The Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 21-22, 2012
Being SJLC: Life Serving
We’re exploring what Serving Jesus and Living in Community looks like in this season of Epiphany. That’s what Being SJLC is all about. My hope and prayer is that this is not just a seasonal thing that will stop when we move from Epiphany into Lent. Rather, I pray that each one of us individually and all of us together would gain deeper insight and recommit ourselves in an ongoing way to a life of service as Jesus’ disciples. Thus far, we’ve talked about how we are baptized into serving, and what local serving looks like. Today, we’re focusing on life serving. And maybe the best way to get into this is with a story; a story about a pastor and a parishioner. The pastor’s phone rang one morning: “I need to see you. Come over this morning, as soon as I have finished my breakfast and get my hair done,” the parishioner directed her pastor in a phone call. He showed up around eleven. He had learned earlier that this woman – Gladys by name – was not a person to be trifled with. As soon he arrived, she told him, “I’ve called you over here because the most wonderful thing has happened. I have personally – right before my eyes, as big as life, just like you’re sitting here in front of me right now – seen Jesus.” She went on to describe how this happened. “He said, just as clearly as I speak to you, ‘Gladys.’ ’Here I am, Lord,’ or words to that effect. And he said, ‘I want you to give your life to my work. I have work for you to do.’ Then he was gone. That’s why I’ve called you over here. I want to give my life totally, completely to the Lord and his work.” Her pastor said, “Few of us receive such visions And I am only too happy to think with you about what you can do to serve the Lord.” He suggested she consider teaching the Fellowship Bible class. “Me teach the very group who were so haughty to my husband and me when we first moved here? I’d like to tell them a thing or two, but you don’t want me to teach that crowd.” The pastor suggested that she help in the Nursery. “Have you lost your mind? Can’t you remember visiting me in the hospital last year when my back went out? Since when have you seen somebody look after little kids without being able to lift them?” Her pastor then suggested that she help with clerical work in the church office. “I thought I made myself very clear when you went and bought that expensive new computer that I was opposed to it. We had nothing but trouble with them in the office where I worked.” The pastor made a few more attempts to figure out what Jesus might have had in mind when he asked her to go to work for him, but to no avail. Finally, in exasperation, he said to the woman: “Look, do me a favor. Next time Jesus pays you a visit, don’t let him get away without telling you exactly what he wants you to do.” (taken from Pulpit Resource – January 26, 1997, pp. 15-18).
Maybe we can identify with that woman. Like her, we’d really like to know what exactly Jesus is calling us to do, mindful of what Paul the apostle tells us in today’s Epistle lesson, that “the appointed time has grown short… [and] the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31). How do we give our lives in service to him? But perhaps, like that woman, we put all kinds of restrictions on how we’re going to serve God. We want to be in charge of what that serving looks like. But it doesn’t work that way. The Lord doesn’t always call us to serve where and when we want. That was certainly the case with the reluctant prophet, Jonah, in today’s Old Testament lesson (Jonah 3:1-5, 10). God called Jonah to go the city of Ninevah, capital of the mighty Assyrian empire, and proclaim God’s message that in forty days the city would be overthrown. Ninevah was a vast metropolis in the ancient world with a population of 120,000, and with a city wall eighty feet high that was wide enough for three chariots to race side-by-side around the top. The Assyrians were a proud and brutal people, and Jonah wanted nothing to do with serving God’s plan to bring this people to repentance. But repent they did, and in a way that actually put God’s chosen people to shame. Jonah wanted God to destroy the Assyrians, but God had other plans. Jonah’s preaching led them to repentance, and to life. Prejudice and resentment of entire groups of peoples – even entire nations – is alive and well in our world today, just as it was with Jonah.
God’s concern is for life in all its fullness – body, mind, and spirit. When Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John in today’s Gospel lesson (Mark 1:14-20) to leave their fishing nets behind and follow him, it was to launch them into that fullness of life which Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). They stopped fishing for fish, and led by Jesus, they started fishing for people – people who, like them, would be blessed with that full and abundant life which only Jesus can bring. With Jesus as their fishing captain, these four disciples set forth to begin life serving – life in Jesus’ name.
There are many things which undermine God’s design and purpose for life. It begins even before birth with the threat of abortion that can end a child’s life in the womb. An insert in today’s Weekly Word tells us about the life serving being done by Lutherans for Life (http://www.lutheransforlife.org), which calls us not only to acknowledge but bear witness to the sanctity of God’s gift of life. Tomorrow’s March for Life on the mall in D.C. seeks to do this very thing. At the other end of the spectrum of life are end-of-life issues: euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and the growing movement to legalize ending one’s life. Our concern must be not only for these bookends of life, but also for every stage of life between them. Sanctity of Life Ministries (http://slmgetinvolved.org) and NOVACO (http://novaco.org), two organizations present at today’s Sunday morning Bible study, focus on ministering to those facing unplanned pregnancies and victims of domestic violence. Next Saturday we will host a meal packaging event through Stop Hunger Now (http://www.stophungernow.org), and I am pleased to tell you that not only have we met our goal to raise $2500 (enough to package 10,000 meals), but we have exceeded it! To God be the glory! These are but a few ways of life serving in Jesus’ name in the world around us. We are limited only by our willingness to serve.
In truth, any life serving that we do begins with Jesus. He is the One who laid down his life for us. He is the One who paid the price for our sin and rebellion. He is the One who has brought us from death to life. How can we thank him enough? Let us thank him by serving him where and when he calls us, to his glory and for the blessing of others. Amen.
other sermons in this series