What if one of your circle of friends moved away? To another state, far from the rest of your close-knit group. And what if she became sick after she left, and was scheduled for surgery? Your whole group would want to be there, right? But schedules, expense, ability to travel…all these things would get in the way. But if one of you could go, they could be the emissary. The ambassador. And as a result, the rest of the group would have no hesitation to fill the gas tank, make a lunch, send some money for food and gas along the way. They would not hesitate to refill the needs of the ambassador so that she could represent the whole group.
This is a picture of our final R. Today we conclude our worship series with the third and final sermon. We have been together exploring the Three R’s of making a difference: Relieve. Reverse. And today we explore a third: Refill.
Now, before we get into the third word, I am going to let you in on a little secret. I use three words, but the bottom line is this: they are all really the first word: Relieve. That is really the heart of the matter. When Jesus tells us that we are to care for the least of these, to relieve the suffering of those in need, to make a difference in their lives, that is first snowflake that really starts the whole avalanche.
So when I talk about the second R, Reverse, it is really a smarter way to do Relief. Instead of doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result, the ministry of Reversal is working to change the structures that create the “least of these” in the first place. It moves from simply placing a band-aid on the wounds of the suffering to working to heal a system that creates the wounds in the first place.
And, in a similar way, our third word – Refill – is really the same thing: it is a smarter way to do Relief. Again, I we begin with the Matthew 25 principle, to care for the least of these, we start to run into some practical problems. Namely, I cannot do it all myself. And so, if we were to define the third word, Refill means to empower someone else to do what you cannot. In other words, it is admitting, “I cannot be his hands and feet in this way, but I can send someone who can.”
And once again, this is a Biblical concept. Turn with me again to the first chapter of Acts. And it might help for you to actually turn there, because I plan to jump on ahead beyond the passage that I just read. But I want to start there.
Acts is the sequel to Luke, as many of you know. The two books were written together by the same author, and Acts picks up where Luke left off. And so, our passage today is a transition from the Gospel of Luke – which tells the story of Jesus – to the book of Acts, which tells the story of the Spirit. The picture that exemplifies this for me is that of a school of fish travelling together – that’s the picture of Luke. And then, they see a predator or a rock to swim around or something, and they scatter to all these different places – that’s Acts. The book of Acts is a history of how the Gospel message of Jesus is scattered, as led by the Spirit. Scholars see the 8th verse of chapter one as the epitome of that theological theme: “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is all important as we explore our third word: Refill. Because, again, the definition of Refill is the realization that “I cannot be his hands and feet personally, but I can send someone who can.” So when we refill, we are sending in the Spirit. So this morning, I want to offer two answers to the Refill question. First, how do we do it? Second, why do we do it that way?
First, how do we refill? One way is by praying. Flip down a few verses to vs. 14 and look at the very first thing that the disciples did after Jesus commissioned them and ascended into heaven: they gathered together and prayed. Jesus told them to act, and so they prayed. Now, some of us might think that they did the wrong thing, but the Biblical model of praying is that it is indeed holy action. Prayer for others is an important role of many in the church.
Some of you may or may not know that we have a prayer ministry here at First Baptist. There are many folks who receive church emails so that they know who to pray for, and others who take it upon themselves to spend hours every week praying for these needs. They are refilling. I don’t know how many times I have been told, “I pray for you and your family and your ministry.” They know that those of us who do the work of the church need to be refilled by those who do the work of prayer. And I can feel those prayers! As can other members of our staff. We feel filled up by your ministry of prayer. And we thank you.
Another how: We refill by empowering. Look at the next thing that the disciples did, after they gathered to pray: they empowered. Specifically, they needed a replacement disciple for the hole caused by Judas. And so, they again prayed and discerned that Matthias should be that replacement. They found someone who had the gifts of ministry and they filled him with a vision for what God might do through him, and empowered him to do that work.
We can do the same thing. There is someone in your life that you have thought to yourself, “I’ll bet that they would be a good preacher. Or a great youth minister.” You need to tell them that. This week. I mean it. Write their name on the top of your bulletin. Actually, if you have not thought of that person, take a second and think about it right now. Who might you empower to do God’s work? By the way, if you are having a hard time coming up with a name, it could be because you are not hanging out with our young people enough. If you don’t know anyone’s name under 30 in our congregation, you are missing an opportunity to empower someone. When we include our young people in the Sunday school classes, or our worship service, like we will next week for Youth Sunday, we are providing you an opportunity to empower them as well as be empowered by them.
We refill by empowering. I am here today ONLY because people shared that with me. If I did not see myself in that role, I would not have thought I had the gifts to be in that role.
A third how: we refill by giving. To find this example in Acts, we have to fast forward a little bit. One of the roles that Luke knew was crucial to the explosion of the Gospel was that of a financial backer. He wrote often about patrons, often wealthy widows or businesspeople or those in power. Luke knew that in order for those gifted for relief ministry to do their job, they needed resources.
And so, as I leave you today, like I have each week of the series, I want to give you some practical examples of what it might look like to do refill work. And I organize these by describing the need for partnership in each case. And this moves us from the “how” to the “why”.
For example, the first reason why we refill is this: “I am not qualified to relieve, but someone else is.” Paul talks a lot about the work of the Spirit pulling together the Body of Christ. Each one of us has our gifts and our abilities. In other words, some of us are qualified to do ministry in ways that others of us simply are not. Consider, for example, that a woman and children that we know becomes a victim of domestic violence. Our heart will likely go out to those people, but what can we do to relieve that suffering? Can we invite that family into our home, especially since they may not have the income ability to be able to afford a home of their own? Can we protect them from an angry and vengeful abuser, in case he comes to exact revenge for leaving him? Can we help her find a job or skills to work, since many victims of domestic violence have been kept unemployed and unempowered by their abuser in order to control them easier? Probably not. We are simply not qualified to relieve their suffering in that way.
Enter the heroes at Willow Domestic Violence Shelter. Here in town, there are those who are indeed qualified to relieve that suffering, and do all of those things that I just mentioned. But they cannot do it alone. They need us to refill their coffers so that they can hire staff, create protection, and house families. This is just one example of how we might do the ministry of refilling for those who are more qualified than we are to relieve suffering.
A second reason why we refill is this: “it is not appropriate for me to relieve, but for someone else it is.” This one gets a little bit tricky. There are times when individuals in our congregation need relief – paying a bill or dealing with an unexpected expense or getting help when the money runs out before the end of the month. But it may not be the easiest thing in the world to ask for it. It is an unfortunate stigma that our culture possesses, but a very real stigma nonetheless. And where it might be inappropriate for someone to stand up during the worship service and ask to pass the plate or stand outside the door on Sunday morning and ask for change, there are more appropriate ways that we can help.
Again, many of you but perhaps not all of you will know that our church has what is called a Deacon’s Fund. It is a fund created by the donations of members of our congregation – every first Sunday of the month we pass out envelopes marked “Deacon’s Fund” to collect these funds. And a certain amount is kept back for emergency needs of our congregation, to be administered by the pastoral staff through prayer and discernment. Beyond that amount, if there is enough in the account, we accept appointments from those outside of the congregation with needs – often those who fall through the cracks. And that portion is administered by a representative of our Deacon’s Ministry – Nancy Bonner – who is a trained professional and able to sit down with a person requesting funds and talks with them about the need and how to avoid it becoming a band-aid fix. And so, by your generosity, you can relieve the suffering of those in our midst, sometimes perhaps even the person sitting next to you in the pew, in ways that protect their dignity.
Finally, a third reason why we refill: “I am not there to relieve, but someone else is.”
I remember when I was a child, I went to Mission Friends every single Wednesday night. Together we would read stories about our missionaries, we would pray for them, we would collect our pennies to send to them. I didn’t know it then, but I was learning how to do refill ministry.
We do the same thing today. We simply cannot be in upstate New York to do the work of relief that the insert talks about today. We cannot be in Haiti all the time with Nzunga and Kihomi Ngwemi. We cannot be there. But we can help to make sure that they are there. By our giving to the America for Christ offering, the World Mission Offering, and by our support of our own region through the budget, we are helping others who are there to be the hands and feet of Christ.
For 161 years, First Baptist has been a sending church. We have sent pastors and church members further into the frontier during the move West. We have ordained and trained and encouraged missionaries and ministers and those doing God’s work. Every year, we get this certificate that explains how we are one of the top mission giving churches in the denomination. We know how to refill. We know how to make a difference for someone who can make a difference. Are you ready to make a difference today?