We Encourage…Ourselves, Each Other, in Faith

We have covered many topics in our Christian Ministry series this summer, and today our topic is, 'As the church we encourage ourselves and one another in faith.' We, in essence, are cheerleaders for the Gospel, cheerleaders for the Good News, especially in the lives of those around us, those who are struggling, those who find themselves in peril, those who are hopeless, and those who have less than we have. That is our mission, to be with those who need encouragement and who need help, those who need God's love.

Before we get into how we do that as a church, I'd like to make this a bit interactive. What do you do to encourage yourself or what do you find as a source of encouragement in your life? By answering these things, it will help us to see clearly how also the church works. In what ways do you find encouragement in your life? [Responses: Reading the Bible; Prayer; Listening to a child's laughter; Fellowship; Helping other people; Saying, "Thinking this way is not helpful."]

All of us have things we look to for encouragement. Sometimes it is that trusted friend, or it may be a family member, perhaps we turn to books or devotionals or Scripture for encouragement. Maybe we turn to the television for inspiration, or some time alone in prayer. All of these things we do as individuals. One of the greatest encouragements I received, when I was having not so great a day, was when my daughter came up to me and said, "It's okay, Daddy," and she gave me a sticker. Sometimes it's the little things that are so encouraging to us, to know that we are not alone. There are times when life can get so tough around us, things so great and overwhelming that we may not recognize that we aren't alone. But then there are those around us who love us and support us with hugs and kisses. or stickers, cards, or prayers.

It is good for us to reflect on times when that encouragement has been there, and it is good for us to notice when we see someone who is in despair or struggle to give those words of encouragement. And they don't have to be profound words. It can simply be, "I'm thinking about you. I know you're struggling, and I'm praying for you." Or, "Is there something I can do to help? I just want you to know I care." All these things serve as wonderful encouragements. As people of Christian faith, we are supposed to look for those around us who need us to be the healing hands of Christ. In today's Scripture, the Apostle Paul tells us in his Letter to the Thessalonians, "Encourage one another and build each other up." So that is one of the commissionings we have as members of the Christian church, to constantly encourage one another and build each other up. And if we have questions as to how we might do that, we can search through the Gospels in the New Testament and even the Old Testament for ways to do that.

When we were choosing the lessons for this week, Luke's passage came to mind. In it, John is talking to the people and gives them some hints about how to care for others. He says, "If you have two coats, share one with someone who needs it. If you have food to spare, share with someone who doesn't have food." And when it came to the tax collectors, he says, "Collect only what is prescribed for you," because tax collectors in those days made their living by overcharging people and then receiving their portion from that. And to the soldiers John says, "Don't extort money from people, just accept your wages." So Luke's Gospel is telling us, "Be generous and give. Share what you have with those who are in need. And to those of you who find yourselves in places where people are struggling, be honest and fair. Do what is right." So those are just some very simple examples that we pulled from Scripture for our service for today.

I'm glad to report that as Grace United Church of Christ, we do a lot of encouraging of one another. We do it as individuals and we also do it as the church. Some of you may have had people call you to see how you're doing before and after surgery. Or if people know you're dealing with a conflict in your family, they may call and be that listening ear or to see if there's anything that you need.

Those things happen as individuals, but also we have a committee or ministry in the church called the Sonshine Committee that works within Lay Life & Work. Last week you heard a call for those who would like to assist with meals. The church provides meals for those who are struggling, especially those coming home from surgeries or who have other health issues, and the committee realized they need some additional help. But that's only one of the things the Sonshine Committee does. They also do visitations in hospitals and in homes, they bring flowers, notes of cheer, and well wishes of love and care from the congregation. It's a very powerful and healing thing, and I'm grateful for them. I know people expect a visit from the pastor, but it means so much when the laity shows up to offer their love. It's kind of that embrace that we all hope for and may not even realize we hope for it until we find ourselves in those situations of being shut in or in a hospital room. Flowers, as I said before, are one of those ways that we show care. For new babies in the church, they receive a savings bond. And that is another source of encouragement for that family and for that child and our commitment to wanting to see that child flourish and grow and do well.

As people of faith, we not only have our Sonshine Committee, but we have the Prayer Chain, and in faith we lift prayers for each other. Where you stand on the power of prayer is not that important to me, but it is important that you give us an opportunity to pray for you. I certainly believe in the power of prayer and so do all of us on the Prayer Chain. And we have had some good things come of that time spent in prayer, deliberate prayer for one another. It's a wonderful source of encouragement. Some have told me, "It means so much to me, Pastor Steve, to know there are people at the church praying for me." When we find ourselves in a hospital room or in a difficult place in life, it's sometimes hard to find the words to pray. So to know others are doing that for us is a great comfort and encouragement and a source of hope.

As a church we are doing a good job of that, but we can always do more. Our Sonshine Committee is looking for additional members who would like to help provide a sense of caring and compassion, occasional visits to folks or phone calls or a meal, whichever one you feel most strongly about, or all of them. If you feel a call in your life to be one of those who offers encouragement to others, please see a member of that committee. It's important and vital, and I've really seen the way it helps people heal in this church. It really lifts people up, and it's truly amazing. So if you'd like to be part of that encouragement, let us work together. But as individuals, Christ calls us, and Paul tells us, that we are to encourage one another and build each other up in faith. So that is what I hope you will take from this service today, that as Christians we are to be encouragers…encouragers who offer God's love, God's compassion, and God's hope that we all find in Christ.

Read other Sermons by Pastor Steve