August 13, 2023 Sermon: God is in the Big and Little and Everything In-Between

Rev. Steve Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
August 13, 2023
1 Kings 19:9-18
Matthew 14:22-33

You have already noticed I use a lot of personal examples in my preaching. I do so because I strongly believe that Scripture is not something out there. It is right here with us part of us. Part of our lives. Part of who we are. As you read the Bible, it is ok to think of devotions or sermons you have read or heard on the text, AND I strongly urge you to relate the text to your life and events of your life in the past, now and in the future. There is the 30 second commercial before we get into the show, I mean sermon.

This morning I am going to take you back to my teenage years and our home in the inner-city of Cleveland, Ohio. I am by far the youngest of three brothers. In my teens, both of my brothers had basically left home. Mom and Dad were both still working more than fulltime. Dad worked in maintenance at the Ford Motor Engine Plant. Unlike me, he was a little guy – ha, ha. His job was to crawl in and out of the giant stamping machines cleaning them out 8-12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Mom was in politics. She was out and about or at city hall, or wherever, 6-7 days a week, 8-10-12 hours a day.

So, in my teenage years, we cut a deal. I didn’t work outside the home but worked for Mom and Dad at home. I did a lot of the cooking, most of the cleaning and yard work, and laundry. All the day-to-day stuff that makes a house a home and keeps us relatively clean and happy. One day my oldest brother comes by the house as I was about to sweep the basement stairs. We lived in a big old city, shotgun house with an unfinished basement, I had the broom in my hand when he walked in. He looked at me and the stairs, and said, “Those stairs need painted. I’m gonna paint those stairs.”

Those stairs didn’t need painted any more than I did. But, to his credit, he did a marvelous job. Those stairs gleamed when he was through. When my parents came home, you would think he invented space exploration. He just invented the napkin. Oh, they made a federal case out of it. It was so wonderful. So terrific! Halleluia, we’ve been saved! I got angry and pouty about it. And in those days, when I was angry and pouty, the whole world knew it. Here I was doing all the day-to-day stuff. My folks were grateful, indeed, but wasn’t like inventing the napkin. They didn’t react by singing the Halleluia Chorus.

I got pouty and angry and thought, “Well, what if I don’t do this stuff anymore.” You know, when you’re not thinking. You know when you are pouting and mad. You know. But, I got over it. Well mostly over it. Still remember it in vivid detail all these years later don’t I?

And I really can apply it to God’s calling in our lives. To Jesus’ command to live out the Golden Rule. To live out the Great Commandment. And apply all of it to the Great Commission, “Go out to all the world.”

Go out to all the world. Sometimes God comes calling in the big huge things. And the world is defined as the WORLD! God says now is the time to go and do something Big! Raise Money! Plan and Plan and Plan! Go get shots. All the world can be defined as oversees, foreign born mission.

I had friends at Good Shepherd Presbyterian church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dr. Tim was a dentist. His wife, Joanie, was a business person, who went back to school to be a dental hygienist, so for two weeks every year they could use some of their vacation to go down to Central America and work on teeth in the name of Jesus Christ. They have three beautiful daughters who at the time of this story were school age. They would stay with Grandma and Grandpa while Tim and Joanie went out of country to do mission. Very cool. And they never described their mission as a big/huge thing. They fixed teeth.

After returning from one trip, a pastor cornered them and asked, “How many people did you baptize while you were in El Salvadore?” Dr. Tim thought the pastor was kidding, shining him on. Tim laughed and said, “I’m not a preacher. I’m a dentist. I fixed teeth. I didn’t baptize anyone.” The pastor (and I use the term loosely), said with all sincerity and judgement, “Well, I guess you really didn’t do mission after all. Did you?” That was the end of that conversation and that relationship.

God calls us in that still small voice. Do what you can to treat others how you want to be treated. Do what you can to love God and love on others. Do what you can, do what you are gifted to do to make Jesus followers. Disciples.

Let me tell you about another friend of mine. His name is Jack. Good friend. We hadn’t spoken in years, but he called after my heart attack, and it is like we talked last week. That kind of friend. Anyway, Jack is one of the most interesting people I have ever known. He is literally a nuclear scientist. Yes, a Stanford grad, nuclear scientist, simply brilliant. But, he grew up in the oil fields of western Colorado. Rough place and a rough situation. And some of those rough edges still inhabit Jack’s personality, despite wife Pat’s 60 plus years of gentle influence.

Jack and Pat came to our church in Cortez, Colorado from a Methodist Church in another town. Pat asked, my wife and co-pastor, Kim, to take her through a new member’s class. Which Kim was thrilled to do. Jack tagged along as he always did when Pat attended church. I used that phrase “tagged along” intentionally. The ‘new member” class began with Jack, being Jack, proclaiming, that while he believed in God, he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. He had always come to church because he loved Pat and it pleased her when he attended.

My wife is brilliant. She just smiled and said, “Fine. We’ll just visit.” So, the three week new member thing because weeks of the three of them visiting together during Sunday school time. No pressure. No judgement. Just Golden Rule and Great Commandment living out by Kim.

One day, Jack walked into our study. He asked that I also be there. He looked at Kim with the biggest smile on his face and said, “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I believe.” Pat’s bawling. Kim’s bawling. I was bawling. So was Jack. He hears God’s call. This is a big huge thing. He said it came to him in the still small voice in the middle of the night. Of course, we make him a member through Profession of Faith. More tears. Of course, we quickly ordain him an elder and put him on session. Of course, it is what we do.

At that point in the life of that church, the Mission Committee was extremely well meaning, but not really well organized. After a frustrating session meeting, I asked Jack to stay and visit with me a minute. I said, “Jack, I need you to chair the Mission Committee.” He looks at me and says, “Charity begins at home. I don’t believe in outside mission. I believe in taking care of our church.” I looked him in the eye with my good eye and said, “Jack, I don’t care what you think about mission. I need your organizational skills. Do it as a personal favor to me.” He said, “Fine.” Jack and I will do anything for each other.

Jack gets the Mission Committee all organized and in doing so finds out we have money in the bank designated for mission to Native American people that is just sitting in the bank. It needs spent. Through Jack’s efforts, the Mission Committee started trying to spend it. They called our presbytery, in which the Ute Tribe resides. They didn’t know if they even wanted to accept the financial gift. He called the adjoining presbyteries which had the Navajo nation within their bounds. That was a non-starter. He tried Synod. Uh-Uh.

Out of frustration one Monday, Jack directly called Pastor Norma the seminary trained native Navajo Presbyterian Pastor of the Kayenta Presbyterian Church on the Big Navajo Reservation. Jack says, we have this money, and we’d like to share ministry with you. Pastor Norma says to this gruff, plain-spoken, new believer who did not believe in mission…Pastor Norma asked, “Are you the Holy Spirit?” He said, “No, I’m Jack.” But, at that moment, Jack was living into the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

The day before, at their Sunday worship service, Pastor Norma and the Session of the Kayenta Presbyterian Church informed the congregation, they were at the end of their rope. They were done. They were out of money. Out of energy. And out of patience with God. The manse, fellowship hall, building, and sanctuary were crumbling and it was over. One of the little ladies, who I wish I could remember her name- she was nearly 100 years old, looked about 200- stood up and said in her native tongue, “we need to pray to the Holy Spirit.” The next day, the Holy Spirit showed up. In the guise of Jack. Talk about the still small voice.

Kayenta PC and Cortez PC became a great partnership. No one wanted to do the one way “we’ll save you.” In small ways those few people from Kayenta were living out the Golden Rule, Great Commandment and Great Commission to us. We gave them much needed money. We went down, and crawled under the the double wide trailor that was the manse and did plumbing. The folks from Kayenta came to us and taught us about taking the two cultures of Christianity and the Navajo Way of Beauty and weave them together. Wonderful stuff. Pastor Norma preached in Cortez. We had folks filling the pulpit in Kayenta.

Jesus says treat others the way you want to be treated.
Jesus commands, Love God/Love Each Other.
Sometimes that Love comes through big/giant stuff with shouts of joy.
Yay- Go paint the basement stairs. Go to El Salvadore and fix teeth.
Sometimes it is big/huge things:
Sometimes it is getting out of the boat and walking on water.
Gun Buy Back
Reactivating the whole campus – all four buildings!
Calling a new pastor

Sometimes it comes in a still small voice:
Don’t respond to an upsetting text or email right away. Pray over it. Think about it. Give it time. If something irksome takes place, we don’t have to show the whole world we are pouty and angry. Pray for the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Are you the Holy Spirit? No, I’m Steve or Beth or Anna or Dave or Jason AND I carry around in me the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Living into our Christian Faith is doing big stuff. Living into our Christianity is doing little stuff. The Holy Spirit is in it all, and is exhibited through all. See what love the Father has given us that we should be called Children of God and that is what we are. We are God’s children when we do great and hear the Halleluia Chorus in our ears. We are God’s children when we do small, and don’t hear a lot of kudos. All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small. The Lord God loves them all. And we have been commanded and commissioned to love them all.

ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.