Monroe Congregational Church
August 19, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz

This was not a week in which I enjoyed reading the newspaper: too much tragedy; too much violence.

I feel brewing in me a growing uneasiness with the state of our world. I listen to the news and like many of you I wonder what the world is coming to. 12-year old boys indicted for murder. Racial tensions escalating to new levels. Mothers and children killed by domestic violence. Drug-induced craziness leading to the murder of a 2-year old. Never-ending warring in the Middle East.

As I read about the forest fires out of control and the flow of mud and rocks from a melting glacier in Mount Rainier it feels like even the land is protesting: "It's too much, it's just too much."

Every week we gather in church and we lift up prayers for people and situations that need healing, resolution, and attention. Such prayer is a good thing. But I find myself asking lately, what do we do in-between those prayers? What opportunities are we providing for God to work through us to make a difference in these hard times?

Hard times are not unique to the 21st century. The Hebrew people dealt with many trials and "by faith" they passed through such times. But, listen carefully to part of the Hebrews passage again as it speaks of the prophets and their faith: "the prophets who through faith administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness."

These were not people who sat around wringing their hands. These were not people who stayed safe inside a building praying for God to resolve everything. These were people of action. They "administered justice," and "obtained promises," and "quenched raging fire." Of course, they prayed as well but they recognized their call to respond in concrete ways to the situations in which they found themselves.

Response-able faith means we must respond, as we are best able to give the Spirit a chance to work its miracles. "Faith without works is dead," we read in James in the Bible.

Doing "good works" is not something we do to be accepted and loved by God. That is a given. Doing "good works" is something we do to love God back and to spread the gospel to all the hurting people in our world.

We want to make a difference but most often we don't think we can or we don't know how. Jim Wallis, in his book, Faith Works, explores some practical ways Christians can put their faith into action.

He urges people to get out of the house (or church) more often saying we have to experience more of the world than we can know inside the comfortable confines of our lives. Real transformation happens to people when they cross the barriers that divide them from others. Helping out at a soup kitchen, volunteering at a battered women's shelter, working among the poor puts a face on the statistics that can no longer be ignored.

Wallis suggests that it is important to start by doing something. Instead of getting lost in rhetoric, arguments and blaming about social problems, we can enter into the problem in the hope of finding the necessary solution amidst it.

The solutions come as people honor and use their particular gifts. He tells a story about a church hall meeting in the Pacific Northwest focused on the subject of youth violence. Young people from the streets met with respectable citizens of the community. After awhile the barriers of fear and distrust began to break down and they wary citizens began to understand how lost and lonely kids get lured into gangs and into trouble.

Somebody asked one of the kids what they could do. One of the kids said, "I dunno, man, maybe you could figure out what you do best and just use it." A college dean offered to help them get scholarships; a pastor said she'd open up their church. This continued for some time. At the end a middle-aged woman stood up and said, "I'm not the dean of any college, the pastor of a church, or the president of a company, but I've got something to offer too. I work at the McDonald's downtown and get a morning and afternoon break. Lots of you kids said you've got nobody to talk to. Well, now you know where to find me, and I'll even buy you a cup of coffee."

Wallis comments, "Offering whatever you have and whatever you are is enough. Too many people don't believe that, so they don't get involved. Because we can't do what we think would really make a big difference we don't offer our own gift - whatever that is."

The writer of our Isaiah passage this morning knows that something special happens when people give of themselves in concrete ways. When we take an action that transcends ourselves, moving us beyond our own circle of focus, we find meaning in a new way. Listen again to a part of this scripture: "If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places . . . you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in." There is something powerful and life-giving about putting our gospel faith into action. It satisfies a deep need within us all to make a difference in life and to authentically respond to what it means to be a Christian.

To ignore that need leads to a deadened life, for us as individuals, for us as church. We need to each start now with what we have and trust that God will make of our offering a special gift to the world.

Fran Peavy is a social activist who believes we all can make a difference in life. In her 1994 book, By Life's Grace she tells this story: "As I have learned to consult that voice that speaks for life inside of myself, fortunately the life-force has given me some ideas of what to do. For example, I was stunned upon hearing the news of rape used as a military strategy in Bosnia and Serbia. At first I found it difficult to think of something to do about that situation. But an idea came after meditating for months.

I had a dream of taking small bundles composed of sweet-smelling soaps, lotion, shampoo, and maybe a nice scarf for the women, from those of us outside the former Yugoslavia who have ached with these women this past year and a half. These wouldn't be parcels to save a life, no blankets or food. No really grand gestures. Others are doing that. Maybe it could help them remember some of the wonderful things about being a woman that a rape tends to erase. Maybe they could feel the connection of women from other parts of the world who sent those packets.

"One of the most spirit-crushing aspects of living through a tragedy is the sense of isolation and that no one outside the situation even cares. When women from women's centers in the former Yugoslavia came to my city on a tour, I checked the idea with them. Their faces brightened up: "What a lovely thought!"

"To further this idea sixty-seven letters were sent to friends in the U.S. and twelve to Australia. I invited them to copy the letter and send it to their friends. Expecting a five to ten percent response to the letter I calculated that I would receive 200-300 bundles. Tova Green and I planned to pack these in our luggage and hand them out to women on all sides of this terrible conflict in Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

"I had no idea how this little idea would create an outpouring of packages - over 6000 in the US and 2000 in Australia! As I finish this book we are going to Vienna where we will rent a truck and pick up over eighty large boxes to distribute to refugee camps and women's centers all over the former Yugolavia.

Fran Peavy acted. She did not let herself be totally overwhelmed with the horror she felt but transformed that into an action of goodness and compassion. It seemed like a small thing, but it blossomed into something much bigger. So it often is when we take courageous steps for always with us in those movements is the power of the Spirit.

There are people within a few miles of this church who suffer daily; parents who don't have enough money to provide shelter for their children, teenagers escaping from homes of abuse who live on the streets, families of the prisoners in the reformatory who are isolated, immigrant workers who have no place for their children to be while they work in the fields to provide food for our tables.

The gospel is not ambivalent or obtuse about the response we are called to make as Christians. Our responsibility is to respond in concrete ways to alleviate the suffering of the orphans, the outcasts, and the poor.

The United Church of Christ often utilizes this motto: "To be is to care. To care is to do." This very day there is something each of one of us can do to show our caring. May we rise to the challenge to be response-able and faithful Christians. Amen.