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A young worker on a church in Germany slipped and fell from a scaffold high on the tower. His co-workers rushed down, expecting to find him dead. But to their surprise and joy, he was alive and only slightly injured.  How did he survive? A flock of sheep was passing beneath the tower at the time, and he landed on top a lamb. The lamb was crushed to death, but the work man lived. To commemorate that miracle, a lamb was carved on the tower at the exact height from which he fell.  People come from near and far to see this steeple and recall the story.

 

A man takes a bullet from an assassin’s rifle and the nation is galvanized. Riots tear apart thousands of acres of major cities.  Every single American is touched by the death of the man who was the face of the Civil Rights movement. The site now has a memorial and museum. People come from all over the world to see that balcony and recall the story.

 

A plane flies into the world trade center. And then another.  And another plane hits the Pentagon.  A gunman brings his automatic weapons into a school and kills children.  Memorials are erected.

 

At the memorial service on Friday for Frank Worster, a man told the audience about falling off a ladder and Frank grabbed him just in time before he could fall 3 stories to the ground.  We love to hear these stories. We love to tell them.

But do we think about why we tell them?  When the next accident or dark event happens, who will be there to help? It is likely that a lamb will not be underneath to catch him or her. So someone has to step up, reach out, make the save.  It must be someone with courage . .  . someone who has compassion . . . someone who has good common sense, but also is human . . .who listens without judging us. I don’t know if you have been thinking about this . . . but, the answer to these questions is it’s probably not going to be Jesus.  But it might be one of his disciples . . . as a matter of fact, it might be you; you may fit the bill; you have the exact qualities for being in the right place at the right time.

 

It is you. You are Christian; it is your love, your courage, listening skills, your compassion; you are the one that we have been waiting for.  You have the qualities it takes; of course you do.  You go to church, you are a good person and believe in God’s power, love and goodness; you put your faith in to action. You pray.  I want you to claim and develop your own calling to a more faithful life.  You are called to be a Christian friend.  Now-a-days we need all the friends we can get. And as Christians, we need to stop being so busy doing everything else and start actually being with people. We have to start being with people on their journies.

 

You know that young man who shot all those kids up in Shady Hook, CT?  Well, maybe, just maybe, things would have turned out differently if someone would have been a friend to him.  You know, reached out a little.  I know he was probably a loner, a bit off in the head, but . . .

 

How in God’s name could we possibly . . . Choose an area of your life where you have a gift or experience. For example, Rich Keifer enjoys using his handyman skills and sometimes he takes care of little projects around the church.  But, that is not the “ministry.” I mean, that’s helpful, but really, it’s what happens in between the actual work that is very cool . . . the discussions and advice and modeling of Christian values that he does while he is fixing things is more valuable. He was ready and able to be friends with some new folks while he was fixing the door or changing the lightbulbs.

 

Here is a story about Miss Donna.  Donna was a member of a large suburban church.  She could have worked with students in her large Sunday School class, but instead became a mentor in the Kids Hope program. Every week she would mentor a little boy named John. John looked to be 7 or 8 years old. Once each week, she visited him at school, help him with his school work… and then “going the second mile” every Saturday, Donna took John to the zoo, the museum and such.

 

A few months ago, Donna’s husband died in his sleep. Little John came to the memorial and stood beside Donna and held her hand.  He would not leave her side. She had been there for him and now he was there for her.  It was a beautiful thing.

 

Some of us saw John eyeing the goodies on the reception table – punch and chocolate chip cookies in abundance… and some of us said to him, “John, would you like to have some refreshments?” But no, he said. “I want to stay here with Miss Donna,”  The love between them radiated in that room.

 

Also in the room was a man from Chicago. He had flown all the way from Chicago to Houston because 38 years ago when he was in first grade, Donna had been his mentor. Every summer since then he has flown in to see Donna and to thank her for what she did for him 38 years ago – and this is what he says to Donna every time he comes, “I am what I am today because of the love and support you gave me 38 years ago.” He says, “Ms. Donna, you were the first person in my life who believed in me.” And today little John says to her in words and actions: “Miss Donna, I love you. I know you love me. You are my best friend.” Now, where did Donna learn to love like that, to reach out to people in need like that, to make a difference in people’s lives like that? You know, don’t you? The same place the disciple Andrew learned it – from Jesus.

Why be a Christian friend?   Why sacrifice our own luxuries – time, talents and treasure – for others. Why become a leader in the community, when so many other things occupy our time, sap our energy and steal our precious resources?  We will be a leader because, first of all, like a myriad of Donnas, we care.

Second of all, because life is too short to look only at our own needs. Life is not the static, concrete, daily grind we may think it is. Life is a gift, a mystery and we have a huge part in creating how life around us goes. Every person we encounter, every piece of the world that we live in, every time we add some love and happiness to God’s equation; these things reveal the mystery of the divine at work in the universe. Life is enhanced when we are grateful, when we add something to life to make it beautiful.

Life is too short to waste time sitting in front of the TV.  Add something; add your own personal touch to creation. I was talking with my neighbor Friday. He is back to work now, after about 10 months out. He was hit by a car on a cold, dark night. He was not expected to live, let alone walk without a walker. He was explaining how the accident changed his life; how he really enjoys every moment now; and that he is more grateful for life than ever before.  And he listens to people more closely; he cares more about what others are going through. Our gratitude is contagious. As we heal and grow, people around us notice. Life is a gift and too short to fritter it away alone, self-centered.

And so we move into the third reason I believe God is calling us to be Christian friends and that we should claim our journey towards servant leadership. A leader will be ready at a moment’s notice to bring hope to a world that appears to be overcome by negativity, violence and grief.

“Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have,” says Henri Nouwen. “Hope frees us to move away from the safe place and enter the unknown. Hope allows us to enter into our neighbors’ fears with him or her, and to find in the fellowship of suffering the way to freedom.

Since our country celebrates Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day tomorrow, I thought I might share this passage from a sermon of his.  “May we be found to be so faithful in telling the truth that others will know our commitment to Jesus, and they will desire to experience faith for themselves.  King preached: "Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; that I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind."

 

King went on:  "And that's all I want to say…if I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he's traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, if I can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can spread the message as the master taught, then my living would not be in vain." May we all be so fortunate as to live those words.

 

What we do for others adds so much to our own lives. That is the meaning of serving others. The world remembers that scene on the balcony when Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. He went to his death knowing that, although he might never see it come to fruition, his dream of a better world where all people live in peace and as equals, was his calling from God.

 

Whenever God calls someone, that call involves servant leadership – the sort of leadership that is crucial to our nation and for our community, and for our church.  Servant leadership is required for our church council members. Next week we will elect new people to serve as leaders. We will announce the slate of candidates and you will elect the folks who will join me in leading this church.

 

The servant leader has a new vision for serving. The servant leader has a vision and is willing to help his brothers and sisters see that vision and enlists them in forming the path that others will follow. If you comprehend this, then you will understand that the servant leader has accepted the call that God has placed on his or her life. Gordon Cosby says that accepting God’s call is a movement from seeing to the accepting.  There is a big jump that happens in the servant leaders head and heart that says this: “I don’t know what to do. The task seems impossible. I don’t know how to do it, but I will hold that vision. People will know that I am holding it. And one day it will happen.”

 

Jesus’ kind of leadership is the kind of leadership needed in these crazy times if society is going to improve; if the kingdom is going to come in; if the church is going to be the church that Jesus is calling the church to be. We are called to serve and to wait for others to step up into the vision of leadership with us.  We may die waiting, but we go on calling friends and neighbors to the kingdom and wait for their response.

 

At Frank’s funeral yesterday, people stood up to testify to the measure of the man who had passed into glory.  He was a good man, always willing to help someone else.  What will people say about you when you die?  Will you be remembered as someone who gave their all, who loved their families and did unto others as they wanted others to do unto them? I think these are important questions . . .

 

We are located at 4427 Franklin Blvd, Cleveland, Ohio, 44113 in the heart of the Ohio City neighborhood - just a few blocks north of Lorain Avenue. We're located at the corner of Franklin Boulevard and 45th Street.

Please call us for more information on our many activities and programs - (216) 651-6250.

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