Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent

Text: John 15:16
(Jesus said,) "You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last." (CEV)

Chosen and sent out

When Sudie Black died, she was mourned by scores of people who didn't even know her name. As word spread that Sudie had died from cancer at the age of 67, many of those she had befriended returned to the neighbourhood cafe to talk about the way she had helped them. Men and women, many of them now middle aged, told how Sudie had helped them - to find a place to live, to find a job, even which bus to catch.

One successful businessman told of the day he had arrived in town with only a dollar in his pocket. He was just 19. Sudie was in the cafe when he came to spend his last dollar for a hot meal. She offered to buy him dinner.

A man who owned a cafe remembered the time Sudie filled in as a waitress when his regular staff failed to show.
A man who owned a construction company remembered how Sudie befriended him when he first arrived from Greece.
A now prominent attorney remembered how she helped him find a place to live.
The pastor of the local church recalled how Sudie turned up Sunday after Sunday to teach her Sunday School class even though on many occasions she had been up all Saturday night helping a sick mother or sitting at the hospital.

Sudie Black who spent a large part of her life ministering in a modest way to people with needs, would probably have been surprised at how many people still remembered the little favours she had done. A humble sincere Christian, Sudie Black ministered in the name of Christ.

Thatís a great story but itís the kind of story that you only hear about in sermons. A story about a person who gives in such a selfless way, in almost reckless disregard for herself, but in total concern for others, is something so unreal and so far away from what is happening in our lives today. Sudie Black was an exceptional person Ė her compassion, her generosity, her willingness to help, her self-sacrifice were special gifts and she used them to the best of her ability. By all accounts she was an exceptional person.

Every now and then you hear of others who are recklessly generous with their love Ė Mother Theresa, Albert Schweitzer or perhaps you know someone who is ready to help using whatever skills they have Ė maybe a parent, a special friend, a grandparent, your spouse, a member of this congregation or perhaps someone who belongs to another church. Nothing is too much trouble for them. You can always rely on them to do whatever they can to help you in your situation.

For such people a life of service is no "flash in the pan", a burst of enthusiasm here today and gone tomorrow. They relentlessly pursue a life of service, going from one thing to the next. Itís almost as if they canít help it. Where there is a need, they do something about it. It sometimes happens that the person who is helping has his/her own fair share of lifeís troubles but that doesnít stop them from giving help to others. And the amazing thing is this Ė they arenít even aware that they are doing something extraordinary.

There is one I havenít mentioned yet who was so reckless with his love and so unselfish in his giving to those who needed his help Ė thatís Jesus of course. We are in the weeks leading up to Good Friday and we are well aware of the way Jesus gave himself so sacrificially, selflessly, recklessly and generously. He went so far as to give his life for sinners Ė for you and me Ė even though we havenít deserved such love. His whole life was one of generous giving to all who came to him with their questions, their problems, and their sicknesses. He gave to these people to the point of exhaustion.

Then we hear Jesus say, "You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit". In his love Jesus has chosen us to be his disciples, he saved us, he has joined us to God's family and now he says that we are appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that grows out of the very fact that we are children of God and Jesus' disciples. He has appointed us to bear the fruit of love, not an airy fairy kind of love, not a gushy or a patronising kind of love, not just nice words of love, but a love that is demonstrated in all kinds of practical ways;
a love that leads us to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us to meet the needs of others;
a love that reaches out to others in practical ways not just when we feel like it or when we feel in the mood, but the kind of love that is ready at any time to use whatever resources we have at our disposal to bear fruit in such a way that what we do will leave a permanent mark on the lives of those who are helped. It may even lead that person to a closer relationship with Jesus.

God chose each of us at our baptism and brought us into his kingdom. He has joined us together as the church and made us important parts of the body of Christ. When Jesus said, "You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last" he was not just talking to us as individuals but was talking to the church. Remember the church is people like you and I who have been called by God to be his "chosen and special people" (1Peter 2:9).

There is something worth highlighting here. We are not only "chosen" people but we are also "sent" people. Sometimes we forget that. We focus a lot on our "chosen-ness" and forget that Jesus said, "I chose you and sent you out". He has sent us out to "produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last." He can only ask us to produce fruit if he has first given us the ability to produce fruit. God has given each of us as individuals and as a congregation gifts that will enable us to carry out his work and "produce the kind of fruit that will last".
To some he has given the gift of helping people who are hurting;
to others to say just the right words that sooth and comfort.
To some he has given the gift of patience to help the elderly and sick.
To some he has given the gift of business skills,
others the gift to teach children and lead them closer to Jesus,
others the ability to relate in a meaningful way to teenagers. And so we could go on.

What are the gifts that God has given you as an individual? If you believe that God has chosen you then you can be sure that God has given you gifts to enable you to be sent out to produce the kind of fruit that will last. God has not chosen you to sit back and enjoy the ride. He has chosen you, given you gifts and now sends you out to make a difference in peopleís lives.

But maybe you are one of those people who believes that you were behind the door when God handed out gifts. Be assured thatís not true. Go along to the Crossroads Ė a fellowship group of disabled people whom you would be tempted to think missed out on gifts, and in one sense you might be right. They may not have the gifts that you and I have. Their gifts are different. If you go there with a heavy heart and worn down by the dayís activities you will come away refreshed and uplifted. (I know I do). Those people have special gifts of accepting you just as you are, loving you, inviting you to join in no matter who you are, and in the end making you feel ever so much better. For me thatís a special gift.

What gifts has God given you and how are you using them as you are sent out to produce the fruit that will last?

What gifts has God given to this congregation? How will we use those gifts to produce fruit in the Nambour community? That is the question we will face during the rest of today during our workshop.

But don't we all struggle with dedicating our lives to loving service? Every person afflicted with sin suffers with a selective memory. And that's why Jesus died on a cross. He died in our place to forgive us for the times when our selective memory causes us to forget that we have not only been chosen, but also sent out to use our gifts to produce fruit in the lives of not just the members of this congregation but also to produce lasting fruit in the lives of the people of our community.

The story is told of a young boy in the ghetto being teased by someone who said, "If God loves you, why doesnít he take care of you? Why doesnít God tell someone to bring you shoes and a warm coat and better food?"
The young boy thought for a moment, and then with tears starting in his eyes, said, "I guess he does tell somebody, but somebody forgets."
God places many individuals along our paths who need help. I believe that he has chosen us, not to forget, but to be the answer and produce fruit that will last in the lives of others.

He died for those times we have behaved like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan story and donít want to get involved, donít want to waste our time, donít want to risk our safety, donít want to spend our money, donít want to use our talents and leave it to somebody else. Because of the cross and our faith, the Holy Spirit reassures us that we are God's children, that we are forgiven and chosen. He then reminds us again that as his chosen people we have been sent out.

It may overwhelm you to realise that God is depending on you to do certain tasks. He is depending on you to use the gifts he has given you to touch the lives of those people around you.
He is relying on you to be his hands to do acts of kindness,
his voice that speaks comfort and encouragement,
his feet that go the extra mile.
It may be overwhelming but God has given you as individual and as a congregation, the gifts to do his work.

A young couple became involved in a church where they were used to a lot of shouting and clapping and running down the aisles for Jesus. They were trying to convince Grandma that she should attend. "You should have seen," the young man said to grandma. "The Spirit of God was really there! The music was rocking the place. It was awesome!"
Grandma just kept rocking in her chair and didnít say a word.
"And grandma!" said the young woman, "You should have heard the preacher. He was really with it today! He was shouting and screaming at the top of his lungs and people were popping up like popcorn praising the Lord! It was unbelievable!" Again, grandma kept on rocking.
Finally the young man said, "Grandma, donít you like our church?"
Grandma finally rose from her chair to speak, "Honey, let me just put it this way. I donít care how loud they shout, and I donít care how high they jump. Itís what they do when they come back down that really counts!"

(Jesus said,) "You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last."

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
23rd March, 2003

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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