Watch Over One Another in Love

by Rev. Scott Summerville
Isaiah 40:21-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when God blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? The One who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because the Lord is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, the One who does not faint or grow weary, whose understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
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I will give three sermons this morning – and there is no extra charge. Three for the price of one! What a bargain.

Sermon Number One: the Spirituals

I love to sing the spirituals. At my funeral service I want the congregation to sing For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest, and I want them to sing the spiritual, Fix Me Jesus.

The spirituals have the power to convey the deepest emotions. They go directly to the heart of human love and sorrow and suffering and hope, and they do it with such elegant simplicity.

To think that until recent years the spirituals were not included in our Methodist hymnals.

The spirituals are diamonds forged in the intense heat and pressure of human suffering. Out of unimaginable suffering, out of unspeakable human degradation and cruelty, out of sorrows too deep for words, there came forth this music.

One hundred years ago W.E.B. DuBois, one of the great advocates of civil rights, said of the spirituals:

[They are]… the most original and beautiful expression of human life and longing yet born on American soil. Sprung from the African forests, where its counterpart can still be heard, it was adapted, changed, and intensified by the tragic soul-life of the slave, until, under the stress of law and whip, it became the one true expression of people’s sorrow, despair, and hope.

Every time we sing the spirituals and take some comfort in them, it is literally true that we are being comforted by the tears of slaves, who transposed their tears into song and bequeath those songs to all future generations.

….Oh, fix me, oh, fix me, oh fix me; fix me Jesus, fix me….

Sermon Number Two: Servant Leadership

I do not often take my sermons from the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. However, today I am going to share with you a paragraph from the Book of Discipline.

For those who are not familiar with the United Methodist Church, our denomination is governed by a General Conference that meets every four years. It is comprised of lay persons and clergy elected from all the regions of the church.

The General Conference produces a Book of Discipline that summarizes the theology and rules of our church.

Earlier in this worship service I asked the members of the church Council to stand. In addition to those who are members of the Council, others of you serve in positions of responsibility and served in a variety ministries and committees of our church.

It is crucial that when we undertake leadership and responsibility in the life of the church that we understand the true nature of this commitment. It is not primarily to do a job. The essence of leadership is to serve God and to serve the people.

The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, described the essence of leadership in the church as, “watching over one another in love.” What a simple and beautiful way to summarize the meaning of leadership in the Christian community.

I share with you these words from the book of discipline in the section on servant leadership, paragraph 136:

Within The United Methodist Church, there are those called to servant leadership, lay and ordained. Such callings are evidenced by special gifts, evidence of God’s grace, and promise of usefulness. God’s call to servant leadership is inward as it comes to the individual, and outward through the discernment and validation of the Church. The privilege of servant leadership in the Church is the call to share in the preparation of congregations and the whole Church for the mission of God in the world. The obligation of servant leadership is the forming of Christian disciples in the covenant community of the congregation. This involves discerning and nurturing the spiritual relationship with God that is the privilege of all servant ministers. It also involves instructing and guiding Christian disciples in their witness to Jesus Christ in the world through acts of worship, devotion, compassion, and justice under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. John Wesley described this as “watching over one another in love.”

There are two phrases in this description of servant leaders in the church that I would highlight today:

The first is: “promise of usefulness.” Those who are entrusted with positions of leadership in the congregation and those who undertake specific responsibilities in the ministries of the church have been entrusted with these responsibilities because others see in you the promise of usefulness.

So make yourself useful. Whether you are fixing the plumbing, teaching the young, witnessing for justice, organizing a meal, or developing policies and strategies for the congregation: make yourself useful in what you do by doing your job well, with good cheer, and to the very best of your ability. Make yourself useful.

And while you are making yourself useful, remember this other phrase used by John Wesley: “Watch over one another in love.”

Remember that the main task of every member of the church – especially those who are entrusted with leadership responsibilities – is to watch over one another in love.

When we watch over one another in love, a spirit of mutual affection and mutual support pervades all of the activities and ministries of the church, and the body of Christ is strengthened, and we learn and grow and serve together harmoniously.

Leaders: make yourself useful, and above all, watch over us – as we will watch over you – in love.

Sermon number three:

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

These are the words of the prophet Isaiah, read today from the 40th chapter.

… the Lord God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

I said today that when we sing the spirituals and take some comfort in them we are being comforted by the tears of slaves, who transposed their tears into song, and bequeath those songs to all future generations.

When we read the Scriptures, and when he Scriptures encourage us to find strength in God and not be weary and not faint, we are hearing those words spoken to us individually at this very moment in time.

We also are hearing words that have been heard by every other person sitting about us in the congregation, and millions of others, perhaps hundreds of millions of others or worshiping as we are today – and these are just the living.

We may also be aware that we are hearing words that have been spoken to the hearts of human beings for generations, for centuries, for millennia before we heard them.

Human beings over a great span of time, human beings by the hundreds of millions, have heard these words spoken to them:

The Lord God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

In every imaginable circumstance of life, and in circumstances beyond our imagining, human beings before us have heard these words.

It so happens that when I visited a member of Asbury Church in the hospital two weeks ago, as she was awaiting the results of her tests, and the signs were not encouraging, I asked her about how things were with her soul. She took out from the book she was reading a small piece of paper, well-worn, a piece of paper she had clearly had in her possession for many years. She handed me this paper. On it were typed words of Isaiah, chapter 40.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable.
… the Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

She said to me, “I am fine; I really am fine. And this is why.”

As I mentioned to you in our prayers today, she is doing fine. Even with the diagnosis that would have been shattering news to many people, she is well.
Old words found in an old book are living and powerful in her. And by her witness these words can become more alive and more powerful for each of us as we cope with whatever weighs on our bodies and our minds. At this stage of her life this, our sister in Christ, watches over us in love, and we watch over her in love, and she bears witness to us to the power of the living Word of God.

Sermon Number Four:

Just kidding!
As I promised — only three today.

Grace and peace to all of you.

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