Homily for Youth Sunday, September 24, 2017, 8:50 a.m. Service
I am titling my homily today as “Knowing the Heart of Our Father.” It is my hope and prayer that we will discover the hearts of the people in today’s scripture lessons, and that by that discovery we will hear and know the Father’s prompting in our own lives. I, in particular, hope that all of our children and teenagers here today will be listening for a new thought to help them know and follow our Father in heaven.
The first scripture lesson we heard this morning was from the book of Exodus, chapter 16. The lesson captures the struggles that the Israelites experienced in traveling through the wilderness. Given our recent experiences of Hurricane Irma and seeing the news from Harvey and Maria, it is not too difficult for us to imagine a tribe of people going through a journey without the materials from home and struggles because of the environment. We here in Lakeland lost power and many of us were uncomfortable, but what the Israelites lost was their familiar surroundings - they lost what they called home in Egypt – they lost pots of meat and bread to fill them up - to then go day after day in a dry land, not knowing where they would end up. They had no food and they were hungry; they complained and they complained against the Lord; their lives had become unfamiliar and they were tired of camping. They did not believe that God was taking care of them, and their hearts were revealed when put in a difficult situation.
How were our hearts revealed in our difficult situation two weeks ago? From what I could tell, as a community, we persevered well. We demonstrated patience and compassion, and we prayerfully waited upon God to provide the resources needed through others. Thankfully, friends, family, and church family stepped in to do their part to provide comfort and help – to be the hands and feet of God. I know that we had some good discussions these past two weeks on Wednesday nights with our 4th/5th graders about being aware of the needs of others. We talked about the kind of heart that God wants us to have. He wants us to pray for and look for ways to take care for others. The challenge, we know, is to keep remembering what others are experiencing when we are no longer in a difficult situation ourselves. It is far too easy to get back to the comforts that we enjoy and to stop listening to the hearts who are still hurting around us.
In today’s scripture, Moses demonstrated that he was able to listen to those around him. Even though the Israelites were complaining and blaming him for their journey in the wilderness, Moses was their advocate before God. God had delivered them from Egypt; God had brought them to that place; God then communicated to the Israelites through Moses. Moses simply listened for God’s voice, he proclaimed it to others, and he was obedient to what he heard. That is the heart of Moses – listening, proclaiming, being obedient. Can we follow his example? How might we be hearing God’s voice and needing to proclaim to others – perhaps to our children or to our friends or to our peers and colleagues? How might we be hearing God’s voice and need to be obedient to do what God is saying to us? Perhaps students, your friends or peers need for you to be a good example? These are questions for us to ponder each and every day as we find time to be still and quiet before God. Being intentional about our relationship with God is the only way that we can know and follow the heart of our Father. It is my prayer that our capacity to know God grows deeper and deeper as He calls us into His love. If you can imagine a well that has no bottom, that is the depth of God’s love for us, and yet, too often, we settle for using small measuring cups and skimming water off the surface. We need to be digging deep into God’s love and our relationship with Him.
Let us consider the Israelites again, and their relationship with God. At this point they had lost their way in knowing the heart of their Father. Thankfully, they and we have a good Father who is merciful toward His people. And thankfully, He had a plan already in place to take care of their needs. For the Lord spoke to Moses, telling them that there will be meat to eat at night and bread in the morning. And so it was that quails came up at evening and manna in the morning. The manna was so unique that they did not even recognize the gift, but Moses pronounced to them, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” God took care of them, and He is taking care of us, even when we don’t see it.
Are their good gifts from God that we are failing to recognize? Are there things that perhaps we are taking for granted? And today, for you to get closer to the heart of our Father, perhaps you need to take time to thank Him for all that He does for you – for all that He has created for us? It seems that we live life on autopilot so much of the time, that we don’t realize how much God is doing for us already, and how much more He wants and could do. Again, thinking about the recent storm, the experience helped us to have hearts of thanksgiving, and to have hearts that recognize what is most important. There were many posts on FB or messages from people who were glad that everyone was okay. God’s care for us and the safety of our families was what mattered the most. And then people celebrated that their homes were not damaged; they were thankful for minimal property issues. Then there came opportunities to reach out and help others – to clean up properties, to fix damages, to provide ice, generators, showers, meals, air conditioning, and a phone call of compassion. These are acts of loving kindness that show the heart of our Father through us. Let us not miss the value and importance of what this time has meant. He allowed an experience that caused us to come together to take care of one another. This spirit of community, compassion, and generosity could slip away as we return to our schedules (for we are creatures who want routine), but it is my hope and prayer that the responses to these natural disasters would be a catalyst for taking us to a new level of outreach – to create space for new routines. Personally, I want to keep finding ways to reach out to neighbors, both within our parish and to our Lakeland community. And as a minister in this parish, it means a great deal to me to have us network and accomplish ministry goals together – for us to come alongside one another as All Saints’ Church and be a strong witness to our Lakeland community. We have upcoming opportunities to minister on September 30th in the Crystal Grove neighborhood; we can fundraise for A Woman’s Choice by participating in their Walk for Life on November 4th; we can give and shop toward Christmas Shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse or for our annual Adopt-a-Child program at Christmas Time; we can run in a 5K at Camp Wingmann in October to help them raise funds for new construction; we can attend the Talbot House Banquet and participate in their annual fundraiser; we can help to create food boxes for the holidays through VISTE and Senior Orphans; we can volunteer for Salvation Army at Christmas time. The opportunities are available for us as a church family to show our care for others. Deacon Bob Johnson and our Outreach Team are helping to identify what we currently do and what we can add to a calendar of community outreach. Additionally, because of Hurricane Maria, we can be attentive to ways to provide for the needs of Puerto Rico, and just this morning, Canon Tim Nunez put out an appeal for individuals to help Bishop Eaton to remove debris in the Keys.
This community partnership is what was lacking in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira from our reading in Acts today. They were part of the early church, and their community needed their total allegiance and commitment to the cause at hand. There will be causes that our parish will have which will need our total allegiance and commitment as God guides us to give. Ananias and Sapphira were not evil people, but they tested God by holding back – holding something for themselves, instead of giving freely out of the abundance that they had been given. When our hearts are following our Father, we will be free to follow as He leads. And often He will stretch us beyond what we know to be comfortable to take us to a new place where He has planned for us to go all along.
I was visiting with two of our members this past week - Vicki and Graylin Chastang. They have come to us from Jacksonville, and more importantly they have come to us through responding to God. They revealed to me that there were many pieces to the puzzle that brought them to us, but that God had orchestrated the circumstances. Their prayers to find a church home and to find a place where they can continue to use their gifts were answered. Deanie Hensarling had made a ministry contact in Jacksonville which led back to getting connected with the Chastangs here in Lakeland. It also led to getting to know Vicki and Graylin’s gifts for healing ministries and their experiences in being part of teaching conferences and international mission trips. They were in my office to have a Skype conversation with Sam and Kristina Setliff. The Setliffs will always be part of the All Saints’ Family, but they now live in Kristina’s hometown in Lithuania. The purpose of our conversation was to pray and talk together about what God is doing in Lithuania to deliver people from darkness and to help them see the light of Christ – and the heart of God. The conversation revealed ways that each of us have experienced the power of God’s Spirit to change our own lives and to change the hearts of others. Sam and Kristina have started to witness answers to their prayers for their community. They have been asking God for people to come to Lithuania to share their testimonies of what God has done in their lives. It has been a bleak couple of years for them, but then since the spring of this year, God has been sending missionaries to their community to bring encouragement to Christians and to speak to the hearts of others. The Setliffs are convinced that God is doing a new work among them and they continue to ask and seek for God’s will to be done. That is where Vicki, Graylin, my husband Charles and I, and hopefully a few of you are responding to God’s call to go. Through all that has happened thus far, it is clear to us that God has been orchestrating this opportunity. The opportunity is to go next summer in late June and early July to Lithuania for 9 days. Through prayerful discernment thus far, it seems that God would have us be part of a prayer, teaching, and worship ministry. Vicki and Graylin are stepping out to lead the teachings on healing, and others of us will be part of a prayer team or a worship team. The Setliffs are prayerfully making contacts in Lithuania as God leads them, and we will need people to be praying for us here in Lakeland. Prayers need to be starting now for those who will add this mission to their prayer lists. Those who go will be there to encourage the Setliffs and other Christians we meet; we will testify to God’s love in our own lives; we will be flexible to respond to work of the Holy Spirit while there; and we will pray for God’s healing and deliverance to be done. If you feel stirred to be part of this mission ministry, please do take the time to speak with me today.
In closing, it seems to me that this is what Jesus was teaching about in today’s Gospel lesson. He was casting forth a new vision for God’s people, and He was pointing them toward the door that only our Father can open. Our job, then, is to be asking so that God can give, to be seeking so that we can find, and to be knocking so that God can open the door for us. Where will this door lead we might ask? Ultimately, the final door leads to a deep and everlasting relationship with our Father, yet along the way as we ask and seek, we discover answered prayers which open doors deeper into the heart of God. Our lives are never the same because we have crossed thresholds that God put before us. Our Father wants to give us this amazing good gift of living into His love. It is my prayer that we can be inspired to seek after this love with new found passion for what God has for us to fulfill in this life. Our calling as Christians is an amazing calling and we have a good, good Father whose love is undeniable and whose presence never leaves us alone. May we ask for our love for God to grow; may we seek the will of God for our lives; and may we knock at His door, anticipating the goodness of His love toward us and through us.
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, your love for us is beyond measure, beyond comprehension. But today, we want to focus on ways to know your heart and to know all the good gifts you have given us. Help us to respond in ways that are sacrificial, ways that cause us to put You first, then our neighbors. May we be known by having a heart that listens, proclaims, and obeys your word, and may we be inspired by your love. For we ask all this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.