Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Last Sunday I stood in this pulpit bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was well rested, I had a glint in my eye, and I was talking about how wonderful it is to go on mission trips. I return from our youth mission trip to Bastrop a little more tired, a little haggard, and a lot tanner. Our youth mission team spent five nights in a junior high gym on old army cots with 180 youth and adults from across the Diocese of Texas. Some of our mission team helped build 183 bird feeders for the residents of Bastrop county. Some of our mission team built sheds for people who had lost everything in the wildfire. Some of us cleared land, and for whatever reason, they entrusted me with a chainsaw. The food was bad. It was hot. It was tiring. It was exhausting.
Yet despite all of that, I stand here this morning with even more energy and excitement about the Kingdom of God than I did last week. I want every one of you to know, that Holy Comforter has the best youth group in the Diocese of Texas. Under Kim’s guidance, no one worked harder; no one was more cheerful; no one was as faithful as our kids. This church needs to be proud of our young leaders. Megan, Blake, Alison, Taylor, and Summer are amazing people. I saw each one of them grow and mature and get to know Jesus better. And because of them, I stand here this morning with unflagging hope for the future of the Church.
Every night during our mission trip, we would split off into our church groups and reflect on the day. On Tuesday of our mission trip, I asked this question to our youth: “When we get back to Holy Comforter, what do you want to say to the church?” And this was Blake’s answer: “I want our church to know that there are people who need our help. That our church can start doing more stuff to help people.”
See, that day we had seen an entire forest erased by a fire. We met people who had to flee their homes in less than a minute. That day we met people who had lost everything. That day, we had met Kathy.
Kathy lives in Bastrop on a quiet street. The day the fire broke out, she was at work in Austin. So she couldn’t return home to save anything. When we arrived at her property on Tuesday morning, there was nothing there. Just a pile of ash where there had once been a house.
Some of our youth picked through that ash for remnants of Kathy’s home. They found a charred doorknob. A couple of burned forks. But what amazed me, is that they found a bowling ball. The wildfire in Bastrop had been so hot, so hot, the bowling ball had melted. Kathy’s life had vanished in a few short seconds, engulfed in flames.
Kathy shared her testimony, how, in a strange way, the fires had brought her closer to God. That she was more faithful and alive now, with her house just a pile of ash, than before. In the midst of her pain, and without much money to rebuild, Kathy turned to God. Kathy needed help to put her life back together again. So Kathy asked. Kathy searched. Kathy knocked.
And just as Jesus promises this morning, help was given to Kathy. She found what she was searching for. The door was opened up for her. But I tell you it wasn’t some miraculous sign. It wasn’t a voice in her head, or some inexplicable, supernatural phenomenon. When Kathy knocked on God’s door, we are the ones who answered. A bunch of kids from churches all across the Diocese of Texas. Kathy was asking, searching, knocking for help to put her life and her home back together. And God gave us to Kathy.
So often when we hear these words from Jesus, we put ourselves in the place of the one who is asking. There is something we want, or something that we think we need, so we go about asking God. Searching. Knocking. In our incredibly selfish way, we presume that Jesus is speaking directly toward us. And that if we ask, search, and knock, then it will give be given unto us.
But after seeing just a slab of ash where Kathy’s home had once stood, I realized that I have a whole lot. More than I could have ever imagined. And that perhaps I am not the one who should be doing the asking, searching, and knocking. Perhaps I should be the one opening the door. Perhaps I should quit being so selfish.
This is what Blake was getting at. When he said that we can do more stuff to help people, this is what he meant. Kathy was desperate. Kathy needed help so badly. She was asking, searching, knocking. Kathy was praying that God would send help. And help arrived in three church vans with saws, and gloves, and willing hearts. We were the answer to Kathy’s prayers.
What I learned on this mission trip is what I give to you this morning. These words from Jesus this morning need to be flipped on their head. God is sending us as the answer to prayer. We are the man who is in bed at night. We do not want to get out of bed to help our friend. But that’s what God calls us to do. Kathy was persistent. Oh so persistent. She had been praying for two years that somebody would come and help clear her land. We were the answer to Kathy’s prayers.
Every Sunday when you leave this church, you walk under that sign: “You are now entering the mission field.” Don’t ever forget that. Once you walk out of these doors, you are offering yourself as an answer to somebody’s prayers. Because there are people out there, in your lives, that are asking, searching, knocking for somebody to love them. And that somebody is you.
Blake was right. Going to church is not about going to church. Going to church is about being empowered and energized to go out into the mission field. William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury once said, “The church is the only institution in the world that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” The church is the only institution in the world that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members. This means that Holy Comforter does not exist to make sure we pay our light bill. We do not exist to make sure our staff gets paid or that we keep our building clean. Holy Comforter is here because there are people in our community that need to know God’s love. And we are the ones that are supposed to share that love.
Kathy is not a member of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church. But she is the one who benefited from our labor and service. Kathy asked. Kathy searched. Kathy knocked. And it was this church and our youth that answered God’s call and came to help.
Mission trips are exhausting. I slept for hours on end when I got back. And I’m still just dog-tired. But I promised the youth, and I promised Kim, that I would go again next year. I don’t know where we’ll go or what we’ll do. But I know one thing: somebody out there is asking, searching, and knocking; somebody is desperate to know God’s love. And it would be downright sinful of us to not go and share that love. It would our loss, and the loss of somebody like Kathy, if we did not go into the mission field.