Sunday, October 16, 2011

Show Your I.D. - Deacon's Mission Sunday

Show your I.D.  - A long long time ago, I used to be asked for to show my I.D. when I bought a six pack of beer.  But that hasn't happened for a while now.  Now, the only time I get asked to show I.D. is when I cash a check.  Or when I use a credit card I haven't signed.  In some countries, and even in some states in this country, folks are asked to show I.D. more frequently, to prove you are who you say you are.
So what identifies You? What are our identifying characteristics as a church?  How do people know that we are who we say we are? 

If someone were to “check our I.D” to make sure we are put together by God, to make sure we are the Church we say we are, what would they be looking for?  or that each of us is the Christian we say we are, what would they be looking for? 

Scripture has a pretty good “check list” of ways to identify things put together by God: It’s “Faith, Hope and Love” .  This is Paul’s first use of this trio of Christian virtue, but you may already be thinking of how he puts it much later - in the great I Corinthians 13 passage we hear often at weddings:  “So faith, hope and love abide, these three and the greatest of these is love.”  Here he talks about the work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope that leap to mind when a vital church is mentioned.  This week, anticipating the Deacon’s Mission Dinner, I’ve been thinking about how the work of faith, the labor of love and the patience of hope show up on our “I.D.”. 
The first is the Work of Faith -
    At it’s most basic - the work of faith may be found in feeding people.  Deacons feed people.   In fact, that’s how Deacons got their start.  The earliest Christian church, which is described in the Book of Acts in the New Testament - faced a problem.  Some of the church members were hungry and feeling neglected.  So the church appointed a few of its members to give special attention to these folks and make sure that they got fed.
    Our deacons are still feeding people.  When someone is sick, or in special need, it is the Deacons who organize meals to be taken to them.  Have  you ever gotten a meal from a deacon?  I have.  It is a way for us to show the church’s love and care for its members.
    The Deacons are feeding all of us this morning after worship.  They’ve all made their favorite casserole, salad and dessert and brought them here to share with all of us.  When we sit down and share, we are taking part in a tradition of the church that goes back to the very beginning. And I’m not talking about Jello salad, though I specially requested one, out of respect for historical accuracy. 
    This summer, our Deacons expanded their feeding role by whole heartedly participating in a food distribution partnership with the Eastern Illinois Food Bank.   This was a project that a couple of elders suggested, and I took it to the Deacons, I’ll have to tell you, with a certain apprehension.  It would require what might be a substantial committment of resources and time.  Would the Deacons want to use their funds?  But my hesitation was groundless.   All five of them immediately leapt at the idea, and saw it as an opportunity to be part of Christ’s work.  So early one Saturday morning, they were there to help unload a truck of pantry boxes and produce and other contributions that the congregation had made - and to meet the people who had needs in Southern Champaign County.  We were truly blessed to be able to share Christ’s love with young moms who were wanting healthy food for their children,with older folks whose Social Security was being stretched to the limit, with folks unable to find work in the bad economy. 
    You’re going to hear a little more about this project at the Dinner this morning, and many of you were there to see this work of faith.  So I won’t say too much more.  But I will say that the hard work and the sweet spirit of the event reminds us of what Scripture says: It is clear to us, friends, that God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special. 
    The Work of Faith is part of our church’s I.D. 
Labor of Love - Kemmerer Village 
    I can’t help it.  When I hear “labor of love” I think of childbirth.  Labor is the hard work of delivering a child into the world.  But the labor of loving just keeps going.  There is the physical labor of carrying them around and dressing and feeding them.  There is the emotional labor of putting their needs before your own.  There is the spiritual labor of praying for them and with them and teaching them that God loves them and that following Jesus Christ is the very best way to live life.  Love is laborious. 
    Several of the ministries that the Deacons support have to do with loving children:  Crisis Nursery, Women in Transition, Juvenile Diabetes Association, Camp Scholarships.  Let me lift up just one: the Presbytery’s Children’s Home at Kemmerer Village. 
    I’m reading from one of their newsletters:  Many of the children who come to our residential program have complicated personal histories.  The children’s experiences often include severe family conflict, educational probles, childhood mental illness (such as depression, axiety, suicidal behaviors, aggressive outbursts, mood swings) and parental mental illness or substance abuse.  In order to work effectively with these young peole, we require around the clock supervision with staff well trained to provide significant external structure along with nurturing guidnace.  On an average day 45 children are cared for on the Kemmerer Village Campus ranging from ages 12-19, while 72 children from infancy to age 21 reside in 36 foster homes that Kemmerer Village licenses and oversees.
    That’s a lot of numbers.  But what the Deacons try to remember is that each of those numbers is a child.  A child like the one I heard speak at Kemmerer Village at a Presbytery Meeting.  He was 18 and had just graduated from High School.  He was beginning community college that next year.  And he said,  “I want to thank you for Kemmerer Village and the 5 years I have spent here.  When I came to live here, I was full of anger.  I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere.  I acted out often, because making others feel bad was the only way I knew to get out how bad I felt inside.  But my cottage parents, and Chaplain Mulch and all the staff here showed me that they really cared for me, and that even God loved me.  I had some rough times, but that love changed me.  I began to learn at school, and think about the future. Now I have graduated from high school and I know that I can live a good life.  I will never forget the folks who helped me.  They are my family now. And it is good to have a family who loves you.”
    Raising children is a labor of love.  The labor of love is part of our church’s I.D.

Patience of Hope - addressing intractable problems with the wideness of God’s mercy. 
The Malawi Well Project.  In the face of intractable poverty and disease in Africa, it is an act of outrageous hope to build one well.  And so, every year, we do.  We do one little thing.  And that one little thing means that 200 or so people have clean water to drink, and their babies don’t die of dysentery.  And their women can have healthy babies.  And their children aren’t so weakened with parasites that they fall victim to every little infection that comes along.  We do one little hopeful thing, year after year after year.  And we join with churches and individuals from Illinois and all over the world and do one little thing.  And to date 13, 561 wells have been dug and over 2 million people have clean, safe water to drink.  Are we finished?  Is the problem of poverty in Malawi, Tanzania or Zambia licked?  No.  But for 2,000,000 people it is.  And our hope grows and grows. 

The patience of hope is part of our church’s I.D.

So the words of our scripture are true - they apply to us today, just as Paul wrote 2000 years ago:

The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master's Word. The news of your faith in God is out. We don't even have to say anything anymore—you're the message! 
    Because your lives display the work of faith, the labor of love and the patience of hope,  it clear your I.D. confirms that you are who you say you are  - the church of Jesus Christ.

So this is our benediction: 
From God the Father and Christ our Master To you who are assembled here: Amazing Grace!  Robust Peace! 

Thanks to the Deacons of our church - those who have served, and those who serve now:  Marlene Evans, Jan Siders, Betty Lauchner, Terry Pratt and Karen Talbott.  It is clear that God not only loves you, but has put his hand on you for something special.

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