Title: A Why Not Celebration
Pastor: Dr. William S. Barnes
Scripture: Romans 12:1-2
Today we come to the conclusion of a worship theme we have been thinking about since the beginning of September. The basic question we have asked ourselves for the past six months has been the simple one, "Why not?" It was a theme that came out of the prayerful discernment of the worship design team here at St. Luke's, which is comprised of a diverse group of laypersons who worship at both our traditional and contemporary services.
I want to take a moment to help you remember all the things we have asked each other to think about in the context of worship and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We asked ourselves:
I just love it when we St. Luker's ask "Why not?" Robert F. Kennedy, former U.S. Attorney General and brother of President John F. Kennedy, used a line from a play written by George Bernard Shaw that was also used at the end of his own eulogy in 1968. "Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why? I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?'" So much of the great legacy in ministry of St. Luke's has come from a place where we ask ourselves, "Why Not?" And then we go on to make a dream a reality.
On Friday morning of this past week, I was a featured speaker at the annual gathering of the Presidents, CEO's CFO's Medical Chiefs of Staff, and Board Members of the hospitals of the Adventist Health System in the United States. These hospital leaders came from across the country to Orlando to share in a conference focused on the mission of the hospital in the community. The principal reason I was asked to speak was because of the collaboration and shared mission we have through Shepherd's Hope, and soon, IMPACT. Shepherd's Hope is widely known and valued here in Central Florida, but it is also regarded as one of the finest and most effective examples of faith-based volunteer health care for the uninsured in the United States. As I was telling the story of Shepherd's Hope on Friday, I was suddenly cognizant that perhaps the majority of people now in the St. Luke's family may not even know how the question "Why not?" became a powerful statement of "Why not?"
It was fourteen years ago on Valentine's Day that we opened the first Shepherd's Hope Health Center in Winter Garden. Today the organization is its own non-profit entity with over 2000 volunteers from more than 20 faith groups serving in nine different locations across Central Florida. Since the beginning, there have been more than 100,000 patient visits logged by the volunteers and lives have literally been saved. As the logo states, Shepherd's Hope is "Caring people caring for people." It was named Shepherd's Hope because we believe that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has this hope: that we will take care of each other.
When people ask me to tell the story of Shepherd's Hope they are always most interested in my personal experience of hearing God tell me to start a clinic while I was walking on the beach on Sanibel Island. But the part I enjoy telling the most is the story of how you all here at St. Luke's embraced the seemingly impossible and said, "Why not?" I came back from the beach and assembled a small group of key leaders to bring the idea to life. When enough foundational work had been done, I preached a sermon in 1996 in which I cast a vision for the clinic and asked how many people wanted to be caught up in a miracle I believed God was doing. We set a meeting for that week in the sanctuary and more than 200 people showed up. Now here's the really wonderful thing about what God did with us fourteen years ago. Instead of passing around the yellow legal sheet and asking people to write down their telephone numbers, telling them, "Someone will call you," which most of the time ends up not happening, we entrusted the creative process of why-not-ing to the people of God. (After all, that happens all the time in the Bible.)If it needs to be done, if it is God's will that it be done, God will use his own people to make it happen.
That night I sent everyone there to a group with a task. I told them that nobody there knew everything about a health clinic, but everybody knew something. We sent people to choose groups based on what they knew. If they were doctors and nurses, they went one place, if they knew anything about medical records they went another place, supplies acquisition another, marketing another, administration another, and general volunteers another. I called "time" after one hour, we assembled back in the sanctuary, and without a single name or number on a yellow pad, we had created a clinic! Four months later we opened the doors and the very first patient seen was diagnosed with cervical cancer. We arranged for her surgery, post-op care, and recovery, and saved her life. But that was just the beginning of the life-saving and life-changing things that continue to happen at Shepherd's Hope.
It took a lot of work to grow the organization, find more churches and faith communities, enlist the partnership of hospitals, foundations, and corporations, but the most important work, the work without which we would never have seen even that one first patient was the work of leaping in faith over the persistent "you can't do that-ness" of the world to the "Why not-ness" of faith!
Let's praise God for the way in which he used us to create what was and still is, his vision for helping people care for each other!
St. Luke's has always had a heart for the children in our public schools. We were among the first to start filling backpacks for back-to-school. We worked with school social workers to identify and bless children of poverty at Christmas. But we always felt there was something more we could and should do. And so someone asked, "Why not try to make a difference in our schools by personally investing our time and talents as a congregation?" Educational IMPACT was the result. Innovative Ministries with Parents, Administrators, Children, and Teachers.
Now in its third year of ministry, IMPACT, like Shepherd's Hope, has attracted the attention of the community. More than 200 St. Luke's volunteers have been involved in the program at two schools, Mollie Ray Elementary in Pine Hills and Pineloch Elementary in Parramore. The great boost to "Why not-ing?" in the schools came at the end of year one of our involvement when Orange County School Superintendent Ron Blocker held his annual report of the grades of the schools at Mollie Ray. He chose Mollie Ray because in one year, due in no small part to the weekly presence of IMPACT volunteers from St. Luke's, Mollie Ray went from being an F school to an A school!
To all those who questioned whether or not there was any hope for our schools, we answered, "Why not try?" Now there are scores of other schools begging for IMPACT volunteers on their campuses. Like Shepherd's Hope, the demand and need far exceed our capacity as a single congregation, so we are seeking God's direction on training other congregations to share in the work. There are even students from the Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences who are tutoring and mentoring with us as a result of our ongoing collaboration with the hospital. There are 64 students this year and almost one hundred committed for next year. Let's praise God for the way in which he has called us to his vision for children in our schools!
God continues to call us to ask "Why not? when it comes to prison ministry, jobs partnerships, international mission, and on and on. Time just doesn't permit the celebration of everything, but I have lifted up these two ministries because of the extensive and broad-based support they have throughout the congregation.
This past week Lynette Fields, our Executive Director for Servant Ministries, received a letter from a young woman named Rachael Morgan from Belfast, Northern Ireland. I want to share it with you as yet another example of how simply asking, "Why not?" made a life-changing difference in the life of one person.
This is from the cover of a CD she sent us. Unfortunately it was formatted incorrectly and we cannot play it for you. But more important than the music she sang for it is the letter she wrote to accompany it.
My name is Rachael Morgan. I am writing to you because I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your help. When I was 9 years old I sang at my street party [in Belfast] and the St. Luke's United Methodists heard me. They sponsored me [through the St. Luke's School of the Arts] to attend Ulster College of Music. I went to the college until I was 18. I am now 22. While I attended the college I sat an exam and passed, which was my grade 6 in pop music.
Never in a million years did I ever think I would go to the Ulster College of Music until you'd come along. I didn't have much confidence and I only sang in the house. That's until I went to the music school and my confidence grew along with my singing. ...
I want to thank you for all that you have done for me. It was such a wonderful thing knowing that someone else thought I could sing and had the talent to pursue my dream. Singing to me is like breathing. Without it I wouldn't survive. Singing to me is not just a hobby anymore; it's part of my life, and I hope that I have done you proud. It is nice to know that there are such nice people out there who believe in not just themselves, but other people as well...
Hope to year from you soon,
When those St. Luke's visitors to Belfast first met Rachael it was well before the Good Friday Peace Accord in Northern Ireland, and violence and fear were a part of her daily life. Many had given up on there ever being peace in Belfast, but our partners in mission there at ForthSpring always believed that the future was in the children. So we said, "Why not?"
Paul wrote to the Romans that they were to present their entire lives as a "living sacrifice" to God. That would be the way they would most appropriately worship their Lord. Furthermore, they were not to conform themselves to the world, but to be transformed, renewing their minds to seek the will of God, to discern what is good, and acceptable, and perfect. The word for perfect in Greek means goal, end or purpose. In other words we are to embody in our living the full reason for which we were created. And that, simply stated by our Lord Jesus Christ, is love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Beginning next week, building on the past six months, and embracing our core values and faithful history as disciples here in SW Orlando, we together are going to seek clarity about God's will for us in the future. I truly believe that these are critical times for the church in general, but particularly for St. Luke's and our destiny in Christ.
Please join us. We need you. We need each other. We always seem to be at our best when we share our vision discernment together. I keep on my desk a little plaque that has the words that faithful Christians like ourselves placed on the wall of their church, the Cathedral of Seville, Spain 610 years ago in 1401, before Columbus was even born.
"Let us build a church here so great
that others will think us mad ever to have dreamed of it."
Could we do that? I don't know why not!