First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


CALLED TO COMFORT

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, August 5th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson ~

Original Sermon date:    April 28, 1985 by Pastor Neil Wilson

CALLED TO COMFORT

GOD USES MANY PEOPLE IN MANY WAYS TO SEE THAT HIS WILL IS DONE.  QUOTE FROM A SALADA TEA BAG:  “LIVE AND LET LIVE IS FINE, BUT LIVE AND HELP LIVE IS BETTER”.

AS CHRISTIANS WE HAVE BEEN GIVEN A NEW LIFE TO LIVE THROUGH CHRIST’S SACRIFICE.  IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US TO GIVE THAT SAME NEW LIFE TO OTHERS AND THIS REQUIRES SHARING OUR LIVES WITH PEOPLE.  WE MUST BECOME INVOLVED.

BUT IT IS NOT EASY TO SHARE OUR LIVES WITH OTHERS.  IT TAKES COMMITMENT, TIME AND ENERGY.  IT IS AN INVESTMENT IN AN AREA THAT BAY BE SLOW TO SHOW A RETURN, IF WE SEE ONE AT ALL.  RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE JOYOUS, BUT THEY CAN ALSO BE VERY PAINFUL.

LIFE IS THAT WAY ISN’T IT?  IN OUR PERSONAL LIVES WE HAVE THOSE SPECIAL MOMENTS, WE ARE STANDING ON A MOUNTAIN PEAK AND ALL THE WORLD SEEMS TO BE OURS, “WE’RE ON TOP OF IT”  WE SAY, BUT THEN WE HAVE THOSE LONG, BROAD AND DUSTY VALLEYS TO CROSS BEFORE WE REACH THE NEXT SUMMIT.  IT’S DURING THOSE DUSTY TURBULENT TREKS ACROSS THE VALLEYS OF LIFE THAT WE FEEL WE COULD USE ALL THE HELP WE COULD GET FROM GOD, SAY NOTHING ABOUT BEING THE SHINING EXAMPLE OF A MODEL CHRISTIAN THAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE TO THE WORLD!

TODAY I WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH YOU FOLKS A FEW WAYS IN WHICH I FEEL GOD REACHES OUT TO US DURING THOSE VALLEYS IN LIFE AND WHEN WE ARE LIFTED OUT OF THOSE DESERTS OF DEPRESSION WE ARE BETTER PREPARED TO DEAL WITH AND HELP A SUFFERING WORLD.

ONE OF MY FAVORITE VERSES HAS ALWAYS BEEN 1COR. 10:13 “NO TEMPTATION HAS OVERTAKEN YOU THAT IS NOT COMMON TO MAN.  GOD IS FAITHFUL, AND HE WILL NOT LET YOU BE TEMPTED BEYOND YOUR STRENGTH, BUT WITH THE TEMPTATION HE WILL ALSO PROVIDE THE WAY OF ESCAPE, THAT YOU MAY ENDURE IT.”

BUT LET ME SAY THIS FIRST, I AM A STRONG SPIRITUALIST THAT IS I BELIEVE STRONGLY IN THE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH OF CHRISTIANITY.  ALSO I AM AN INDIVIDUALIST IN THAT I BELIEVE WORKING WITH AND STRENGTHENING INDIVIDUALS CAN BE JUST AS VALUABLE AND PRODUCTIVE AS MINISTRY TO THE LARGER SOCIETY AS A WHOLE.  ALSO GOES FOR CHURCHES, TOWNS, ETC.  I BELIEVE WE MUST BE FAITHFUL OVER THE LITTLE THINGS.  I BELIEVE IN STARTING SMALL AND WORKING UP, LOCAL AND WORKING OUT.  BUT MORE THAN ANTYTHING ELSE I AM TRYING TO BE A REALIST, I WANT TO TAKE ALL THAT HAS BEEN REVEALED TO ME THROUGHT READING, STUDYING, PRAYING, HOLY SPIRIT (SPIRITUAL ASPECT OF OUR FAITH) AND PUT IT INTO SOMETHING REAL, CONCRETE, THAT WILL HELP AN INDIVIDUAL. 

SO, BEING THIS WAY, I ALWAYS HAD CERTAIN QUESTIONS WHEN I READ VERSES LIKE 1COR 10:13, I DID NOT DOUBT THAT A WAY OUT WILL BE PROVIDED BY GOD, BUT HOW DOES IT COME?  WHERE DO WE LOOK FOR IT AND WHAT ABOUT I BEING COMMON TO EVERYONE?  I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU BUT WHEN I HAVE A PROBLEM I FEEL LIKE I’M THE ONLY ONE.

BUT GOD DOES PROVIDE COMFORT DURING OUR TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS.  GOD COMFORT CAN COME THROUGH A VARIETY OF METHODS:

  1. PRAYER

            BEING A SPRITUALIST I BELIEVE VERY STRONGLY IN PRAYER AND WHAT CAN BE DONE THROUGH PRAYER.  PRAYER NOT ONLY GIVES US THE OPPORTUNITY TO UNLOAD OUR PROBLEMS AND CONCERNS ONTO THE LORD’S BROAD SHOULDERS, BUT BY STOPPING EVERYTHING AND SPENDING A FEW MINUTES IN PRAYER IT GIVES US THE TIME TO STEP BACK FROM OUR PROBLEMS , PERHAPS START TO PUT THEM INTO PROPER PERSPECTIVE AND GO ABOUT THE TASK OF TACKLING THE MOST PRESSING, IMPORTANT FIRST.

I TOOK A COURSE CALLED CRITICAL THINKING WHICH TAUGHT ME TO SEE A LARGE PROBLEM AND SEVERAL SMALLER ONES WHICH IF TAKEN ONE AT A TIME MAKES THE PROBLEM SOLVING THAT MUCH EASIER.  YOU KNOW MANY OF LIVES PROBLEMS CAN BE APPROACHED IN THIS FASHION AND PRAYER GIVES US THE CHANCE TO SAY “GOD I CAN’T HANDLE THIS ANYMORE, HELP ME PUT THINGS BACK IN ORDER”.  THE LORD MAY NOT GIVE YOU THE WHOLE ANSWER RIGHT AWAY BUT I BET IF YOU ARE ATTENTIVE, AN ANSWER TO A STEP IN THAT PROBLEM WILL COME ALONG.

  1. READING

            THIS COULD BE SCRIPTURES OR THE STORY OF SOMEONE ELSE WHO WENT THROUGH A STRUGGLE SIMILARY TO YOURS.  MANY FIND COMFORT IN DAILY DEVOTIONS.  SO READING INSPIRATIONAL MATERIAL CAN BE COMFORTING.

  1. OTHER CHRISTIANS

            PROBABLY THE MOST TANGIBLE WAY THAT WE CAN FIND GOD’S COMFORT IS THROUGH FELLOWSHIP WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS.  WHY CAN OTHERS BE SO HELPFUL?  PAUL SAYS “NO TEMPTATION OR TRIAL HAS OVERTAKEN US THAT IS NOT COMMON TO MAN”.  SO YOU SEE NO MATTER HOW ALONE WE MAY FEEL THERE IS SOMEONE OUT THERE THAT HAS SUFFERED THROUGH THE SAME TRIALS THAT WE ARE.

WELL WE SAY THAT’S ALL GOOD BUT JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE FELT LIKE I DO, DOESN’T MAKE ME FEEL ANY BETTER, NO IT DOESN’T.  BUT GOD IS FAITHFUL AND WILL NOT LET US BE TEMPTED BEYOND OUR STRENGTH AND WILL PROVIDE A WAY OUT.  BUT WHERE, WHERE IS THAT WAY OUT?  AH!  MAYBE JUST MAYBE GOD WILL USE THAT OTHER CHRISTIAN TO DO HIS WORK IN THIS INSTANCE, IN YOUR LIFE.

YOU KNOW THE SAYING “DON’T JUDGE A PERSON UNTIL YOU HAVE WALKED A MILE IN THEIR SHOES”.  I THINK A TWIST ON THAT IS TRUE WHEN SEEKING COMFORT.  WE ARE MUCH QUICKER TO SEEK HELP FROM OR OPEN UP TO SOMEONE THAT WE FEEL HAS WALKED THE SAME ROUGH ROAD WE ARE TRAVELING, THEY UNDERSTAND WHAT WE MAY BE GOING THROUGH, THEY HAVE SAT WHERE WE ARE SITTING.  AND IF THEY ARE CHRISTIAN, WE SHARE A COMMON BOND WITH EACH OTHER AND OUR SAVIOR FROM WHICH WE CAN DRAW AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF STRENGTH AND COMFORT.

THERE ARE MANY WAYS WHICH WE CAN FIND GOD’S COMFORT.  THROUGH PRAYER, AND MEDITATION, READING, AND FELLOW CHRISTIANS.  AND PROBABLY MANY OTHER WAYS WHICH YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED THE STRENGTH AND COMFORT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.  SOMEDAY YOU MAY BE ABLE TO SHARE WITH SOMEONE WHO MIGHT BENEFIT FROM YOUR PAST EXPERIENCES.

THIS LEADS ME TO THE MAIN POINT I WANT TO MAKE, IN TODAY’S READING PAUL WRITES “THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT WHO COMFORTS US IN ALL TROUBLES, SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT THOSE IN ANY TROUBLE WITH THE COMFORT WE OURSELVES RECEIVED FROM GOD”.   WHETHER WE RECEIVE OUR COMFORT THROUGH PRAYER, MEDITATION, DEVOTIONS, OR OTHER CHRISTIANS, THE COMFORT IS A GIFT FROM GOD.  PAUL FOUND GOD’S COMFORT THROUGH TITUS AND HIS MESSAGE FROM THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH.

I FEEL IT IS CRUCIAL TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THESE VERSES TO UNDERSTAND THE FULLER MEANING THAT COMFORT HAD IN PAUL’S DAY.  TO US COMFORT SUGGESTS A SOOTHING OF PAIN, BE IT PHYSICAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL, CONSOLATION, SYMPATHY.  THE COMFORT OF GOD WHICH PAUL SPEAKS OF IS NOT A DRUG, TRANQUILIZER TO LOWER OUR ANXIETY USED TO NUMB OUR PAIN.  THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CALLED THE “COMFORTER” WHICH MEANS “STRENGTHENER”.  IT HAS THE SAME ROOT AS “FORTIFY”.  COMFORT IN THIS INSTANCE DOES NOT MEAN TO FEEL SORRY FOR, TO SYMPATHIZE, BUT RATHER TO SUPPORT, TO STRENGTHEN, TO ENCOURAGE, GOD’S COMFORT IS NOT PASSIVE BUT ACTIVE.  IT IS A GIFT THAT MUST BE PASSED ON.  I AM VERY MUCH CONVINCED OF THIS.  WE ARE TO SUPPORT AND NURTURE EACH OTHER IF WE ARE TO BUILD UP THE BODY OF CHRIST.  IF YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED GOD’S COMFORTING IN YOUR LIFE, SHARE IT.  USE THE STRENGTH YOU WERE GIVIEN DURING A TIME OF NEED TO HELP A FELLOW TRAVELER WHO HAS STUMBLED.  WE ARE ALL ON THIS JOURNEY TOGETHER AND THERE WON’T BE ANY JOY IN THE END WHEN WE REACH OUR DESTINATION IF THERE IS NO ONE THERE TO SHARE OUR TRIUMPH WITH.

IN TODAYS UNISON READING ISAIAH IS SPEAKING OF CHRIST WHEN HE SAYS “ME”.  THIS ALSO SPEAKS ABOUT CHRISTIANS IN THE 20TH CENTURY.  WE ARE TO CARRY OUT THE WORK THAT BEGAN WITH THE APOSTLES, THAT OF PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS TO THE AFFLICTED, COMFORT THOSE WHO MOURN, TO FREE THOSE THAT ARE BOUND BY THE CHAINS OF WORLDY CONCERNS.  CHRIST HAS PROMISED TO BE WITH US “UNTO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH”.  THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THERE TO STRENGTHEN US.  SO LET THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST, THAT DWELLS IN EACH OF YOU, REACH OUT TO THOSE WHO ARE IN NEED.

NOW YOU’RE SAYING “THIS SOUNDS ALL NICE AND PROPER, AS IT SHOULD BE, BUT LET’S BE MORE REALISTIC.  HOW CAN WE DO THIS?”  WELL, WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT WE CAN REACH OUT TO OTHERS AND SHARE IN GOD’S COMFORT.

FIRST OF ALL I DON’T BELIEVE WE ALL HAVE TO RUN TO THE NEAREST BOOKSTORE AND BUY A BOOK ON COUNCELING.  BUT WE COULD BEGIN BY USING THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT WHICH IS BESTOWED UPON US.  SUCH TRAITS AS LOVE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, GENTLENESS; SOMEONE IN NEED OF COMFORTING IS SURE TO RESPOND TO SUCH FEELINGS.  IN ANOTHER COURSE, “THE HELPING PROCESS” WE READ A BOOK “BECOMING NATURALLY THERAPEUTIC”, (WE CAN ALL BECOME HELPERS), WHICH IS ALL ABOUT DEVELOPING IN YOURSELF QUALITIES SUCH AS EMPATHY, GENUINESS, RESPECT, WARMTH, IMMEDIACY, CONCRETENESS.  DOESN’T THIS SOUND VERY SIMILAR TO THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT?  THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT ARE OURS ALREADY, TO PUT TO WORK BECAUSE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHICH DWELLS IN EACH OF US. 

ONCE WE START TO DEVELOP OR USE THESE TRAITS OR QUALITIES, IT IS IMPORTANT FOR US TO BE READY TO CAPITALIZE ON EACH MOMENT.  IF YOU SHOW LOVE, EMPATHY, PATIENCE, RESPECT, GOODNESS AND GENUINESS, PEOPLE WILL OPEN UP TO YOU AND SHARE THEIR CONERNS AND WHEN PEOPLE HINT OF A PROBLEM, FOR INSTANCE, HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE GONE UP TO SOMEONE AND SAID “HOW ARE YOU TODAY?” THEN YOU GET THE UNEXPECTED RESPONSE, “WELL, NOT TOO GOOD, OR I’VE BEEN BETTER” AND YOU RESPOND WITHOUT THINKING “OH, THAT’S NICE” OR “ THAT’S TOO BAD” AND OFF YOU GO, OR IF YOU ARE REALLY ATTENTIVE THEY MAY SAY “I’M DOING OKAY” BUT THEIR BODY LANGUAGE OR THEIR AFFECT IS CRYING OUT IN PAIN OR LONELINESS.  WHEN PEOPLE HAVE DROPPED A SUBTLE HINT LIKE THIS, DON’T HESITATE, DON’T THINK I BETTER TELL THE PASTOR OR SOMEONE (YOU’LL PROBABLY WANT TO DO THAT ANYWAY) THAT PERSON HAS SHARED A LITTLE BIT OF THEIR HURT WITH YOU, THEY FEEL SAFE ENOUGH WITH YOU TO LOWER THEIR DEFENSES, EVEN IF JUST A LITTLE.  IT IS UP TO YOU TO CAPITALIZE ON THE PRECIOUS MOMENT TO REACH OUT TO THEM WHILE THEY ARE OPEN, SHARE WITH THEM IN THEIR SUFFERING, SHARE WITH THEM THE COMFORT THAT COMES FROM GOD. 

I AM SURE THAT MANY OF YOU HAVE IDEAS ON HOW YOU COULD BE USED BY GOD TO COMFORT OTHERS, IF YOU HAVE, SHARE THEM WITH ME, BUT ABOVE ALL , SHARE THEM WITH SOMEONE ELSE IN NEED.  SOMEONE COULD USE A COMFORTING WORD.

BEFORE WE END THIS MORING I WOULD LIKE EACH OF YOU TO DO SOMETHING FOR ME.  I WANT YOU TO LOOK AROUND, LOOK AT THE PERSON SITTING NEXT TO YOU, IN FRONT OF YOU, BEHIND YOU, IN THE NEXT AISLE.  DO YOU SEE SOMEONE WHO IS DEPRESSED, DOWN IN THE DUMPS; DO YOU SEE ANY SUFFERING AND PAIN?  MAYBE YOU SEE SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN IN YOUR POSITION.   SEEK EACH OTHER OUT!  GET TOGETHER, TALK AND SHARE WITH EACH OTHER.  LET THE PEACE OF GOD START HERE WITH US AND SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE COMMUNITY.  IT WILL FEEL GOOD AND BRING HOPE; GOD’S COMFORT ALWAYS DOES.

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