Go to the Hills and the Highways
July 17, 2022
There will be times in each of our lives when we head down a highway that appears to have absolutely no end to it … leaving us calling out ‘Are we there yet?’ As the weeks and months of life pass by and we live out our days, we all-will have ups and down …. We will have to go over hills so that we can discover what is in front of us. And, I am sure each of us … all of us … will experience some life journey moments that seem hopeless or give us a feeling of being lost or unable to escape from them.
This morning, I am here to tell you that God has a plan … God offers the ultimate hope for humanity … God rescues us from being lost IF … if we are willing to have Jesus in our lives and IF we are willing to accept the Holy Spirit’s guidance. If we choose to focus on the blessings that are a reality in each person’s life every day and if we search for God’s call to us each day … then we can have joy and peace. The prophet Jeremiah shared God’s plan for every single human being … a plan for peace not disaster … a plan that gives every person a future filled with hope.
Our team has made it back from the hills. A week in Kentucky where the humidity and heat causes your sweat to roll off your brow. A week working out of the Red Bird Mission for God, for Jesus Christ and yes, for this church. You see when people hear about churches whose members actually are involved in mission or work tied to their faith talk they are more likely to want to discover more about that church. And, perhaps they might find God’s love through Jesus Christ for themselves.
Our Team members heard Mr. and Mrs. Gray declaring repeatedly “thank y’all” to the strangers from New Jersey who were going in and out of their home all week long. Strangers who had travelled hundreds of miles just for the pleasure of working a variety of saws, drills, and other construction tools and giving our time because God called us to serve those who struggle and those who are hurting. It was not about us … never.
It doesn’t take skills learned over a lifetime to help others or to be part of the Red Bird Mission Team. You don’t have to be in your Twenties, Thirties, or Forties to be part of a mission team. It takes heart … it takes faith … it takes patience with understanding, and yes it takes giving up some “me time” to help total strangers … And, it takes a willingness to say YES LORD YES LORD YES YES LORD! One morning Angie from our team was extremely hesitant to use a power saw but by the afternoon she was ‘QUEEN of the SAW’ eagerly cutting wood so that we could complete the Gray family’s new ramp.
Before we travelled to Kentucky, I chose the Scripture lessons for today. Psalm 15 begins … “Who can live in your tent Lord? Who can dwell in Your Holy mountain?” I know that I can find God in the mountains with ease … and traveling into Kentucky took us away from the world with a specific purpose … to do God’s work there in God’s mountains and what a blessing it was to me to watch our team overcome some ups and downs but in the end by working as God’s team … by working together … we not only completed all of our assigned work but we took on additional tasks, which we also completed. Mission work is not a vacation … mission work is doing what is right for a stranger in need … mission work can be challenging and uncomfortable … and mission work is giving up some of yourself because you sense God nudging you to help another human being or a family who needs your efforts.
Scripture my friends is pretty consistent when it comes to the basics of God’s expectations for those who believe. I know that here at St. Paul’s I repeat and we repeat and then together we live out God’s call to love all of our neighbors. We are known as a church where ALL are welcomed and ALL who come through our doors are loved. That is the second commandment of God with the first being we are to love God and have no other gods before the Creator of the universe … no false idols nor acting as if anything or anyone is bigger or more important than God.
However, our Holy Scripture is pretty darn clear about some other things that fall under God’s expectations or perhaps I should speak more clearly … because God’s expectations are actually directives for people who believe and are faithful. From the opening pages of the Bible, which are captured in the Torah, to an even more clear exposition in the New Testament … the people who choose to self identify themselves as Christians are told we MUST help the poor in the world and that faith without actions is dead.
It’s not that we earn our place in the kingdom of God by doing things … salvation is a gift of God’s grace and love for all humanity. We were all created in God’s image not just those who look like you look, sound like you, and live how you choose to live … ALL …. ALL is a consistent God reflection and direction. Jesus told his followers that the true believers … the real Christians … humans who actually accept Jesus and become changed people through faith, and by actively following Jesus’ teachings will be known by our love of all neighbors. Jesus commentary shortly before His arrest in the Garden matches nicely with the prophet Micah’s report of what the Lord God expects of humans like you and me …. “to do justice, love all with mercy and walk humbly with God.” Therefore it’s clear that people of faith are to be activists in faith.
We know from Scripture that Jesus taught that those of us who believe … those of us who experience a change in our life because of our discovery of the truth of God in and through Jesus Christ will be gifted with a companion called the Holy Spirit.
Now, the Holy Spirit probably won’t be sending text messages or emails to you but the Holy Spirit is constantly nudging and whispering to each of us … directing us or hinting to us what God would like us to do for God every day of our lives. It just might be you are being nudged to go on next year’s RED BIRD mission trip even if you are like me and you have absolutely no construction skills. A 75 year old woman who worships with us online reached out to me this week and has indicated to me that she plans to join next year’s RED BIRD trip … she shared memories of going there when she was younger and senses that God wants her to go back.
Perhaps you feel an almost magnetic pull at your very soul to help with this year’s Vacation Bible School set-up that will be happening all this week it’s really not hard work … just necessary work or maybe you know that you should be volunteering to help with the kids at VBS …. You know it … you feel it … God’s calling you. Or you know God wants you to make some calls to invite some children from your life’s circle to participate in VBS but you are scared to ask … frightened to invite kids to church.
And, God is calling us to go to the hills and out on the highways!! Jesus very last recorded words that Luke put into Acts chapter 1 are: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The only way that the church of Jesus Christ has survived is because every day people, like you and me, went to the hills and out onto the highways of the communities where they lived and they shared the story of Jesus. The saints of the church who came before us lived lives that led to the building of churches like St. Paul’s … the saints of the church who were not just clergy … they fed the hungry and cared for the broken giving reason for others to check out what was happening at the church of Jesus Christ because those churches seemed focused on loving their neighbors and putting faith into action.
While we were in Kentucky I believe the Holy Spirit was extremely busy with members of our mission team. Out of Kentucky may come a new way this church will be serving our neighbors here in Gloucester County. Although plans need to be worked on …I am excited because if it all comes together St. Paul’s will again be demonstrating that we don’t just like to say we love our neighbors and care for the poor but we actually do it.
So, this morning … what about you? Have you read Scripture’s call to Christians “So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. Think about the one who endured such opposition from sinners so that you won’t be discouraged and you won’t give up.”
Are you willing to go beyond hearing that God has a future of hope for you by doing what the next verses in Jeremiah tell believers to do, “Search for me, yes search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” Yes, we can find God in the hills and on the highways and along the shore and in the fields of farmers. As people of faith we have a wide array of mission fields ready for us to take on … to share our testimony using our God-given abilities, talents, and skills. We just can’t give up!
“WHO CAN LIVE in your tent Lord? Who can dwell on your Holy mountain? The person who lives free of blame, does what is right, does no damage with their talk, does no harm to a friend, does not insult a neighbor. Someone who despises those who act wickedly. Those, who honor the Lord.”
And, Jesus taught them saying, “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then He replied to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”