Not The Way It Will Be For You

There are days when the world seems pretty upside-down and unexpected. Did Nancy Williams from Owatonna High School, (who is, by the way, one of my heroes) really talk about high school students who are homeless?  Or who don’t have enough food to eat?  In the past, when I’ve mentioned these issues that our schools deal with every day in sermons or presentations, inevitably I get stopped after worship by someone who asks me “is that true?  Is that really happening in here?  In Owatonna?”

The answer is, “yes, it is true.”

There are homeless in Owatonna, and it’s not just the stereotypical transient, single men.  It is families…it is children.  It is the mentally ill.  It is veterans who are scarred with what they’ve experienced.  It is people who struggle with addictions.

They call us, and the other churches, and they look for help.  And sometimes we can help a little bit with a grocery card, or in a pinch, a motel room for a night…but often their needs far outweigh what we can provide.

In 2017, when Trinity took the CAT survey, that is the Congregational Assessment Tool, a massive survey that assessed our congregational health and outlined what our members believe our priorities should be, I was both surprised, and really encouraged by what came out of it.

According to Trinity’s members, our number one priority for new ministry development as a church should be to: “Develop ministries that work toward healing those broken by life’s circumstances.”

Our second priority should be to find new and creative ways to reach out and welcome new people into the life of the congregation.

And our third priority should be to “expand outreach ministries that provide direct services to those living on the margins of society.”

I believe it’s time.  It’s time for us to jump into these priorities with both feet, for the sake of those in need, for the sake of the community…and for the sake of the world

Our Gospel text for today is thoughtful and provocative.  At first read, it seems simple.  Two of the disciples, James and John, are making a bit of a power play with Jesus.  They pull Jesus aside, away from the other disciples, and they say, “Hey Jesus, Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.  Pick us ahead of the other disciples.”

Jesus’ reply to them was equally simple.  Basically, he says: “I don’t think you two have any idea what you’re asking for.”  Jesus knows that his path leads to the cross…to suffering and to death.

And Jesus goes on:  He says “you guys have it all wrong.  Those who sit on my right and my left…those places you think of as places of power and glory…they are places for those who serve.  In fact, those who want to be considered “great” must become a servant…in the same way that I am here to be a servant of all.”

James and John had to be confused as they left Jesus; greatness equals servanthood?  Glory equals death?

So here is what I’ve been pondering this week, as I’ve been considering those in need in our community…the CAT survey…and this puzzling Gospel story:

What does it mean to be a great church?  And what does it mean for us, as followers of Jesus, to be great?

Now let me be clear:  I love this congregation.  I love the beautiful facilities.  I love the programs and ministries we do.  I love the staff.  And I love love love the people.  I do.  You are fantastic people and good friends.  And I think that this church is great.  But I also think…that we could be more great!  I do.  I think we could be the kind of great that Jesus is talking about with James and with John; not the kind of great that is about bigger, better and taller…rather the kind of great that is about getting down in the dirt…doing the work…caring for people.  We do these things; but we could do so much more!

People who have worked with me for a while know that one of my favorite questions is “what if?”  (I probably drive people crazy with “what if” questions)  But bear with me for just a moment:

  • What if our support for the food shelf and clothes line and Hospitality House and Rachel’s Light and transitional housing, and all our other partners could grow? I’ve got to be honest: it’s when women and children who are homeless who walk in to Trinity seeking help that my heart breaks.  Until Rachel’s Light is up and running, there is no shelter for them in Owatonna.
  • What if the Husky and Wildcat pantry programs could grow to serve double the number of young people and families in need? Nancy Williams words in the video echo in my heart, and I worry about those in our community who go to bed at night hungry.
  • What if there were no families in Owatonna sleeping in cars? Or needing to borrow people’s couch space?
  • What if the Husky Pantry became more than it is…what if it became the Husky shelter? And if someday we renovated that unfinished space downstairs as a short-term emergency shelter for homeless families?
  • What if we had the staff, the volunteers and the resources lined up to work with these families, and to connect them to other resources in the community, so that with help, they could dig themselves out of poverty and find stability?

There are so many “what if’s.”

I believe that there are things we can do to love and care in ways that we have never done before.  I believe it is time for us to tap into God’s imagination for our ministry.  I believe that we can stretch ourselves to reach to those who are in need.  I believe that we have the will to do these things.  We just need the courage, and the resources to take the first steps.

It will be hard, but this next year, let’s take these first steps together.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can do the hard things that God calls us to do.

As I studied our Gospel text for this weekend, one phrase stood out to me.  Every time I looked at it, it was as if it was in bold print.  When Jesus was giving the disciples an attitude adjustment, he said to them: “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant…”

But it is not so among you.

For the rest of the world, in Jesus’ time and today, greatness is about power and strength; ego and popularity.  But it is not so among you.  God’s Kingdom is not about who gets to sit at the right or left hand of God and it’s not about power and popularity.

For Jesus, greatness is about ensuring that all have what they need, it’s about treating each other with love and compassion, it’s about taking care of the least of these, because when we do, we are caring for the Christ that is within them.

Jesus reminds us that he, the Lord and Savior of all, came and allowed himself to be put to death on a cross, emptying himself on behalf of all of us.  Each of you is a recipient of these gifts of grace and love.  Each of you is saved by the radical and complete love of Jesus.

Jesus, who gave everything.

We have an opportunity to respond to this love and share in Christ’s mission to love all.  We are doing that now, but we can do more.  We will do more next year, and I’m wanting you to walk with me to see a day when we take another bold step so that no one at the high school, or the middle school, or anywhere in Owatonna is hungry or homeless…

Poverty…homelessness…hunger.  As Jesus said to the disciples, he says to us, “it should not be so among you.”

Let us join in Christ’s mission to make this vision of God’s world a reality.  Let us seek to be great…let us make this church great…and let’s do so by being like Jesus; by being servants and emptying ourselves to all, in the name of Him who served, and emptied himself out…for us.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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