Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pentecost 12-C Sermon: Send Us!

Lectionary: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56

Introduction: I offer you today a sermon that is being preached at churches throughout Cleveland County. The outline was written by the Rev. Tony Tench, pastor of First Baptist here in Shelby. Local pastors have agreed to personalize the basic message to fit our individual parishes. The idea is to speak with one voice, in solidarity, for the benefit of our whole community. The sermon is entitled, “Send Us.”

With Major League Baseball in full swing and area football teams beginning their pre-season preparation, it’s time for a rousing rendition of that ‘between-inning’ chorus: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today!”

But this chorus extends beyond the dugouts and sidelines of local diamonds and gridirons, it also echoes across our town as a call to action in a struggle that will have rewards to surpass division pennants and state trophies. This struggle is a team effort to impact the lives of children who live around us.

Put me in coach” is reminiscent of the tone of the voice of a man of character from the Hebrew Scriptures. His name was Isaiah and he lived in a day when God wanted a prophet to stand up and address the devastating events of the day! Israel had not honored God with their lives. Their community was in shambles all about them.

God wanted a faithful word proclaimed in the midst of it all! And Isaiah, at worship before the Lord, heard God’s request for such a prophet and this was his response: “Put me in coach” - well actually, Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me!”(6:8).

Today, God is looking for a new prophet, in fact a whole task force of prophets who will live the truth of the love of God for the sake of the future of our community! This future is visible in the faces of the children who live around us.

The Shelby Star reports:

• Children are devouring their school lunches because many haven’t eaten since they left school the day before.
• A 14 year old boy says he’s not afraid of guns because they are so common in his neighborhood.
• Living in a shelter with her grandmother among drug addicts and victims of domestic violence, a teenage girl says, “I’ve lost all hope.”
• A boy in northeast Shelby says he wants to leave his house every night to sleep at his grandmother’s house because he’s afraid someone will come into his house during the night and shoot him.

Olivia Neely, reporter for the Shelby Star, tells why she wrote the series of articles entitled, Who Got Killed? In the video produced and shared by The Shelby Star (and linked on Redeemer’s website), Ms. Neely shares her shock at how shootings have become so normalized for these children that when they see the response teams on their block, they ask very matter-of-factly, “Who got killed?”

In Isaiah we see that the people of Israel had a similar problem: They’d looked away from the Lord and things in their community had become dangerous and hopeless as a result. And they were doing little to nothing to make it change.

So Isaiah speaks prophetically about a vineyard planted by God on a fertile hill. God worked hard to make sure this vineyard could be fruitful – clearing away the stones, planting choice vines, building a watchtower and a great vat to hold the wine that would come.

But there was no fruit, no wine. The vineyard in this story is the people of God – and God expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry – a cry that I think probably sounded much like the teenager who said, “I’ve lost hope” or the children who asked: “Who got killed?”

But, when God called for a prophet to speak a word of hope and to do something to make things change, Isaiah’s responded, Here am I send me! Then Israel was on its way to recovery, on its way to a new place where hope and encouragement could be found.

The same thing is true for us – right here, right now. Our children need a word of hope. They need things to change. Isaiah’s word to his people can also be our word today as we look to the Lord in worship together with the whole Christian community in Cleveland County and say, “Send Us!”

We can let the children of our community know these three things:

1. There is hope – there is always hope! As we heard in the letter to the Hebrews: By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land… By faith the walls of Jericho fell… By faith, Rabah… did not perish… because she obeyed the will of God and received the spies in peace.

Kimberly Johnson, a local author (who will be at the Fairgrounds on Aug 21, reading and giving away her books) says, “I open a book and I open my mind to things that are kind. Like forests and trees and rivers that run. Like people and places and things that are fun. I travel the world wherever I go. And if I open a book, I’ll get there, I know.”

Ms. Johnson encourages children to see the possibilities in this world through reading. The world God created is beautiful, exciting, and fun! And the people God created are kind – or at least we can be.

This is good news we can share with children who live around us! There is always hope!

2. The strength we need is found in God! As the prophet Isaiah says: God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (40:29-30)

When we look to the Lord for strength then we make our way up from stumbling and our way out of falling. But this message will only be heard by the children who live around us if those of us who believe it with all our hearts are willing to share it by our presence, our encouragement, and our love in action!

Through relationships such as mentors, lunch buddies, guardians ad litem, tutors in school and after school, we who are believers in Jesus Christ have the opportunity to point children to the strength of God and the reality that God’s love, God’s strength is enough to redeem even the worst circumstances they may face.

3. There is promise for your day!

Believers know what happens when we wait and hope in the Lord: our vision is joined to God’s and we see the way clear to a new day; we remember that God’s power is real and really able to overcome the temptations that lead us away from God’s plan of salvation for us; and we remember that God will help us put one foot in front of the other, that God will send us friends to walk with us toward goals that make our lives joyous and purposeful.

We know this - and so we can be witnesses of it, prophetic proclaimers of it… compasses that point the way for a child who needs to know it too.

As Shelby Star reporter Olivia Neely said: “It is a simple thing to give one hour a week for a child.” Imagine the difference that could be made if each one of us decided to agree with Olivia and give one hour a week for a child.

In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln said: “…the world will not remember what we say here but what [we] did here.” These children in need will not remember what we say, but they will remember what we do right now. So it is up to us to step up and be that task force of prophets who will say to the Lord, “Here we are, send us!”

And we can do that this Saturday, August 21, from 10 am 2 pm at the Cleveland County Fairgrounds. The event is called Connect, Commit to Change and it is a Community Help Fair sponsored by the Shelby Star and other agencies that encourage children in our community. The idea is to connect needs with volunteers who will commit themselves to doing something to help children – so that change becomes real in our community!

We need to be there.

Groups and agencies that care for children will be there with a list of what they need from us: time, talents, lunch buddies, mentors, tutors, equipment, supplies. These groups will be saying: 'Here’s how you can give your one hour for a child.' They will be looking to match up their needs with people like us who can give our time; people like us who are believers, who have been sent to love our neighbors as ourselves.

God has a plan for our children. One day they will soar as on eagle’s wings, and we can encourage that by putting our love and our hope into action, reminding them:

1. There is always hope.
2. The strength we need is found in God.
3. There is promise for your day.

Now that’s a good news word that can only come from us who know it to be true! But saying it isn’t enough. We must also put our love in action. So, with Isaiah I hope we will all say, "Here we are, Lord, send us!"

Put us in coach, we’re ready to say [this good news] – we’re ready to DO this good news today! Amen.

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