A COMMUNITY of FAITH
First Thessalonians 5: 1-11
MATTHEW 25: 14-23

Friends … sometimes it truly takes a village to raise a child. It takes dedicated hard working players to create a championship team. It takes a COMMUNITY of FAITH to take live out the call of God through Jesus Christ to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

It truly takes a community … it takes faith. Jesus didn’t teach His disciples to go off by themselves to complete the mission He paired them. Jesus didn’t leave believers alone in this world He taught,

The Father will send another companion who will be with you forever. This companion is the Spirit of Truth. He lives with you, and will be with you.

Friends, today is a celebration of community in our month long examination of thankfulness. It is time to examine what it takes to be a community of faith … how it works, what needs to be done, and once again to shout with exceeding joy for this family called St. Paul’s! This is truly a special community of faith friends … AMEN (?)

Here on Church Street in West Deptford New Jersey … whether you are in a pew this morning or watching on FACEBOOK … this is a place where God is worshiped and the Word of Jesus Christ is energizing us for great possibilities. Can I have Another AMEN?

It is thanks to God …. In fact, this morning can we give God some appreciation … we held our annual church conference yesterday with great joy, in reflection of an outstanding year of faith but at the end of the day … God sent us Jesus … Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit and I think God deserves some appreciation that can shake the rafters!

We heard from one of Paul’s letters today … a letter that could easily have been written to this small Gloucester County church … a church where the pews once were filled and the Sunday School classes overflowing but a church in the realities of the year 2017 that is ALIVE and vibrant, which is something other churches can’t say. Paul wrote,

All of you are the children of light and children of day. We don’t belong to night or darkness.

NO WE DON’T … we are a church that understands that anyone who walks through our doors is welcome to join this community of faith … we don’t care where you live, who you live with, what the color of your skin is or what accents add vibrancy to the language you speak. Today … we celebrate community … today we are thankful for where we are on November 19th 2017. A COMMUNITY OF FAITH sensing where God needs us to go next.

I have a small puzzle for you this morning. I have four bags (PASS OUT BAGS containing a grape, a peanut and some flour) for each of you to look at briefly, think about, and then pass to your neighbor. This bag is about possibilities; take a look and pass it on.

But for a moment as you begin to consider the possibilities I need to talk about realities.

First, let me again thank all of you who prayed for me this week as I once again spent a night in a cardboard box. Thankfully Friday night was a comfortable night on the streets of Atlantic City with clear skies and overnight temperatures in the low 30’s. I did get a good night’s sleep but woke up thinking about the truth that teenagers across America … teenagers within miles of our church … kids not yet 20 are lost on the streets of the nation that God has provided more wealth to than any other place in the history of the world and we find our leaders rushing to give more money to those with great wealth. I thought about the poverty we allow to thrive in this rich nation.

Covenant House truly is a community of faith … I rushed to hug a young man named Alex Sinari on Friday night. His dad is the one who introduced Covenant House to me … his dad an Orthodox priest has crawled into abandoned buildings and under the boardwalk … his dad, a few years older than me has walked up to gang leaders with photo’s of missing teens asking if they could help him find the kids. And, Father Steve serving the community of faith called Covenant House has rescued countless teens … countless kids … sacrificing hours of his time so that the kids could have a life.

Alex shared that he has recently been part of a task force designed to put a dent in the sex slave trade industry. First, you need to know there are these evil people who are slave traders capturing young women and men … sending them around the world … to fuel a multi-billion dollar industry of pornography and prostitution. And … Atlantic City … a small city 50 miles from here … is in the top five cities used by the SEX SLAVE TRADERS in America putting teens lost on our streets very much at risk of being shipped to Europe, Australia or the Middle East as slaves. Just like his dad … Alex hits the streets with energy and love … he shared that as part of the task force they had rescued a pregnant teenage girl but as they took her out of the Atlantic County office building a group working for the traders opened fire … thankfully Alex wasn’t shot nor was the girl … but that’s life on the streets. If you don’t take risks … if you don’t make an investment of what God has given you … then you can’t change the world for God sitting back holding on …. Thinking nah not me … I don’t have anything to give.

Before we went to sleep in our boxes on Friday night those who were raising money for Covenant House’s Community of Faith paused in a courtyard … to remember … not every lost child is saved … not every teenager who goes out on the streets leaving home frustrated and angry makes it … we read the names of the kids who were lost just in Atlantic City last year but it could be any city. Some of us were given names … names read to insure they were remembered … it made me again think of a special homeless program called FISHES and LOAVES in Sacramento, which has a wall of memory … when a homeless person dies in California’s capital … there is a service to celebrate that person’s life and a name is added to a wall next to flowing waters … so we remembered and I was given a name to read on this slip of paper (UNFOLDING PAPER); SHAWN M.

Friends … SHAWN M was a kid from North Jersey who ended up on the streets of Atlantic City. He had an abusive dad … a dad who drank a lot and introduced booze to SHAWN early in life. In fact SHAWN’s system started to need rather than just like the booze. SHAWN made it into Covenant House; Shawn sensed the love of a community of faith … Shawn got a job … Shawn drifted from the community of faith the network of love that Covenant House has.

How many people have you known who have drifted from a community of faith and you have just let it go? How many young people have been left out to dry never experiencing the love of a faith community … allowed excuses to remove them from God’s love for the love of something temporary and perhaps even harmful?

Shawn came back to the community … he was drinking and needed the hugs of community but there in the midst of recovery … out on the streets of the badlands …. SHAWN MARTIN was shot to death and bled out on a New Jersey sidewalk in the year of 2017 … a year when too many people are being shot by bullets fired by guns that are effectively terrorizing our nation in each and very corner. Every day people dying in America the Beautiful shot to death by gunfire. So on Friday night … I read Shawn’s name.

So, what about this community of ours … we sit here on the Sunday before Thanksgiving with a $6000 budget deficit that we need to overcome to finish the year in the black. I know we can do it … but as you hold pledge cards in your hands this week that ask you to commit to this church’s ministries are you ready to say we can do more … we need to do more … there are young people missing out on the love of a community of faith … there are hungry people within miles of our church … there are those aching and desperate to experience God’s love … are you sensing the servant’s call from today’s Gospel where God has given you a choice to invest in the fields of the world for God’s kingdom or you can just bury what you have like the third servant whose demise we didn’t include in the Scripture reading but if you want to finish the story read Matthew 25 verses 24 through 30.

There is much to do my friends … this COMMUNITY of FAITH has a boldness … an energy … a loving caring heart … look at what we have done this past year … think about those kids in VBS … the new people who have joined this community … our streaming of worship services … new missions …. New challenges …. Hungry neighbors fed … we have so much to celebrate … as Thanksgiving Day approaches and God has been good to us AMEN (?) … God has blessed us AMEN (?) … GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME and <>
So what did you think when you saw my plastic bag today? What could you make from its contents … could you do anything with those 3 ingredients?

A peanut … a grape … and some flour. Now, if we each brought in some peanuts, some grapes and some flour and invested some money in other ingredients and containers and more … we could create a peanut butter and jelly sandwich factory that feeds the poor. If we each brought in a jar of peanut butter … a jar of jelly and a loaf of bread every week and then made sandwiches after church and then someone took those bagged sandwiches out into the streets of Camden … we could feed some hungry people.

Little Sara who sang for you last week has just taken over her church’s PEANUT BUTTER and JELLY SANDWICH ministry that feeds the homeless in Atlantic City. 11 years old … she can’t do it alone … she does it with a community of faith.

If you went out on the streets and offered a homeless person a bag with a peanut a grape and some flour and smiled and said … find some others and you can eventually have a sandwich … they’d think you were nuts.

It takes a community of faith … sometimes we fail …. But until a community of faith is willing to say YES WE CAN …. WE WILL INVEST … WE WILL GIVE WHAT IT TAKES … WE WILL USE WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN US rather than burying away our talent, our skill, and our money … because we have heard the call of Jesus Christ to become the people of the day .. the people of the light. … who wear our faithfulness and love as a piece of armor as Paul wrote, with the hope of salvation as our helmet. JESUS died so that whether we are awake or asleep we will live together with Him. So my brothers and sisters … continue encouraging each other and building each other up just like you are already doing … WE ARE A COMMUNITY OF FAITH … WE HAVE NOT BURIED AWAY our TREASURES … unlike all too many other churches ST. PAUL”S is ALIVE … St. PAUL’S HAS MUCH TO DO in the coming days … it’s the COMMUNITY OF FAITH THAT will make the difference in this world … that’s each of you saying YES WE CAN … and saying in the coming days we will not sit back but will head out ready to serve GOD with all that God has provided to us!

Watch the video of today’s worship service.

© 2017 St. Paul's United Methodist Church, West Deptford, New Jersey