Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 3 John 1-8 ~ Sunday, February 9, 2020
During the summer of 1904 an unlikely partnership was formed at the World’s Fair St. Louis. The summer was unusually hot and people were searching the fair for something to help cool them off and Arnold Fornachou had just what they were looking for: ice cream. People lined up for what seemed like miles to get some of his cool and satisfying treat but there was one problem. Arnold was not prepared for the demand and ran out of paper bowls and was forced to wash a few porcelain bowls over and over again. With so few bowls, people were getting tired of waiting.
Next to Arnold’s ice cream booth was the booth of a pastry chef named, Ernest Hamwi and he was making a Persian wafer desert called zalabia. Ernest also had a problem, his pastry was not selling. He noticed the problem Arnold was having and took some warm zalabia and rolled it into a cone shape. He then went over and showed Arnold how the zalabia could hold a scoop of the ice cream. On that hot day during the World’s Fair, the ice cream cone was born as this new partnership between Fornachau and Hamwi was formed.
As a fan of ice cream cones, I believe it is safe to say that this partnership has brought great joy, not only to these business partners, but also to the many through the years who have enjoyed this cool, refreshing treat!
In this morning’s lesson from 3 John, we hear the Apostle John expressing joy over a different kind of partnership. It’s not a partnership in creating sweet treats to delight the tongue, but a friendship formed through the sweet Gospel message of God’s forgiving love in Christ that delights the soul. John is writing to a man named Gaius, a member of a Christian congregation where the Apostle had served Gaius as his pastor. Even though John is no longer personally serving Gaius as his pastor, John is celebrating their partnership together that is focused on supporting and spreading this sweet Gospel message with more and more precious souls.
John writes this letter because there are some problems going on in the congregation where he had previously served, where Gaius is still a member. John is writing because he trusts Gaius. He knows his commitment to the truth of God’s Word. He has heard good reports of Gaius’ own life as a lay leader among God’s people and what a positive example he is to others of what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Jesus. John has also been encouraged by Gaius’ commitment to supporting the Gospel ministry to and through his congregation. Gaius personally provided lodging to some of the missionaries who have served his congregation and he generously supplied them with financial support so they could dedicate their full time and energy to the work of preaching and teaching the Gospel. John is overjoyed by what he is hearing about Gaius and all that Gaius is doing in Gospel ministry in his congregation.
Why is John so joyful about this? John’s joy isn’t focused on external ministry measures like butts in the pews, bucks in the offering plate, or building plans under development. John’s joy is over Gaius’ Gospel-centered heart, that even though he himself isn’t a full-time church worker, Gaius sees the whole of his life and his life’s resources in view of and in connection to God’s Kingdom of truth and grace.
To better understand John’s joy over Gaius’ heart maybe this story will help. Sam is a member of a Christian congregation today. Sam is an active member in his congregation, a rather large church that is served by several pastors. Sam wanted to help out because he felt that his pastors had too much on their plates and so he wanted to do something to lighten their load. Sam’s congregation purposely decided that people who needed long-term care were not to be among the direct duties of the senior pastor staff of the church, so Sam volunteered for the task of keeping track of the long-term needs of Joe, a man who was interested in becoming a member of the congregation and was also suffering with AIDS.
Joe wasn’t well enough to attend the membership classes at the church, so with his congregation’s blessing, Sam worked through the lesson materials with Joe at his home. Sam shares about that time in God’s Word together: “Joe and I had a wonderful time of spiritual sharing and mutual growth in the following weeks. He became a member of our church. His spiritual life blossomed even as his physical health deteriorated. Our relationship grew. The flow of goodness went both ways. Joe was giving as well as receiving. During this same time, my own mother was seriously ill, and the stress of those days was somehow relieved by the hours spent in conversation with Joe. He knew about pain. He knew loss. He knew me.”
One day, when Sam was feeling stressed because his mom’s life seemed to be hanging by a thread, he also received an urgent message that Joe was dying. So he called the church to alert one of the pastors, but none were available in that moment. As Sam hurried to Joe’s home he left messages on the voicemail of each of the pastors. When Sam arrived at Joe’s house he met several of his friends and family who had gathered to keep Joe company in his last hours. Sam sat with Joe and prayed with him over the next couple of hours. From time-to-time the phone in the house would ring, and Sam kept hoping it would be one of the pastors from the church. But it never was. He shares, “Each telephone ring in the other room brought a moment of hope, but no clergy materialized. I stayed as long as I could. When the time came for me to leave, I prayed with Joe again. I realized he was at peace and that he wouldn’t be alone. I returned to my mother’s bedside.”
Sam later learned that about 15 minutes after he left, Joe died. Friends and family reported that his departure was peaceful, but Sam was upset. Why hadn’t any of the church’s pastors made it to Joe’s bedside? So later that evening, Sam did the honorable thing and talked directly to the person with whom he was upset. He called the senior pastor, Charles, at home. Sam shares, “He [Charles] waited patiently throughout my holy tirade. After allowing me to vent my frustration over his absence from Joe’s bedside, Charles gave me time to take a breath and then said quietly, ‘Sam, I called Joe’s house when I received your message. The person who answered assured me that someone from church was already with Joe. That was you, Sam. Why should I go when God had already provided someone to give spiritual care to Joe?’”
That last comment was eye-opening to Sam. You see, even though Sam was involved in helping with ministry, he didn’t see his work as actually serving others with the Gospel. In other words, Sam saw himself as only indirectly involved in ministry by helping the pastors do Gospel ministry. But what Sam needed to see and realize is that Gospel ministry is what all of God’s people are commissioned to partner in doing. This is the work that every Christian is called to participate in by virtue of their calling to faith as a dearly loved child of God! That’s why the Apostle John is filled with such job: because Gaius got this!
Do you have that kind of spiritual focus toward life? Dear Christian, do you see yourself the way God does? Not only as a recipient of Gospel ministry but also as one who is called to be a partner in providing this ministry to others? Do you look at your time, your abilities, your finances the way Gaius looked at his, as resources to invest in advancing God’s spiritual kingdom together with your fellow partners in Gospel ministry? Maybe you’re struggling to see things the way Gaius did. Maybe you can better relate to Sam at the start of his story? You see yourself as someone who is maybe a helper to the professionals who are formally trained and publicly called to actually do the ministry. If that’s the case, then I’m praying today that the precious light of Jesus’ Gospel breaks through whatever is keeping you from seeing the glorious Gospel truth about the role God is calling you to have as a partner in this Gospel ministry!
To help get you there, this is key: See everything as a spiritual issue! You see we are more than physical creatures with physical needs. We are spiritual beings with eternal souls. Our soul is the most foundational aspect of who we are according to Jesus. Jesus memorably said it this way: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul” (Mark 8:36)? What that means is our spiritual being determines more about us and our life and our joy than anything else. John draws on that connection in the way he writes in verse 2: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2). So John is telling us: Prioritize soul wellness! When you do, as you do, you will discover that you are supplied with exactly what you need to work through every other issue in a healthy way! This is what Gospel ministry is really all about: strengthening the connection of souls to the lover of souls, the healer of souls, the fulfillment of souls, Jesus. That starts with our own souls, just like Gaius took care of his own soul first. John rejoices in what others report about Gaius, about his “faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it.” At the heart of John’s joy is to know that Gaius is taking care of his soul by strengthening it in the truth of Jesus’ love, his forgiveness, his wisdom, and his strength! “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (v. 4)! What is the supernatural result? You are equipped to put everything else in the right place and right perspective in life. Why? Because Jesus is in the right place in the heart!
That’s what Sam came to see as Jesus opened his eyes to see the truth that God really made him to be a partner in Gospel ministry of his congregation. It shows in noticeable ways in Gaius’ life. John commends him, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans (3 John 5-7).” Gaius was doing more than helping out the professional missionaries so they could carry out Gospel ministry. He himself was performing Gospel ministry by ministering to these missionaries! John describes it as teamwork, a partnership: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 8).
One of the special blessings of God that come through being a member of a Christian congregation is the God-given opportunity to partner together in carrying out Gospel ministry together! The best way to work together is to have a common, agreed upon mission. At Christ the King that’s not just true for our work as a congregation. It applies to all the work we do together as a campus. CTK’s leadership, staff, and various committees have been talking about refreshing our mission statement to more clearly and fully express all that God has called us to do together as a campus. Our ministry’s name clearly states who we serve, Christ, our King! Together we work to connect people to Christ and His Kingdom, as our current mission statement says. But the work Christ has called us to carry out together on this campus is more comprehensive than just introducing people to Jesus. Every day we’re working together to help people grow in Him too, leading them to discover and develop all that Christ has in mind for them and their lives. This is our campus’ passion, beginning in the earliest days of life through our Early Childhood Center. We work together to equip our children as spiritual beings to face the challenges of high school and beyond through our Lutheran Elementary School. As a congregation we partner together to grow in relationship with Christ and develop our whole lives in the light of Christ, from first cry to final breath, from baptism through confirmation and continuing on through the teens, twenties, yes through every decade of life until the day the Lord calls us to life eternal in heaven. Every single day this is what we get to be part of and partner together in through the ministry of this campus: helping people become all that Christ calls them to be! What joy it brings me to partner together with you in this ministry! What joy this ministry brings us and other as we continue to develop into all that Christ calls us to be by growing together in faith, hope, love and service as God’s dearly loved children! Amen.