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Category Archives: Stewardship

The Widow’s Might

(a sermon for November 15, 2020, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 12:38-44)

In one of several essays he wrote about faith, theology and the Bible, the late author John Updike once made the apt observation that at its heart the gospel narrative is the story of “two worlds colliding.”  He wrote that in his teaching and by his very presence “Jesus overthrows common sense – and declares an inversion of the world’s order, whereby the first shall be last and the last first, the meek shall inherit the earth, the hungry and thirsty shall be satisfied, and the poor of spirit shall possess the Kingdom of Heaven. [This] kingdom,” Updike went on to say, “is the hope and pain of Christianity; and it is attained against the grain, through the denial of instinctive and social wisdom, and through faith in the unseen.”

Two worlds colliding – that is, worldly “common sense” running headlong against God’s “foolishness” – which, when you think about it, might well be the entire biblical message in a nutshell! It certainly reflects God’s action throughout history: consider, for instance, Abraham and Sarah, who held on to the ridiculous notion that although they were both in their nineties, God was not only calling them to leave home and kindred and wander off to a new, as yet unknown destination but was also about to make them parents of an entire nation! Or how about Moses, who by anyone’s standard would have been considered crazy for confronting the all-powerful Pharaoh with a clear ultimatum to “let my people go.”  Or, for that matter, think of the determination of David or Joshua or Daniel; the bravery of Esther and Ruth; the sheer audacity of Jeremiah and a whole host of prophets: these were all persons who lived in direct opposition to the conventions and standards and the politics of their time and their world, and did so out of a faith in the almighty and providential God, strengthened by the love and strength that this same God gave to them for the task.

However, nowhere was this “worldly collision” more apparent than in Jesus, who seemingly defied “good” sense and common sensibility every step along the way.  I mean, whatever else one might choose to say about Jesus – as a believer or even as a casual observer (!) – it certainly can be asserted that where the ways of this world were concerned, Jesus was utterly and relentlessly unpredictable. When it came to social acceptability, he’d do the unthinkable: eating with tax collectors and publicans, associating with prostitutes, lepers, the poor, the sick and the uneducated. And where the powers-that-be were concerned, Jesus regularly shook the tree branches of the status-quo, to say nothing of needling the religious establishment first to within an inch of its patience and then way beyond its tolerance. And in large part because of that the culmination of his life and work ended up being his death on the cross; but even then, in one final act of defiance against the world’s expectations, Jesus was resurrected and all of his creation was redeemed.

Jesus was a true radical; but understand, this was not merely for the sake of being radical for the purpose of instigating that worldly collision to which Updike was referring, but wholly for the sake of the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ was the very embodiment of God’s “foolish wisdom,” in which, according to theologian and historian M. Conrad Hyers, “the whole hierarchy of human values… human greatness and self-importance are inverted. [In the kingdom of God] servants appear in the stead of their masters and mistresses. Riffraff are admitted to the royal banquet table. The nobodies stand up and are counted. Peasants are crowned king and queen for a day, and a ragged band of slaves become the chosen people of God. The kingdom is a world in which beggars are more at home than the wealthy, sinners more than the righteous, children more than their parents, and clowns and fools more than priests and scribes.” Yes, here we have it again; that in the kingdom of God, “everything becomes topsy-turvey,” but it’s so that everything may be made right.

And so understand that when Jesus, as we read in our text for this morning, condemns the prideful posturing of scribes while making a point of lifting up the value a small but sacrificial gift of a widow who’d made her way to the temple treasury, he is not reflecting upon the amount of the gift, but rather commenting on the fact that what this woman had done was flying right in the face of everything the world respects and holds dear: things like wealth, power, abundance and the all too common obsession with “being seen.”

What we’re talking about here, friends, are two little coins; two lepta, representing about one fortieth of a day’s wage for unskilled labor (essentially two pennies).  And not only that, it should be pointed out that these were also very tiny little coins, so small and so light that it wouldn’t have even made a tinkle in the metal trumpets that served as offering receptacles in the temple. So understand that physically and economically, these tiny little lepta meant nothing in the worldly scheme of things, or at least nothing compared with all the other valuable and voluminous gifts ceremoniously placed in the treasury that day.

But here’s the thing: these two tiny little coins that amounted to next to nothing was, in fact, everything this widow had in the world, and she gave it willingly.  She gave it out of her great faith and devotion unto God; she gave it out of her confidence, a sure and certain knowledge, that in giving she would receive and because she’d already received much more than she could ever possibly give in return. Her gift was excessive and extravagant and much more than should ever be required; but then again, so was her love of God. And it’s this gift, this so-called “widow’s mite” that Jesus tells us is worth more than of the ample offerings given in the temple that day; its giver much more reverent than the learned scribes who regularly paraded their piety for the sake of “the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets,” and who “devour widows’ houses” for their own comfort. Upside down thinking, to be sure, to even consider that one elderly, poverty-stricken, powerless widow would give the greater gift, but such is the kingdom of God; where true abundance is measured in commitment and a widow’s “mite” becomes a “widow’s might.”

It’s an amazing concept; and one that most collides with the world in which we live! After all, this is the kind of world where wealth is power; where corporate CEO’s, movie stars and professional athletes command annual salaries far greater than the vast majority of others can even make in a lifetime; where the Jeff Bezos and the Bill Gates of this world contribute a billion dollars to charity and still be among the richest of all. We’re part of a society where too much is not enough, where need, want and avarice too often get confused as one and the same, and where the definition of financial security becomes broader with each passing generation.

But then into this world we know so very well comes Jesus, and he’s bringing us the good news that… wait for it… God does not care about our money!  Now I realize I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this today – it being stewardship season and everything (!) – but we have to be theologically honest about this: that ultimately, it does not matter to God the amount that we put in the offering plate (virtually or otherwise!).  How much or how little one gives, it doesn’t matter, because the fact is our God – the Almighty God who has created heaven and earth – doesn’t need our money.  But… hold on; for lest you think that we’re all off the hook where stewardship is concerned, understand that God wants something more: something more than our money, something more than merely the abundance of our wealth.

God wants the sacrificial gift… the sacrifice of our hearts… the sacrifice that comes with our trust… the sacrifice that’s offered up by our love.  

And that thing is, this is nothing new, because in scripture God says this again and again: you will be my people, and I will be your God. What God wants, you see, if for you and I to make a commitment unto him, to claim God as our own as God has claimed each one of us.  And that, you see, was what the widow was doing: by this gift of two little coins, everything she had in the world, she was in essence laying her very life into the hands of God, saying, “Here… I trust you. I am putting my life into your hands now. I’m yours.”

It’s a remarkable thing… and not only is it an act of true faith, it’s an act of… might!

And might I add here that ultimately, it’s what our giving and pledging and stewardship is supposed to be all about… about our trust in the God who continues even in these strange and uncertain days to bless us so richly, and about our sheer might in proclaiming the Kingdom of God in our midst. More than the giving of our offerings, it’s about the giving of our hearts; and of course, we all know that when we give our heart to something, we inevitably end up giving much more… perhaps even all that we have. 

William Willimon tells the story of an old friend of his he’d learned had been sent to the custodial care of a nursing facility.  The news came as something of a surprise, wrote Willimon, because as far as he knew his friend, though he was in his late seventies, was in perfect health.  The only thing he could find out was that he’d been sent to the nursing home because of his “distressing mental state,” which surprised Willimon even more; surely, he reasoned, age had not taken so high a toll!

Well, come to find out that apparently, his friend had volunteered in his retirement to work a couple of days a week at the church sponsored soup kitchen. “The next thing they know, John has gotten so involved over there that one day he sat down and wrote them out a check for $100,000! Just like that. With no discussion, no forethought. $100,000” which, by the way, was most of his life’s savings… and he handed it over to the soup kitchen. Of course, Willimon continued, “[his children] thought that he’d gone over the deep end. So, they forced him to go into a nursing home where he would receive proper supervision.”

Listen carefully there, and you might just hear the sound of a collision; for such is the upside-down, topsy-turvey world of the kingdom of God!

Am I suggesting this morning that we all sign away our life’s savings to the church, or to some mission movement?  No… but I would suggest that each of us look closely at the thoughtfulness of our giving; in our offerings and stewardship, yes, but most especially in the giving of ourselves. Do we give a portion out of our abundance, or do we give all that we have? Do we offer “first fruits” or just the gleanings of our lives? Is what we offer unto God today with our lives a sacrificial gift?  Do we truly give of ourselves?

I know that these are strange times to be asking these kinds of questions; uncertainty and fear and creeping “common sense” would seem to dictate that this year we quarantine our resources along with ourselves!  But our “kingdom sensibilities” would suggest otherwise and that now is the time to approach the temple of God with thanksgiving and gladness; that now is when we should be investing our whole selves into the Lord’s work in this place; that now is the moment when we are called to boldly be the church in a world sorely in need of what we have to give.

Now is the time, beloved, and I hope you will give prayerful consideration to how you’ll respond; but even more so, I pray that whatever “mite” each of us brings forward, it be a gift from our hands, our hearts and our very lives… and that first and foremost it be in response to what has already been given us “by the grace of our Lord  Jesus Christ; rich as he was, he made himself poor for [our] sake, in order to make [us] rich by means of his poverty.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

For this will be the gift that show forth our might for the sake of his Kingdom.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020 Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

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The Way… of Life Abundant

(a sermon for October 27, 2019 , the 20th Sunday after Pentecost and Stewardship Sunday; last in a series, based on John 10:7-10)

(a podcast version of this message can be found here)

And Jesus said to them, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Perhaps it’s a by-product of having turned 60 years old this year, I don’t know; or maybe it’s simply that we’re now inching toward late autumn and there’s another long New England winter looming on the horizon, but I must confess to you that these days I’ve been thinking a lot about life… life, what it all means, and at the end of the day what makes it abundant.

Now, to have life is certainly a good thing; it’s desirable, important.  “How much more so, then,” writes theologian and pastor David Lose, is “abundant life. The chance to not simply persist, but thrive, to not simply exist, but flourish. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment; to know and be known, accept and be accepted.”  Lose goes on to say that if there’s one thing that “pretty much everyone” desires – “even if they can’t name that desire” – it’s this.  And I would agree; I mean, we hear this desire expressed all the time, don’t we?  That there’s years to your life, but what counts is that “there’s life to your years;” or that “it’s not the number of breaths you take but the number of moments that take your breath away?” Or maybe it’s simply the difference between being able to wake up in the morning and say, “Good morning, Lord!” as opposed to rolling out of bed and saying, “Good Lord, it’s morning!”

All I know is that’s the kind of life I want – that is, the “Good morning, Lord” attitude, not the other (!) – especially now that I’m (shudder!) looking – eventually, mind you – toward my “third act.” I mean, like anybody else, have a vision in my mind’s eye of how life should be.  But as I say, sometimes I do wonder about the way… of such abundance.

Of course, Madison Avenue and the ever shifting pop culture of this world would love not only to sell you on the idea of what abundant life looks like – you know, beauty, fun, romance, hope, identity, relationship, joy, community and popularity – but also that such things are attained through money and fashion and the perfect physique; by driving the best car, having the most up to date iPhone, and of course (and I hear this a lot on television), the ability and resources to “retire rich.”  Even social media gets into the act:  do you know that there’s been a move afoot to remove “like” buttons from sites like Facebook and Instagram – you know, the little “thumbs up” and “hearts” and “angry faces” that people put on your posts in re – in part because so many people have somehow placed their perception of personal popularity and success, or the complete lack thereof, on the basis of how many of those “likes” they’ve received, or conversely, on all the negative feedback they’ve received online; as though the meaning and abundance of a life could ever be determined by one’s identity on social media (my own podcast page on Facebook does  currently have 107 followers, which is pretty cool, but I digress…)!

The point is that there’s so much in this world and the culture that purports to provide a life abundant, but as the saying goes, “It hits all the right notes, but it is not the song.”  In fact, I’ll go one step further here: not only do these worldly efforts ultimately fail to bring life in any lasting or meaningful way – because it always ends up that the abundance that’s promised inevitably comes in the next big thing – it also tends to steal away the qualities of life that truly matter.  It’s actually not unlike what Jesus was talking about in our text for this morning when he refers to “the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  We’re all seeking true life and to have it abundantly, but so often that which we desperately cling to for that purpose would rob us of that true life.  When it comes to providing abundant life, these are the thieves, the bandits, the imposters or even potentially the hired hand (!) that would actively seek to put the sheep (that is, you and me) in danger; but the good news is that we do have a good shepherd.  In the wonderful words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, “in a world where people are being fed spoonfuls of nonsense and told it is Jesus… we have a better Gospel.”  And that better Gospel comes in the Good Shepherd who not only stands at the gate for the sheep but who is the gate, and who says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Let me just say at this point that this whole section of the 10th chapter of John, from which our text is drawn this morning is amongst the richest, most evocative and – at least in terms of point of view – one of the more perplexing passages in all of John’s Gospel.  First Jesus talks about anyone not “not enter[ing] the sheepfold by the gate” (10:1) being a thief and a bandit; then it’s all about the gatekeeper whose voice the sheep recognize (v. 3), then, as we’ve said, it’s Jesus referring to himself as the gate (v. 9), and then, most prominently, it’s how he’s “the good shepherd” (v. 11) who knows and cares for his flock, even to the point of laying down his life.  Jesus is coming at this particular parable at a whole lot of different angles – which is why we preachers tend to divide up these verses in our sermons (!) – but do you see the overarching theme of this whole metaphor of sheep and shepherd and sheepgate?  It’s that Jesus is the one – the only one – who saves those sheep from all the predators of this world and who ever and always cares for the sheep that they have life and have it abundantly.

So… given all that, what is this way of life abundant that Jesus offers us?  Actually, it’s all right there in Jesus’ words about shepherds and sheep, and it comes down to three things: protection, provision and presence.  “That’s it,” writes Karoline Lewis of Lutheran Seminary. “Not observable opulence.  Not assumed affluence.  Not luxury or lavishness.  No, it seems that abundant life, according to Jesus, is knowing that you will be safe and sound, trusting that your basic needs will be met, and believing that you are never alone.”

It’s worth noting here that Jesus’ words about the care of the good shepherd comes on the heels of Jesus (in chapter 9) having healed a man born blind – this man, who as you might remember, was reduced to begging at the pool of Siloam (9:1-9) – and by virtue of this healing was not only given the ability to see but also a whole new life; quoting Karoline Lewis again, even when afterward “the formerly blind man has been thrown out by the religious leaders,” (because remember, the Pharisees were not all that keen on the healing having taken place on the Sabbath), and even though he was “cast out again from community and exposed to the elements,” Jesus finds him and is there for him, bringing him the assurance of his protection, provision and presence (9:35) because that’s what it means to be part of Jesus’ flock; because that is the blessing of having Jesus with you always; because that’s what it is to truly have life and to have it abundantly.

It’s also why Jesus, almost immediately in John’s Gospel, responds to all of this by saying  to all those people who were no doubt confused with Jesus’ mixed metaphor here (and here’s The Message version of this passage), “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep.”  I am the Good Shepherd; I’m the one who will lay down my life for the sheep!  “All those others are up to no good – sheep stealers, every one of them… a thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

At the end of the day, you see – all through the day, in fact – the way of abundant life is that life spent with Jesus and his protection, provision and presence.

Like I said before… I do wonder at times about my life; about what the future holds for me, and for my family and all the people that I love. I know; it’s still “a ways” off yet, but I do think about retirement and what that’s going to look like and how we’ll manage; and like many of you, I suspect, in these ever changing and sometimes insanely crazy times I can’t help but worry a bit about what this world is going to look like for our children and grandchildren.

And truthfully, beloved, I wonder what’s going to happen with this church as the future unfolds in its unpredictable way.  And don’t misunderstand me here; first of all, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon (!) but also because I don’t worry about this church.  Oh, yes, we do have our concerns and challenges and uncertainties in this place; and not only would I be less than honest, I wouldn’t be any kind of a pastor if I didn’t confess that there’s not a year when I don’t fret a little bit about budget and offerings and how the rest of the building will get painted.  But here’s the thing: I don’t worry because the Lord is our shepherd, our good shepherd, and he has come that we may have life and have it abundantly.  And so just as I know in faith that the Lord will most certainly see me in and through everything that comes in my own life, I am convinced that as you and I walk the way together, East Church and the ministry that we share will not simply persist, but thrive; and that we will not merely exist in this world and in this life, but flourish… not only right here and now, not just in 2020, but “from season to changing season, from age to age the same.”

You see, the great joy of walking in “the Way” of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is that wherever we go, wherever we’re led, wherever the windy and twisted road of life takes us we’re never alone on the journey.  And wherever that pathway goes and however long the journey, individually and collectively we walk as God’s children.  We are known, beloved; known by the God who has created us in his image and for his great pleasure.  We are loved with love unfathomable, we are protected along every step of the way in this life and eternally in the next.  And we are provided for; provided all that we’ll ever need by the one who is the very source of all of our blessing.  And we are strengthened and empowered by his very countenance; we have and shall always know our Lord’s presence times of trial and of rejoicing; so, as our Epistle reading for this morning puts it, “[we] may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

And if that is not life abundant, then nothing else can possibly be.

Beloved, may God bless you and me as we navigate all the joys, the challenges and the blessed uncertainties of this life.  May God bless all of his creation with inspiration as it struggles to live with mercy and kindness, with humility and divine peace.  May God bless his church – even this church – with power for love and to be Jesus’ disciples here on Mountain Road and beyond.  And may God grant us all life that is truly abundant; with the wisdom and the spirit to walk the way ahead in faith and with all manner of joy.

And ever and always, as we do may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2019 in Jesus, Life, Sermon, Sermon Series, Stewardship

 

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The Way… of Faithful Giving

Opening Scene from “Chariots of Fire,” 1981

(a sermon for October 20, 2019, the 19th Sunday after Pentecost; third in a series, based on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)

It’s a wonderful scene from one of the great films of the 1980’s: Chariots of Fire, and it still ranks among my all-time favorites.  Now, if you’ve seen this movie (and if you haven’t, why not?), you know that this was the true story of two runners competing in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, one of whom was a Scottish missionary by the name of Eric Liddell.  And the scene in question depicts Liddell trying in vain to explain to his sister Jennie why he had decided to put off a Missionary call to China so that first he could compete in those Olympic Games.  “Jennie,” he says. “You’ve got to understand… I believe that God made me for a purpose… for China.  But he also made me fast… and when I run I feel his pleasure.”

It’s just this little moment in the film, but I think the reason I love it so much is that though I’ll never, ever be confused with someone who is any kind of runner, much less one of Olympic-caliber, nonetheless I understand exactly what Liddell was talking about there, and moreover, I know that  feeling!  I’ve felt it, for instance, in music – many times in singing or playing the guitar – moments when by some miracle of grace everything just goes right; when the melodies and harmonies all come together just as they should and the song, or the hymn or the anthem – whatever the music happens to be at that moment – is, as musicians like to say, “in the pocket.” And let me just say here that there are also times – quite often, in fact – that I feel it in our times of worship together: sometimes, it’ll be there in the music we share; it can also be felt in our laughter, our fellowship and the occasional unpredictability of this time we spend together every Sunday morning; it’s certainly been there in our moments of prayerfulness; and sometimes – not always, mind you, but sometimes – I even feel it when I’m standing at this pulpit preaching the sermon for the day.

And understand, I’m not talking here about everything going perfectly, or even according to plan – trust me here, sometimes the best moments we share as a congregation are the ones that no one saw coming, including your pastor (!) – what I’m referring to here (and I suspect you know what I’m talking about here) are the moments when everything connects; when it’s clear from everything that’s happening that the Holy Spirit is moving in and through this place and its people; when there’s joy that’s palpable or, for that matter,  when  grief and sorrow is mutually borne.  It’s in such moments that yes, we do feel God’s pleasure in it, and in us.  In fact, I would go so far as to suggest to you that this is maybe the primary reason we’ve come to worship and ultimately, what we get out of coming here (actually echoing something we talked about here a couple of weeks ago): to faithfully give the best of ourselves unto God so that we might feel God’s pleasure in what we do.  And to quote Eric Liddell (or at least, as he’s quoted in the movie), “to give it up would be to hold [God] in contempt,” but “to win is to honor him.”

And who are we, I ask you this morning, to deny God’s pleasure?

All of this brings us to our text for this morning, in which Paul is exhorting the Gentile Christians in Corinth to contribute to an offering to benefit the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.  First off, let’s be honest about this particular passage of Paul’s epistle; there’s no disguising the fact that this is a financial appeal, and a pretty effective one at that! Not only does Paul emphasize the spiritual rewards for an abundant response (“For the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God”), while also reminding them that since they’ve been provided with every blessing in abundance, they might also “share abundantly in every good work,”  Paul also manages to, shall we say, “play the guilt card” in mentioning Macedonian Christians (to whom, Paul makes a point of saying, “I’ve been bragging about you.”), suggesting that “if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready” – that is, if you aren’t ready with an offering, “we’d all be pretty red-faced – you and us – for acting so sure of ourselves.” [The Message]  See what I mean?  It’s a stewardship message, basically with no hold barred; and it’s no wonder that we preachers return to this particular passage on days… well, days just like this one (did I happen to mention that next week is Stewardship Sunday here at East Church?).

But all that said, friends, we need to understand that there’s much more going on in this passage than merely a pitch for the benevolent support of Jerusalem; in fact, in just a few short verses of scripture Paul lays out for us “the way” of faithful giving, and whether it involves our time, talent, treasure or all of life itself, it all really comes down to those very familiar words, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  Now, there’s a whole lot that’s interesting about this verse for me, but just about at the top of the list is the fact that the word translated at “cheerful” is from the original Greek word, hilaron, which is also where we get our word “hilarious.”  So this verse could well be translated as “God loves a hilarious giver;” which, at least in our 21st century parlance, sort of suggests a lack of seriousness on the part of the giver (sort of creates an image of someone running through the sanctuary throwing money in the air while laughing maniacally, doesn’t it; not exactly the wisest approach to stewardship!).  No, in this instance, that word hilaron has to do with delight, as in (and this is how The Message translates it, and very well, I might add), “God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.”  And that’s exactly what’s at the heart of the way of faithful giving: delight!  When you and I give of ourselves delightfully – that is, when we find our joy in that giving – we will most certainly feel God’s pleasure in it.

I hasten to add, however, that Paul is not suggesting any kind sort of false piety here or fake generosity; and he’s certainly not demanding, as a parent might ask of a reluctant child, that we “do it with a smile on our face.”  No; that’s the other message of Paul’s stewardship letter to the Corinthians: that each one “must give as [he or she] has made up [his] mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”  The act and intent of giving, you see, always has to be from the heart.  And that’s also borne out in the original Greek of this text: the word used for “decide” or to “make up one’s mind” is actually karia, which means heart and yes, why it’s referred to in a hospital as a “cardiac” unit.  In other words, the true way of giving is not meant to be sorrowful, or forced, or born of necessity, but should be that action of a truly delighted believer; the giving itself ought to be a sustained and joyful response to every blessing that God gives in abundance.

Now, does this mean that if you’re not feeling happy or delighted in giving you ought to give it up? I say this as a preacher of God’s word, but also as a church pastor: Perish the thought!  In the words of a church sign I saw some years ago, “God loves a cheerful giver, but God accepts from a grouch!”  Make no mistake; as persons and a people of faith, giving, in whatever form it takes, is part of our spiritual DNA.  To quote John Calvin here, “For we are not born for ourselves merely, so a Christian… ought neither to live to himself, nor lay out what he has, merely for his own use.”  In other words, for the Christian giving is essential, but the motivation for that giving is… everything.  The right motivation for giving, you see, is what brings us joy, it is what fulfills purpose, it serves as a catalyst for a true generosity of spirit, it’s what creates community and it is what fuels ministries of love and peace in Jesus’ name.  And it’s a blessing… one that when extended ends up blessing you in return.

But, says Paul… and this is a very important point… “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”  And I don’t think one needs to be a farmer to understand what that means.

This morning we have had the distinct honor and great joy to dedicate gifts to this church to the glory of God; gifts that were given by a faithful and devoted long-time member of this very congregation, our friend “Effie” Watts. And let me just say once again that while choir robes, tables and chairs, and a clavinova are wonderful, useful and “spirit filled” tools for the ministries of East Church, the true blessing we received came in how it was given to us, in the faithful heart – Effie’s heart – that motivated the giving.  That is a wonderful thing indeed… and I have to say that it’s all served to remind us that in so many ways, who we are as a church – our history, our tradition, our personality (joyous, loving, unique and even at times quirky!), and most especially our shared ministry in the name of Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Savior – all of it has come about as the result of many faithful hearts who have found delight in following Jesus and sowing the seeds of love and faith as they give of themselves to others and to the glory of God, both in this place and out those doors and into the world.  You and I, beloved, we are the recipients of the “surpassing grace of God” that has been given to all the saints, past and present, who have walked the way of faithful giving.

And I’ll tell you something else, in case you haven’t noticed… because of them, and by God’s surpassing grace, we thrive as a congregation here on Mountain Road.  It doesn’t mean it’s all easy and that we don’t have budgetary concerns, because we do; but nonetheless we thrive in this place.  We flourish as God’s people because of YOU, who by that surpassing grace of God give wholly of yourselves with great delight in what God has given you and in joy awaiting what God has yet to do in our midst.

From the bottom of my heart I thank you for that, beloved, and I ask that we all give this matter some thought and prayer as you consider our shared pathway as a church in the coming year.

And as we do, may our “thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”

Amen and AMEN.

©  2019 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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