Well, it has indeed been a truly blessed week welcoming our new students to their first week of college life here at OSU and welcoming BACK many of our returning students as they begin another school year. And I do have to confess, while I have lived in Ohio now for 9 years, I am a bit of an Ohio State imposter, growing up in the southern state of Arkansas and going to a small liberal arts college called Hendrix College,
But I do vividly remember that first week of college and all the transitions that came with it.
Here’s a picture of me during Orientation Week. I’m clearly having a healthy tropical fruit smoothie drink with lots of Vitamin C and it looks as if I’ve just finished a friendly game of Go Fish with my roommate.
My freshman year in college was when I began keeping a journal for the first time. And so this week, I went back and re-read that journal just to get back into the mindset of what life had been like.
And I found an entry that I had written just a couple months after the school year had started – at a time when I had hit a low and where I was struggling a bit and where oddly enough, I had managed to articulate the 3 main things I was struggling with.
The first one was loneliness. I wrote these words, “I can’t believe I can find myself nearly always surrounded with people and still feel alone.”
Leaving home and entering into a new place and new relationships – building new friendships and community is a hard part of the transition.
The second thing was romance. Before I arrived at college, I had only dated one person for about 5 months and it ended as most relationships do – with my boyfriend missing my graduation because he had run over 17 mailboxes and he was in just a bit of trouble with the law and more importantly his mother.
And I remember those first few months, including the first moments when I met the person I would eventually date and then marry. And they were filled with self-conscious anxiety – is he looking at me? Do you think he noticed that I was looking at him? What about this outfit? Should I talk to him? Oh no, I talked to him and he probably thought I sounded stupid…
The internal dialogue was hard to turn off.
But even among all these challenges, the question that was always in the forefront and in the background of whatever was happening – the one question that I kept asking – was, what am I going to do with my life? And it wasn’t just about asking what will I major in? But - What are my passions and gifts and how do I use them to create a life that has meaning? What is my purpose in the world? And how do I go about living into it?
If you find yourself asking those kinds of questions, both as a current college student and also as just a student of life – then you find yourselves in good company today with our friends the apostles and the early church.
Our passage today takes us back to the early church, to this community who was newly formed. They came from all over the region and some from far, far, away. And they were living together in a newly formed community.
And they came together not because of their mutual love of football, or because of the possibility of achieving an excellent education, or even because the president of the apostles wore these adorable bow-ties
They came together because of a person named Jesus – a person many of them had met and who had changed their lives when he told them that their lives had purpose – their lives had meaning – and that they were in fact the light of the world – called to share the beautiful story and the beautiful love of God to all the world.
And so they gathered together in community – trying to live in such a way that they could live out this big audacious purpose together. They lived together and shared their homes and their meals and did life together. And you know, it struck me that college students actually understand this better than most people in our country. What it’s like to really live life together with people who aren’t in your immediate family.
So our college students won’t be surprised when after some time of living so closely together and sharing everything.
There were some problems.
And there were some complainings.
The Greek word used here actually means, “whispering secrets to one another.”
And the murmurings were about the fact that some groups of people were getting more food than others and some were not getting enough. And to make matters worse, the ones who were being neglected were widows, a group of people which God stressed throughout the OT that we must care for.
So there were murmuring and secrets being told about an injustice that was happening. And while they didn’t have Facebook and Twitter to spread these secrets around, those of you who have every lived in a dorm or fraternity or sorority house, know that you don’t even need such things for news to travel fast among people who are living closely together.
And this new community, this church, this group of people with this grand purpose of bringing light and love into the world had to take a step back and have their first group meeting.
Now, the apostles, the leaders who had been chosen and been taught by Jesus were at this point, making most of the leadership decisions
And what they did here and the language with which they did it is genius
And so, they did first what they ought to do - They acknowledged that something had happened that shouldn’t – but they also said – it is actually not our call, not our purpose, not our ministry of service to fix this problem for you.
Instead, we will appoint people who will serve and who will oversee the food distribution and who will make it their purpose and their call to do so with integrity and faithfulness.
And they lay hands on them and they appoint them to the ministry of serving food.
Now you might be thinking the same thing I was thinking the first time I read this - sneaky little apostles, “they just tricked 7 good people into a lifetime of food service. They just appointed them to be cafeteria workers.”
And while that’s not technically untrue J - if you look a little deeper - the word used here to describe the ministry that the apostles do – the ministry of preaching and teaching about Jesus. Diakonia –
The exact same word is used to describe the ministry of the cafeteria workers.
Diakonia is the word for minister, but more importantly, it’s the word for servant.
It wasn’t so much about the work itself. It was about the purpose of the work, the meaning behind the work. The apostles said that the work of the cafeteria is actually about the beauty of serving others in such a way that is bringing more justice and love into the world. And that the cafeteria workers were not merely cafeteria workers. They are ministers. Called to love and to serve.
And so this community of very ordinary people, each with different gifts and passions and talents and vocations, come to understand that all of them have, in fact, an extraordinary mission and purpose. And that purpose is to minister to one another. To serve each other with the unique gifts we have.
I see people around Summit discovering this kind of thing all the time.
People like recent OSU Grad, Megan Hernandez who loves to bake and who spent several hours making homemade frosting for all of the cupcakes that we gave out to students on Thursday. And she didn’t just do this because she likes making frosting. She did this because she knew that by doing this, she was able to serve and to minister to the students living right around us… showing them hospitality and love. Going that extra mile to show them how much they matter.
People like Nikki, who loves art, theater, and performance, who noticed that our teenagers were not always as engaged in worship, so she created an internship here at Summit where engaged them in the creation of a dramatic presentation about their own response to Scripture and faith and gave them the confidence to express themselves during worship this summer.
People like Adrian, who loves working in the community especially with children,, and who served on staff as a summer intern for the last two years at our Freedom School, a 6-week summer literacy program for at-risk youth, has discovered that perhaps his call in the world is in fact, to teach and to serve students full time. He changed his major to high school social studies education.
The only way the church will ever be able to bring the true light and love of Jesus into the world is if we can understand
We are all called to be ministers. We are all called to serve. And the very act of service is quite often how we discover purpose and meaning for our lives.
I don’t know what kind of things you are called to do in the world. Maybe you love to cook or to clean or to repair things that are broken. Maybe you love music, or spreadsheets, or talking to people.
No matter what it is – your work will find meaning and purpose if you can understand the ways in which it allows you to minister and to serve others.