Rev. Dr. William J. Danaher Jr.
This sermon was transcripted from a live sermon, to watch the video click here
I speak to you today as a sinner to sinners, as the beloved of God to God’s beloved, as one called to bear witness to those called to bear witness. Amen.
If you listen to the announcements as carefully as I do each Sunday, you’ve probably heard us mention that because of your generosity, we’ve been able to give more than $200,000 to support frontline workers and families most impacted by this pandemic. It’s a tremendous, tremendous effort that we have undertaken.
And those funds, they are distributed through a variety of social service agencies in our community and nonprofits, folks that we have been partnering with for many years, they are our boots on the ground. They are experts in their field. They know how to house homeless folks and give them follow-up job contacts in ways that we never could. They know how to offer feeding programs and they have facilities we could never match because it’s all they do. They are specialists in their areas. And so we partner with them. And by doing so we have the ability to have a far greater impact than, if we were to try to go it alone.
Today’s gospel inspired me to share the story of one such community partner, one that in fact, we only met this past April. Her name is Monica Toomey. And when we first connected with her back in Easter, she wasn’t managing a social service agency. She didn’t have a board of directors. In fact, prior to COVID, she never even dreamed that she would find herself leading a major community service effort of any kind. Before COVID, she was just busy being a mom, trying to take care of her three kids, trying to hold her household together at a time when this world felt like it was coming apart.
But that all changed one morning as she was sitting on her couch during quarantine, and watching the endless stories on the nightly news about doctors and nurses and hospital attendants, working overtime, physically and emotionally exhausted by the thousands of patients being admitted to ICUs each day. And her heart broke as she heard them share their stories and interviews, how fearful they were, knowing that they were not only at significant risk themselves, but so were the families that they went home to each night.
And like so many of us, she wanted to do something. She felt helpless in some ways. She felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. And so she did what so many of us do in those moments. She prayed, she prayed a simple prayer. God use me. God use me. And as many of you know from your own experience, when you invite God into your life, when you ask God to use you as a force for love and compassion in this world, get ready. God will come knocking.
Like many of us, when we have a friend who is grieving, Monica thought to herself, when we have a, and who was sick, who just came back from the hospital, one of the many things that we do, we think to maybe take them a meal, don’t we? We send them food. In fact, we have a meals ministry right here at Christ Church Cranbrook that does exactly that. There’s something elemental about a meal. It’s Eucharistic. It’s a universal sign of love, isn’t it?
And so Monica thought to herself, what if – what if she were to organize a meal ministry for hospital workers during this time? The commissaries and the cafeterias were closed, they were working long hours. This could be one less thing for them to have to worry about. And they might really appreciate knowing someone they’ve never met is trying to send them some love. And Monica knew too that our local restaurant owners were struggling as well facing the terrible decision of whether to lay off employees. And not knowing how long this would last. So it occurred to her a thought, food might not only be a sign of love for hospital workers. It could also be, if this took off, a sign of hope for small business owners, looking for a reason to keep their kitchens open, to keep their employees coming in.
So she phoned some friends, she thought she would ask them, “What do you think? Is this crazy? Am I getting carried away here?” And after a few short phone calls, she had an answer. Not only did they love her idea, but even without really trying, she had just raised her first $3,000. It was a small start, but it was enough. She could feel it. She wasn’t sure how it was going to go. She wasn’t sure how it was going to work or where it would lead, but she knew deep down, this is what she needed to do right now.
Have you been there before? Do you know that feeling? It’s like you’re standing at a threshold in a doorway about to step out. And you’re not sure exactly where you’re headed, but you just know somewhere deep down, God has you right where he wants you. You feel the adrenaline get going. You can feel that sense of purpose begin to take hold. A shiver might go down your spine as you take that leap of faith. Well, that’s what she did. And she reached out to local hospitals. She called local restaurants. She launched a Facebook page. They came up with a name, Frontline Appreciation Group,” and she was off and running.
Monica’s prayer – God use me. There are three simple words that I think can summarize the entire Christian life. How are we going to use the gifts we’ve been given? How are we going to use ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our imaginations? How are we going to use our skills, our abilities, our training, our degrees? How are we going to use our life experience, our personalities, our passions? And yes, how will we use our money, our assets, our homes, our cars, our timeshares, our lake homes, all of it? How are we going to use all the things that have come our way in this life? All of them gifts from God, how will we put them into the flow of God’s mission? How will we use them to do the work God is calling us to do?
God use me. That’s the message I hear in our gospel today. God created the vineyard and everything in it. God sets it all up and then partners with us. God entrusted to our care and invites us to be its managers, to be its stewards. We become God’s boots on the ground. We become the body of Christ. And we are the ones that tend the soil. We sew the crops so that we might bear fruit to be given away when God comes knocking.
It’s a beautiful arrangement, isn’t it? It’s a beautiful partnership. The only catch is we tenants, we tend to have a will of our own don’t we? We can be a bit prone to distraction. We can be wild grapes. We live in a world of bright, shiny objects all around and we are easily sidetracked. In fact, we can get so off course sometimes that we can even forget who the owner is, can’t we? In fact, we can get so confused about our role in this partnership, we can even start to think that because we work the soil well, then we must also own the vineyard. And if we own the vineyard, then we must also own all its fruits.
Even when we remember that partnership, we can also succumb to fear, can’t we? Like the tenants in the parable, we can get caught up in a kind of scarcity mindset. That enough is never enough. That more is always better. And if we don’t look out for ourselves, we’ll no one else ever will. So when God comes knocking, we can get a little stingy. In fact, it can get so bad, we can get to the point where we no longer come to the door. So God sends his messengers. God sends his prophets to call us back.
And in the fullness of time, God sends His Son to show us the way, to lead by example and to show us once and for all, that we have nothing to fear. There’s nothing the world can throw at us, not even death itself, that the love of God cannot overcome so that we might have the courage to follow in His lead, to allow God to use us no matter where that might take us. And knowing that when we do, we add one more block, one more stone right alongside the chief cornerstone, laying the foundation for the Kingdom of God,
God use me. But even with all of that, we can still get distracted, can’t we? We can still get frozen by our fears, fooled into believing the problems of this world are too big, that the divisions in this country are too deep, that the gifts we have, too meager to make a difference, we can lose our hope. So God sends the Holy Spirit to remind us, to wake us up, to tap our shoulder, to whisper in our ear and to help bridge that gap between what’s possible and what’s holding us back.
And God sends us as well each other. We practice our Christianity in community because we need each other. We need to encourage one another to inspire one another, to lift us up when we stumble and to catch us when we fall. And we need each other because when we come together, when we partner with one another, we can do far more than we ever could alone.
When we met Monica, we were the first church that she had talked to. Up until that point, they had been working with $10 and $20 donations on social media, and we gave them a check for $20,000. I interviewed Monica last week. And she told me when we did that, it blew them away. Up to that point, as she was saying, they were just a group of moms with a Facebook page, trying to do some good. That gift we gave them, it was a game changer for them. It inspired them. It changed the scale of what was possible in their minds. They became more bold. They began to dream even bigger and it had a ripple effect we never knew.
When the word got out of what we had done, when other churches saw what we did, they followed in our lead. Kirk in the Hills, Kensington Church, and other churches throughout Metro Detroit followed suit and together, we more than doubled their ministry in a matter of days. To date, Frontline Appreciation Group has served over 60,000 meals to hospital workers at more than 60 hospitals partnering and helping more than 100 local restaurants.
Christ Church Cranbrook, that is all of you. All of us together. We are a multiplier of generosity in these moments. We are a magnifier of God’s love. In two weeks, we’re going to be inviting every single one of you watching right now to partner with us once again, to make a pledge to Christ Church Cranbrook, to make a pledge for the year to come so that we can continue to be, and to do that kingdom impact in our community.
And what’s more, if everyone who gave to Christ Church Cranbrook turned their giving into a pledge, just like the Frontline Appreciation Group, we could push our mission out even further. We could dream even bigger dreams just as they did, it would change the scale of what we could do for those who need it most.
When you partner with Christchurch Cranbrook in that way, when you make a pledge, when you start to give in a regular committed way, giving becomes a spiritual practice, just like prayer, just like worship, a spiritual practice that helps you stay in the flow of the mission of God. It helps you stay in relationship with God’s mission and it helps you to keep God as a priority in your life. And it helps you to stay open so that when God comes knocking, we will always be ready to say, God use me.