My father-in-law is a farmer. Over the years, I have come to learn and appreciate what that means.
When a yuppie comes out here from the city and decides to have a farm because it sounds so quaint, they aren’t really farmers. They may like playing around with the horses and maybe even doing a day or two of work of a year, but they aren’t farmers. Faced with the day to day reality of tilling and planting and cutting and weeding and mucking, most of them realize, they’re not farmers. They may like dressing up in the old clothes, but it isn’t really in them.
One day (like today), they’ll realize it’s raining outside, or it’s cold and snowy, or else it’s so hot that you cook inside of your Dockers. But still you have to go out and cut or till or weed or muck. That’s the day you realize, you’re either a farmer, or you’re something else.
You see, inside of every farmer there is a little clock. It says, ‘Harvest is coming, get busy!’ It’s the little clock that says, ‘You are farmer.’ It’s a little clock that drives them from sun up to sun down. It’s relentless, it’s always watching you, making sure you are redeeming the time, for the days are growing short. It isn’t sexy, but there’s work to be done, and by God it has to get done. The cows don’t milk themselves. It’s that little clock that separates the farmers from the farmer-wannabes.
Really, there isn’t any single task that a farmer does that is all that complicated. You take a shovel, you scrape the floor. You get a weed-eater, you cut the weeds. But the great challenge on the farm is this – the challenge to stay faithful to your calling, especially when you don’t want to be.
Being a Christian is a lot like being farmer. It’s no accident that Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a farmer sowing seeds, or to a mustard plant, or to vine and branches. Like being a farmer, some may even wonder why you should bother. If you ask a farmer, it may be difficult for him to tell you why he loves it. If you ask a Christian, it may sometimes be hard to say why he loves Christ – but you know you do. It’s like a good marriage – it’s love beyond words.
But like the farmer, like the marriage, it’s not always easy. It’s a challenge! There is no one single task that is beyond any one of us. But the day in, day out task of remaining faithful to a good and loving God is a challenge enough in and of itself. So, how is that we get the job done? How do we fight the good fight and run the race in the hope the glorious crown? How is it that at the end we are going to hear those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant?”
Susan, this morning, you are going to become a deacon. No matter what they tell you in preacher school, this is an honor. It is recognition by this church that you have been found faithful. You should take pride in this, in the same way Schulz takes pride in his fields, or in the way you both take pride in your grandkids. This is a week to celebrate.
But what about next week? What about next month and next year, when it’s hot out and maybe there seems to be to much work to be done. When we get tired, where do we get the strength for service, the impetus to continue?
Well, this morning, I want to remind you of a few things out of this passage we just read that I hope will sustain you in those days when you don’t feel like a deacon. I want to remind all of us who have taken up our cross, why we do so. I’d like us all to remember, because it isn’t any one single that is impossible in this Christian life – it’s just a series of little things that we run into every day.
1. Remember that Service is an honor
One of the traditional things that pastors will do on such occasions is read about the first deacons, in Acts 6. What you find is that the disciples were feeling like they were being turned into glorified waiters – just bringing food to the infirm. So, they asked the congregation to pick out faithful men to do that work. They became deakonos – people who served.
It may seem like a dubious honor to be selected to be a servant, but it is an honor. It is honor in the way the Kingdom works. It isn’t particularly challenging to do any single task, but it’s pretty humbling to have to take up the mantle every day and “just be” a servant.
And remember too that Jesus himself said, “The first shall be last, but it’s the ones who think they’re the last shall be the first.” Those who humble themselves in the sight of the Lord are the ones who are lifted up. It was Jesus himself who took a towel, and washed his disciple’s feet. Being a deacon means putting on that towel that Jesus wore. These deakonos weren’t getting glowing robes, but they certainly were signing up to be what the Kingdom is all about.
At UVA, the top students get to live in the oldest dorms – dorm rooms that date back to the 1800s. There aren’t any bathrooms, they’re isn’t any AC. But it is still a great honor to be recognized as someone who is following in Thomas Jefferson’s footsteps. Those selected often joke about this dubious “honor” they are chosen to receive – but there’s rarely a vacancy.
You see, those very first deacons probably have felt like they too had a very dubious honor – but the truth is, the congregation did elect them. And we elected you too. In the many years that we have known you, you have been faithful. Little things get done.
I know it may seem odd to take pride in getting the signs changed, getting the bulletins to the right place, but they’re little things that say, this church cares. And we appreciate that.
In some ways, it’s probably better for us that our tasks aren’t always grand and glorious things. We know, for instance, that we don’t earn our way into heaven. It’s a gift given to us. We call that gift grace.
So often people – even Christians want to think that if we want to ‘stay saved’ we need to do Seven Loaves, give away all our money, and then go be missionaries in one of those hot countries where if they discover you, they’ll put you to death. But we don’t need to do any of that. We do those things because we are already saved, and because we love the God who saved us. But when we do whatever we do for the sake of the Kingdom, we do it as thanks, not wages.
2. Remember that your Master appreciates who you are
And that leads me to my second point. You know that your Master loves you even more than we do. Now, make no mistake, in the, what, twelve, fifteen years you’ve been with us, we’ve come to love who you are.
You’re always happy, kind, and I know for a fact that Rachel talks about you and everyone else in this church for that matter, when we’re at home. Now, Rachel does not talk about what any of us do in the church. She just knows that everyone smiles and is happy to see her.
And that’s what the Kingdom is. It isn’t a collection of warriors on the rampage, storming the gates of Hell – though it may be called to that. Rather, the Kingdom is a collection of people who are happy to see you. We love one another – not because of what they do – but because of what they are: children of the King.
In your case, you’re so likeable that it’s easy, but you should take comfort in that. Jesus goes on talk about good servants and bad ones. The difference between them isn’t output; it’s attitude. The good servants are faithful, but they also love. The bad servants are the ones who turn the Master’s absence into license to have a power trip. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a danger in this church – but it helps us understand our field better to know how you can ruin.
3. Your Master is coming back
And, finally, I want to remind you of one last thing to keep in mind, when the daily grind seems more apparent than ever. Your Master is watching, and your Master is coming back soon.
Susan, more than most people, you know this. It’s not a gift I personally would have wanted, but five years ago, you got a very personal lesson in how short life can be. Your transplant was like a wake up call that reminded you that you could meet your Maker any day. The truth is, we all have a terminal condition – we’re all under a death sentence because of sin. You simply had the good fortune to see your reprieve.
Now, a lot of people could take that as a reason to be bitter. Why do we have to die? Why did this have to happen to me? Others see this temporary gift as something to be exploited – Get everything for yourself that you can as quickly as possible. But you, Susan, took the Kingdom path, and it shows.
You have offered yourself up to lots of people who underwent the same transplant surgery you went through. That is the farmer way, that’s the Kingdom way! Let me stand by your side and do what needs doing. Let me help you by telling you my experience. It preaches in a way I never could.
In your family, I know you’ve had impact beyond words. Your family knows you love them and serve them. You guide them and mentor them, even now that they’re grown. You live by an example that all of us want to follow.
You know very simply that your Master is coming back. You have demonstrated what you want him to see. It isn’t glamorous – it’s just the plain simplicity of the power of the Kingdom that preaches volumes. Like the Big Sky of Montana or the vastness of the prairie, the Kingdom is majestic in its scope. It is a throne room perfect for a bunch of honored servants, the farmers of a servant king.
You know, five hundred years before Jesus, there was another farmer who understood what it meant to be a servant king. In Ohio, they named Cincinnati for a farmer named Cincinnatus, and his story is worth knowing.
At one point, he had been a great politician in Rome, and loved the honor and glory that came with it. But there were days where it certainly didn’t seem like an honor. After one particularly contentious battle, he decided to quit for good. He went back to his home, put his hand to the plow, and worked for his family. His fields became his passion.
One day, while he was in the field, a delegation from the city came to him. They asked him to take off his work clothes and put on his toga so they could talk. The enemy was coming, they told him. And most of our soldiers are too far away. We have elected you dictator to deal with this. For six months, anything you say will become law – please, they asked, just be our leader.
So, he took the job. It took just two weeks to defeat them. Now, his story would be unremarkable, except for what happened next. You see, he saw life as series of little responsibilities, little tasks to be done, and this would be no different from any other. Even though he could still have been the absolute king for another five and a half months, he handed back his sword.
“I have my fields to get back too. My family needs me, I want to go back to my plow.” That’s the Kingdom way, that’s the deacon way. That, my friends is the honor we’ve all signed up for.
Would you pray with me?
Long Branch Baptist Church
Halfway, Virginia; est. 1786
Sunday, June 25th, 2006
Enter to Worship
Prelude David Witt
Invocation Psalm 24
*Opening Hymn #216
“Great is Thy Faithfulness”
Welcome & Announcements
*Responsive Reading [See Right]
*Offertory Hymn #290
“Make Me a Blessing”
Offertory Mr. Witt
Special Music Alesia Walp
Scripture Luke 12:35-44
“The Hand at the Plow”
Invitation Hymn #373
“Take My Life and Let It Be”
Ordination of Susan Schulz
*Closing Hymn #336
“Jesus Loves Me”
May the grace of Christ of Savior / And the Father’s boundless love
With the Holy Spirit’s favor / Rest upon us from above. Amen.
* Congregation, please stand.
Depart To Serve
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake up from your sleep.
For the day of our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed;
The night is far gone, the day is near.
Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day,
Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh.
Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,
We, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives.
Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions."
Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.
If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?"
"His master said to him,
‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; Come enter into the joy of your master.’
-Romans 13:11-14; Acts 6:3-4; Matt 24:45-47; Luke 16:10-11; Matt 25:21