Welcome to the Third Sunday of Lent Year A. This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Gardner, MA. The scripture readings for the day are Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11 and John 4:5-42
We recently read John 3: 16 in worship. When you think about John 3: 16 what comes to your mind? Maybe you think of the guy in the rainbow-colored wig sitting between the uprights holding the sign painted with the world’s most famous verse. But when I think of John 3:16, I think of six year-old Benjamin, protesting his bedtime, and I’m reminded of God’s unexpected, surprising grace.
Sometimes I say the phrase “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son to die…..” too often because it loses it’s significance. God did not send Jesus to simply deliver a message, God sent Jesus to die, to die on a cross, to die on a cross for us. This is why, as Martin Luther once said, this verse is “the gospel in a nutshell.”
God never asked for our permission to send Jesus to the cross. In fact, God does not ask us to do anything for our salvation. If you are ever told that you need to do something to earn Gods love you can know that person is lying to you – you do not have to profess Jesus as your personal savior, you do not have to attend a bunch of classes you don’t have to do anything because Gods love is a free gift and it lasts forever.
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Three years ago when I moved to Gardner I knew I wanted to get involved with the community. Moving here from a small town in New York I was aware of the importance of not only getting to know the people in my congregation but also the movers and shakers in the community.
One day I received a letter from the Gardner Rotary club inviting me to have a conversation about becoming a Rotarian. I thought it would be nice to have a conversation and learn more about the Rotary Club and have a better understanding as to what they do in the community and for the community. I sat down with Joe Guercio and Dawn Casavant and they talked about all the of the service projects the Rotary does and the connection Rotary has all around the world. I was impressed.
The purpose of a local Rotary club is to connect people who then work together to solve community problems, provide humanitarian aid, and promote goodwill and peace. Rotary clubs exist all around the world, and Rotary International has over 1.2 million members. Their motto is “Service Above Self.”
Rotarians are committed to creating inroads with people so that opportunities to serve will arise from those connections. The Rotarian philosophy is that mutual service is the best way to create thriving businesses and societies. A Rotary club is committed to ethical practices in business and holds high ideals for personal behavior. Rotary clubs ask four questions—the Four-way Test—to be applied to thoughts, speech, or actions: “Is it the truth?” “Is it fair to all concerned?” “Will it build goodwill and better friendships?” “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” If the answer is yes to all four questions, the action, speech, or thought is considered ethical.
Rotary International began in 1905 so there is no Bible examples of the Rotary. However, the Four-way Test for ethical business practices proposed by Rotarians is certainly in line with biblical principles.
The motto of “Service Above Self” recalls Biblical principles such as the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) and Jesus’ lesson that “the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11–12). This is a reminder to me that work can be done outside of the church and it still can have a profound impact on our life of faith.
This weekend is the annual Gardner Rotary Auction. You can watch it from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm today on local Public Access cable channel where we will be streaming live from Mount Wachusett Community College, and can also be viewed over the internet (mwcc.com/livetv).
The Annual Gardner Rotary Club Auction is our largest annual fundraiser, with proceeds supporting critical local initiatives that strengthen and enrich the lives of those who live within our community. Some of the things the Gardner Rotary Club supports are Student Scholarships, The Weekend BackPack Food Program, providing food for over 200 food insecure children week, The Partnership for Children – providing fiscal support, essentials and holiday gifts for needy families, The Montachusett Veterans Outreach Center, The GVNA Diaper Pantry, The Montachusett Suicide Prevention TaskForce, The CAC – with the Outhouse Project providing essential hygiene items for CAC patrons, The Fellowship Table which serves meals for those in need, Little League Sponsorships, Support for local programs such as HOPE, serving woman and children, The Dictionary Project – all third graders in Gardner, Winchendon, Baldwinville, Hubbardston, and Templeton and so much more.
As the auction chair this year I have been in contact with so many people who talk about the importance of Rotary not only in this community but in their personal lives. I have seen first hand how a simple act of support can change someone’s life.
I liken my journey in Rotary to the story of Emmaus Road in the Bible. First the story two travelers are met on the road, they have the scriptures opened, they share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ, and then are sent to share and live the good news.
At first the disciples don’t believe Jesus has risen from the dead because we are so used to the limitations of death, the pain and paucity of life in this world, and the absolute certainty that all things must end, that new life – even when its standing right there in front of you! When I think about all the good work Rotary does for the world I find it hard to believe. I don’t know many groups in the world that do good work because it is the right thing to do, I don’t know very many people who spend hours raising thousands of dollars just so they can give it right back into the community. This brings me joy.
Joy is so needed in this world because there are many things that happen to us everyday and if we are not careful we can find ourselves full of hurt, anger and despair. But you can help by inquiring how you can become a part of Rotary or find ways to be involved in one of our programs. For example, if you have some time today tune into the Rotary Auction on the local access channel, you might see me as your auctioneer or other people who are deeply connected to our community. Feel free to bid on something and do your part in helping make our community a better place for us all.