See Sermon Transcript

Full Sermon Transcript

Pastor Chris Paavola:
My name is Chris Paavola. I’m the senior pastor here at St. Mark. Wonderful, wonderful to be with you today. It is a beautiful day out. Hopefully you get a chance to enjoy that, but I’m just excited for today, not just because we’re kicking off this series, prosper the City, but really we’re kicking off a campaign.

This prosper the city is truly a campaign for our city and I’m really, really excited to just be doing that. We didn’t to kind of bring you up to speed or refresh your memory about what prosperous city is. We did this just over a year ago as well. And this is the second time we’ve done this, but we’re taking three weeks, the next three weeks to plan a service project on the fourth week that makes an immediate impact in our community. So that’s what we’re doing three weeks to plan a service project on the fourth week that makes an immediate impact in our community.

And you guys are going to be coming up with this and the people in this room are going to be coming up with these projects that are going to make a difference in this community. That’s exciting. We didn’t come up with this phrase prosper the city. It’s a cool phrase, but we didn’t come up with it. It’s actually found in scripture. There’s this section where the people of Israel, there’s this Babylonian empire and they come and lay siege to the city of Jerusalem and they overtake and they defeat Israel. And when they defeat Israel, they carry off all the Israelites into captivity. They burn down the city, they kill lots of people and they drag them thousands of miles across the desert to live in exile in Babylon. And while they’re there, obviously the people of Israel are upset about this. This is not good.

I’m angry. They’ve killed my family, they’ve ruined my life. They’ve destroyed and taken everything I own. And they have vengeance and revenge in their mind. And what’s so interesting is when God speaks to ’em, he doesn’t say like, okay, hey, here’s how you’re going to get back. Here’s how you’re going to stage a revolt and a coup against the Babylonians. Instead, God gives them a different command. He doesn’t tell them how to get back at them. He doesn’t tell ’em how to be a thorn in their side. He says to the people of Israel, seek the peace and prosper the city to which I have sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it because if the city prospers, you too will prosper. And then in the rest of the verse, rest of the chapter, he outlines, what does it look like to prosper the city but prosper the city?

And as the people of Israel, they’re going, wait, what do you want us to do? Prosper the city. And we took that as marching orders for us as a church because we’re like, you know what? We’re kind of sent into this community. God has sent us to live here, planted us here. This is where we are. What if we decided that we were going to as a church the city? Isn’t that what God has called us to do? And so last year we kind of gave you guys the challenge to do this. And we said, let’s do this. And there’s a few things that I think make prosper the city distinct, the secret sauce of Prosper the city. We didn’t come up with a bunch of projects and here’s all the list of projects, sign up is in the back and then I encourage you guys to all sign up in the back and then the same dozen people sign up for everything and then we go serve.

That’s not, we did not want to be a clearing house, a log jam for all of your service projects. We said, what if we did it differently? What if we broke into small teams and then we tasked each team to come up with their own unique service projects based on not so much the need, not based on the need, but based on who you are, your abilities, your passions, your networks, what it would look like for you to create a project based on who you are as a team. And then you meet a need with that. Wouldn’t you be more interested in that project than if something we told you to care about if we already harness the thing that you care about? And you guys took up the challenge, it was a crazy idea, but you rocked it, you knocked it out of the park last year, you guys repaired a deck of an elderly neighbor. You cleaned up litter in a city park, you rehabbed. Look at Lisa and Grant who worship leaders rehabbing the Haven. You handed out food downtown, you keep going. Yep.

That was already the neighbor there. You went to Mingus Brook and you taught them about what it means to be a veteran. You made blankets for people without homes and you rehabbed like a whole parking lot and you did a memorial project there as well. And the list goes on and on. Those are just a few of them that you came up with last year when we said, just you guys come up with a project, go do something and you knocked it out of the park. And so many of you after doing it last year were like, oh, that’s what prosper the city is. Oh, okay. And then you’ve got ideas already primed for this year. Some of you guys are really excited about the projects that you’re already going to be doing coming up.

But again, that’s one of the things that I think makes Prosper the city so unique. We don’t come up with a project. You come up with a project and you serve the community. So beautiful. And the second thing that I think that makes Prosper the city unique, and this I want to take a little bit more time to talk about today and just make the focus of our time is what it teaches us about service because okay, you hear the phrase prosper the city, and you think about the city and you start to think about all of the needs in the city. And you start to maybe think about stats that 22% of people in Battle Creek live below the poverty line or one in 13 people in Battle Creek will experience a violent crime or the rising unemployment rate. Or maybe you drive through a part of town you normally don’t drive through and you get off of the regular thoroughfare that you take because it’s not a destination.

And you end up on a side street that you’ve never driven down before and you see dilapidated homes or unkept lawns and you start thinking about or vacant buildings, and you start to feel the weight of the community and you think prosper the city. And it all seems so overwhelming. And you look at it and you’re like, what am I going to do? The problem is so big. I’m throwing cotton balls against a wall. I’m not doing anything. I don’t have the time, I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the energy, I don’t have the networks and the connections to do anything. And so we end up doing nothing. It’s like paralysis. The need is so great.

Small Things

And that’s where I love what prosper the city teaches us because think about the people of Israel, they’re carried off into exile in Babylon and God tells them, prosper the city with what? I don’t have any money. They took it. I don’t have a job, I don’t have a home. I’ve lost all my love. Prosper with what Lord. I mean that’s like salt in the wounds prosper the city. And that’s the point is you can always love someone and show love to others. He’s essentially saying love Babylon, even in small ways. Love them because there is power in small things done with great love. There’s tremendous power in small things done with great love.

And actually this isn’t just like a command he gives during the exile, we see this throughout scripture. God loves using the small, he chooses Israel because it’s small. He chooses Israel to bless the world. He constantly is like fighting battles by getting smaller and smaller and smaller bands of soldiers to win battles against an enemy. He uses a small stone to defeat Goliath, a giant. And then you think about the small people that he chooses, he chooses small people like a fisherman, a prostitute, a tax collector, a murderer to advance his kingdom. And then when Jesus steps on the scene, he constantly is teaching and commending the small, he teaches about the power of a small cup of water given to a thirsty person or a small offering of two pennies given to the Lord or a small faith, the size of a mustard seed and what it can do the small again and again and again.

And then we also see small in his teachings like this teaching we see from Matthew five. This is a really common teaching of Jesus. You’ve probably heard this term, you’ve actually heard the idiom salt of the earth. Oh, those people are salt of the earth. That’s where this comes from. He’s talking to a large group of people, religious and irreligious, thousands of people, young and old, male, female, black, white, Asian, European, African. They’re all there in this large crowd. And he’s talking to this huge crowd. And as he’s talking to them, he teaches on the concept of the small, but it’s so small that we miss it. And he says, you are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

And we hear this and we’re like, that’s an odd metaphor, salt. Why is Jesus choosing a table condiment? You are the ketchup of the earth. Why soy sauce? Why is he choosing? Why is he choosing these things? But okay, so brief, very brief history lesson, but salt was much more valuable in the ancient world than it is today. We kind of treat it with just disdain. We’re like throw it over our shoulder for good luck, right? It means nothing and we use it. But in the ancient world they used it actually Roman soldiers, part of their pay would be salt, tablets, salt because of what they could do with salt. Salt was one of the uses was a preservation agent. You could put salt on fish or on any kind of meat. And because what it does, it dehydrates it, right? It rips sucks up the water.

And so it would slow the decaying process or even reverse it. And the other use of salt then is to flavor things just a dash of salt. And we use it to flavor our food or to put a rim on our margarita glass, whatever. Don’t act like you don’t bunch of pious people trying to act. But the idea of salt though, so that’s what he’s meaning by this metaphor. It has this value. So are he’s just saying in essence, you are valuable. You are not an accident, you are not a mistake. No matter how small you feel, you are valuable. You have worth, even the tiniest grain of salt has power. It doesn’t go well with toothpaste, but has the power for great change. I could ruin your coffee with salt if you think it’s sugar, right? There is power in the tiniest grain of sand of salt.

So as salt, salt salty people. And then he gets to the next metaphor. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bull. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. And we think of a lamp, we think of the tall thing in the corner of our room or the thing on the end table that lights up the room. But in the ancient world, the idea of a lamp is more of this handheld piece of pottery. It literally is handheld small enough that verse 15, it can be placed under a bowl. That’s how small we’re talking. It’s a handheld. It’s more of our idea of a lighter. That’s the size of the flame from a lamp, kind of this piece of pottery filled with oil lamp.

And so you would have the lamp and then with your other hand you’d be doing daily tasks. It was a mobile lamp, but again, it’s small. And if I blocked out the windows in this room turned off all of the lights, all of you would still see this light. Because darkness, no matter how great cannot overcome the light. And in fact, the longer we sat with it, the more this light would actually start to fill the room even from a tiny flame. And you would begin to see based on this tiny little light, even though it’s small, so as light, you lights, light go light. Even though it’s small, it’s not insignificant. It’s like a grain of sand or like a light. God uses the small things. And the next verse he says, in the same way, let your light small though it may be shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.

Jesus Made Small.

In other words, there is power in small things done with great love. There is power in small things done with great love. And we know this. This is mom cutting the crust off of our sandwich. Man. It makes the world we’re just like, oh mom, thanks. There’s power in small things done with great love. And isn’t actually this a picture of Jesus? Okay, because let’s just say he’s God and he becomes man, he’s making himself smaller. And then as man, he makes himself smaller and becomes a peasant. So he’s not a king, he’s not the mayor of a city. No, he’s a peasant. Then he makes himself smaller and becomes a servant. Then he makes himself smaller and he dies a criminal’s death in our place. And then listen to the language that is used throughout scripture to describe what happens next. He is raised and exalted and lifted, high, magnified, glorified.

And now at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord risen from the dead. God makes him bigger and bigger and bigger because of how small he made himself. And he changed the world, not just because he did good things, though he did, but because he loved with great love. There is power in small things done with great love. So as I’m looking at these prosper, the city teams, as you guys are a part of prosper the city, as you’re thinking about your projects, I want to remind you, I know you want to do great big things. I know you want to change the city, but don’t underestimate the small. If your neighbor next door is in need, take care of ’em. I know you want to overhaul the education system. Maybe just fix the swing at the playground.

I know you want to feed the hungry and malnourishment make a meal. I know, I know. I know you want to take care of the broken down homes and all throughout our community, fix a ado, fix the hinge on ado because there is power. Small things done with great love. When I was in college, I was down in Texas, that’s where I went to school. And there was floods, like rains that happened for two weeks straight. And it started. There was actually a pretty significant flood in our community and it was, I’ll be honest, I mean I’m a college kid, I’m worried about passing. So on TV it was just kind of a statistic. It was just like, eh, a statistic. It was sad, but it didn’t affect me. And there was a break in the rain and the waters receded enough that families could go back to their homes, but there was more rain coming and again, it just was not that big of a deal.

But I found out the guy who lived in the dorm next to me, his name is Chris too, he actually told me that his home was in one of these communities affected by all the flooding and now he has to go back to his home to start getting their personal belongings out before the next round of rain came. And I was like, oh my gosh, Chris, I’m so sorry, can I help you? And he is like, yeah, if you’re free tomorrow, I’m like, I’ll make myself free and figure out the grades later. But like, okay, we’ll figure this out. Then I went actually down the hall, the rest of the dorm knocking on doors saying, Hey guys, Chris, his house got hit by the flood. We’re going to move some of the stuff out of the house. Do you want to help? And we just basically recruited the whole wing of our dorm. And the next day, 40 of us went out the whole dorm wing of just a bunch of dudes.

We drove to Chris’s house and I had never seen anything like that before at this young age. I mean it was devastation and trees falling over. I remember there was a boat in a tree. The floodwaters were so high, he was living by the river and stuff. There was cars and yards, it was just debris everywhere and torn up houses. And I was like, oh my gosh, it looks like a bomb went off. And we got to his house and we actually had to use shovels to dig a path through the hallways to get, because there was a layer of dirt and sediment and debris all throughout his house. And so we had to dig this path through the hallways into his bedrooms and into the kitchen so that we could walk. I mean we were wearing rain boots, but to walk into his house.

And then all we did when we got there is we just picked up things that he told us to and carried ’em out to a U-Haul. So here this is my photo albums, carry ’em out and we just loaded up, this is our dishes, take them. This is grandma’s hair clock that we inherited and taking out all of these possessions and belongings and putting ’em in a U-Haul truck, we got done and it was fast. I mean many hands make light work. We were driving out of the neighborhood and I’m sitting there driving this U-Haul truck. And I remember just looking at all of these houses and feeling what we do all the time, overwhelmed. And it’s just the devastation was everywhere. And I’m seeing families crying the lawn, trying to dig through stuff and pick through the debris. And I’m just overwhelmed by the need.

And I turn and I look at Chris and he’s smiling because we saved his possessions, we helped him. And I realized that day that you can do for one what you wish you could do for all you could do for one, what you wish you could do for all. And growing up, if you would ask your mom for like, mom, hey, can I have a root beer Mom? Can I get a root beer? And she’d be like, well, if I give you one, then I have to give everyone a rip here. Or the teacher like, Hey, actually I know this answer. I got it wrong because I misunderstood the wording. And can you fix the grade on this test? And the teacher would be like, well, if I fix your grade, then I have to fix everyone’s grade. And I remember being a kid going, no, you don’t just give me the root beer. I won’t tell anyone. I will drink it quickly. Just fix my grade. We have this idea of everything needs to be fair, everything needs to have parody, everything needs to be equitable. Life isn’t fair and it’s okay. It’s okay to do for one what you wish you could do for all. And with Prosper for the City, I know the need is great, but there is power in small things and done with great love. There is power in small things done with great love.

And that’s my encouragement to you with this project is just keep that in mind. Now we’re kind of at this point I need to touch on some logistics. I can feel the questions in the room. So just give you kind of some housekeeping on Prosper. The City, all of our small groups, we’ve got about 18 small groups. All of our small groups, the month of April are being transformed into Prosper. The city teams, that’s what they’re doing, prosper the city teams and that’s how they’re kind of ending the small group season. And they’re going to take three weeks going through our discussion guide that we’ve written to help them create different service projects on the fourth week. And all of the projects will occur between 28th and May 4th so that we can all celebrate them together on May 5th and May 5th is going to be prosper. The city Sunday in here, we’re going to be celebrating all of the projects and you guys are going to brag about what you’ve done. I love that verse that Paul was talking about in Romans 12 that he said outdo one another and showing honor. And I kind of like that idea of this competition between trying to outdo one another and what you guys did with your project. So on May 5th, we’re going to celebrate the projects altogether. Make sure you’re here for that Sunday for Prosper, the City Sunday, as we just look at what you guys did and how you prosper the city. I’ve already heard about a couple groups kind of getting a headstart on projects that they’ve wanted be done and it’s pretty exciting.

Another really exciting thing is so many different organizations have reached out to us because they’ve heard about Prosper the City, and they’re like, I want to be a part of this. And so we were contacted by Habitat for Humanity. We were contacted by Lila Arboretum, actually contacted by Mingus Brook School across the street. We were contacted by What A Do Theater. We were contacted by A Forgotten Initiative, which works with foster children. And they said, Hey, if your groups are struggling to come up with a project, we’ve got some projects that you guys can do to just help us. I love this idea of partner, don’t pioneer, partner with people doing great things and just let them do their great things. How can we help you as you work to prosper the city? So I’m really excited about that as well. If you are not a part of St. Mark, if you are just here today because you’re here for a baptism or you’re here because grandma bribed you with lunch afterwards or whatever it might be, whatever reason that you’re here, you could be a part of Prosper the city too. You do not need to be a part or we don’t use the term member very much because it’s very confusing. But if you’re not a regular attender at St. Mark, you’re just looking into this Jesus thing and investigating him. Use who can serve with our prosper of the city teams. Just scan that QR code on the back of your bulletin or if you’re watching online or right now, you can scan the QR code that you see on the screen that’ll take you to a form. You fill out the form, we’ll get you plugged into one of our prosper of the city teams.

Super, super easy. And by the way, prosper, the city hosts or our small group hosts. I’ve got kits for you guys in my office. So after the service, just come into my office. It’s all alphabetized. So you get your money and then the post-it notes and all the whiteboard and all that kind of stuff so that you guys can be a part of the project as well or lead your groups and stuff. So small group hosts, make sure you grab those G Club key and stuff. Just grab them from my office as you guys after the worship today. But yeah, that really is what we’re doing. And we also said that parents feel free instead of kids having their own projects and parents trying to balance two or three different groups and stuff like that, parents feel free to bring your kids to your Prosper the city team to be a part of the planning process. So it might work with kids, it might not. Honestly, it’s up to, it depends on whatever your group comes up with as your project. So that’s Prosper the city. Are there any questions that you guys feel like the group might be asking that you’re thinking you’re confused about? Any questions you guys might have about Prosper the city? Okay, I think we’ve covered most of it. It really is exciting guys, and I hope you’re a part of it. I can feel the excitement in the room. I feel the energy. I feel like the enthusiasm for you guys, you’re going to make a difference. You’re going to make a difference. Your city needs you. Thank you so much for glorifying God and bringing praise to his name and for prospering the city When you do small things with great love, lemme pray for you.

Heavenly Father, we pray for these projects and we ask Lord that you would just show each one of these prosper, the city teams, the projects, the right projects, whatever that word right means.

Just the projects that you want us to do. God, whether it’s a great need or it’s an immediate need that we can meet or just somebody that you want to show your love to. So God, we pray for each of these projects, we commit them to your care. And then God, I pray for each person in this room, each person who hears my voice, that you would show them what it means to do small things with great love in their own life, but also that you would encourage them and then move them, God, to be active in responding to the resurrection of your son by prospering the city. What a great project God for us to be doing right on the heels of Easter. And so God, thank you for changing our lives because of the resurrection. Help us now to change our community because of the resurrection, to be children of light, to be the salt of the earth that you want us to be. And we pray all of this Lord in your name and we commit it all to you. Now with the prayer that your son taught us to pray, saying Our Father, who arts in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.