Well, I don't usually share or post my sermons but I really liked yesterday's and my cousins have encouraged me to share. Before I share it here, I need you to know that I do write out my sermon but there is always a lot that I add and change as I go so the text you see here isn't fully what I shared with the congregation. Sorry, if you want the full experience, you'll have to be present sometime. :) Also... I only mildly proof read it since no one but myself usually sees it in print so please excuse any and all typos, omissions, and so on... Ok... here it goes. This was written for Youth Sunday at Mason Memorial UMC in Kansas City, Nov. 30, 2014...
Several years ago, my kids and I read a book together called “Do Hard Things; a Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations”. It was written by 18 year old twins, Alex and Brett Harris. It’s a book challenging youth to do hard things. They believe that society has come to expect less and less from young people, to underestimate what young people are capable of and therefore young people don’t push themselves to do more than expected. It’s an interesting theory and one I think has merit. In their book, they encourage youth to expect more from themselves than what society expects, to push the limits on what youth are called to do.
This book and a website run by the young men who wrote it share stories of young people who have done hard things, who have pushed the limits of expectations, who have raised the bar on what youth can and have done.
Have you heard of N’Jhari Jackson? He is 14 year old who has made a difference in the lives of sick children by collecting stuffed animals for hospitals to give to them. He also collected blankets to give to the families of wounded soldiers staying at the Fisher House on the campus of the hospital.
Or what about Maria Keller, a 13 year old who has collected books for needy children so that they have every opportunity to read. Or Hunter Gandee, 14, who walked 40 miles with his brother on his back to try to put a face on the muscular disorder he has called Cerebral Palsy. Or what about Nathan Han who at 15 developed a software tool that predicts the cancer causing DNA mutation. Or Riley Banks, 17, who has been on a mission to help youth in Kenya to have an education and a home by raising money to build school and now an orphanage.
My daughter was in the 4th or 5th grade when we read it. It was really a little beyond her age, look there I go putting limits on what she was capable of! It’s so easy to do. Anyway, she doesn’t really remember much of the book but she does remember one story they told about elephants. It just really stuck with her. In India when they are training young elephants, they will tie one end of a heavy rope or chain around one of their hind legs and the other end to a tree. When the elephant tries to move around it can’t. It can’t break loose and can only move so far. As it gets older, it learns not to try to move about too far or try to break away so they are eventually able to just tie a string or thin rope to it’s foot and stake it to the ground with just a wooden stake. The elephant’s spirit is broken and it believes the limits that have been placed on it. It stops trying. It’s really kind of sad, I think.
As I read the scripture for today I thought about this book. Certain phrases really stood out to me. “For in every way, you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind”, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift.” “He will also strengthen you to the end,” “You were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
These phrases tell me that we have all we need to go out and do hard things for Christ. We have the spiritual gifts we need to do this AND we are told that He will strengthen us to the end! I find that comforting.
When I spoke with Ms. McReynolds about my coming here this week I asked about the youth here. She told me that even though your numbers are not as large as some, you are very active. She told about your helping with VBS this past summer and how you decided to organize a community carnival. I thought to myself, This is great! These youth are really out doing the work of God. They are already stepping out to do their part! That’s wonderful! Thank you for being willing to share your gifts with your church and your community. Thank you to all you adults who encouraged them and helped them to do these things. You have much to be thankful for in these youth and also in the encouraging adults. Not all churches have this.
You guys are doing great but it’s not always easy to do hard things is it? Sometimes it requires us to step out our comfort zone. Doesn’t that sound nice? Comfort zone? A place where we feel comfortable? It’s a place that makes us feel safe, so stepping outside of that isn’t always easy. It requires us to put ourselves out there. We might fail, we might mess up, we might look silly but if we never try, we’ll never know, will we? I’m sure you’ve noticed that God often calls us out of our comfort zone. When he does, we have to rely on him to lead us, to guide us, which for some of us is in and of itself out our comfort zone... letting go of our control and letting God, someone we can’t see or physically feel, be in control. Yes, that’s hard.
Have you ever felt called out your comfort zone? How did you react? Did you go? Did you rationalize why you shouldn’t go? Moses did.
When God called Moses, Moses kept giving him reasons why he, Moses, shouldn’t be the one to do it. I’m not good enough, I’m not a good speaker, I won’t know what to say, they won’t listen to me. Excuse after excuse and with each one God assures Moses that he can do it. That God will be with him and will give him what he needs to make it happen. Just like our scripture in 1 Corinthians says, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift... He will strengthen you to the end.”
I actually really like my comfort zone, don’t you? I feel very comfortable and safe there. Things are familiar there, they know me there and they usually like me there too!
But can you imagine how the disciples must have felt when Jesus called them out of their comfort zone? He called the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John. They were there in their comfort zones fishing and mending nets and this guy just came up and said, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men!” Now, I’m betting that these guys were pretty comfortable where they were. They were earning a living fishing. They had food to eat and a home. They could have very easily have said, “I don’t want to fish for men! I happy fishing for fish!” But they didn’t. They trusted Jesus as he called them out of their comfort zone to help them, to guide them.
Then you have Matthew. He was a tax collector. Tax collector’s usually pretty well for themselves. I bet he was comfortable where he was doing what he was doing and then one day this guy walks by his booth and says, “Come follow me!” Now, Matthew could have very easily laughed him off but he didn’t. The Bible tells us that he “got up and followed him.” Then he even had a banquet at his house where other tax collectors joined them so that they could meet Jesus too. That might have been a bit awkward, but he trusted Jesus to be there, to help him, to guide him.
There are stories like this through out the Bible, Samuel, Paul, Jonah, Noah and so on. They all had to rely on God to help them do what he called them to do.
So, what hard things is God calling you to do?
I have to tell you, I am a huge introvert. I’m terrified of people. I’m incredibly shy. Always have been. Then I married a guy who decided to join the military and he took me WAY out of my comfort zone. To other countries and states. We were constantly moving and I was having to meet new people and make new friends every where we went. Then he kept having to leave for weeks at a time at first, then months and eventually for over a year! I had to learn to live in new places with two kids alone. WAY OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE. But... I did it. God was always with me and put the right people in my life at the right time. And now... Well, my husband retired from the army and we have settled down and thought yea! I get to stay in my comfort zone... but then... God started calling me out of my comfort zone... He first had me apply for a job as a children’s choir director! That was crazy! I love to sing, and I love kids but I’ve never directed a choir before! What is he thinking? Am I even qualified? Turns out I was! I was terrified as I called and applied but what a fun adventure that was and I got to bless and be blessed by the children of our church.
Then he pulls me even further out of comfort zone... see I think he just slowly over time stretches our comfort zone making it a little bigger all time so that we don’t feel like we are going as far out our comfort zone but I’m on to him! I’m starting to recognize this!
See, next he put Lay Servant ministries on my heart. Lay Servant ministries is the path led me to being a Lay Speaker. See when I first started I just wanted to serve more in my local church. Maybe lead some small groups and assist the minister some here and there with maybe some visitation or in worship. I didn’t want to preach or speak outside of my own church but before I knew it, God started pulling me further outside my zone to preach and you know what? I’m so glad he did. I love it. It was hard and excuse me for saying it, but I almost threw up the first time I was asked to preach! But it was so much fun! God gave me what I needed, when I needed it in all of these situations, from being a military wife to preaching, and he’ll do the same for you.
What is he calling you to do? What are your spiritual gifts? How is he calling you to use them? Do you sing or play a musical instrument? Maybe you could share that here in worship or maybe go Christmas caroling to shut-ins or in nursing homes? Do you love kids? Maybe you could organize an Saturday afternoon babysitting time when parents can bring their kids for a fun afternoon with you and they can go do some Christmas shopping! Do you enjoy working with your hands? Maybe you could offer to do some clean up here at the church or around the community or for the elderly? We all have spiritual gifts, gifts given to us by the holy spirit to be God’s hands and feet in our communities and to further his kingdom.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind -- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you -- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful: by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I do give thanks for you. I’m am grateful for your spiritual gifts! You are not lacking in spiritual gifts and I know that God will strengthen you to the end of what you are called to do. So, what are you called to do? What hard things can you do this week, this month, this year or in this life to further the kingdom of God?