Today we conclude our 4 week preaching series to help us appreciate “stewardship,” a word which has been used in church for a long time but is often misunderstood. Rev. Molly will focus on living useful lives with a sermon entitled “How Can I Help?”. Audio and printed copies of the sermons are available now on the church website or by request at the church office.
“How Can I Help?”
November 23, 2014
Today marks the final sermon in our series in which we have considered stewardship as fruitfulness. If you have been with us over the past month and a half, you have heard both Glen and I preach about fruitfulness – about what it means to share the rich abundance of what we have with the world around us. We have talked about what it means to offer the best of what we have – our time, our money, and our gifts – in order to build up this faith community and further God’s work in the world. We have thought about all that it takes to keep a place like Orleans United vibrant and relevant. We have taken seriously what it is that each one of us has to offer this community. And today, we take a final moment to think about how all these pieces come together when we live with a spirit of helpfulness.
Now when Glen and I first thought about the topic for today’s sermon, we thought we would look at living useful lives. However, as time passed and this sermon started to take shape, the word “useful” just didn’t seem to be cutting it for me. Somehow it seemed too utilitarian to describe the kind of fruitful lives God wants for each one of us. Instead, the word “helpful” is what continued to pop into mind as the stewardship word. I like the intentionality and sense of meaning behind a given action that comes when using the word “helpful”. For example, when I can’t reach the glasses on the top shelf of the kitchen cabinets, I find that a step stool is useful. But when my tall husband reaches up and takes the glasses down for me, well that is helpful. A sturdy shovel to clear the end of the driveway when the snow plow has just gone by – useful. A neighbour with a snow blower taking care of the ridge of snow – helpful. In a similar way, it was pointed out in Bible study this week that while a gesture of helpfulness might not always be useful in a given situation, it is the spirit of helpfulness that makes a marriage, a friendship, a community work. And so it is today that we consider what it means to bear fruitful lives marked by a spirit of helpfulness.
As I searched for a Scripture passage that might speak to the concept of helpfulness, I came across the passage from Romans that Frances just shared with you from The Message translation. I was taken by the sentiments of this letter to the church in Rome, as it spoke to me of the essence of the ministry that we are called to be in together, as well as offering both spiritual encouragement and practical advice for the listeners.
In this Scripture reading, the author describes how it was that Jesus engaged in ministry, writing “Jesus didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles but waded right in and helped out”. I think that might be one of the best descriptions of Jesus’ ministry that I have ever read. And indeed, when we think about it, when he met someone in need, what did Jesus do? He helped out. When they ran out of wine at a wedding? He helped out. When people were hungry, when children were excluded, when outcasts were rejected, when injustice was rampant, what did Jesus do? He looked at the situation and figured out what it was he could do to help.
The Scripture passage then goes on to instruct Jesus’ followers then and now, saying “each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves “how can I help?””. And really, isn’t the ministry of Orleans United, the ministry of each of our congregations, the ministry to which each of us is called to as a Christian, characterized by asking the simple question “how can I help?”. It is a question that is seldom unwelcome, and almost always relevant. It is a question that most definitely invites others into a discussion of openness and inclusion, love and respect, justice and hope. It assumes that each one of us has resources, abilities, and gifts we can share. However it does not presuppose that we know all the answers or have a magic solution to make everything all better. Instead it brings people into relationship and dialogue in order to discern a way forward, together.
At Orleans United, we tend to speak about stewardship in terms of a partnership – partnering with each other and with God to allow ministry to take place in a whole variety of ways. This kind of relationship requires that we not only be attentive to what our ancestors in the faith have shared with us about Christian living, but that we continue to be attune to the call of God to us today. As we worship and play and learn and sing and plan together, it seems to me that one of the best ways that we can listen for God’s voice in the midst of it all is to keep this little question from Scripture on the tip of our tongues. As we head into the rich, chaotic worship season of Advent filled with unique opportunities to celebrate together. As we make budgets and plans for the coming year at this church. As we hear of a fellow parishioner who is sick, who is lonely, who is overwhelmed with life. As we encounter a new face in the hallway. As we watch the news, read the paper, engage with co-workers, relate with family members. In all these situations, and so many more, all it takes is a moment to pause and ask “how can I help” for us to contribute to the building up of Christ’s body and the living out of Christ’s mission in this time and place.
Now I hope you have noticed that I have tried to be intentional about not actually answering the question for you. It strikes me that the quickest way to be unhelpful is to presume that we know what it is that would help someone else and barging in and doing it without first asking. Indeed what it is WE think is helpful versus what the person in need would find helpful are often very different things, and we must be incredibly careful to make sure our efforts to help are indeed welcome, relevant, and caring. Being helpful means being vulnerable and open to all the ways that God’s grace might be made known – even if sometimes that is unexpected or inconvenient. Being truly helpful is about meeting the needs of another, not our own needs, and sometimes we are surprised, taken aback, even put off by the responses we can receive to asking the question. It is a bold, brave thing to ask “how can I help?” and truly mean it. And it is worth the risk, every time.
It’s an especially important question to remember as we recognize that life in a Christian community can be challenging at times. Much as we want to think that in the Church we are somehow shielded from the hurt, the pettiness, the arrogance, the discrimination of the world in which we live, the reality of life in any group, even a church group, can take shape in real and hard ways. We know full well that when we live in community, there will be times of struggle and questioning. Times when change feels overwhelming and we are stretched in ways that are uncomfortable. There will be times of mistakes, of challenge, of disagreement as we seek to live out our mission. It strikes me that it is in these times above all others, that it is especially important for us to ask “How can I help?”. Being a responsive and vibrant Christian community requires all of us to be part of the good times, and the hard times, seeking to build up each other in whatever ways we are able. Taking a moment to ask the question of ourselves, and of the people we are dealing with, can make all the difference in how our interactions will take shape.
Now, much as I said we should never presume what might be helpful for another, as I conclude this sermon, my deep affection for this congregation, my earnest belief that we are doing God’s work in this time and place, and my almost 15 years in ministry prompt me to be bold enough to offer a few possibilities of what might be helpful at this time. I offer them humbly, trusting that God will guide each of your hearts to do what is right to build up Christ’s ministry together.
Don’t underestimate the value of your contributions – financially, practically, or emotionally. Much as you think you don’t have much to give, we know otherwise. Some of the smallest gestures have had the biggest impact on the ministry of Orleans United. The overall value of your offerings far exceeds the sum of each little piece. What you have to share does truly matter.
Pray for the mission and ministry of Orleans United. That its leaders would make wise and careful decisions. That its people would grow in love and understanding. That its ministries might find purpose and offer possibility to this community. Pray intentionally and specifically about how we might continue to serve God and our neighbours.
Ask for help when you need it. Part of practicing the spirit of helpfulness is knowing when you are in need of it yourself. As clergy and as a congregation, we can’t always anticipate what it is you are waiting for. Reaching out for help, asking for support, making your needs known – these are ways that we allow others to participate in meaningful ministry opportunities.
And finally, remember that sometimes the most helpful thing we can receive is a simple smile or a word of grace. When someone looks us in the eyes, smiles and wishes us a good week, we leave this place feeling encouraged. When someone asks us how we are doing, and takes the time to listen, we feel truly cared about. Making genuine connections with people around us is one of the great gifts of being part of a worshipping community. So whatever your relationship with OUC, whatever has been your practice before today, when the benediction is said and the postlude begins this morning, you are hereby given permission to talk to the people around you, to speak to someone you don’t know, to wish your neighbour well before you leave your pew. Be the cause of someone walking out of here with a smile on their face. This is the way we bless each other.
And so it is that while our season of stewardship sermons comes to an end for this year, Scripture reminds us that we need to keep alert for whatever it is that God will do next. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit is alive and at work among us, moving us in ways we have yet to realize, strengthening each one of us for the ministry to which we are called. However it takes the passion and commitment of all God’s people, acting in faith together, to allow God’s vision of justice and inclusivity to be brought to reality – that is the true nature of stewardship. The ministry of Orleans United Church requires all of us to share the fruits of our lives with each other and with our world. And when we do so, when we respond to God’s presence in our lives by offering the best of what we have and the best of our selves, we are empowered, encouraged, and enriched in ways we could never have imagined. May we continue to reach out to one another in Christ’s name, using his example to ask “how can I help?” And in so doing, we may be continue to create a faith community in which all God’s people might believe, belong, and become, together. Amen.