A couple of years back, some of you took a brief course with me on how to be "fruitful on our front lines." The author, Neil Hudson, was arguing that Christian ministry is not just those things we typically think of like teaching Sunday school, feeding the poor, or leading youth groups. Indeed, as people "in Christ,” we are in a place of ministry out in our daily lives, whether at work or at home. Hudson gave us six ways, for starters, by which any Christian can be a significant vessel of Christ.
1- Modelling Godly Character
Displaying godly character as models and examples.
2-Making Good Work
Respecting the dignity and value in our everyday tasks.
3-Ministering Grace & Love
Giving to those around us the grace and love that God has shown us.
Influencing the culture on our frontlines so people flourish more.
5-Mouthpiece for Truth & Justice
Becoming champions of right living and fair dealing on our frontlines.
6-Messenger of the Gospel
Growing in confidence in talking about Jesus with people on our frontlines
So let me ask all of you; have you been aware that your life on the frontlines is very much a place of "ministry?" If so, would you be willing to share your story with the rest of us? Let me know and we will make time for this on Sundays. Then I believe it is only right that we start praying for one another when it comes to our weeks ahead. Jesus has work to do next week and he will use you to do it, if you are open and ready.
Last weekend, I was reminded of something. It comes from a saying I heard they have down in Columbia "The heart cannot feel what the eye cannot see." I was reminded of this when I went into Maine State Prison last week. I was called at the last minute to be on the Kairos team bringing our program to prisoners in a maximum security facility and my heart was not really into it. It was a ministry that needed my help and I had agreed to do what I could do as a pastor. But I also knew that this meant four days of listening to talks, sometimes awkward conversations, bad food and probably not enough sleep.
Then I saw five men around my table, Matt, Bill, Chris, Keith and Nick. Within a couple of hours, I was heart and soul there for those guys, or should I say, Jesus within me was heart and soul there for those guys. It was amazing and every day this same thing happened to me. I was tired and going to do ministry half-heartedly and then the men came in and it was game on for my soul on Kairos weekend.
If you think ministry of any kind is not your "thing," it may be because you have never seen the people Jesus in you wants to bring his love to. It is amazing to me how often I have heard people, who are just willing to see what is going in other people's lives, tell me how glad they were for doing so. Meet a stranger. Listen to how their lives are. Realize that Christ in you really loves that person and you will want to do all you can to help them on their way in life. What is more, you will also come to realize that what you do, after seeing what you have done, was part of God's plan all along. Listen, ministry may not be your thing, but it sure is Jesus’ thing and that's a good thing. Go and see if this is not so.
We all know the story. In the year 1620, a shipload of Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and tried to establish a colony there. However, they almost failed in doing this, because they didn't know how to live in this New World. In the face of starvation, they looked to the natives who already lived there on Cape Cod. Graciously, the Pawtuxet native named Squanto showed them how to farm and fish, so that by the end of their first year they had enough food. As a further sign of hospitality and blessing, it turns out that it was the Wampanoag Indians who brought the food for that first Thanksgiving feast.
What hit me about the story was that those Pilgrims were not just strangers to the new World. They were, in effect, refugees and the Indians were their hosts and sponsors. There was not much the Pilgrims had to offer their host in return. It is a sad fact that, following their successful settlement, boatloads of Puritans came later. Those settlers set about massacring and enslaving thousands of the very natives that had welcomed the Pilgrims. They even held "Thanksgiving feasts" celebrating their victory over the "savages" they had killed. It was a shameful part of our American history.
But the lesson of the first Thanksgiving is not lost to me, because we have had same the opportunity to be gracious hosts to our refugee friends from Africa. They have thanked us many times for what we have done for them, and they are most welcomed. But, you know, I am thankful that God brought them here to live with us. They are already our brothers and sisters in Christ and they are, it turns out, wonderful people. Our friends from East Africa have enriched our lives in many ways. This Thanksgiving, especially in light of our public discussion on immigration issues, I thank God for bringing us together. We will do our best to hold their lives precious, for though we are different in cultural ways, we are one people in Christ.
How are we to decide how to vote this year? That is a question many of us have been asking ourselves and our answers are all over the place from voting against the candidate we like least, to writing in a vote for a third person, to leaving their votes on certain elections blank. Surely there is some wisdom from scripture that can help us as we take part in our nations political decisions. If you look, you will not find much advice beyond "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's..", from Jesus and "Submit to those in authority over you..." from Paul. Now you should all know that if you were a landed citizen of Rome, as Paul might have been, you were entitled to vote for representatives to the Senate and other offices. Rome, after all, was a republic even though she also had an emperor in power as well. That guy no body got to vote for. Therefore, no doubt Christian people did vote in elections but beyond that we see little evidence that they were any more involved in politics.
They were, however, very much a part of Roman life, while guided by the God to whom they rendered their ultimate obedience. They were living salt and light, guided by strong moral convictions. For example, because of the nature of military service in the empire, Christians for the first three centuries refused to serve under arms. (For a vividly clear idea of how the Church behaved in those days read "The Apology" by 2nd Cent saint Justin Martyr.) In short, their vote for a better society was made known by their personal actions to promote it and not so much by their public opinions made at poling stations.
So how then should we know how to cast our votes or not? I like the wisdom posted recently by Fr. Ken Tanner on this subject. He said, "May you comprehend that your salvation is not dependent on who you vote for in an election, or in whether or not you vote; that you are under no biblical or theological or moral obligation to vote for a person or party or proposal or initiative if that vote violates your conscience." So pray and then do what you believe is best for America next. I trust that all of you will do what you believe is right and may God have mercy on America.