Sunday, October 28, 2018
Scripture: I Peter 2:1-5, 9-10 & John 14:1-14
Rev. Troy Hauser Brydon
My mother-in-law, Judy, was born on the Fourth of July. Like gravity, there is an irresistible force drawing my family from wherever we are in the world to Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to celebrate. I can still remember my own family traditions for the Fourth – the day spent on Findley Lake jumping off the two-story deck, the grilling out, the waterskiing, and the fireworks enjoyed from the middle of the lake on my great uncle’s boat – but since 2000, the one decision Jess and I made to be married has led to a complete revolution in my Fourth of July observances. For the past couple of decades we always cram ourselves into my in-laws house and do many of the same things – get up early to run the four-mile race through Glen Ellyn, go to Starbucks for coffee that will appease those who didn’t run and stayed at home with the kids, get everyone ready for the parade that happens at noon, have a picnic/birthday party for Judy, and then finally make our way down by Lake Ellyn for the fireworks. One minor detail – Judy’s birthday – has totally changed what I do with my life on the Fourth of July.
These traditions have become part of the rhythm of my family’s life, which is why the news this week that Superman was losing his apartment drew our attention for much of this week. You see, Glen Ellyn’s Fourth of July parade has its standard fare – fire trucks and police, marching bands, floats, and politicians, along with the occasional appearance from a member of the ’85 Bears – but it also has a bonus guest every year – Superman. I have no idea if parade planners initially expected to have Superman in the parade, but whether he’s official or not, he’s now a part of it.
This Superman is not Clark Kent, however. He’s Jonathan Charbonneau. He’s 52 years old, and he has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. For 26 years Jonathan has suited up as Superman for parades in Glen Ellyn, proudly playing the role throughout the parade route. By day he works full-time in the medical industry. He holds a third-degree black belt in karate and is an expert in a number of subjects. For most of adulthood, Jonathan has rented an apartment in downtown Glen Ellyn, which is close to the trains and buses necessary to get him to work and class, since he doesn’t drive. Recently, new ownership took over Jonathan’s building and sent him a notice that his lease was ending. This was devastating news to Jonathan, but a local friend took notice and worked with the landlord on a transition plan, but he needed help to afford the 75% increase in rent.
So this one person reached out to help Superman, starting a GoFundMe page, looking for $4,500, which was enough to offset the different in rent for a year while they looked for new housing. Here was one person in need, noticed by one person, but this little move has led to an explosion in generosity from the community. Within three days, they have raised over $30,000 for Superman. They’re working on a plan for more permanent and suitable housing, particularly because of the generosity of the community. One person took notice of another’s need and accomplished far greater things than she ever set out to do.
Life is like that. Little things build up to big things. All sorts of small gifts have helped Jonathan in his time of need. We’re experiencing that as a church right now. Our Mission Committee challenged the congregation to 1000 hours of service this month. We’re not even through the month, and we’ve surpassed our goal! Some people were able to find an hour to help someone else. Others have served like it’s their full-time job. Through each of these efforts, we have made a difference in our community. Each board that was cut and screw put in place has turned into a new playground. Each meal that was prepared by our deacons is a blessing in waiting for someone in need. Each piece of clothing that was sorted has the potential to become a blessing to someone else. Your little steps together have made a big difference, and, frankly, it’s been fun watching the energy around our mission work grow throughout the month. When you pass through the gathering area today, you’ll see some of the fruit of our labor. Our mission tree has reached maturity and will soon start bearing fruit! (Incidentally, that tree is what happens when you ask an artist like Maryanne to build a thermometer to track progress. Instead of a boring thermometer, we’ve been growing a tree! How fun!)
The church really is the community based upon the small decisions and actions of all the people that make up its body. Today is Generosity Sunday. It’s a time for us to celebrate the ministry of First Pres, and it’s a time for us to make our individual commitments to the whole for the 2019 ministry. Each household in our congregation is vital to making the ministry what it should be for 2019. When we’re all in this together financially, with our talents, and with our time, then we’ll have a ministry that is powered by its members, maturing and growing into something far greater than we could do on our own. Basically, the church functions on the thousands of commitments its members make. Every time we pledge to the church’s ministry, we put some gas in the engine that makes us go. When we make space in our personal lives and budgets for what God is calling us to do together, the church becomes greater.
Last week we heard a great report from Kevin Ford about how our ministry has strengthened over the past couple of years. I hope you were encouraged in hearing from Kevin, and if you missed his report, please watch it online or ask us for a copy of our survey results. They’re good news for the church. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me to celebrate where we are in ministry and to thank me, but I always want to turn it around because the improvement is about us, not me. It’s about what God has done and is doing in and through this church. That’s what’s created the difference. It’s because each of you has made commitments and decisions to be a part of the ministry, and we’re better for it. We haven’t arrived, but we’re better. The more small decisions you make to strengthen the church, the greater our ministry will be. Thank you all for being a part of strengthening First Pres! Let’s keep the momentum going as we each take small steps together.
So, little things build up to big things. Both of our texts this morning touch on this theme. Peter is writing to early believers in Asia Minor. They are a small group of people who feel very much under pressure from the dominant culture. What difference can they make? But Peter tells them how significant they are because of God has called them, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
You were nothing, but now you’re something! Peter urges – you were nobody but because of Christ you are somebody! These little lives get added up into something far greater than they were on their own. These people weren’t from the religious elites. They weren’t rich. They weren’t significant in any way, but God calls them and makes them far more significant than they ever dreamed they would be. They’re priests! They’re chosen! They’re loved by God and called to build God’s kingdom starting right where they are. Little things become greater things.
Jesus tells his disciples as much in John 14. Surely it was a night filled with great emotion, for Jesus knows he is facing crucifixion. As he washes his disciples feet and gives them final instructions, the weight of what is happening had to have been great. And in our passage two of the lesser known disciples, Thomas and Philip, get to ask the questions. “How do we know the way to the place you’re going?” Thomas asks. “I am the way,” Jesus responds. Philip just wants to glimpse God, and Jesus reveals that the one who has traveled these dusty roads with them, who has laughed and wept and eaten with them is God himself. The One who is sitting with them right then and who will be crucified in short order is the all-powerful creator of everything. If you want to see God, then look at Jesus.
They’ve seen Jesus teach with authority, spin parables as though doing so was simple, heal the lame and blind, and challenge those who thought they had it all together. What would they do without Jesus? Who could ever take his place? But then Jesus leaves the disciples with stunning news. “The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing,” Jesus says, “but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing” (John 14: 11). The greatest person to ever walk the face of the earth – God in flesh – has a plan that takes the little lives of all of those around him and does far greater things with them than he did on his own.
Greater things. Jesus has left us to do even greater things than he did. On the one hand, we could question the wisdom of this plan. You want us to do what? Since Jesus was part of creating everything, does he really need us? But on the other hand, think about the astonishing impact of Christians through the millennia. Hospitals. Schools. Orphanages. Clean water projects. Tutoring. Literacy. Through the combined efforts of Christians through the years, we can see God’s kingdom unfolding among us. Because Jesus has gone away and left us the Holy Spirit, we are capable of greater things – things that challenge our assumptions, that break through our limitations, that make more of us than we could ever have made of ourselves by ourselves.
Imagine with me that First Presbyterian Church of Grand Haven never existed. How different would this town be? I think it would be radically different. Grand Haven is what it is today in part because of this church. God has used the thousands of people who have been a part of First Pres since 1836 to take their individual lives and contribute to something great. Little things build up to big things.
On this Generosity Sunday, let’s be thankful for how God has used us up to this point, but let’s also be eager to offer our lives once again so that together we may do greater things – all to the glory of God!