August 30, 2015 – Faith in Action

James 1:17-27

The author of this story is unknown.

An American Company and a Japanese Company decided to engage in a boat race. Both teams practiced hard and long to reach their peak performance levels. On the big day they felt ready. The Japanese won by a mile. The American team was discouraged by the loss. Morale sagged. Corporate management decided that the reason for the crushing defeat had to be found, so a consulting firm was hired to investigate the problem and recommend corrective action.

The consultant’s finding: The Japanese team had eight people rowing and one person steering; the American team had one person rowing and eight people steering.

After a year of study and millions spent analyzing the problem, the consultant firm concluded that too many people were steering and not enough were rowing on the American team. So as race day neared again the following year, the American team’s management structure was completely reorganized. The new structure: four steering managers, three area steering managers, and a new performance review system for the person rowing the boat to provide a work incentive.

The next year, the Japanese won by TWO miles!!!  Humiliated, the American corporation laid off the rower for poor performance and gave the managers a bonus for discovering the problem.

I am sure you have heard the saying about too many chiefs and not enough workers.  We can talk a good talk, but unless we are willing to put our faith in action, it won’t do anyone much good.  We can hope that someone else will step up when there is a mission or project.  We can choose not to step forward and dedicate time and effort to love our neighbors.  We can go on with life as if we are living in our own bubble, taking care of ourselves and our families because God calls us to do that as well, and there are only so many hours in the day.

Today we are focusing on the church’s overall call to action: Why are we here? For what purpose?  Are we serious when we say we are putting God first in our lives?  What does that look like?  How will others know that we are followers of Christ?  There are Christians who talk the talk, but there are others who walk the talk.  There are those who truly embody the love and life of Jesus Christ and do all they can to be more like Jesus – to abide in him.  Which type of Christian do we want to be? What kind of church does Mayo United Methodist Church want to be?

One of the perks of being a pastor is getting to spend time with our shut ins and those recovering from hospital stays.  Here’s a secret – this perk is not limited to pastors and I thank those of you who routinely reach out to our folks who can no longer make it to worship.  Some of the most positive people I know are those whom life has dealt some serious blows.  Our friend [we will call him John] was given word recently that he has been removed from the heart transplant list. He was given official notice that he is living on borrowed time.  In truth, we all are as none of us knows how long we will be on this earth.  But even with this sad news, [John] continues to shine the light of Christ. His doctors and nurses find great relief in treating [John] because in spite of his ailments he shares kindness and love with others at every given opportunity.

Our good friend [we will call her Susan] was dealt what seems to be an unfair blow back in the spring.  She was simply walking across a parking lot, tumbled and fell in such a way that she is looking at a 2-year recovery process filled with uncertainty.  But when you go to visit her, she has a smile on her face, makes jokes and conversation in a way that you feel better for having been in her presence.  She gets discouraged at times, but I have never seen her get angry with her caregivers, and again, they find true joy while caring for her.  She is living out her faith in the midst of great trial.

What would others say about us?  Are we living out our faith in our daily lives?  I was driving the church van to the grocery store to pick up items for a church event.  I happened to have my Mayo UMC polo shirt – that’s an important detail.  I was in a hurry and of course what typically happens when you are in a hurry? You hit every light red and get behind a truck going 10 miles/hour under the speed limit.  My driving did not look very Godly.  My actions noted someone who was putting her needs ahead of others.  It struck me as I was getting out of the van that I was most assuredly not promoting a good image of Christian behavior.  So I practiced my ABC’s – a way to refocus my energy.  Change my attitude, change my behavior, change my character.  For me it begins with attitude.  Mine was completely self-centered not God-centered.  Once I took a couple of deep breaths and changed my focus, my attitude lightened considerably.  This allowed me to change my behavior.  I helped someone struggling to get something off a high shelf.  I was intentional about maintaining a positive demeanor.  Since I have a gift of choosing the slowest checkout line, I spent the time chatting with others who noticed my polo shirt that indicates ‘pastor.’  I even did a little pastoral care with the cashier.  When I changed my attitude and behavior, over time I am changing my character.  ABC – change your attitude, change your behavior, change your character.  Pastor, preach to thyself!

What is the purpose of the church? Why are we here?  We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – that is our official stance. But what does that look like?  Perhaps it begins with an attitude adjustment. Are we self-centered or God-centered?  Are we looking out for our neighbors, the widows and orphans among us, or are we too busy?  Do we live and act like Christ? I hope so, otherwise we are falling into the trap of the church leaders Jesus regularly criticized.  We want our genuine nature to shine. We want others to see that we will still look people in the eye and greet folks instead of staring at our phones.  We want to learn the name of our drive-through attendant and send a smile and greeting.  People were drawn to Jesus, even when he presented a message that was counter-cultural.  Perhaps we can take note and not feel obligated to succumb to greed and selfishness that is all around us, instead living as Jesus taught us to live – loving God and loving our neighbor.

We as a church are working to make touch points with our community to help share God’s love through our actions.  The BackPack Buddies program is kicking off again, and we are having our fun by voting for our favorite football teams.  A cub scout pack is forming that will meet here at the church.  Our nursery school will be back in action just after Labor Day.  Our Knittin’ Chicks and Angel Gown ministries continue to support the local hospital.  Our AA group meets here 4 night/week.  We are hosting Financial Peace University to help folks in our community learn to manage their finances God’s way, and this time we are offering child care as a part of the program to assist parents who need that support.  I will be delivering a check this week to South River High School to assist teachers with school supplies for children in need.  Yoga classes will be held here, and the list goes on and on.  James notes that every generous act of giving is from above.  We can make a difference in this community, helping to transform lives through our shared love of God.

I encourage each of us to practice changing our ABC’s this week.  Change our attitude – look for those in need and see how we can make things a little better for our neighbors.  Change our behavior – walk the talk.  Don’t just preach our faith and trust in Jesus, but let us actually live that out.  Change our character – let us be the church that welcomes all, lives like Jesus, cares for those who need a little help and encouragement, seeking God first in all things.  It all starts with Attitude!!! Amen.

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