Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2018
Psalm 121; Romans 8:24-27
We Will Help You
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, o lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I’m looking forward to delivering the message this morning. I want you to know that there will be minor congregation participation, but, happily, we will not break up into small groups for discussion. In the best case that may come afterward, but not during.
The opening verses of Psalm 121 have stuck with me from my childhood Sunday School experience. I had opportunity to reflect on them again this past week as Diane was facing surgery last Tuesday: I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? Or more directly “Who will help me?” The answer appears quickly in verse 2: My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Some months ago our previous Lay Leaders, Rich and Louise Fuller concluded their term as Lay Leaders and moved to be nearer their grandchildren. Subsequently Pastors Marty and Donna approached me about serving in the Lay Leader position. They noted that it would involve leading the service for Laity Sunday, and attending meetings of several church committees among other things. They did not mention that it could involve bringing the message for a Sunday service; that would come somewhat later. They likely didn’t foresee that at the time and I certainly didn’t either. But as part of their pitch for the position, they did use the words against which I had little defense: “We will help you with this”. We will help you.
A few months passed and both pastors were invited to attend an anniversary celebration at one of their previous parishes. Although it was not the normal calendar Sunday for Laity Sunday, we mutually decided to conduct a Laity Sunday service on January 18 to provide a worship service in their absence. Marty and Donna provided the written material for the Festival of Wesleyan Music and I was tasked with staffing the service. It was very gratifying when members of the congregation, in turn said, “Yes, we will help you.” Tom Ash agreed to be liturgist; Cleo Haugen, Jacob Wright, Dwayne Nelson, Ann Haraldson, and Chris Nelson agreed to deliver readings during the service. I remain grateful for the support provided in the presentation of that Laity Sunday service.
Passages containing the word “help” occur some 348 times in the New Revised Standard version of the bible. The majority of these are in the Old Testament books, and the Psalms by far contain more occurrences of the word “help” than any other book in the bible. Those of us of a certain age will recall a movie and sound track album released by the Beatles in 1965 entitled “Help”. The introduction contains the words: “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody”, and then the entreaty in the refrain “Won’t you please, please help me.” That sentiment is expressed in numerous Psalms and that song may have had more scriptural roots than our parents thought it had. As a side note, I searched all over the album cover of my vinyl soundtrack for a release date, couldn’t find it, and finally turned to Wikipedia to confirm the date.
Our congregation is now in a time of transition between leaders that we knew well and loved, and new leaders that we have yet to meet, some fairly soon, and some a little later. Among our leaders in transition I include our former pastors along with our Music Director Becca Bellman and our Youth Director Cynthia Fredrick. It is a time of uncertainty both for us and for our new pastor, and new homeowner, Pastor Dan Bader. Given the uncertainty and a certain level of tension it is a time for us to especially be gentle, kind, understanding and helpful with each other.
With the theme of today’s message in mind, I took the opportunity in late May to contact Pastor Dan, and posed the question, “How can we as a congregation help you succeed in your ministry at First UMC?” He did not send an answer immediately, which was unlike previous correspondence with him earlier in the month. I was expecting a serious answer but I didn’t want him to agonize over it either, as I was sure May was a busy month for him. He had indicated previously that he and his wife Monica would be in Stillwater on May 31 and that we could meet briefly during the afternoon of the 31st here at the church. I expected he would bring a response to the question then, and he did.
He admitted that he had been thinking quite a bit about the “How can we help?” question and he did provide a thoughtful response which I would like for us as a congregation to take to heart. Key words that I see in his response include “open”, “bold” and “innovative”. Following are three ways that he suggested we can help him in his mission.
First, Pastor Dan requested that we be “open to the nudging of the Spirit, recognizing that the nudging often comes from each other”. Nudged in this sense can include being invited to participate in something new or different or even scary. Nudged can also mean being asked to help. That act of helping can be new or different or scary. Being nudged may not be that dramatic or obvious at the time, and may be recognized only after some reflection.
I also acknowledge that sometimes you will be nudged and you may owe it to yourself or to the nudger to say “No”. I don’t want to encourage that response as a default or reflex, but I do acknowledge that as a valid response particularly if “Yes” will lead to distress or in the worst case, burnout. There is no point in feeling guilty about saying “No” for a good reason.
Now comes the congregation participation bit:
How many of you in the past year have been nudged either by the Spirit or by a member of your family, or a member of this congregational family? Raise your hand if you’ve been nudged. I can qualify under the scary category because I’m up here now. So we’re halfway there, we’re already being nudged, all that remains is to concentrate on being open when the Spirit nudges.
Second, Pastor Dan requested that we be “open to God leading us”. Homework for this week is to reflect on instances in your life were you felt that God was leading you in a particular direction or onto a new path. Recall that God often works with us through the other people in our lives, consider times where you were asked to help with something or asked for help by someone.
Third, Pastor Dan requested that we be “bold, innovative, Spirit filled leaders”, particularly in leading people to Christ. When we think of leaders we usually think first of someone with a title, someone who heads a group. But when it comes to leading people to Christ, the titled leaders are only part of the story. In a Spirit filled church, individuals, by the example that they set, are going to be the most effective witnesses in telling the story, demonstrating the story and bringing the ways of Christ into our present day and in front of the next generation of Methodists.
I am periodically reminded of the power of example by my daughter when she says “So dad I remember when we ..” and at this point she fills in the blank in great detail often with an episode that I did not register as important at the time and often don’t remember at all. It’s not about failure of memory, although that is in play, it is about setting an example through our actions, when someone nearby was watching and paying attention.
In closing, let us be known by our words and our deeds. As the mother of Fred Rogers (the Mr. Rogers of public TV), often told him, “Look for the good, there’s always someone trying to help”. We can be that someone by being committed helpers, which includes asking for help if you need it and being open to helping when you can, even if it’s new or different or scary. As we start a new pastoral era at First UMC with Pastor Dan Bader, let us prepare to be nudged; let us be open to God’s leadership and let’s resolve to be bold and innovative. Most of all let us be ready to declare to Pastor Dan, “Yes, we will help you.”