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A Sermon for 11 November 2018 – Commitment Sunday

A reading from the gospel of Mark 12:38-44.  And remember that the gospel of Mark records this story as taking place inside the temple in Jerusalem.  Days before Christ’s arrest and crucifixion.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“As Jesus taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!  40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.  They will receive the greater condemnation.’  41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury.  Many rich people put in large sums.  42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

About a hundred years ago in Europe, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung met.  Freud, known as the founder of psychoanalysis, and Jung, known as the founder of analytical psychology; corresponded first, then worked together for a few years.  Elder Freud was excited about the possibility of passing on what he began to Carl Jung, who was his junior.  It never would work, however, because the two held drastically different views.  Both were curious about the messages that come in dreams.  The images that arise from our unconscious.  Freud believed it all to be a sign, while Jung believed what comes to us in our dreams are symbols; some say gifts from God to guide us on our way.  It sounds like just semantics, I know.  But meet one of them – or sit in a session with a counselor schooled in the tradition of one or the other and you will note a significant difference.  Signs, according to Freud are interpreted by the expert.  So, in Freud’s view, if you dream about water, he would tell you it has something to do with birth.  If you dream about animals or little varmint, Freud would tell you they represent your siblings.  Symbols are different.  Jung believed symbols come from the dreamer’s unconscious to reveal the dreamer’s great wisdom – the spark of the Divine living within.  While many of us approach several symbols similarly, so that Jung concluded we have a collective sense of things; only the dreamer can uncover the meaning of the symbols revealed in their own unconscious.  So, when asked, a dreamer might say that a small copper coin represent a diminishment of wealth.  A lucky penny.  Or even the greatest sacrifice of your life.

As Jesus sat in the temple with his disciples one day, he reminded them to beware.  Beware of those who want to show off their great status.  Those entrusted with holy things who crave public recognition over humble service.  Beware of those who want the best seat everywhere but pay no mind to a place for the vulnerable.  Beware of such impulses in ourselves, I think Jesus intended to say, especially to those who want to get on board in his movement.  Calling ourselves his disciples, but not so sure we’d be willing to let the last go first and the least receive the most.  He’s nearing the end of his lessons with his disciples.  In Jerusalem for one last Passover, as the great shepherd becomes the lamb.  They sit opposite the temple treasury, as Jesus invites his followers to join him to observe.  Sit a spell to people-watch.

Imagine the colorful scene.  Pilgrims from all over have traveled to Jerusalem to be a part of the great feast of Passover.  Many likely had the financial means to attend the celebration every year.  Others were there, wide-eyed in awe, as they’d get just that one chance in their hard-knock life to be there.  It’s believed widows would flock to the temple.  After all, care of widows, orphans, and foreigners repeatedly was commanded in ancient Israel.  Author Kathleen Norris reminds in a wonderful book called Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith, that “righteousness is consistently defined by the prophets, and in the psalms and gospels, as a willingness to care for the most vulnerable people in the culture, characterized in ancient Israel as orphans, widows, resident aliens, and the poor” (p. 96).  “Look!” Jesus insists.  Those of extravagance give out of their abundance.  Large sums drop to the bottom of the temple treasury.  And even a destitute widow puts in what she can.  . . .  Though historical interpretation of this text has given the hefty givers a bum rap.  Lifting up a give ‘til it hurts stewardship plea that supposedly mirrors the giving of the heroic widow and her two little mites.  Think for a minute about what those gifts symbolized to Jesus just a few nights before he would give up his very own life.

One commentator writes:  “Those coins represent more than money.  They represent faith and belief and how these must be lived out in our lives in concrete acts” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 4, Emilie M. Townes, p. 286).  Another commentator writes:  “This is the last scene in Jesus’ public ministry.  From here all that remains in Mark’s telling is the temple discourse and the passion narrative.  So, this widow offers a glimpse into what Jesus is about.  He is on the way to giving ‘the whole of his life’ for something that is corrupt and condemned:  all of humanity, the whole world” (Ibid., Pete Peery, pp. 287, 289).  I’ve heard the two coins symbolize trust.  Trust that the people of God would live up to their calling to take care of the widow.  Her giving, then, an act that challenges her community to put their money where their mouth is literally.  Ensure she has enough; for she’s just given to the glory of God the last two coins left to her.  I could stand here on this Commitment Sunday and tell you to give like the widow – pledging on your 2019 Financial Stewardship card all you have to live on.  Or I could ask you to ponder for a bit what those coins represent to you.  What the offerings of your time, talents, and treasures symbolize for you.

I have a hunch some of us would say our offerings represent our faith.  Our trust that in life and in death we are held by God.  Sometimes by something that feels like a direct connection with the LORD of heaven and earth.  Sometimes by the hands of help offered by the person down the pew from us.  The calls of concern and willingness just to ask:  “How are you?”  Faith; trust that we are not alone in this life because of the Presence of God and God’s people may be what our offerings symbolize as we write another check, put in another twenty, or click another link online for funds to be transferred automatically from our account to the church’s.

Some might say it’s gratitude.  For once I was lost; but now I am found.  Blind, but now I see.  So, every Sunday we show up.  We joyfully give God’s tithes and our offerings because our hearts are full of great thanksgiving.  For life.  For health.  For family and friends.  For acceptance.  And forgiveness.  And new beginnings thanks to God.  For being re-created into those who know clear purpose in this life – giving of ourselves for Life in this world.  And so incredibly grateful for the gift of ever-lasting Life.  Those coins.  Our financial offerings symbolize the depths of our gratitude to God.

Another might say “my offerings symbolize my responsibility.”  A privilege not taken lightly, because of being engrafted into the body of Christ in our baptisms.  Taking vows to turn from sin and the ways of evil.  Promising before God and everyone to be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his word and showing his love.  Devoting ourselves to the church’s teaching and fellowship, breaking of bread with one another and being the people of God who pray for the world (PCUSA Book of Common Worship, WJKP, 2018, p. 409).  Whether taken first for us by our parents and later by ourselves in our confirmations or promised from the start on our own volition; for some of us those baptismal vows were taken very seriously.  When we first said:  “Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior” and when we re-affirm that faith each week, we responsibly intend to live up to those words.  Which includes our financial contributions to the church as a way we continue together to uphold our vows.  For some of us, giving our money to the work of the church symbolizes part of our responsibility as a disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

What do your offerings symbolize to you?  If you’ve never stopped to consider, I hope you will today.  And I hope you will remember each week when you give just what those tithes and offerings mean to you.  . . .  Hope that this congregation will go on serving God by serving others as we renew community together and in the wider neighborhood.  Reliance upon each other to give a portion of what we have too that together we might continue to be the people of God gathered in this place for worship and service and growth.  For respite and care and connection.  Trust that God receives all of our offerings – large and small – mixes them all together, then accomplishes so much more than any one of us could achieve alone.  God makes miracles occur in all of our lives and in the lives of everyone we meet throughout the week because of what we each have given and received here as a part of this church.

Just what do your offerings symbolize to you?  The fruit from your labors that you give?  As we prepare ourselves to make our 2019 financial pledges, remember and rejoice!  Hear God whisper back to you:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Well done!  Enter into the joy of all who give!”

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

“Mine!”

A Sermon for 13 November 2016 – Commitment Sunday

            A reading from the prophet Haggai 1:15b-2:9. If you were here last week, then these words likely will sound familiar to you. It was one of the assigned lectionary texts for last week that just had to make a re-appearance this week. Listen for God’s word to us and to see why we’re hearing it again today.

“In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:  Speak now to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

Now you see why this text had to come back today, on Commitment Sunday? When else do we hear so clearly from God, through the words of the prophet Haggai: “Thus says the LORD our God: the silver is mine and the gold is mine. Mine. Mine. Mine!” (Haggai 2:8) . . . I realize most of us already arrived today with our 2017 pledge amounts in mind. And then like a sticky-handed toddler, a heavenly fist pounds. All of it: “Mine. Mine. Mine!” . . . Though I really believe this text is meant to be one of hope, it sounds as if God is throwing a little bit of a two-year old tantrum. “Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine!” The land from which it comes is mine. The birds of the air and the fish of the sea are mine. Mine. Mine. Mine! Yes, even you, o fledgling little re-turnees from nearly 70 years in exile. You all are mine! . . . At this point in their history, a remnant of the people have returned from Babylon back home to Judah. And while they have been busy rebuilding their own homes – trying to replant in a land left wild for all that time; they got an early start on laying the foundations of a new Temple, then promptly gave up. According to the history recorded in the book of Ezra, the newly returned exiles under Judah’s first governor, didn’t do much those first 18 years, other than lay the Temple foundation. God’s about had it with the delay and after the work of the prophet Haggai, it takes less than five years to complete the rest (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4, Jack R. Lundbom, p 269). While the Pharaoh finally sent the ancient Hebrews out of Egypt with heaps of gold after all the signs done for God by Moses; when some finally were allowed to return from Babylon, none of the treasures plundered from the Temple were released with the exiles. Maybe it all gives us a better insight into God’s insistent words: “mine. Mine. Mine!”

Likely it’s the first word most all of us speak – at least if we’re born into the United States. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” It’s a natural part of human development. In fact, a youngster who does not learn to distinguish where she begins and ends is bound for trouble. A boy who never knows the difference between himself and another can reap all kinds of havoc on the rest of the world. This is me. That is you. And that is another still. There’s a boundary between who I am and who momma is. We must learn this in order to grow to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. And then we ALSO must learn that me and mine really do not exist. At least not from the perspective of the Divine Creator. This is God’s. You are God’s. The other is God’s too. All we see belongs to God, according to the ancient faith passed on to us from our Hebrew brothers and sisters, through Jesus the Christ, and all the generations of the Church. It all is God’s. “Mine. Mine. Mine!” We need a little toddler tantrum now and again to wake us up to remember! All that we are and all that we think we have – it’s really just a gift. A body, and mind, and heart, and home, and bank account entrusted to us by a Grandiose Creator. Do you ever wonder if God’s just watching to see what we’ll do with it? We know the Spirit is within nudging us in the right direction. And certainly the life, death, and resurrection of Christ inspires us too all along the way. So that the lives we lead profess in every way: “Yours. Yours. Yours, O God! We belong to you, Holy One, and all of your ways!”

On a day like today, in a week like this week; it’s good to remember that 100% really does belong to the LORD our God – to be used for God’s purposes. It’s just that not all of God’s purposes happen through the budget of this church. 100% of all we have is to be used for God’s purposes and that includes things like the care of our bodies, which belong to God. Providing for our families, who are God’s gift to us. Enjoyment of God’s amazing world – a pleasure we only get to embrace as long as we’re standing here on this earth – perhaps just 80 or 90-some times we’ll have the joy of moving through the cycle of the seasons in our lives. That’s not that many times for us to wake up to autumn-days like today saying, “Wow, Holy God! Your handiwork is absolutely amazing!” . . . 100% of our time, talents, and treasures belong to God. And, the biblical tradition points out that it would be great if at least 10% of our time, talents, and treasures were dedicated to God’s collective purpose for use in the ministry of this church.

I ran the numbers. 10% of our time is the equivalent of 16.8 hours a week. Because 10% of 24 hours times 7 days is 10% of 168 hours in every week. . . . So if before, during, and after takes about 2 hours a week for the worship of our God, that leaves each of us about two and a half hours a day for the rest of the ministries of the church. I realize that sounds like a lot. But if we each spend 30 minutes a day for personal prayer, study, or devotions – at least 15 minutes when we wake and 15 minutes before we sleep or another configuration that works for us. If we each do that, then we’re down to just 2 hours a day – less time than it takes to watch a sporting event or a movie or countless number of other ways so many of us flitter away our time each day. . . . Careful thought about the use of our time for the collective ministry of God through the church might help us re-align how we spend our days, our years, our lives. If we all cannot give two hours each day to this church’s work of supporting each other and those of the surrounding community through life’s challenges; can we give just two hours more each week than we’ve given in the past? That’s just like 20 minutes or so a day – about the time it takes to make a phone call to check in on the person who sits down the pew from you each week. . . . The root of the question for us seriously to ponder is: how much time every day will we invest in being the church that fulfills God’s work?

We each can figure how 10% of our treasures equate. Whether it’s before or after taxes, it really doesn’t matter. If we’re nowhere near yet, due to whatever the circumstances of our lives, can we make just a 10% increase this year? So if we’re at $100 a year, we increase to $110. $1,000 a year to $1,100. $5,000 a year to $5,500. For some, that’s the only way we ever may get to the commitment of 10% of our treasures given to God through God’s church. Baby steps, year after year, until 10 or 20 years from now we’ve finally reached the goal. I’m sure all the Stewardship gurus would tell me not to tell you this and to just tell you God expects us to tithe 10%. But in my experience, we’ve got to start somewhere. No matter our age or our over-stretched budgets, we’ve got to figure out our realistic starting point, commit to it as a first priority, and grow from there each year. If it’s been a bad year in which your financial circumstances have dwindled; rest for a bit, but don’t quit. Remember that Jesus once told a story about a widow who put in her last little bit? Giving something even when we feel like we have nothing is about our trust of God – our Loving Creator who promises never to let us go even when it feels we’ve just lost it all. It’s the spirit of how we give that God enjoys, not the sum total of the check. . . . If you’re a parent or grandparent with the opportunity, teach your children now how to do this. Setting aside $1 of every $10 they get for whatever, will help them learn to tithe before they even have an income, so that when they do, they just might be ready to approach it this way from the start.

And what about 10% of our talents? It’s an odd way to figure that up. Maybe it’s best to take stock of the abilities we really have. Do you love to encourage, or organize, or create music, or communicate? What is it you truly love to do? Back in my days of being a specialized pastor with children and their families, I would ask children this question. I heard a lot about basketball and dance. And while it might take a little bit more thought out-of-the-box to figure out how to use for God’s work talents such as basketball or dance; it is possible to use even those abilities in the mission of God. Just ask the youth who come here for Wednesday nights – they LOVE to play basketball in the parking lot and would thoroughly enjoy taking you on! Maybe they’d even be interested in dancing for Jesus some Sunday during worship! . . . The key to God’s work is figuring out the talent God already has given you, then find a way to put that talent to work in the bigger picture of God’s mission in this world.

After all, none of it is ours in the first place. It’s God’s! Remember: “Mine. Mine. Mine!” Says the LORD God of hosts! . . . And it generously has been given to us for the purpose of being used in God’s work. . . . With glad and thankful hearts, may it ever be so.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

 

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)