Archive | July 2012

8. Pentecost: Godly Rest

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

22 July 2012

St. John United Church of Christ

St. Clair, MO

 

“Godly Rest”

 

Based on St. Mark 6: 30-32

By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell

 

            Shortly after Jesus tells his disciples how they are to go out and share the Good News of God, he tells them “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Why does he tell them this? We hear that already “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So many were coming to them to be healed, to hear a word of hope, that the disciples didn’t even have time to eat! So Jesus tells them to do what he does in times like these – to go away by themselves and rest. Though we often think of Jesus mainly in the activity of healing so many and teaching large crowds, after such events he would go away to a deserted place and pray and rest, to regroup and rejuvenate himself. He urges the disciples to do the same. Episcopal priest Greg Syler reminds us, “Even as popular and public a figure as Jesus still understood the need for balance between programming and solitude, between time spent with the throngs and meaning gained by being with the inner circle.”[1]

            Jesus’ message to us is essentially the same: rest. What an appropriate time to hear this message. We are mid-way through summer, past the church picnic and barbeque, installation, and now Vacation Bible School. I know all of our dedicated VBS teachers, helpers and volunteers can appreciate a word of rest. Certainly our church life continues with just as important activities as any time of year, though it seems that we have passed some of our more time-intensive and substantial summer commitments.

            Summer is traditionally a time for rest and recreation. But sometimes we end up packing it with so many things that we come to Labor Day just as tired as on Memorial Day. From family reunions, cross country trips, all those summer weddings, taking kids to camp and summer school, baseball games,  to Independence day celebrations and fireworks – these are all good things, but they sure do add up quick – and before you know it, here we are, almost done with July.

            So Jesus’ words to the disciples and to us are well-timed: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” If Jesus needed time to rest by himself, and the disciples did too, we certainly do as well. Jesus really does want us to get away from it all – to pause all the busyness of our lives and simply rest. When we keep going and going without any rest or rejuvenation, we are on a sure track to burnout. I’ve seen it here in the church with dedicate, loyal volunteers who have taken on multiple responsibilities and gone too long without rest or appreciation. It is not only physically and emotionally taxing, but spiritually as well. We need to heed Jesus’ words to take time away for ourselves and to simply rest.

            Rest is a godly value and responsibility. The creation stories of Genesis tell us that after all the activity of Creation, God rested on the seventh day. Daniel Kirk, a professor at Fuller Seminary says that, “Rest is one of those things by which God intends for us to know God’s goodness…In Genesis 1 humans are created to rule and then, it would seem, imitating God in the weekly action of rest. In contrast to the slavery they endured under Pharaoh, God brought his people out, freed them so that they cold serve God–and rest.”[2] As Christians, we believe in the importance of Sabbath rest. But like summer, too often the Sabbath day becomes another time to catch up on everything from the past week. But that’s not what the Sabbath was created for – it was created for our pure enjoyment, for recreation, for lazy afternoons. I think of Andy Taylor and Barney Fife sitting on a Mayberry porch as a perfect example, rocking in their chairs as Barney says, “I think I’ll go home, take a nap, then go over to Thelma Lou’s and watch a little TV.”

            In the midst of our busy lives, Jesus bids us to go rest awhile. Now for some of us it isn’t exactly easy to find rest – for those with demanding jobs where the only vacation day is a day without pay, for those raising a family, for those always on the go, for those who wouldn’t know what to do if they weren’t busy. For all of us, even in those situations, I invite you to find time to rest. Find ways to carve some rest and recreation in your life. If you can’t afford a week away, find an hour, an afternoon, or day  to be unscheduled, unplugged, unconnected from your phone, your Blackberry, your iPad, email, facebook and Twitter. Disconnect and rejuvenate. Find ways to refresh yourself. Your body needs it. Your mind needs it. And your soul needs it. Whatever it is that sustains you, that gives you energy and life. What restores your soul? What makes your load feel lighter? What fills you with life? As many of you know, for me it is theatre. Whatever it is for you – spending time at the river, fishing until dawn, reading a favorite murder mystery, taking a trip, playing with your grandchildren – do it! By all means let it fill and refresh your soul. And take some time to yourself to be quiet, to contemplate, to rest in God’s presence and just listen.           

            There is enough busyness in our world for all of our lifetimes, no matter how long each of us has to enjoy this life. There is always more work to do, there is always something calling at our attention. But remember the same held true for Jesus. There was always another person to be healed, another word to offer. But what did he do? He went away to rest. He told his disciples, and that includes us, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” So in these waning summer days, lay aside whatever you can to find rest. It’s not lazy, it’s part of our responsibility as Jesus’ disciples to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.

            In closing, I want to share with you the beautiful words of artist-poet Jan Richardson from her “Blessing of Rest”:

Curl this blessing
beneath your head
for a pillow.
Wrap it about yourself
for a blanket.
Lay it across your eyes
and for this moment
cease thinking about
what comes next,
what you will do
when you rise.

Let this blessing
gather itself to you
like the stillness
that descends
between your heartbeats,
the silence that comes
so briefly
but with a constancy
on which
your life depends.

Settle yourself
into the quiet
this blessing brings,
the hand it lays
upon your brow,
the whispered word
it breathes into
your ear
telling you
all shall be well
all shall be well
and you can rest
now.[3]

 

 

 

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7. Pentecost: Cost of Discipleship

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

16 July 2012

St. John United Church of Christ

St. Clair, MO

 

Cost of Discipleship

Based on St. Mark 6: 14-29

By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell

 

            Today’s text comes as a surprise. In telling that Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee had heard of Jesus and the disciples’ great deeds of holy power, the gospel of Mark says,that Herod thought that “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Wait a minute! Since when is John dead? And beheaded? When did all this happen? We haven’t heard about John since chapter one and it is now chapter six of the gospel. Nothing has been mentioned of John after he baptizes Jesus, except that John that has been jailed. We don’t even know why John was jailed. The gospel writer finally tells us the backstory, almost as an afterthought. It is as if Mark has just noticed the confused looks on the faces of the hearers of the story.

            Herod liked John. Now before I go much farther, lets get this out of the way—this is not the same Herod that went after baby Jesus and had all the infants in Bethlehem murdered, nor is it the Herod who later had St. James and other disciples executed. This Herod, Herod Antipas, was son of the former and father of the latter. Obviously there is something seriously wrong with this family. Nonetheless, Herod Jr. liked John. He was interested in what John had to say, and truly thought he was a holy man. That is until John said something that Herod didn’t like. John challenged Herod for having killed his brother Phillip and then married his brother’s wife, Herodias. The problem here is that as inspired by John’s words as Herod was, he wasn’t willing to be transformed by them, for John called primarily for repentance. John has the prophetic audacity to challenge his ruler, the audacity to challenge the status quo. He directly commands Herod to give up his sinful relationship with Herodias. Herodias has no intention whatsoever to give up her power as the wife of the ruler of Galilee and thusly wants John killed. But Herod reveres John, and even fears him because of his righteousness, and does not want to kill John. So Herod responds like many a ruler to an agent of change, a disrupter of false peace, by banishing John, jailing him. It is important to note though, that the text makes clear that Herod also protected John the Baptist, most likely from Herodias’ wrath.

            On the evening of his birthday, Herod gave a celebratory banquet. A young girl, known popularly as Salome, did the dance of seven veils for Herod’s enjoyment. Like many of the others in the royal court, Herod found the dance titillating and enchanting. But, unlike the others enjoying her dance, he was her uncle. Nonetheless, Herod was so taken with her provocative dance that he told her, “Ask for whatever you wish and I will give it.” Herodias, the girl’s mother convinced her that John’s head was the proper gift. So the girl asked for it. This gave Herod great sorrow—yet he was a man of his word, and ordered one of his officials to behead John.

            That is the story we hear as a flashback from Mark. Herod is still afraid of John even after his beheading, suspecting that Jesus is the resurrected John the Baptist. Ironically, John was thought to be the risen prophet Elijah. So, perhaps according to Herod, Jesus was really Elijah, once removed. The relationship between the cousins John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth is an important and intriguing one. We have very little information about the relationship from the gospels. James Tabor in The Jesus Dynasty, speculates about Jesus and John being partners in a movement.

            There is a striking parallel between the story of Jesus and of John, as well as between Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate. Both Herod and Pilate were sympathetic to these revolutionaries. Perhaps both heard truth in the messages of Jesus and John. But, again neither was changed by the message. Pilate and Herod both find themselves forced to condemn the men. In trying to rid himself of guilt, by saying that he washed his hands of the matter, Pilate finds blood on his hands. Herod, as well is plagued with guilt, and afraid that Jesus is John risen from the dead.

            John the Baptist and Jesus had the boldness and daring to challenge authority. They spoke truth to power to rulers of faith and government. When these rulers said, “Peace, peace; peace and prosperity,” Jesus and John replied, “You say peace, peace, but there is no peace” because there is no justice. There can be no peace when there is no justice. By challenging the status quo, the ruling class, the commonly held beliefs, Jesus and John risk everything, and leave behind any promise of prestige, honor, reputation, and respectability among the elite.

            Rev. John Thomas asked the 24th General Synod of the United Church of Christ in 2003, “Do we love Jesus more than the lure of respectability?” What former UCC President Thomas asks is this: do we care more about being faithful to the call of Christ than the respect and honor and power of the world? Too many Christians often forget that the call of Christ is not to be popular, but to be faithful. Are we willing to risk every earthly pleasure for the sake of the gospel? Or do we care too much about being mainline, mainstream, reputable, conventional, and respectable? Are we willing to take the difficult position that might make us unpopular and excluded; the position that threatens unity? That is the way John the Baptist prepared us for. Anglican John Pridmore says

Calvary is many places. Calvary is Auschwitz, where the frail Franciscan Maximilian Kolbe offered his life for another prisoner. Calvary is the cellar in Kampala, where Archbishop Janani Luwum perished at the behest of the tyrant he had challenged. Calvary is the altar of the hospital chapel in San Salvador at which Oscar Romero was assassinated. Calvary is the dungeon beneath the Machaerus fortress where the Baptist was beheaded. These are famous Calvaries, but there are countless others, where those who will never be canonised died so that “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” might be completed (Colossians 1.24).

            The disciples knowing the story of John the Baptist saw a glimpse of what was demanded them. They had a view of where their discipleship might lead them. The twelve had just begun healing and transforming lives. In the statement of faith of the United Church of Christ, we declare that we “accept the cost and joy of discipleship.” The disciples had just had their first taste of the joy of discipleship, that joy that Jesus brought to their lives and the lives of others. But the story of John tells them of the cost of discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German theologian and martyr, in 1937 wrote his landmark work The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer in this work writes at length about what the discipleship must cost the follower, bemoaning what he called ‘cheap grace’:

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap? …Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

The cheap grace of which Bonhoeffer speaks is the grace that Herod and Pilate desired, and the grace, which many a Christian desires. Herod and Pilate liked what Jesus and John said until they challenged the arrangement of the Kingdom, rearranging it, putting the rulers on the bottom. They wanted grace without turning from the way of sin; forgiveness without repentance. The joy of discipleship is the Christian’s delight, but too many shirk from the cost. The disciples see in John the Baptist and eventually from Jesus where they are being called. Costly grace, Bonhoeffer says:

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which He speaks as it pleases Him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and My burden light.”

So with the disciples we hear what discipleship may require of us, what grace costs. Are we like Herod and like what the prophet and messiah say, but want to remain content in the status quo or like the disciple who risks being an outcast in order to be faithful? Jesus bids us this moment, “Come my child, and follow me.” May we be able to say, “Yes, Lord, I know not where you will lead me, but I leave behind my boat and nets and follow only you.”

 

References:

John Thomas: Imagine, a tale of two ships

John Pridmore: This Sunday’s readings: 5th Sunday after Trinity, Church Times

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Testament to Freedom, Discipleship

 

 

6. Pentecost: Eyes to See

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

8 July 2012

St. John United Church of Christ

St. Clair, MO

 

Eyes to See

Based on St. Mark 6: 1-6

By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell

 

            My late grandfather, James Douglas Darnell, went to school with Dick Van Dyke. They both grew up in Danville, Illinois, along with future actors Gene Hackman and Donald O’Connor. While my grandfather grew up poor with a large family on a farm, the Van Dykes were more middle class. Both would move away for a different kind of life than Danville offered – my grandfather to the larger city of Peoria, Van Dyke to New York and Hollywood. Years later, when Van Dyke gained success in film and television and on Broadway, my grandfather did not revel in the story of the local boy who made good for himself but remembered the kid he grew up with, derogatorily referring to him as a “pretty boy.”

            I think some of the folks in Nazareth may have thought about Jesus in a similar way. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Nazareth a few years ago. Today it is a bustling city, in fact the largest predominately-Arab city in Israel. But in Jesus’ time it was a backwater compared to Jerusalem, composed, some speculate, of maybe only 500 people. Like many small communities it likely had its own established order and social system, of which Jesus has already stepped out. He’s been off, even farther in the hinterlands of Galilee and even to the big city of Jerusalem preaching his radical message of God’s kingdom and engaging in powerful healings. The news has surely traveled back home to Nazareth – maybe Mary has told the other village women at the well when they gather their morning water, or perhaps his brothers James and Jude have shared it with their friends. What must the townspeople think? Perhaps they ask, “Really, Jesus? Mary’s boy? What does he think he’s doing running all over? Who does that gadabout think he is?”

            Jesus goes back home to Nazareth, and it does not go over nearly as well as one might hope. Rev. David Ewart, a United Church of Canada minister writes that, “Simply stepping forward to teach in his hometown synagogue would literally be stepping out of his – and his families – assigned place in the village pecking order. Doing so would immediately demand public, critical evaluation by those in charge of keeping people in their place. Anyone who has ever lived in a small town will appreciate that maintaining one’s social standing is fiercely protected – protecting one’s own honour from being devalued; and preventing anyone else’s honour from being increased.”[1]

            Notice how the townspeople talk about Jesus. They say, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” Both parts of this statement are intended by them to put Jesus in his place. A carpenter in Jesus’ time and culture had to travel wherever there was work, often being away from home and family. Carpenters were thought to be a questionable choice for a husband because of this, suspect of whatever they might be doing while not under a watchful eye. It is odd to refer to Jesus here as the son of Mary rather than Joseph as it was certainly a patriarchal society. What referring to Jesus by his mother’s name does is reinforce the rumors and gossip that probably plagued the family – that  Jesus was an illegitimate child conceived before Mary wed Joseph. Who would have believed her if and when she had told them who Jesus’ real father was. To suggest all of this the townspeople attempt to discredit Jesus. They probably think, “Who does he think he is? We know his real story! This illegitimate carpenter has gotten too big for his britches, thinking he can stand up in our synagogue and interpret the words of God for us!” The gospel tells us “they took offense at him.” They were offended that Jesus had stepped outside of his prescribed role in the community and dared to speak with power and authority. They thought they knew who Jesus was – and certainly knew who he was supposed to be, at least in their minds. They thought they had Jesus’ number. They thought they had him pegged.

            But they didn’t know him, not really. They were so blinded by who they thought Jesus was supposed to be – blinded by their own preconceived notions of where he belonged in the community, because they thought he was born out of wedlock, because they thought he was just simple carpenter, nothing more than a local boy who ran out of town and forgot his place. But you see, they were blinded by all of these things. They couldn’t see beyond the limits they had decided were on his life. They couldn’t see beyond the limits they had put on their lives. So much so that when Jesus speaks in the synagogue, whatever Good News he offered to them that day, they couldn’t hear it – so stuck were they in their old notions.

            Does that ever happen to us? Has anyone ever pre-judged who you are or are supposed to be? Of course it happens to all of us – expectations to take up the family trade, to be like our namesake, to remember our place in society and not try to move out of it. From Australia, Anglican priest Brian McGowan says “What goes on where you are when someone comes back  – into home & family, society, church, & so on? Or you yourself make that pilgrimage ‘back’ somewhere? Or maybe we have to live all the time with those who grew up with us, knew us when we were ‘young & silly’, wild, immature… Think they still know us only too well!”[2] I think most of us can identify with those boundaries or expectations put on us by others, blinded by their notions. We know  the pain and frustration of not being seen as we see and know ourselves.

            What is the cure for this ill – for blinding ourselves to others, because we are certainly guilty of it too? I have a hunch that it is seeing things through God’s eyes, through remembering that God’s love has no boundaries. When Jesus called his disciples, he didn’t look for perfect people who had it all together – he called together a ragtag team of fishermen and tax collectors and rabble rousers who were crude and sometimes a bit dense. In the three years he spent with them they were slow to catch on and weren’t refined overnight. Yet Jesus called them, seeing in them, not the social status they were born into, or the limitations society put on them, but he saw their God-given potential. This is the way we ought to strive to see each other. It is only in that way of seeing that we can acknowledge the presence of Christ in and among us.

            The people in Nazareth sought to limit the way God could act among them. But the boundaries of society, the barriers put up to divide class, gender, sexual orientation, age, and race are not God-ordained – but the product of being blinded by our own preconceived notions. We need to challenge ourselves to see without boundaries as God does.

            In 1853, Congregationalist hymn writer George Rawson wrote the song “We Limit Not the Truth of God.” It says:

We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth

To break forth from the Word.

He ends the hymn with this stanza:

O Father, Son, and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all Christian souls
To comprehend Thy love,
And make us to go on, to know
With nobler powers conferred:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth

To break forth from the Word.[3]

            So we ought not to limit the truth of God by placing limitations on each other – but to pray that our souls may be expanded to “comprehend thy love” of God, to broaden our vision to see our God-given potential. But it is not only about our relationship to each other, but also to Christ. We ought not to limit our understanding of who Christ is by our own desires of who God should be – but to open our eyes to whatever expansive vision God has for us and for all of creation, that is far beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations.

            Too often we want to put Jesus in the same box we put each other in. I am reminded of something Dan Patrick used to say, “You can’t hold me, you can only hope to contain me.”  We often want a buddy Jesus who will make everything right and not shake up anything else. But the friend we have in Jesus is the same one who befriended prostitutes and lepers and chased the money lenders out of the temple with a whip. Having God loose in our world is dangerous, and if we’re willing to see him as he is and follow him, he will shake up our lives and our very world.

            Jesus isn’t just a carpenter and Mary’s son. He’s much more than that – he’s our savior, redeemer, beginning and end – but we have to have eyes to see. Eyes that will reveal the very Christ of God, the same who breaks down all barriers, erases all boundaries and frees us to be who God created us to be.

 

To God be the Glory. Amen.

5. Pentecost: Excellent Generosity

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 July 2012

St. John United Church of Christ

St. Clair, MO

 

Excellent Generosity

Based on 2 Corinthians 8: 1-15

By Rev. James Semmelroth Darnell

 

            Whether we are ready or not to talk about money in church, the Apostle Paul was – and sends his message to us across the centuries. Writing to the Church at Corinth, in Greece, he reminds the congregation gathered there of the offering they began collecting for the Church in Jerusalem a year prior. St. Paul urges the Corinthians, “Now finish doing it.” In urging the Corinthians to complete the offering he goads them a bit, by commenting on how generous another congregation in Macedonia has been, that surely they can match the gifts of their poorer neighbors.

            St. Paul was one of the three primary leaders of the early Christian Church. It is believed that he had an agreement with St. James, the brother of Jesus, and St. Peter, chief of the disciples, that Paul would minister with Gentiles (non-Jewish believers), while James and Peter would work among the Jewish Christians. Peter would take charge of the Church in Antioch and Rome, while James would be the bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. Paul would minister across the Gentile churches in the Mediterranean and Near East. It was St. James’ community in Jerusalem for which the offering was being received. Many early Christian congregations lived together in community, holding all their property, goods, and money in common. The Jerusalem Church particularly lived by this precept. Like many urban congregations yet today, they found themselves in poverty and in great need of assistance from their brothers and sisters in Christ.

            The churches across the Mediterranean and Near East would gather an offering in support for the Jerusalem Church, a center of Jewish Christian life. Not only would it show support of a congregation with fewer resources, but a sign of unity among the burgeoning Christian community. There was often tension between Peter and Paul, and those Christians who continued to follow Jewish practices such as circumcision and ritual cleansing, and those Christians of pagan origin who did not. Paul’s offering for James’ church showed a gesture of unity and love across different modes of Christian practice. Even in the first century of Christianity there was diversity in the way the Christian life was lived out, but in that diversity, their leaders managed to support each other and find unity.

            It’s important to note here that since the very beginning of the Church, congregations have needed to provide support and encouragement to one another. In quite similar ways, when our congregation contributes funds to the wider United Church of Christ, it not only supports national and conference staff, evangelism, outreach, and justice work – but also provides funds for new churches like Nu Vizion UCC in Toledo, Ohio – an inner-city congregation that rehabbed a  formerly closed UCC church, and has a special ministry helping ex-convicts reintegrate into their community. I am reminded of the ways in which we have been supported by other congregations, especially following the softball debacle – of several churches reaching out to us to play with their softball teams, of Pilgrim UCC and St. Paul’s UCC in St. Louis, which sent us letters of support, and of course Grace United Methodist Church from Sullivan which sent a wonderful delegation of nearly 20 people to worship with us several weeks ago. Since the very beginning the Church’s local communities of faith have needed to stand with each other and support one another.

            St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” The apostle commends the Corinthians for their faith and knowledge, saying they excel in everything, and urges them to demonstrate their love and faith in a concrete way – by being generous in giving of their financial gifts. He reminds them that “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” For Paul giving generously of one’s wages and labor is necessary  not merely because it is good to share with those who have little, but centrally because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Here he speaks of poverty and wealth not in a literal sense, though as an unemployed carpenter Jesus was likely poor. Rather, as the Son of God, Jesus gave up his seat at the right hand of the Creator to live among us on earth, born in a trough in a barn and crucified as a common criminal. For our sake, Christ endured the worst of humanity in order that we all might be redeemed. It is because Jesus had the humility and love to do this for us, that we should also share sacrificially of ourselves.

            St. Paul asks the Corinthians to complete the offering, to support their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem “according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.” He is essentially saying ‘Give what you can.’ He isn’t asking them to place themselves in the same poverty as those in Jerusalem, but to share what they can out of their own wealth. He reminds them “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” Because Corinth and Jerusalem were bound together as Christians, and because today we are bound to those both inside and outside our denominational fellowship we are called to share our resources when we have an abundance, so that we may also receive assistance when we are in need. Rev. Douglass Key, a Presbyterian pastor in South Carolina, writes that “For Paul and for us, generosity is not a choice we make, not a calculation in which we weight  what we are giving up against what we gain in order make ourselves available to the work of God’s kingdom. It is a  mark of our identity in Christ. When we are baptized into the one who is self emptying we take on that self emptying genereosity for ourselves. It becomes who we are, not what we do. The people of this God, known to us in this self emptying Christ are self emptying people. It is a mark of our union to Christ, who himself laid down his divine glory and became poor for us t so that we might know God’s love and grace and redemption.”[1]

            Several times a week I receive calls from people in our community seeking assistance for food, rent, gas, and other bills from the church. Sadly, all too often I have to turn away those seeking help because we simply don’t have the funds available. We are not a wealthy congregation, but to be fair we do have substantial resources, particularly when we consider that worldwide over 1 billion people live on $1 a day or less. St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians echo to us. We each can give what we can out of our own abundance. Some of us have more abundance than others and therefore can afford to give more. Sometimes we are in a time of need rather than abundance and need to receive the gift. But as St. Paul reminds us, we are to give according to what one has. When the Church, when our church is able to assist those in need of food, help keeping a roof over their heads or transportation to their jobs, we make an impact on our community. Not only that, but more importantly, we live out what we believe. We put our faith and love in action. We show that we believe Jesus Christ came for all of us, rich and poor. We continue Christ’s ministry to the least of these. If the only interaction such persons ever have with the Church is that they were offered food and shelter in their time of need – at least they can say that the Church was there for them. We can begin to counter all the alienating and harmful experiences people have had with exclusionary churches by offering warm compassion and love in tangible ways.

            With all the messages of consumerism and materialism around us, bombarded at us from advertising and commercials and billboards, the message of generosity is countercultural. It seems that we are told to hoard all the money we can so we can attain more stuff, and that the more stuff we have the happier we will be. As much as we might know intellectually that this is wrong, it can be difficult to act against it. But try we must, because our things won’t save us, but Christ who gave up everything for our sake, does save us. In the Christian community, we are our brother and sister’s keeper. We do have responsibility to care for one another. When we are baptized we are forever knit into the Body of Christ, and we are to aid all the parts of the Body that the Church might be a healthy, transforming, loving force for justice and peace in the world. Out of our abundance, no matter how large or small, we can tangibly demonstrate that connection, that relationship Christ forms between each of us. We are each called to share in the work of building up God’s kingdom on earth.

We must make this work and we must make the Church a priority in our lives. We have to take the needs of our community and those beyond it throughout the world seriously. It takes a sacrifice, but any monetary gifts we make pale in comparison to what Jesus Christ has done for us. Let us give out of gratitude for the abundant life that has been given us.

To God be the Glory. Amen.

 


[1] Key, Douglass. Christian Century, June 27, 2012.