April 11, 2021 Mark 1: 40-45

Almighty God, You have created us and know every part of us, and You have sent our Lord Jesus to heal our lives. Thank You that he shows compassion upon our physical illness and upon those barriers that lock us out of life with others. We praise You that He touches us, purifies us, and restores us. As His people we dedicate ourselves to finding the lost, including the unacceptable, and caring for everyone, knowing that each person is Your own dear child. We pray in the name of Jesus, who took our infirmities and carried away our diseases. Amen.

 

Today we are focusing on Stephen Ministry which has become an integral part of our congregational life. Our Stephen Leader and Stephen Ministers have one purpose: to bring compassion, understanding and love of our Savior Jesus to people who are hurting for whatever reason. Stephen Ministry always trusts that God will provide the cure—just as He does in today’s Gospel.

After Jesus commissioned the 12 Apostles they did exactly what Jesus had told them to do – preach the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. As the church grew the Apostles needed more help. So the church picked seven people to assist the apostles in the social ministry that needed to be done. 3 key qualities were required of these seven:

1. To have a good reputation; people who could be trusted.

2. To hold God above all else and allow His Spirit to love others unconditionally.

3. To be spiritually mature; to be able to discern good from evil, set boundaries and use discretion.

The Stephen Ministry program today is modeled after these same three qualifications. It was crucial for the early church to maintain internal peace and reconciliation among all members, as it is today.

Stephen was one of the seven chosen by the early church and the person for whom the modern-day Stephen Ministry Program is named taken from Acts 6 and 7. Stephen became the hands, feet and voice of Jesus CHRIST in his world to minister to hurting people, right to the very tragic end of his life. Stephen was falsely accused and stoned to death.

The unjust end to Stephen’s life was the start of a horrible persecution of the early church that caused the early believers in CHRIST to be scattered throughout their world, sharing the good news of Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

The modern day Stephen Ministry program began in 1975 by Rev. Kenneth Haugk, a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor and clinical psychologist. He felt called to bring CHRIST’s love to hurting people, but found out very quickly the body of CHRIST was filled with needy people. So he applied the verse from Ephesians 4:12 that says “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of CHRIST.” No pastor can do all that needs to be done, nor is s/he supposed to. Thus, Stephen Ministry was born.

Stephen Ministry assists in providing Christian care and support to people who are experiencing life difficulties. Ministers are trained to help care receivers express their feelings; to listen without judging; and to bring faith into the conversation. They are not counselors, and they are not therapists. Stephen Ministers are proactive listeners who encourage, support, love and pray for those with whom they work. Stephen Ministers are the caregivers and only God is the cure-giver.

Stephen Ministry has a way of opening our hearts to God and to other people. Many Stephen Ministers report that the training helps them to listen to other people – to open their hearts and ears to really hear what others are saying.

In actuality, all Christians are to be ministers for CHRIST and have specific gift by which to build up the body of CHRIST. Being CHRIST’s hands in the world is the mark of a Christian.

Jesus’ compassion should always be exemplified in Christian living. Ministers are also motivated by their compassion for people facing life’s difficulties.

Jesus’ ministry has always been to reclaim the world for God the Father. Jesus reached out to the untouchable, the unaccepted, and the despised, because each one was God’s dear child. We might say Jesus went on an offensive for God when he touched the man with the dreaded skin disorder of leprosy. Jesus attacked the disease but also addressed the social division caused by illness. When Jesus touched this afflicted person He freed him of his suffering, but made himself ritually unclean. Jesus paid a price to heal the man. But Jesus has always paid the price on behalf of others. The Gospel of Matthew states: “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Matt 8:17).

The world around us is full of people who desperately need to know the love of Jesus. Ministers follow Jesus in service by listening to their care receiver. Stephen Ministers are willing to love and care for others in the name of Jesus without judgement or seeking self-righteousness. The risen LORD Jesus has chosen to use our hands for God’s work on earth.

Today we rejoice for all those people who have heard the call to be Ministry here at St. Luke’s. We praise God that they have and will touch may lives through their caring service. We believe that God has granted them this ability and they thus are an extension of God’s service.

The first Minister brought justice, healing, caring, and the truth about CHRIST to his world. Is God calling you into this ministry? Is God leading you to train your ears to hear the pain of others?

Applications to become a Minister are available. Please prayerfully consider it.

We show ourselves to be true children of our Heavenly Father, by bearing one another’s burdens, and in this way we fulfill the law of CHRIST (Gal. 6:2).

 

 
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