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

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


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Heavy Lifting

 

Heavy Lifting

 

by Nathanael Wilson 

(Pastor Neil & Donna’s son)

 

Have you noticed how our popular culture exudes the idea that all one needs is superior self-reliance to make it in life? As if positive thinking, will power, and a little luck can solve all your problems. I think we all have experiences that prove otherwise.

Sadly, even popular Christian culture has taken scripture out of context to tell the world that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” In the full context of scripture that passage loses its shine as a rallying call for the self-empowered and shares a much different message of where relief and strength comes from.

“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be CONTENT with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” Philippians 4:10-14.

How different is that message when in its full glory…fundamentally different I think!

Has anyone else uttered the phrase “I don’t have time for this”? We are busy, we find ways to fill every minute of our lives and leave no room for surprises. One of those surprises for me was that I had surgery to remove my gallbladder in September. That surgery really stressed me out! I was a little anxious about the surgery naturally, but my biggest concern was the recovery. I have 4 active kids and I work in the hands on home renovation industry. A large part of my job includes heavy lifting and here I was in the position of not even being allowed to lift my 9 month old son! The surgery was absolutely needed, but it also made me into one of my biggest fears…a burden on those around me. My family had to pick up most of my tasks around the house while some just went undone. There’s nothing like watching your 8 year old drag bags of trash out of the house to make you feel bad. Once I recovered enough to return to work my coworker still had to do 80% of the lifting and moving that I would have normally done. No matter what anyone told me, I was feeling pretty useless, but I believe God had a purpose for sitting me on my butt and slowing my mind.

Philippians 4:6 says “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.”

I was doing a poor job in the “do not worry” department! Useless as I was feeling, worrying wasn’t going to get me back on my feet any faster. Corrie Ten Boom said it perfectly “worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” I had lost track of the fact that it is ok to let other people help me out when I’m not capable, but as usual God always finds ways to remind me!

 One of the major roles that I have as a deacon at my home church of Markle Church of Christ is serving communion to shut-ins and members currently living in care facilities. Truthfully it can sometimes just be a blip in a busy Sunday schedule, but often it is the humbling experience that pulls my focus in line.

That specific morning was busy, it was Easter…2 full services with my wife Veronica singing in 1 and myself playing guitar in the other. After getting the girls and myself to the church and getting through practice I grabbed the communion kit and headed out the door to Markle Healthcare. I found the first church member by the nurse’s station and knelt down next to her wheelchair. I told her who I was and that I was there to serve her, as I proceeded to get the cup of wafers I could tell she was struggling to tell me something and she motioned with her head down to her hands…her hands that were curled up and locked into unusable fist from what I can only imagine was at the least very painful arthritis. I could feel her shame as she looked at me as I told her not to worry. I physically served her placing the wafer on her lips and pouring the small cup of juice into her mouth. A large tear ran down her cheek as she placed her hands on my cheeks and mouth thank you to me…I felt like a complete fool for having minutes before been concerned about schedules and what guitar parts I needed to play. She and I had church right there in the midst of a busy nursing home and there is no doubt that GOD was there as we shared a moment of clarity.

A lack of clarity with an abundance of worry is not a new issue or a problem solely my own. A quick look in at Numbers 21:4-9 shows us that it is a problem that crosses many generations:

4 Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, 5 and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

Does that sort of complaining and distrust sound familiar to anyone else? This could have easily been coming from the backseat of our Suburban on the drive up to Charlevoix, but variations of this have come out of my own mouth as well. “For I have learned to be content” Paul wrote in the letter to the Philippians. A place or state of satisfaction is how content is defined. Have we really fallen into Paul’s kind of contentment in our lives? I know I haven’t! My worry to prayer ratio gets out of whack. When life isn’t going as planned everyone looks for an escape or a scapegoat, but God has a different plan for us as Christians!

“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” Psalms 515:22 NLT

Take a moment to wrap your mind around that scripture and Corrie Ten Book’s quote “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” WOW…laid right out in plain sight, yet maybe the biggest stumbling block of our anxiety ridden society. If I won’t pray about it, I shouldn’t stress over it because it must not be a real problem!

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, had this to say about faith and being Godly “you only believe the parts of the Bible that you do.” Seems simple enough, right? The application proves to be troublesome at times. Reciting something from memory is great and is not my gift sadly, but that knowledge doesn’t carry the same weight as action. Just telling someone that you love and care about them isn’t nearly as powerful as showing them with your actions that you really do love them. Is that not the same for God and his holy word, if we truly love him and his scripture than we should show it by living it in our lives everyday!

Magnus Ver Magnussen is one one of my favorite “strongmen”…I used to get sucked into the replays of “The World’s Strongest Man” competitions on tv, you know the ones where they had to flip tractor tires, carry tree trunks, and lift compact cars. These guys were doing some HEAVY LIFTING!! They didn’t just think they could lift a car…they actually went out and did It! So we all “know” that the Bible tells us to give our burdens to the Lord, but if we don’t actually do it then we don’t actually believe it!

So who is doing your heavy lifting? Are you carrying around the weight of life’s burdens or maybe like me you have felt like someone else’s burden?  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

My body will heal from surgery, but in the meantime that worry is not gaining me anything and seems very petty when I remember my moment kneeling next to a wheelchair. I think it is time for many of us to stop doing our own heavy lifting and bring the Bible into action. Jesus is all around us if we pay attention and his desire is to do our lifting for us so that we are free to shine his light into the dark places in our world. I pray that we see God and that our actions reflect that we know God!

If you would like to listen to the original Audio recording from Sunday’s Service please double click on “Download File” below and enjoy!


Composers and Cleaning Women

Sermon ~ Sunday, November 19, 2017 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

“Composers and Cleaning Women”

Matthew 25:14-30

To me they are more than words, more than a nice little slogan many churches print in their worship programs.  I take very seriously what is stated in the “Staff listing” of our worship program: “Every member, Ministers to the Community.”   This is not something that I believe in some intellectual/theological sense but one that I try to live out in my daily life.  In fact it was this very understanding of my Christian life that ultimately led to my sense of calling to pastoral ministry. 

The Christian life is just this, a life.  It is not a choice as in I chose this hobby or that style of attire.  It is not even a career choice, as in, I think I will be an accountant or an engineer or a fireman.  When one chooses to follow the Christian way it is a choice to follow the one called Christ.  It is more than a lifestyle it is a way of living.  And it was out of this calling to a way of living that God spoke more explicitly calling me to pastoral ministry. 

But as our staff listing should remind us, we are all called, and everyone is called to play their part to the full.  Valuing one another, accepting that the smallest of gifts is important, and believing that, in our uniqueness, God has called each of us, the whole people of God, to serve.

But you might argue a pastor is different (can’t argue with that!  We are a little different!) But it is not so much a different kind of calling as it is a particular calling within the call Christ puts upon all of us.  I am your ‘pastor’, for such is my role and the title I am given for my calling … but you are ministers to one another … I  minister with you, not to you or even more important to understand  not for you. 

I have gifts, but so do each of you. 

I have uniqueness, but so do each of you.

I have been given certain talents, but so do each of you. 

Why am I not a choir director?  Because I can’t direct a choir!  Roger, who is good at this does it for us.  Is that not a ministry, someone’s gifts being used well to the glory of God? 

And the rest of you? 

You serve in many ways.  Writing letters, visiting people, taking a meal to a friend or neighbor or taking them out for a meal! 

In the Church, how much do we value the people who offer a welcome at the front door?  Greeters are the very first impression of our congregation visitors get.  Talk about an important ministry!  The stewardship of our facility …  serving during our worship, Communion, lay readers, a couple of weeks ago we recognized the importance of music.  The ministry of Coffee hour?  All these are forms of ministry. 

In the community, how much do we value our refuse collectors, our community officials, the school bus drivers, the street-sweepers, the shop-assistants, etc.?

One of the lessons we might derive from the parable read this morning is that God blesses people with differing gifts according to the grace given us (Romans 12.6).  It was C. S. Lewis who wrote in The Weight of Glory:

“The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a cleaning woman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord.” This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies.  A mole must dig to the glory of God and the rooster must crow.” 

It isn’t that one person’s gifts are better than another’s, it’s about a belief in the uniqueness of every child of God, and the acceptance that God has a role for them to play –be they Beethoven or a cleaning woman.   God does not value one over the other, we may do this, but God does not!  God values the work that each of you have to do.  After all, it was God who gave you the ability and the work in the first place.  It is a rare position, job, career indeed in which one cannot find a way if you look, to serve God and God’s people.  To be sure, there somethings that some do that are not in service to God and in fact just the opposite, but in many cases it is a perversion of their work.  Brother Lawrence, a former soldier, who joined a monastery and spent the rest of his life working in the monastery kitchen and repairing the sandals of other monks wrote, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

The parable of the three servants also indicates that the reward for work done well is more work to do.  No this is not to be confused with being over-worked and the false sense of importance that can accompany this. Nor is it about always being at the center of things.  It’s about development and growth, not ‘resting on our laurels’.  

It’s not about the old expression, “If you’re looking for someone to do something, ask someone who’s busy.”  We are to care for one another and not take people for granted.  It’s about a joy in our service, knowing, learning and developing our discipleship.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t wrestle with the last part of the parable, the third servant:

But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.  For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  As for this worthless servant, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Last week we considered the value of prudence and this, the last servant it would seem was in one way prudent in his use of the master’s property.  Yet, he gets the brunt of his master’s anger. It could be said that he is punished for his action or better his inaction.

This whole idea of ‘punishment’ is a tricky one … But it would seem to me that Jesus in using this parable perhaps is saying that there are negative consequences for the people who don’t even try.

I think of it this way …   During my high school years, I was not what you would call a star pupil, if you can imagine that!  I remember sitting in Algebra II and Calculus classes with Mr. Hammond.  (For you math geeks Mr. Hammond told this joke every year!

“Did you hear about the Park Ranger who saved the snakes from extinction?”

“No Mr. Hammond.”  Moans from the older students.

“He built them a log table then they could multiply for they were adders you see!” 

And he would laugh, “Har! Har! Har!”  Every year. 

In Mr. Hammond’s classroom I always choose a seat by the windows.  His classroom was on the third floor of Fryeburg Academy’s south wing and it had a nice view of the mountains!  And when I would get lost in algorithms and hyperbolas, I would wander among the mountains, along the ridges and down their streams, to the fire tower on Keasarge North.  I had a glorious time!  Then when it came time for the math test I would suddenly become a person of  great faith and lean on the power of prayer!  I would pray first that the questions would be easy.  And secondly, that they would be over the few things I did grasp.  After all God is good, right.  Perhaps, but Mr. Hammond was just!  And while I never failed a class I would often fail the tests!

What right had I to rely on the goodness of God when I had not done any work?  What right had I to expect God to show me special favors when I didn’t even try?  And my punishment/consequence?  To accept that my failure was of my own making … to learn that you have to put some work in to make success possible … that I did not have God at my beck and call. 

Is God still good?  Of course. 

Was my failure God’s fault?  Not at all. 

Did God remind me that trying my best is important?  You bet!

And lastly, if someone has a talent and uses it well, then this parable seems to say that he or she will be able to do progressively more with it.  And, vice versa, if a talent isn’t used well or at all, it will inevitably be lost to us.  Any of you who are musicians know this all too well!  But it is the same for all our talents, skills, our spiritual gifts.   Use it or lose it.  Not that God will take it away but without use it will atrophy.

But not only will your witness be weakened but the body of Christ will suffer as well!

Ephesians 4:11-13  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:7     Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Whether composer or cleaning person, preacher or pipefitter, deacon or diaper changer, physician or firefighter, young/old, male/female, God has given you an ability, a gift, and has asked you to use it to God’s glory in service to others.

1 Peter 4:10 – 11    Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Listen to the Audio Version below: