. We all know that, don’t we? Actions always speak
louder than words.
I love children’s stories about examples—another one is about a 3-year-old
grandson who wanted to learn to play golf, just like grampa. So, one day at a family
cook-out the little boy jumped up and grabbed one of grampa’s clubs and a golf ball
and said,”Watch me play golf!” He swung and missed, said a word we can’t repeat
here and flung the golf club up into the pear tree. That little guy learned more than
just how to play golf. And he did it simply by observing grampa’s example.
St. Paul praised the Christians at Thessalonica for being “an example to all the
believers in Macedonia and Achaia.” The people in Thessalonica had been
worshipers of idols, but now they were imitators of Christ. And they made this
transition in the midst of persecution. There was nothing phony in their witness;
they were the real thing. And everyone who heard their story was compelled by it.
That’s what we need today. People who are willing to be examples. People willing to
surrender their own wishes for the greater good. People willing to be role models.
An unknown author describes the present:
“We have taller buildings, but shorter tempers. We spend more, but have less; we
have bigger houses, and smaller families. We have more conveniences, but less time.
We have more experts, but more problems. We have multiplied our possessions, but
reduced our values. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve been to
the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to greet a new neighbor. We
have fancier houses, but broken homes. There is much in the show window, but
nothing in the stockroom.” Have we ever needed role models more than we do now?
A good role model a few years ago was Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s
hamburger chain. My son Mark moved to Louisiana when he was 19 and got a job
learning plumbing. He told me how he went to Wendy’s every night—a wonderful
salad bar where he ate his fill. He never met Dave, but he heard the story of how
Dave quit school at 15 and moved out on his own. Dave got a job in a restaurant,
learned the business, saved his money and founded Wendy’s.
In spite of his success, he regretted not finishing high school. So he got his GED. It
wasn’t easy, and the kids at Coconut Creek High School knew that. They adopted
Dave and his wife and asked them to come to the senior prom that year. They
crowned them King and Queen of the prom, so they could honor Dave for going back
and taking care of business. One reason Dave did it was so that young people would
not follow his example and would not quit school. When other people his age were
retiring, he was going to High School—what an example.
We need people who are willing to set an example. People who don’t say one thing
and do another. There was one such a woman, whose name was Dranafice–also
known as Rose. She lived in Albania and was very poor. But no matter how little
they had, Rose and her husband helped others by inviting people over for dinner.
Every time one of Rose’s daughters would ask who was there for dinner, Rose would
say it was a relative. Her daughters believed they came from a very large extended
Even after Rose’s husband died, she found a way to feed the hungry and help the
destitute. One of her daughters was influenced by Rose’s example of sacrificial
love—Agnes was her name. She grew up to become an advocate for the poor and
dying. Yes, you have guessed who she was—Mother Teresa, the 20th century’s living
example of Christ and the world. Mother Teresa became who she was because of
Rose’s example—Examples matter.
We have examples right here at Community Congregational Church. You know who
you are, and might even be embarrassed if I named you out loud. You are the ones
who are here week after week, even when it is hard to get ready on time, even when
you don’t feel too good. Worship, Bible Study, Board meetings. You are being an
example of one who loves God and shows up, sometimes sacrificially.
You are the ones who do the work—count the offerings, sing in the choir, plan
events, keep up the kitchen, buy flowers for worship, and give all you can in the
offering plate and in life. You have invested yourself in God’s work here in church
and in your life. You are the ones who invite others to come to church, who help the
poor, who raise your children to love and serve the Lord. The first question in the
old catechism was, “What is the purpose of life?” and the answer–”To love and serve
the Lord.”
You are the examples like the church people in Thessalonica. Today, we give thanks
to God for you and for your work of faith and labor of love and stead-fastness of
hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. People come to Christ because they encounter Christ
in those who follow Him. That is why Paul was praising the Thessalonians. This is
how children grow into responsible adults. They see by example–your love, your
courage, your persistent presence.
I’d like to end with another children’s story. It is about the mother cleaning her
house and tripping over her little 4-year old son every time she turned around. To
get him out from under her feet, she kept saying, “Why don’t you go out and play?”
or “Wouldn’t you like to go swing on the new swing set?” Finally she asked him why
he was under foot all the time. His answer, “In Sunday School my teacher told me to
walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Jesus, so I’m walking in yours.”
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Role models still count. After 2000 years of
Christianity, worthy examples still make a difference. Perhaps , if the Christians at
Thessalonica all those years ago had not been faithful under hardship—setting
examples of sacrificial love for their neighbors—you and I would not be Christians
in 2017. Are you willing to stand up for Christ today? Are you willing to continue to
participate (this goes beyond just showing up) and to be an example? Is there
someone you know who is waiting for you to invite them to church? Someone who
wants to know what Christ means to you? Someone who knows because they see
how you live? Be an example.