Based on Isaiah 40:21-31, 1Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39
My dad spent more than half of his 79 years of life as a Letter Carrier for the Post Office. His years as a Civil Servant in the Post Office, one of more than 600,000 such persons employed by that government agency, allowed him to send three kids to post-High School education and live a decent middle-class life. He reflected in his retirement years that he felt blessed to have been able to find such a quality job with only a High School education. Especially since, in his words, he graduated High School, “thank you Lawdy”, with a lot of help from the woman who would become my mother.
Dad would have agreed with the current designation of postal employees as “essential workers”. Back in the day, there was only one game in town to get mail of any kind from one end of the globe to the other. If you didn’t get your package or letter into the hands of a postal worker, it wouldn’t get to where it needed to go. Dad lugged mail in his shoulder bag through rain, sleet, dark of night and lots of Minnesota snow and cold. There were many times during the Christmas holiday mailing season that dad would be out before dawn and back home far after the sun had set. Essential workers like my dad make the world run by showing up and doing what is expected of them. They are the cogs in the larger wheels of this nation’s economy without whom life as we know it would be far more uncomfortable if not absolutely impossible. These folks often are nameless and faceless, without the protections of government employment and union representation that were available to dad. Interestingly, it turns out that we as members of the Body of Christ are also essential workers, because without us, the gospel doesn’t get spread to all corners of the world.
Christians are called to essential spiritual work on behalf of God. We find the power to go to work for God in the song of Isaiah who strengthens the weak and faint and renews the souls of the faithful. Paul shows us how it is that we are called to be essential workers to spread the gospel and to save as many as we can by using the gift of empathy. The mother-in-law of Peter is healed by Jesus and immediately goes to work in service of her Lord and Savior. She is essential in getting Jesus ready to perform his ministry at the highest levels. Before we go any farther, let us join in prayer for those essential workers in the secular world, and for all of us disciples who are essential to the transmission of the gospel of Jesus…
The prophet Isaiah’s poetry in Chapter 40 is one of the most comforting and therefore beloved sections of the book. It begins with “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God….” It moves on from there to remind the people in their exile that God alone is in charge and that the time of enslavement will come to an end. The leadership of Israel had forgotten that they were essential in God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. They had turned to other gods and had forgotten the One who brought them out of Egypt. Our scripture reading for today reminds believers of just who this LORD is; what this singular God has done. They have forgotten the truth about God, so the prophet reminds them saying, “…Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable….” The prophet reminds them of the essential knowing of their faith.
Paul continues in his letter to the believers in Corinth about their essential role in spreading the gospel. They are to do this not for their own gain, but because as members of the Body of Christ they have freely accepted the commission to evangelize for God. They are to follow Paul’s example of making himself a servant to all he meets so that he can connect folks to the gospel – show unbelievers how Jesus makes a difference in their everyday lives. By getting to know the folks to whom he is speaking, by sharing their lives, he can then convince some about the truth of Jesus…and so can we!
Peter’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever when Jesus comes calling. He heals her and immediately she begins to serve Him and the disciples. She becomes the first deacon – one who connects the gospel to the world. With this support, and with constant prayer, Jesus is able to go out into the neighboring towns to spread the good news – which is His essential role in the world.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security created the guidelines for what constitutes an “essential worker”. They stated that these workers are those “…who conduct a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continued critical infrastructure viability….” The industries they support represent, but are not limited to: medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement, and public works. Based on current information, essential workers represent almost 90 million persons in the U.S. This means that most of us have close contact with one or more people who are engaged in work that supports our communal life.
Across the globe there are 2.3 billion persons who are baptized members of the Body of Christ. Many of those billions are essential workers providing care, education, safety net support, missional work, and religious programming and services on behalf of Jesus the Christ. These essential members of the Body are created by the essential work of discipling which happens at the local church level. The United Methodist Church has always recognized the singular importance of the local church. A full 122 pages of the Book of Discipline (rules and regs that govern life as a United Methodist church) are devoted to the local church and its central role in the life of faith. In a section entitled, “The Function of the Local Church” the Book of Discipline has this to say about the essential nature of what we do together: “…The local church is the strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society. The function of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God….” It goes on to state that, “…Each local church shall have a definite evangelistic, nurture, and witness responsibility for its members and the surrounding area and a missional outreach responsibility to the local and global community. It (the local church) shall be responsible for ministering to all its members.…” Note that it does not state that ministering its members is exclusively the task of the pastor or elected leadership – it is the essential role of EVERY member.
No matter what you do, have done or will do in the secular world, or where you are at in your faith journey, Jesus the Christ calls you to the essential work of making new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Therefore, I find myself wondering how each of you will respond to His call as an essential worker for God in the coming year? May God bless and empower your essential work. Amen and amen!