A Dialogue Sermon by Claire Fischer and
The Reverend Dr. Lillian Daniel
June 22, 2008
First Congregational Church,
Introduction to the Scripture:
About two and a half years ago, our church had an auction and among the items that were auctioned off was a sermon topic of your choice, to be delivered by the senior minister. This was a big selling item, so hot that I said that if the dollar amount crossed a certain level, I would give two sermons. The price rose to the appropriate level and so I had two sermons to prepare, on any topic that the buyers chose.
One of those sermons happened about a year later, and the topic was one that many of you would probably have picked yourself: roller coasters. The couple who won the item are huge roller coaster enthusiasts and I had a wonderful time preparing a sermon entitled The Roller Coaster of Life.
If you think that was tricky, the second winner of the
auction item was even trickier. Was it because her topic was so difficult? No.
Was it because her ideas were not consistent with the church? No. The second
sermon was going to a teenager, Claire Fischer and what made this so difficult
was that her schedule was so tight, we could never seem to meet and had to keep
rescheduling. I, the senior minister, have a schedule that’s free and easy
compared to that of a busy teenager. We didn’t give up, and talked a number of
times, but this introduced another issue. The sermon topic kept changing, as did
the date. By the time we met, years had gone by, and Claire had graduated from
high school a semester early, and was planning to go to work at an orphanage in
Scripture: Romans 12:3-8
3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
My friend Karissa and I had finally chosen Projects Abroad as the organization that
would take us to
I spent the next few weeks wrestling with whether to
continue with the application process or to work for second semester instead; but
the next thing I knew I was on an airplane heading to
As happy as I was, I struggled. Was there a reason for me
After my first week in the orphanage I thought I had made a
big mistake. I was getting phone calls from people back home telling me that
they missed me and needed me to come home. I got sick for the first time since
I had been in
Then one of the boys came to me. His name was Kwesi and he told me that he and Edward had a slight problem and that he needed to talk to me about it. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the look on his face. There was going to be a new orphanage supervisor taking over at the end of June. She was not a gentle-hearted person and I had bumped heads with her before when she told me I was too small to be respected. She was now expressing a dislike for the older boys living at the orphanage and had told Kwesi that she was going to kick him and Edward (another older boy) out because it was against the law for them to be living there. (That was a lie.) Immediately I went to see Auntie Helena (the old supervisor) about what I could do to help.
While Claire was in
There was one story she told that made me realize that wherever you are, the human condition is what it is. For me, that story was about being told by the new orphanage supervisor that she was too small to be respected.
That story was one that I could really connect to, for reasons that may be obvious to you. I had been told that before, myself. In fact, it seemed like I’d been told that from my earliest childhood memories.
In grade school, they would always line us up in order of height. It was humiliating being the shortest one. People looked around to see where they ranked. I envied the tallest people, of course. I dreamed of the day I would have my sudden growth spurt, and shoot past them all. Just for the record, I am still waiting for my growth spurt.
Later, I learned that this exercise also embarrassed the tall ones, who were self-conscious about towering over the rest. We, at either end of the height scale, longed to be somewhere in that anonymous middle, just like everybody else.
The Bible has something to say about that. Apparently, God didn’t make us all the same for a reason. The letter to the Romans says, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” God can use us all. Nobody is too small. Nobody is too big. And nobody should long to live in the anonymous middle. We’ve all got something unique to share with the world. Paul put it this way: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
That new supervisor told Claire that because she was small, she would not be respected. That story made my blood boil. So much damage in the world is done by people like that, who tell you that you are too small, that your dreams are too small, that the world is too small. They take people with big hearts and big dreams and try to shrink wrap the hope right out of them. One way to do that to someone is to say, “You don’t look the part.” I’ve been hit with my own version of that many times in my journey into the ministry. I entered this field never having laid eyes on a woman minister until I got to divinity school, and even after all that training, people would say, “You’re the minister? No way. We won’t even be able to see you in the pulpit.”
The people telling me I was too small, or too this, or too that – they weren’t all out there. Some of those voices were in here. Because I didn’t remind myself of the ministers that I had grown up with, I doubted the calling. Because I wasn’t a big man with a deep voice, I wondered if I would ever be respected.
It was doing the work, doing the ministry that made me realize the truth of those Bible words. The body of Christ has many members, and we don’t all have the same function. We have gifts that differ. We don’t all have to be the same.
Nowadays, when someone says to me, “That’s funny, you don’t look like a minister.” I know there is only one appropriate response: “Thank you.”
When I arrived to see Auntie Helena, she explained to me that, legally, the boys who had asked for my help could not be kicked out of the home; but she was worried about the way they were going to be treated. If the supervisor of the orphanage was lying to the boys and telling them she could kick them out, despite the fact that she could not, it meant that they were not going to be getting the care that they needed. Auntie Helena already had a plan but was lacking resources. The plan was much bigger than I had anticipated.
She wanted to rent an apartment for two of the boys near her house, so she could take care of them for the four years it took them to complete Senior High School. The only issue was that there would be no money to pay for them or money for them to buy food. But I had a revelation; this is why I was there.
I immediately jumped at the chance to raise the money. Auntie
Helena figured that it would be $300 a month for the room and the food: 12
months times 4 years, which comes to around $14,400. This is what I was called
to do. I was called to raise this money. I had raised $10,000 before for the 30-Hour Famine, so what difference is
$4,400? I was fired up and ready to go, and two days later I met with Auntie
Helena again and the figure had changed. Instead of just Edward and Kwesi
living in this home she was going to make it for six of the older boys, making
a grand total of $51,000. If this first home works out for the boys she hopes
to spread it all through
Auntie Helena told me that she wanted me to come and work
for her non-governmental organization (NGO) and help set up this program. Since
I am attending
Kwesi looked at me that day he told me he was going to be kicked out and he said I know that God will provide and he will not let us suffer. I told him that God would provide for him and that I was going to make this work for them and get this sorted out. He stared straight into my eyes and told me that I was different from the other volunteers, who were very committed, but I had something that they didn’t – my faith in God.
Here is the truth: I have God, and without God I am nothing. God gave me the gift of fundraising and I am going to use this to help my six boys. They told me that if I could help them out they would never forget me. So here is where I need your help. I need donations. Can you help me provide for: Kwesi (age 16, wishes to study psychology to help others), Edward (age 16, wants to study law and then move to politics to change Ghana for the better), Seth (age 16, wants to be a chef), Francis (age 15, wants to finish school and pursue a football career), Kwame Mensah (age 23, wants to be a electrical engineer), and Kwabena (age 13, younger brother of Kwame Mensah, doesn’t know what he wants yet). I may sound crazy but I refuse to let them down.
It’s easy to be cynical. What’s hard is to be hopeful. Cynicism is the easy way out. It gets us off the hook. We say, “It’ll never work,” or “That won’t make much difference,” or “You can’t change the world,” which is another way of telling someone, you are too small to be respected.
What if we all said the opposite. What if, instead, we said, “You are not too small. You are big, in promise, in hope, and in dreams; and if there’s anything to change it might be that your plans are not big enough.” In your uniqueness, you are a child of God, a special, one and only member of the body of Christ. So how can your uniqueness join my uniqueness to do something big? What if all of us are part of a plan that God has made?
God’s Will for me was not clear to me until I came to
This all was brought together in the end. God has a plan for me and sometimes it is not always clear, but I know that it is right.
“The Will of God” is a mighty big sermon topic, but that’s
the topic Claire chose. What’s interesting though, is that when we sat down
before her trip to
That’s why this is such a massive topic, and one that can really never be explained. You see, what I thought was the will of God ten years ago, looks very different a decade later. You know this. The thing that seemed terrible at the time can turn out to be the greatest opportunity for learning. The thing we think we have all figured out may turn out to be our life’s greatest mystery.
Figuring out the absolute will of God, that’s probably way outside the human job description. What we can do is trust that there is such a will, and that our lives are better when we lean into it. Then we turn to scripture for words that will give us courage on the journey. For Claire, these were the words she left with, and returned with: (Romans 8:28) “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.”
So we listen to our own lives, we read them, as Claire is doing, for little presents from the Holy Spirit, that come through loving people, tender prayers, big dreams and even through the naysayers who underestimate us. All these things work together for good for those who love God. Amen.