Summary: There are many thankless tasks we have to perform, of which, to some, church participation may be one. But God teaches us that if we do something out of love, it is not burdensome, and the Cross and Empty Tomb teach us that it is not futile.

There sure are a lot of thankless tasks to be done. There

certainly are a great many things that are immensely

frustrating, because they just won’t stay done. Do you know

what I mean? The kinds of jobs that you do and almost

immediately you have to do them again? These are

thankless tasks.

Weeding a garden, for example. I spent a good-sized chunk

of my alleged vacation pulling up unwanted plants. Frankly, I

thought that we were doing well to have anything green

growing, but she who is the mistress of the plantation said,

“No, the weeds will have to go.” And so up they came. Yes

ma’am, yes ma’am, three recycling bags full. I went out the

next morning to admire the results of my labors, and what did

I see? More weeds! Saucy little creatures, poking their

impertinent heads up through the mulch. Weeding is a

thankless task. Gardens will not stay weed-free.

Or feeding the household. That, ladies, is a thankless task,

isn’t it? Because he whose hunger pangs you satisfied last

night wants to know tonight, “What’s for dinner?”. And those

children for whom you labored over a carefully balanced diet,

properly prepared and proudly presented, scarfed it all down

in mere seconds and showed up at the snack table an hour

later! A thankless task, feeding the hungry. Even Jesus

found out after He had fed the five thousand that they came

back the next day for more! “How about another miracle

today?” You know the feeling.

Weeding the garden, feeding the household, or preaching to

the congregation. Did you know that what I am doing now is

another thankless task? Because the stuff that is presented

seems to go into the ether and evaporate, and you don’t

know whether it has accomplished anything at all. You know

the story about the new pastor who arrived at the church,

and gave his first sermon, which everyone applauded? The

next Sunday they all came back, and he gave exactly the

same sermon. They were a bit puzzled, but decided maybe

their new pastor had a case of the jitters, and they would wait

and see about the third Sunday. Came the third Sunday,

and there it was, once again, identically the same sermon as

the first two Sundays. So a delegation of deacons went to

his door and asked what was going on. The pastor’s reply

was perfectly clear and altogether logical. Said he, “When

you actually do the things I spoke about in the first sermon,

then I will get on to something more!”

I know the feeling. Sixteen years ago today I stood in this

pulpit as pastor for the first time. I spoke at some length

about what the Bible calls “speaking the truth in love.” I said

that we must learn how to deal with one another’s failings

with respect and love, and that we must not think that

suppressing what we feel is really a loving act. “Speaking

the truth in love.” Sixteen years later, I wonder whether we

have learned anything at all. Either we tell everything we

know about one another and do it in self-righteous criticism;

or else we say nothing constructive in the name of being

loving. I just have to wonder sometimes if it has meant

anything, these words tossed out into the wind. If you want

the statistics, today’s is the 666th sermon I have preached

here – and since 666 is the number of the beast in the Book

of Revelation, maybe that tells you something. But today

there is a part of me that wants, on this sixteenth

anniversary, to sing, with apologies to Tennessee Ernie

Ford, “You preach sixteen years, and what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in words. Saint Peter, don’t

you call me ‘cause I can’t go; I owe my soul to the church

routine ”!

Thankless tasks. Never-ending jobs that won’t stay done. I

have mine, you have yours. How do you feel when you think

about all that? Tired? Frustrated? I think the word is

“weary”. That’s a few steps deeper than tired: weary. You

load sixteen tons .. you preach sixteen years .. you feed

sixteen mouths .. you pray sixteen prayers .. you try sixteen

admonitions .. and what do you get? Weary.

So what’s the use? Why keep on trying? If all we do does

not appear to shape anyone, how can we hope to impact the

world outside? If we do not see lasting results from our

efforts in our homes and in our church, how can we expect to

conquer the burgeoning evil in the world?

Some people stay with the church out of superstition. They

just want a one-way ticket to heaven and figure that if they

keep showing up at the Lord’s house, the Lord will know who

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