Sermon, Matthew 20:20-28
Just Keep Swimming
Preached in response to Hurricane Katrina
Just Keep Swimming
By The Rev. Greg Hazelrig
Dory is a small fish caught up in a great big ocean. And one of Dory's problems is that she forgets things. She has short-term memory loss…very short term. She literally cannot remember things just moments after they've been told to her.
And as you might imagine, Dory could get really down and depressed. But she has a little reminder that helps her get through any bad situation. She sings to herself, "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming." And so she does just keep swimming.
Dory is a character in the Disney movie Finding Nemo. The premise of the movie is that Nemo (a small clown fish) is captured by a diver and placed in his aquarium.
Nemo's father (Marlin) spends the entire movie searching for his son. And along the way he meets up with Dory, who reminds him on occasion to "just keep swimming".
Now I share this with you only because a couple of weeks ago Michelle and I met Patti. Now Patti would run around the halls doing the same things that we were doing…organizing, pulling and distributing food at West Laurel UMC. But maybe even more importantly, Patti would go around and every time things seemed to be getting harder or the stress level was rising, she would start singing, "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."
Now I'd seen the Nemo movie a couple times before, but I just had to go and buy it Friday. And I realized that I said the same thing that Marlin (Nemo's dad) did when we first heard the song. "Great, now I'll never get that song out of my mind."
But you know what? I'm glad. I'm glad because when Michelle and I went back last week, we could sing the same song and get smiles from people when stress levels seemed to be rising. And I think in the future it'll be a reminder to me to not only just keep swimming, but to just keep serving.
Jesus and his disciples
The story we read this morning can also be found in Mark. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus was approached by the mother of James and John. In Mark, James and John themselves come to him. But either way, what they were looking for was the same. They were searching for a place of honor for themselves.
Honor is bestowed only by the Father, Jesus tells us. And this honor is a reward to those who are willing to serve.
The honor of the Father
Sometimes we can tend to forget this. We see powerful people who are placed on a pedestal like Donald Trump and Bill Gates, who made a fortune their own way. We see political giants who are supposed to be serving their people, but seem to serve themselves more.
This is all because we live in a capitalistic society where the more money…the more power…the more prestige…even the more beautiful you are…the more honor you receive.
A popular attractive female actress or handsome actor will receive much more press and honor at a banquet than say a single mother trying to make ends meet while still giving to her church to support missions.
The fact is…this world honors the rich, famous and powerful people because much of the rest of the world wishes to be like them.
But God places honor in another place all together. He honors those who will give up the limelight to minister to the poor. He honors those like Buck Ferr from Hollandale who has given up time with his family to coordinate debris removal teams in Laurel, Mississippi.
He honors those who may never be put on the news for donating a million dollars like Wal-Mart, but took time off of work and traveled 12-24 hours to do the behind the scenes jobs like loading and unloading eighteen wheeler loads of water by hand.
In the last couple weeks people have come to West Laurel UMC to do work that many people will never know about. They've come from places like Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Alabama, Nebraska and maybe some I've forgotten. And other than the ones they help, the majority of people around the country will never know their names or what they did.
But Jesus will. And God will. And God will honor the Patti's and the Roxanne's and the Rob's and the Sandi's and the John's and the Mike's and the Tom's and the Dana's and so on.
And God will honor you here who have given of your money…of your time…of your love. Whether it helped one family or a hundred and one families, you will be honored by God.
But let's not forget to keep on swimming…to keep on serving. Jesus never quit. And neither should we.
In the weeks since Hurricane Katrina you've given a lot of money to the relief effort in one way or another. And I know we cannot continue to give this amount week after week forever.
But there are so many ways to continue serving. And there are those who can contribute more if God calls on you to.
So what I ask is this. Pray. Listen to God. And keep on serving. There will be a place of honor for you…even if it's not seen here on earth. It will be seen in Heaven.
And speaking of Heaven, I would like to share one more thing with you this morning before we close.
Friday as I was driving home a song came on the radio that I've heard before, but never thought a great deal about. It's entitled If Heaven by Andy Griggs. He talks about a heaven that is twilight when "everyone's workin' day is done." He talks about heaven as his own town––and as cherry pie––and as a fast train.
After this song was over I thought about the fact that if heaven was feeling what would it be like.
And here's what God spoke to my heart.
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one that you get when mom and dad says, "I'm proud of you son."
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one that you get when you're day is done and you know somehow…someway you helped someone who is better for it now.
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one you get when you see the smile on the face of the lady who has just received food for another week and is thankful.
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one you get when the person in great need tells you that you're such a blessing even though you didn't have much to give.
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one you get when you go to Ovette, Mississippi out in the sticks after dark and all that can be seen is a fire department being lit by a generator filled with people helping each other and smiling…even though they haven't had electricity for two weeks.
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one you get when you've formed a special bond with others who have come to serve just like you.
If heaven was a feeling, it would be the one that God gives you when you've served one another. It's the feeling of being honored by your heavenly Father.
Keep on swimming.
Keep on serving.
Keep on loving.
Keep on being honored. Amen.
Copyright 2008, Greg Hazelrig. Used by permission.