Stand Alone: The Simple Work of the Kingdom (Romans 16:1-16)

June 2, 2019 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Stand Alone

Passage: Romans 16:1–16:16

 

 

We are taking a break from our sermon series through Galatians this week, and we are going to hop over to the final chapter in the book of Romans.  This will be a little bit different of a sermon as we will be looking at a list of names.  Let’s read through this passage for today:

 

Romans 16:1–16

[1] I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, [2] that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

 

[3] Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, [4] who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. [5] Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. [6] Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. [7] Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. [8] Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. [9] Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. [10] Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. [11] Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. [12] Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. [13] Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. [14] Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. [15] Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. [16] Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. (ESV)

 

We will be taking some time to walk through these names.  For a little context here, Paul is ending his magisterial letter to the Roman Church with greetings to people he is acquainted with.  Knowing Paul had never been to Rome previously, people have wondered throughout the years how we could known so many people in a city that he had not yet visited.  In fact, this is the longest list of names Paul wrote down in all of his letters.  Using some conjecture, and also some reasoning, we know that in Acts 18:1-3, we meet Priscilla and Aquila, who Paul mentions here in the group of names.  They were first mentioned as being in Corinth, located in modern day Greece, because Claudius, the Roman Emperor at the time, ordered all Jews to leave the city of Rome.  Paul wrote the letter to the Roman Church in Corinth. Presumably some of the Jews in Rome had been Christians, and we first find the Jewish couple Aquilla and Priscilla in Corinth, having left Rome.  Perhaps many of these names found in Romans 16 were also Jews who were forced out of Rome, who met Paul at a later date, only to have returned to Rome to have Paul seek to say hello once again.

That is some helpful historical background for this passage.  But the primary point that I am going to spend some time walking through this morning is this:  aside from a small portion of them, these people were and are unknown in this list even to this today.  We are not familiar with most of their stories.  We don’t know what they did or what they accomplished.  Aside from the brief accolades Paul mentions in this passage, we don’t know their birthplace, their jobs, if they were moms or dads, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives.  We don’t know how they died, and very scant details of how they lived. 

This list begins with a mention of Phoebe - who many presume was the deliverer of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  She served Paul at the port in Corinth, and she is mentioned as the Bible’s only deaconess, someone known as a servant among Paul, the churches and others.  Then follows mention of the famous Pricilla and Aquilla, whose story is found in Acts 18.  They were servants of the church in Corinth, and they helped the mighty pastor and teacher Apollos better understand the Gospel in his early years of ministry.  And apparently they had risked their own life for Paul’s life, a story we do not have down in biblical record.  Paul was incredibly grateful for them, as was the Gentile churches.

Then we move on to the more obscure names that we will deal with, but before we proceed, let’s pause and, by way of introduction: This sermon was birthed from a morning this week where I was so touched in prayer and reflection, that I literally had to give up and leave the room I was sitting in.  I went upstairs, sat down with my pen, and began writing.  I had just finished some reading, and I felt confronted with things that deeply challenged me, my identity, and I felt that it shook the depths of my soul.  I found myself asking those sort of questions of, “Who am I?” “What am I doing here?”

What was on my mind?  Death.  That sounds rather morbid, but please hear me out.  I was thinking about my own death, and what I’ll be able to look back on in the annuals of life when I face those last days and moments.  I was thinking about my own life, all my little kids in my house, the handful of gray hairs that have been popping up now in my early thirties - all because that very morning I finished reading a little book.  The book was a memoir of a pastor from Canada, and it ended telling the story of his death, which we will get to later in this sermon. 

I found myself upstairs reflecting on Romans 16, and this long list of names for quite a while.  I wondered what these people looked like, what jobs they worked, what were their strengths and weaknesses.  Then, reading Paul’s accolades and greetings to these men and women, I was catching a glimpse of some obscure things they had done in life. 

This is the question I was facing: Don’t we all want to feel like, on our death bed that “my life mattered, and I did not waste my life”?  How about these people in Romans 16?  How did their life end?  Did they feel the same things?  Why were their names mentioned here?   

I think of the final ending from the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”  You have this small crew of Americans seeking out a Private Ryan, who was the only surviving son of a family who had lost all the rest of their children in the war.  Their mission was to find this Private, and of course many got turned out and misplaced on the European front, and finding him was not an easy job.

At the end, they finally did find him, but it was at the cost of the Captain of the crew’s life.  As Captain Miller was dying, he pulls close to him the ears of Private Ryan, knowing that he will be soon dying.  He knew that he died “saving Private Ryan.”  Struggling to breathe and speak, he whispers in Ryan’s ear, “Earn this.  Earn this.”  As Miller dies, Private Ryan steps back and looks on the bloodied, wounded, and now deceased body, of the man who had just died in order that he may be sent back home to live.  His death gave Private Ryan the gift of life.  

As the movie proceeds, Ryan is then shown as an old man, many decades later, staring down on the grave of the Captain who saved his life.  With his whole family behind him, he leans down and says to the grave, to the deceased Captain, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could.  I hope that it was enough.  I hope that at least in your eyes I’ve earned all of what you’ve done for me.”  His wife walks up, and the old Private Ryan looks at her, his eyes stern, focused, but obviously shaken with insecurity and fear as he found himself nearing the end of his own life, and he says , “Tell me I lived a good life.  Tell me I am a good man.”  In other words, his real question to her was, “Tell me I earned the life I was given by the sacrifice of Captain Miller.”  

In this story, it was Private Ryan who felt the pressure of making his life worthwhile.  Someone died in order that he may live.  He was given the gift of life from someone who lost the chance to live theirs.  With that enormous pressure told to him of the man who perished for him - “Earn this” - Ryan still, in his old age, stood with insecurity, hoping that he did just that, but not being sure that he did.

We are not facing a World War today, and that generation is almost gone from among us.  But today we are a culture riddled such pressure from different fronts, and thus we’re left with similar insecurity, hoping that we are living a life well lived.  The danger is high for all of us, and it presents itself in all stages of life.  We are given a pressure from our society, from others, and even from ourselves, to make our lives matter to some larger scale through what we do.  Much of this is through our achievement/work/accomplish culture.  It begins from a young age - the idea that even your education and schooling exists to mark a long list of goals and achievements continually, marking the best grades possible along the way so you may get into a good college, get a decent degree, and then go and get a decent job.  The pressure begins as early as junior high, and it is becoming more and more popular to have 13-14 year olds visit college campuses, hopefully to inspire them to work harder and take harder classes throughout the oncoming years. The achievement culture is really drilled into us young, and it has become a part of much of our American psyche.

Now we all know that achieving things in life isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, with a brief history of the West since the 1500s, Christian Protestants have developed much of the modern work ethic, and with Gospel influence have achieved and accomplished remarkable things in technology, science, medicine and literature.  Christianity is not anti-accomplishment, and with a different sermon, it can be argued as being the opposite.

But the battle lies with our meaning being wrapped up in what you have done or what you have not done.   If you can’t show me a list of things you’ve achieved in life - what meaning is there?  Have you lived a worthy life?  This part has been the failure of our society in differentiating the two.  Can you accomplish little in our culture’s eyes and your life still have meaning?  If you accomplish much, does your life have more meaning?  

I am afraid that, to some degree, most of us have struggled or are struggling with this battle. And being a small church plant, the danger is on again: what results have we produced here?  How many people are we baptizing?  How much money have we given away to the poor?  Just how high was our attendance last week during our Sunday services?  How many people attend some of the various things we have going on here at the church?  I’ve seen this pressure crack and destroy many a good man who sought to plant a church.   I’ve been in meetings with church planters who love to round up those attendance numbers, counting all the pregnant people in attendance as if they are having twins and so forth, they only speak as if the church is growing and blowing up and is becoming the “next big thing” - only in a short time later, to see the whole church close up because none of those things reflected reality, and they are afraid to admit it, lest others thought he was a failure in his labor.

I could go on and on, but ultimately the foundational question is not a question of achievement, but really of meaning, is it not?  What makes your life valuable?  Valuable enough to matter?  How do we begin answering the question?  And how does Romans 16 answer the question?
As we continue on, I want to lay out a road map in terms of a biblical answer to this question:

  1. We will discuss the biblical foundation of meaning, and where it comes from.  What gives ultimate meaning to our lives according to the Bible?
  2. We will walk through a biblical response to achievements - how do we define a life “well lived” as a Christian?  So let’s continue on.

 

To answer the first question, how do we answer where our ultimate meaning lies in life?  Does the Bible give us an answer?  What does Christianity teach?

 

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him.” - Colossians 1:16

 

In context, this verse is about Jesus Christ.  You exist because of Jesus Christ - God through his Word by the power of his Spirit created this world, and he created you.  And Paul tacks on the ever important, almost side comment in this passage - you exist for Jesus Christ.  In other words, by way of meaning, your existence gives glory to God.  You are the glory of God.  Elsewhere in Isaiah 43:7, it speaks of human beings who God made “for my glory.”  

Pay close attention to my words: you were created for his glory.  You, sitting here right now, are giving glory to God whether you like it or not.  The nearly infinitely complex human body, a heart that will beat over 3.3 billion times if you live until you are around 80 years old, a brain that is still mostly unknown and unexplained by modern science, an organ that we still cannot emulate with the fastest and most brilliant technology.  Have you ever experienced holding a new baby boy or girl?  Life is an utter miracle!

Your meaning beneath God comes from your being.  The state of being alive gives you meaning.  Your beating heart before God gives your life meaning.  Your life matters because you are alive.  If these verses are true, along with the many others, it means that every single human being living on this earth has infinite value before God because we all exist for his glory.  Human Beings have a divine design, a hand-fashioned quality about them that God intentionally made in his image.  And I would argue that we all instinctively know this to be true.

Notice I’m being careful in explaining this.  I haven’t said a single thing about what you have done.  None.  Because that is not where your meaning begins.  It is completely apart from your works.  Even when God embarked on the plan of salvation to rescue humanity from sin, he designed the process of salvation in such a way that did not require work done by you, but rather work done by the perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ.  If meaning were ever wholly found in what we do in this life, or if our salvation from sin were dependent on our own work, we would find ourselves always insecure.  Salvation in Christ is simply by faith in a work done on your behalf - the beginnings of your Christian life isn’t according to what you have or have not done - “By grace you are saved by faith, and this is not of your own doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

This way of thinking is absolutely revolutionary for our world to hear and to embrace, even 2,000 years after it began.  But this is only found if you connect your existence within a biblical framework.  

 

ACHIEVEMENTS & WORK

So what place does achievements and work have in his life?  Why work, or why accomplish things?  If your life already has meaning, can we just sit around and do nothing and be justified in doing so?  Human nature says no.

We seem to have a natural drive and inclination to work.  The bible would agree, as even before sin entered the world, God designed human beings to work (Genesis 2:15).  Adam and Eve were created to work and tend the Garden.  Work isn’t part of the curse of the world.  It is part of being a human being before God.  He created; therefore, being in his image, we are to create too.  We are to innovate, to build, to earn, and so forth.  Work even appears in the New Heavens and the New Earth as well - when Jesus returns to this world, and makes all things right.  Work is not a product of the curse.   We’ll be working and laboring for all of eternity.  And this is what makes Christianity so unique amongst world religions - we all work before God, and was a part of his design in creation.  Our lives have meaning because we are alive, and our work is a mere expression of our meaning before God and others.  It is a result of us being in the image of God.  Of course, there are problems with the nature of work in a cursed world that we experience today, but again, a different sermon for a different day. 

Now I must narrow the scope of this sermon.  There is so much to say about work and meaning, a sermon series we will most definitely do one day.  But this morning I need to ensure that we walk along one path of this conversation today.  We have established that our meaning in life is not ultimately found in our work, but rather, that our meaning of being alive is expressed through our work, we need to define what kind of work is worthwhile.  And even further to define what kind of work, I am going to be talking about Kingdom-work, Christian, people-to-people work.

What kind of work are we used to that has meaning in this life?  In our nation, we can look at the types of achievements and work that we praise and deem valuable and worthy.  And in summary, in America everything great is “bigger” is better.  We see or hear of what someone did or accomplished, and we say “wow that is an impressive person!”  And whether we like it or not, we can attach someone’s value to size of what they have accomplished.  

Now as a Christian, we live in a different worldview.  In other words, the value system of this world is not the value system of God’s Kingdom.  The two are actually opposite in many ways.  Yet the danger of confusing the two happens all of the time.  
In our struggle with mixing our value and meaning with our accomplishments, forgetting that we already have meaning before God simply because we are alive, forgetting as Christians that Jesus has began the process of restoring the Image of God inside of you by cleansing you of your sin, forgiving you, and by his work bringing you in the right before God - all his work and not your own - as we get stuck in this battle, my fear is that there is deep, meaningful Christian work to do right now, all motivated by our love for Jesus and not by increasing your value or meaning in life - work so mundane that we don’t even see it.  I think this is actually a spiritual battle.  And I firmly believe that if the church would wake up and see it - the boundaries of Christianity would explode on the Jersey Shore, grow and expand like wildfire.  

Let me show you what I mean.  Look at the words of Jesus:

 

Mark 9:38–41

[38] John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” [39] But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. [40] For the one who is not against us is for us. [41] For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. (ESV)

 

Do you believe this?  If someone came to you and said “I know a guy who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.”  And someone else who said, “Well, I filled up some glasses of cool water and gave them to thirsty people in the name of Jesus.”  

What would you consider the greater work?  What if Jesus said, “Both are highly significant”?

You see, everything is upside down in Jesus’ kingdom.  He values human beings.  In fact, he values human beings so much that he left everything he had behind in heaven, and died for human beings.  And therefore, if you hand a thirsty person a cup of water because you recognize their life before Jesus has meaning and is valuable - Jesus says, “You will by means loose your reward.”  Casting demons out of people?  If you’re given such spiritual power, that is great.  But let’s be honest:  that isn’t most of us.  But if I were to get a show of hands of people who are able to fill a cup of water for someone thirsty?  Jesus would see you do so and say, “great!  You will not go unrewarded for this.”

Sin makes life all about you.  And when sin is removed in Jesus, you begin realizing more than ever that your meaning is not tied up in your work, but rather in the work of Jesus Christ.  God gifts you Jesus’ perfect work. Therefore, when you work, your value system dramatically changes.  It is no longer about you.  It is about Jesus, and about others.  And this shifts everything around, and turns everything upside down.  It reshapes the kind of work that is valuable and meaningful.  Suddenly the most mundane of tasks in serving others become absolutely meaningful.  Tasks and work that have nothing to do with earning money, achieving cultural grandeur in America.  But something as simple as giving someone else a cup of water in the name of Jesus.

 

I am forced to only choose a few, but here is another passage:

“Then the children were bought to him that he might lay his hands on them, and pray.  The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  And he laid his hands on them and went away.” - Matthew 19:13-15

 

People brought children to Jesus.  His disciples thought, “Jesus is above this.  He needs to be with more important people.  Children?  Take these kids away from our master!”  What did Jesus say?  “Hey guys - children have value.  In fact, do you want to be my disciple?  Do you want to know what its like to live in the Kingdom of God?  Be like a child, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them.”  And he laid his hands on them - that is a fancy way of saying he probably prayed for them, blessed them, and I’m sure, even danced around and played with them for a while on his knees, getting dirty and rolling around.  

I could go on and on, and there are really around 2-3 sermons in this one sermon, but let’s return to Romans 16, and our list of names.  I want to highlight just a few for you that reflect what I am saying here.  And I want you to think of just how utterly simple some of these things are that were incredibly useful and helpful for in the world of Kingdom-minded work. Let’s look at this woman named Mary:

 

“[6] Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.”

 

Remember that Paul is writing in Corinth.  There were probably some Christian Jews who left Rome and went to Corinth for a while, whose heart was still attached to their fellow brothers and sisters in Rome.  And Mary, apparently, had been serving the church in Rome, working hard for them.  

Now, why did Paul feel the need to tell them?  Apparently, due to the way he phrased this sentence, the church in Rome had no idea Mary was working hard for them.  And we know nothing of the nature of the work other than it was quiet enough that they did not hear about it.  Phoebe and Priscilla and Aquila - they seemed to be pretty famous throughout the churches, and were given the wonderful opportunity of doing some of the upfront work that receives lots of attention from many - some people are indeed given such work.  

But this Mary - she seemed to be working quietly behind the scenes.  What was she doing?  We can only guess.  Was she making blankets or quilts, selling them and passing along money to the church in Rome?  Was she writing letters of encouragement to some of the members?  Was she someone who simply prayed hard and continually for the church?  It could be so many things, but we don’t know.  All we do know is that it was of the kind of work that, unless Paul said something about it, no one would have known she was doing it.  Apparently Mary wasn’t laboring for herself.  Rather, she was laboring for Jesus and the others in the church at Rome.  And her simple legacy remains with us to this day.    

 

Look at this next person: 

 

[13] Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.

 

Have you ever been in one place for long enough of a time to have a surrogate-mother figure who is completely outside of your family?  I remember years ago, when I was living in Staten Island for a summer interning at a church, I was living with a loud and boisterous Italian family.  Loud.  Wow.  I mean it was loud.  But they were such a loveable, gracious family.  And boy, for those four months did Mrs. Parascando take good care of me.  She made the most amazing meals.  So much food.  So, so much food.  She would cook me breakfast and dinner.  She’d guide me to the nearest and safest laundry mat.  My bed was nice and cozy and had clean sheets.  I was young, only 18 or so, and she was an amazing surrogate mother for that summer.

Paul apparently had one too, and here he is, taking the time to tell the church in Rome just how amazing this surrogate mother was - Rufus’ mom. I can imagine Paul, tired from ministry, living as an itinerant missionary planting churches, having no family around, and Rufus’ mom having the heart to feed Paul.  I love those kind of people that find joy in feeding people.  Isn’t it great?  Those are the kind of friends you want in life.  It was probably Rufus’ mom making sure Paul got decent sleep and took breaks to rest and stay healthy. You can see her walking up to Paul, laboring away and saying “You should go lay down and take a nap.  Paul, are you taking care of yourself?”  She probably made sure he wasn’t living off of McDonalds or Taco Bell, but was eating his vegetables.  When Paul came down with a fever, I’m sure it was her to gave him a room and took care of him and nurtured him.

Do you know how mundane sometime like that is?  Do you see what I am trying to do here?  Do you see the vision I am trying to cast, the biblical vision of Kingdom-Minded work that can indeed expand and grow the church in dramatic ways, but is astonishingly simple?  This is the kind of work that our nation will never give you a gold star for.  

Listen: this is the point of this entire sermon:  Open your eyes.  The work of the Kingdom is to be done not to make you life more valuable.  That is already maxed out.  The work the Kingdom can be as simple as merely loving and caring for others and cooking a hot meal for someone in the name of Jesus.

This church plant is not a call to go and change the world for Jesus.  Chances are, we will not do that.  Chances are, when you die, your name will not be familiar or even known or remembered by 99.999% of all people.  Want proof of this?  Go to the local graveyard, and look around for a name you recognize.  You wont recognize any!   Because their lives were like yours - simple, not famous, and regular.

But our community, today, can be changed in the name of Jesus by having a church full of people willing to give cold cups of water to others, being surrogate mothers for others, taking care of children, and laboring quietly behind the scenes, serving and loving others in the most simplest of ways.

Sure, maybe some of you will be the ones out there casting out demons and doing the dramatic, life-changing work.  Maybe so!  We need those people and some are called to do so.  That would be wonderful if you are!  The church has always had them, God calls people to do it, and we pray for those men and women regularly.  But chances are, you aren’t.  Don’t worry! Jesus has some very easy, quiet but so, so precious and loving things for you to do - like helping the neighbor who just had a baby and bringing her a meal, like when you are cutting your grass and you decide to just slide over and cut your neighbor’s grass because they are elderly and could use the help.  Or when you sit and take the time to listen to someone and not actually talk back and just hear someone out - all because of Jesus, his love for you, and your love for him.  SIMPLE THINGS.  

ALL OF YOU, right now this instant, have opportunities like this unknown Mary, or Rufus’ mother, or Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas - all these people mentioned by Paul in Romans 16 - we don’t even know what they did to have Paul mention them!  Those people and their probably quiet deeds of love and friendship to Paul - that work is available for all of us right now in the name of Jesus. 

This is part of the freedom that comes with the Good News of Jesus.  Remember that ending of Saving Private Ryan?  Every time I see that movie and its ending, I get to mad at the dying Captain’s words, “Earn this.”  Could you imagine if Jesus, hanging on the cross, yelled out to his people, “Earn this!  I’ve died for you.  Go and earn this!” What a miserable life Private Ryan would have had with the pressure of earning something like that, and what a terrible things for Captain Miller to have said!

Feel the freedom from the pressure.  If you are a Christian this morning, you are already loved by God in Christ, your meaning is maxed out!  Take your eyes off any need to accomplish big and loud things for Jesus.  If they come your way and fall in your lap, work with all your might in the opportunity.  But for the rest of us, open your eyes to the simple ways of serving others that surround us every single day.  For that is where 99% of all the Kingdom work will be done.

I’ll close with a story from that book I read that shook me up earlier this week.  It was a memoir of a man named Tom Carson.  Tom Carson is the father of DA Carson, which, if you are a Christian nerd like me, you know is one of the most brilliant Christian scholars and thinkers of our time and possibly of the last few centuries.  But Tom Carson?  He was like you and me. 

I wont tell you his whole story, I really encourage you to read the book, titled “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor.”  He pastored churches in French speaking Quebec, where the Good News of Jesus was largely unknown, and where often pastors were jailed for preaching the Gospel outside of the state sanctioned church.  His church during his early years was about half the size of ours during the entire time he pastored the church.  It drove him to begin working bivocationally in ministry, as well as working for the Canadian government.

But Tom Carson was a pastor.  He didn’t leave behind books he wrote.  He didn’t write anything that will be remembered throughout the ages.  He didn’t leave behind a massive mega church that changed Canada forever.  No.  He was a simple pastor who was faithful in the little things until the day he breathed his last.

For example, when his wife declined over a ten year period with Alheizmers, eventually not even able to remember who he was or even her own children and grandchildren, it was Tom to said “It is a privilege to care for her.  She cared for me my entire life.  Now I get to care for her.”  What kind of work was that?  Bathing her.  Changing her.  Cooking her meals and feeding her. 

His pastoral ministry was quiet, and almost all of it was behind the scenes.  I’m skipping much here, but for our purposes as we end, I want to read you the account of his funeral.  It is this page that rocked me, and I hope it rocks you this morning.  Church, when you hear this, don’t hear Tom Carson.  Think of the offer simplicity of this work - things that Jesus asked us to do that are within the skillset of all of us here. 

“[The funeral] was packed.  Charisee, one of [Tom’s granddaughters sang the hymn] “Find us Faithful.”  “That was grandpa,” she said.  At the wake, the quiet testimonials seemed unending.  One young woman who was an attache at one of the African embassies said that not long before, she had been in intensive care for over a month with postpartum complications.  She was in a comatose, or semi-comatose state, unable to communicate.  She said that, “Mr. Carson” had come in every day, sat with her, read Scripture to her, and prayed with her.  I found no record of these visits in his journal.  During Dad’s final stay in the hospital, this woman prepared a room in her home for him in the hope that he would be discharged and that she would have the privilege of nursing him back to health.  [She wanted to be like Rufus’ mother - a surrogate mother for Tom Carson]
Another couple spoke with [us at the funeral] and told us they had been having severe marriage problems and were on the brink of divorce.  For two years “Mr. Carson” visited them every week and took them through a bible study on what a godly home and marriage looked like.  With tears in their eyes, they expressed profound thankfulness for his godly investment in their lives.  Some of these visits are briefly alluded to in his journals, but one would never guess from the entires what had gone on.  Why should such matters be reported?  Tom was simply serving as an ordinary pastor.”

Again - please don’t hear this sermon ending with a “Be like Tom Carson.”  That’s now why I read it.  End with these thoughts: the work of Jesus’ Kingdom is incredibly simple.  It can be argued that the most important thing here is to simply be faithful in the little things.  And most of us will die and be buried in a graveyard full of other gravestones of people that, within a few decades, will probably be forgotten about entirely on this earth.  Don’t despair! We’re not living to be remembered on this earth.  Jesus did not ask you to “earn” his death for you.  Your meaning is not wrapped up in what you achieve in this life.  

As Christians we are doing Jesus’ Kingdom-work.  Go, give a cup of cold water to someone this week.  Visit someone who is sick and hurting.  Babysit for a neighbor, and while you are at it, cut their grass.  And don’t tell anyone about it.  Church - if we ALL engage in this simple work - our community indeed, in the name of Jesus, will be changed.  Let’s pray.  

 

 

 

 

 

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