September 3, 2017, Look for the Helpers – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

To listen to this sermon, click here:  Z0000040

The wonderful and wise Mr. Rogers used to say, “Always look for the helpers” It was something he remembered his mother telling him when he was a little child and the world seemed like a scary place to live. “Always look for the helpers.” she told him. “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” Mr. Rogers followed his mother’s excellent advice, and he said that as he grew up he “came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.”

This week the news has been full of reports about Hurricane Harvey, which is just the latest thing to go very wrong in our world. More than 43,000 people have been forced out of their homes. Something like 100,000 homes have suffered flood damage, and more than 1,000 homes have been totally destroyed. And there have been 42 deaths reported so far that were caused by the storm, though there may be more loss of life as the rescue work continues.

But right in the middle of all this suffering and loss, there are a lot of people doing what they can to help – and not only to help their family and friends and neighbors, but even to help total strangers. Convention centers, recreation centers, Mosques, churches and private businesses are opening their doors to anyone who needs shelter. There’s a facebook page that has been organized by individuals who want to offer space in their homes to house people in need. And there are special rescue efforts for animals in need.

The news has been full of stories about helpers. In one Houston hospital that I read about – and I’m sure this is true of countless hospitals in Texas and Louisiana this past week – doctors and nurses have been working nearly around the clock since the storm began. One nurse, Aaron Padron, has worked every single day since the storms hit, only going home once last Saturday night to bring his family to a safe place. His home is under water now, and he is still working and sleeping at the hospital along with several other people to keep the emergency room staffed. When reinforcements show up Mr. Padron plans to go find out exactly how much his family has lost. But for now, he says, it’s all been a “transformational experience.”

A man in Rockport Texas, Matthew Otero, kept his doughnut shop open even after it was seriously damaged by the storm. With the windows boarded up and the roof leaking, he and his family used a generator to keep things running and made doughnuts and coffee for rescuers and neighbors, and provided a place for people to rest. Mr. Otero said he knew coffee was going to be important in the process of recovering from the hurricane. “I’m not a hero,” he said, “I’m working.”

And you’ve probably heard of the Houston businessman who calls himself “Mattress Mack” who opened his furniture showrooms to people made homeless by the storm, almost 800 people. One of his guests was a 7-year-old boy who brought his parents to Mr. McIngvale’s store in the middle of the night to ask for shelter because his parents don’t speak English. Can you even imagine what happens to a showroom full of brand new furniture when hundreds of wet, frightened, desperate people come crowding in? But “Mattress Mack” knew exactly what he was risking, because he opened his stores to the refugees of Hurricane Katrina twelve years ago, too.

I’m sure you’ve been hearing stories like these all week long, stories of the helpers. Maybe you’ve heard so many stories that you feel a little overwhelmed. But what all of these helpers may not even know is that they are walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said to his disciples, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” When God came to be our neighbor and make his home among us, he came to be a helper. We can see Jesus in Mr. Padron, the nurse who worked night and day caring for the sick and injured while the flood waters destroyed everything he owned, Jesus denied himself purely out of love for us. Even though his identity was God, Paul says, Jesus didn’t count equality with God something to hold onto, but he emptied himself and took on the identity of a slave, being born a frail human being. And he humbled himself even to the point of giving up his life, on a Roman cross.

We can see Jesus in “Mattress Mack,” who was willing to risk losing everything, even though he had every right to hold onto it, out of love for all those people in need, all those people who were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. “I didn’t come to be served,” Jesus told his disciples, “I came to serve, and to give my life in payment for many.”

And we can totally see Jesus in the person of Mr. Otero, multiplying coffee and doughnuts for the thousands of hungry, weary, homeless people that came his way like Jesus did with the loaves and fishes. The way that Jesus called his disciples to go, “deny yourself, and take up your cross” – that is the way of the helper.

It may be that all those helpers in Texas don’t even know that the way they are following is the path that Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. But whether they know it or not they are on their way to finding the mystery of abundant life – that “transformational experience” Mr. Padron talked about. Because the only way to finding real life, Jesus tells us, is to stop holding on to the things that are passing away anyway and to start actively loving your neighbor.

That’s not just for times of national emergency – it’s a principle for life everywhere all the time. Our youth, our possessions, our time, our strength, our health, even our physical life: all of these things are slipping through our fingers like sand no matter how hard we try to hold onto them. We will lose them. But when we let go and get to work on the business of being helpers, we begin to find a kind of life that is infinitely better than the life of holding on to our stuff and taking care of number one: abundant life here and now, the mystery of a life of love that can’t be lost or stolen from us even when everything else is lost. That is what Jesus revealed on the cross, because the cross was the ultimate act of helping.

We aren’t in the middle of raging floods and catastrophic destruction, or at least not quite such obvious destruction as the people of Texas. But we have the same path to follow as the helpers of Houston and Rockport; we have the same imperative: “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and pick up their cross and follow me.” Because we are surrounded, every day, by people in need, people who are overwhelmed by fear or loneliness or poverty or discouragement or bitterness or addiction or any number of forces every bit as destructive as Hurricane Harvey.

It’s our call every day to be a helper to the people around us in the midst of their own personal storms. If we would follow Jesus we have to hold our time and our money and our stuff and our home and our rights lightly, not as something to be grasped and hoarded and protected, but as gifts to be given away freely in love, because as surely as those flood waters are destroying whole towns in Texas right now, just as surely all the things that we are so sure of possessing today will be swept away in time. Even our very lives will pass away, sooner or later.

And the only way we will ever find real life, life now, and life that will last, is to turn our back on the fading life of our selfish self and get to work following in Jesus’ footsteps – not just in times of great emergencies but every day, because we can only follow the way of the cross one day at a time…one step at a time…one decision at a time…one act of love at a time…one neighbor at a time.

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