Release

 

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; John 1:6-8, 19-28  Third Sunday of Advent    December 14, 2014

Who among us has been a prisoner? Who here has been or is held captive? There are all kinds of ways that we humans are not free. Try this. Don’t answer your cell phone next time it rings. Or go for a week not checking FaceBook or e-mail. Sit at a table with freshly baked Christmas cookies that are still warm and soft, with gooey chocolate and that fresh baked smell wafting through the air, and don’t touch them. We are held captive by our addictions, not that I am admitting to being addicted to chocolate, dark chocolate in particular. Addictions to food, technology, alcohol or drugs can drive our choices and our behavior. Fear, anger, and jealousy, not to mention unhealthy relationships, keep us from having control over ourselves. Most of us have at some point in our lives been in a place where we did not feel free. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, we confess.

Listen again to the words of Isaiah:

[The Lord God] has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Isaiah is speaking about salvation, about being saved from those things that bind us. Many think of salvation as “getting into heaven.” Isaiah, however, speaks of salvation as a quality of life here and now that reflects God’s desires for us. God’s yearning is to save us from those things that hold us captive. The good news of which Isaiah speaks is our release, which comes in the person of Jesus Christ, for whom we wait to come again. Release is our theme for this third Sunday in Advent.

But maybe Isaiah isn’t simply speaking about us as individuals. This release from bondage is encapsulated in Isaiah’s proclamation of the “day of the Lord’s favor,” which is the Jubilee year mentioned in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. In those times, when farmers could not pay their debts, they were put into prison and their land was confiscated. In the Jubilee year, debts were erased, slaves were set free, fields were allowed to rest, and land was returned to its original owners[1]. The Jubilee Year was intended as a reset so that all would be able to flourish. The release of which Isaiah speaks relates to societal systems, and how we live in community.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus repeats these words. When Jesus was just beginning his public ministry, he went to the synagogue, unrolled the scroll and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news…” Jesus began his ministry proclaiming through the words of Isaiah a better life for the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners. When one of us is diminished, we all are diminished. “No man is an island,” John Donne wrote.

While we think of the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives and prisoners as people who are not free, maybe in some sense we are the ones who are captive. Author John C. Purdy writes: We are impoverished by our lack of vision, captive to behaviors that demean and devalue other people, and blinded by attitudes that folks of different color or culture or gender or sexual orientation or political persuasion are less than children of the living God and don’t deserve to be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ[2].

When people who have differing abilities, people who are exploited economically, and those in third world nations are devalued, we all are in bondage. You can add to that those who are in the minority according to religion, gender, or race, and people who have no voice or power.

Jesus is coming, and on this third Sunday in Advent, we hear as we wait John the Baptizer tell us to “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Prepare the way for Jesus. Preparing the way for Jesus must include being advocates for forgotten people.

No matter which way you look at it, the recent cases of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner have divided and traumatized our nation. Those who go to trial, are convicted, and sentenced to jail will be warehoused in a hostile environment. Isaiah and Jesus specifically mention those who are in prison.

The United States incarcerates more people per capita than any other country, and our prisons house the parents of almost 3 million of our communities’ children. Prisons are the largest mental health provider in the country. The job of these facilities is to contain and control. Corrections officer and inmates are in an environment where chaos is met with chaos, and violence with violence. Basic human dignity is removed.

Recently, I watched Dan Pacholke present a TED talk about how prisons can help inmates live meaningful lives. He says when we change the way we think, we create possibilities for a different future. With vision like Isaiah’s, he began by changing the physical environment so that prisoners and officers all interact with each other more. Both officers and inmates were trained in verbal de-escalation skills. He teamed with a rainforest ecologist to involve inmates in repopulating endangered plants, frogs and butterflies. Then he engaged them in making the prison more environmentally friendly. Prisoners were making a contribution, and a difference, and they had purpose. Dan said, “My job isn’t to punish them or forgive them, but I do think they can have meaningful lives even in prison.” Doing things thoughtfully and with regard to personhood restores hope.

Bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and make straight the way of the Lord. Speak words of justice, hope and deliverance to people who think that God has forgotten them. That’s what St. Stephen is doing this coming week at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, as we share not just food, but also ourselves with the homeless.

Release comes in many forms, but they all center on Jesus. Because Jesus is fully divine and fully human means our identity is grounded in our relationship with Christ. It is God’s coming to us in the flesh that makes it possible for us to live in relationship with one another in ways that we incarnate God’s love for humanity. When we witness to Jesus Christ through our testimony, through feeding those who are hungry, clothing the naked and helping the homeless feel safe for a night, we help restore human dignity, we are released from our own captivity.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed:When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Catholics and Protestant—will be able to join hands and to sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last; thank God Almighty, we are free at last[3].

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] Leviticus 25.1-3 and Deuteronomy 15.1-15

[2] http://www.religion-online.org/showcahpter.asp?title=435&C=314

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/160523-and-when-this-happens-when-we-allow-freedom-ring-when

Prepare

 

Mark 1:1-8     Second Sunday of Advent     December 7, 2014

 

 

I love to prepare the dining room table for a special meal.  I love it when Patty gets out the table cloth.  I love laying out the good china and crystal, and arranging the silver ware at each place setting.  I love placing the candles – those in the silver candlestick holders, as well as the votives arranged around the centerpiece.

I love giving time to that preparation: for a special meal on Thanksgiving, or for Christmas, or for a loved one’s 85th birthday celebration, or for the homecoming of a loved one who’s been away for a long time.  As I give time to preparing the table I spend time thinking about how important this meal will be.

Our Altar Guild members and other worship leaders give their time to preparing our worship space with the sense of how important this is: what we are doing right now is important!  Didn’t the banner-making group do a wonderful job with our theme words for each week in Advent this year?  These Advent paraments on the pulpit and the altar are my favorites of all those we hang during the liturgical year.  They were woven and decorated by hand, years ago, by Pam Franck.  How important it is for us to prepare the worship table for the special meal of the Lord’s Supper.  When you approach the table, don’t you prepare yourselves?  We stand or kneel, according to our piety.  Some of us cross ourselves.  We prepare ourselves to receive our Lord, physically present in the bread and in the wine.

How do you prepare yourself to receive our Lord, not only in this place, on this day, but each day?  That’s an Advent question.

Last week, the Advent readings pointed us towards keeping awake – for the coming of God to complete the fulfillment that has already begun with the birth of the Christ.   Today and next week, the second and third Sundays of Advent, the readings focus our attention on the role of John the Baptizer: the forerunner, the one announcing the coming Messiah.

Do you notice that John the Baptizer is an Old Testament prophet – even though he appears in the New Testament?  John is in continuity with the prophets of Hebrew Scripture who were sent by God to remind and to renew the people.  The gospel writer of Mark portrays John as coming straight out of that 40th chapter of the prophet Isaiah, which we read a few minutes ago.[1]  Isaiah promises a voice crying out in the wilderness.  Five hundred years later, the gospel writer of Mark identifies John the Baptizer as that voice, calling the people to “prepare the way of the Lord.”[2]

            John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Do you notice that there is great hunger for what John is doing and saying?  According to the gospel writer of Mark writes: And people from the whole Judean country-side and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him the in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  (My emphases.)

*  *  *

            What do you do to prepare for a significant event?  If you have been the spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend of a returning service member returning from overseas duty, think of how you’ve prepared yourself!  What do you do to prepare for a presentation to your boss?  For a dissertation defense?

Now – let’s move into the wilderness.  (That’s where John the Baptizer is.)  What do you do to prepare for a job interview when you’ve been unemployed?  (When you’re unemployed, you’re spending time in the wilderness.)  What do you do to prepare for a job interview when you are desperate to leave the misery and struggle of a job that is no longer where you belong?  What do you do to prepare yourself for the funeral of your husband or wife?  What do you do to prepare yourself for serious surgery or medical treatment?  These are experiences of wilderness.

In the Bible, the “wilderness” is the desert.  For the prophets in the Hebrew Scripture, the wilderness is the desert of the Sinai peninsula of Egypt.  For John the Baptizer and for Jesus, it is the desert that is the mid-section of what is now the nation of Israel.

I remember waking up on my first morning in the Sinai desert, near the traditional site of Mt. Sinai, which we were to climb later that day.  We had arrived at night.  It had been very dark.  (There are no streetlights in the Sinai desert.)  In the morning, I opened the curtains of my room.  I was astonished by what I saw.  All of the terrain was khaki-colored.  There was no green.  I had never seen such a landscape.  The land was either flat – or mountainous!  There were no rolling hills.  As I looked around, I saw flat land and then mountains that suddenly rose up!  (I came to think, “No wonder Moses and the people had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  There was no way they could go in a straight line on their journey.  They were all the time having to detour around the next mountain that would suddenly jut up!)

The stories in the Bible come out of those ancient writers’ encounters with God in that geography.  In the hostile desert, there can be no romantic conception of God as “gentle, meek and mild.”  God is fierce, to prevail in those fierce landscapes![3]

But, in the Bible, the wilderness is more than the literal geography of the desert.  The wilderness is also the place of struggle with God.  And so, it is also metaphor.  Wilderness is where you and I find ourselves, at times during our journey of faith.  What have been other times of wilderness for you – when the challenges of each day have taken on life and death importance?  When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.  When you understand just how fierce the demons are that Jesus is fighting against in those miracle stories, because that is exactly how you are experiencing your addiction.  When you have been suffocated in depression.  When you have learned how extensive your disability is.

I wonder if the gospel of Mark is the most helpful for us when we are struggling in the wilderness?  Have you noticed that Mark has no birth story?  It begins with the  verses we read this morning!  There’s John the Baptizer: the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, bringing his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Next (immediately) there’s the adult Jesus, coming to John for baptism.  Boom!  Only 14 verses into the gospel of Mark, John the Baptizer is off the scene and Jesus begins his proclamation.  Chapter one, verse 14: Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

The gospel of Mark begins with the fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation.  There is no distraction of a birth story, which threatens to get us all weepy-eyed and sentimental and, perhaps, to miss the whole point!  The point is God’s Advent, God’s coming into our lives, with the fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation!  That’s what’s important about Christmas!

How do you prepare – not just for the annual Christmas festivities and parties and celebrations, but for Christ’s return; for God’s coming with fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation?  “The long-expected Lamb comes down with pardon for those who seek forgiveness.”[4]

What are your practices of preparation?  Are you preparing by using the “Book of Faith” Advent journey devotional book?  By sharing your journey with other pilgrims, in the Fellowship Hall on Monday nights?  By immersing yourself in the chanting and singing, the prayer and silence of Holden Evening Prayer on Wednesday nights?  By your prayers at dawn, or late at night?  By lighting your Advent wreath and offering prayer?  By the songs you are singing?

How wonderful it will be when that day of the Lord comes: when there will be no more crying there, when there will be no more dying there,[5] when there will be no more cancer and racial hatred and gun violence and war and fear!  This year I have been reading and thinking about that much-neglected aspect of Advent.  On one recent morning, my long-suffering wife, Patty, looked up from the newspaper she was trying to read, as I kept on reading to her about this theme of Advent.  She said, “Well then, all time is Advent time.”

I thought: “Exactly!  All time, every day we are given, is time for us to ‘keep awake,’ and to ‘prepare,’ and to ‘release’ what’s not important, and to live in the faith that God will fulfill those ‘promise[s].’”[6]  But how easy is it to lose that awareness?  How easy it is to be anesthetized by the routines of everyday life: to take each day for granted; or to be distracted from what’s important by the cares and concerns of daily life which aren’t all that important.

And so how important are these weeks of Advent!  What a gift these weeks are – as a reminder to keep awake, to prepare the way of the Lord who is coming into our lives.

In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

 

[1] Isaiah 40:1-11, especially verse 3.  John the Baptizer is rooted in more than that one prophet, though.  See Malachi 3:1 for another example.

[2] Chapters 40-66 come from another prophet, proclaiming his message during the time of Cyrus of Persia (539 B.C) and later.  This was at least 150 years after Isaiah proclaimed the first 39 chapters, from 742 until 701 B.C. (and perhaps until 687 B.C.).

[3] See Belden C. Lane’s remarkable book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality

[4] Philip Pfatteicher, Journey Into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year (Oxford University Press, 2013), page 51.

[5] See “Soon and very soon,” Hymn #439 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

[6] These are the four themes we’re highlighting this year at St. Stephen, one for each of the four weeks of Advent.

Keep Awake

Mark 13:24-37      Advent 1      November 30, 2014

Have you noticed what a crazy day it is? Today is the first day of the New Year. Did you watch the ball drop and sing Auld Lang Syne? No? It’s the first day of the new liturgical year. The church marches to a different drummer, doesn’t it? It is a crazy day. We have readings that sound like science-fiction. We use words like apocalyptic and eschatological to describe them. With mysterious and symbolic imagery, apocalyptic literature reveals something new or something hidden. Eschatological writings speak of our ultimate destiny and of end times.

As much as our readings seem to speak of the end, today, the first day of the church’s new year, is the beginning. Today is the first Sunday in Advent. The color of this season is blue, reported to be like the blue of the sky right before dawn, blue that is waiting for the rise of the sun to begin a new day. Blue is also the color of hope.

Perhaps it is hard to hear the hope in Mark’s gospel reading for this morning. Listen again to Mark’s words: “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”

“But in those days, after that suffering,” Jesus says. What days? What suffering? Jesus had just come out of the temple, when one of his disciples pointed to the building, commenting on its largeness. Jesus told them that the temple would be destroyed[1]. The world, as they knew it, would end. Then Peter, James, John and Andrew—the inner circle– walked with Jesus to the Mount of Olives and sat down. They said to Jesus, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the signs? How will we know?” “The sun will be black, the moon will hide, and stars will fall out of the heavens,” Jesus answered. There will be darkness before there will be light.

Darkness did come. When Mark wrote his gospel, it seemed that the end was near. Just as Jesus said, the temple was destroyed by the Romans. The emperor spent his time thinking up new ways for Christians to be tortured and die. False messiahs and false prophets were hard to distinguish from true ones. It was a dark time.

It is a dark time. Intentional fires, riots and more gun violence took place after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown. The Middle East, among other places, continues to be torn by war. Some human beings still do not have adequate shelter, or food, or medical care. Cancer still ravages bodies, and death still leaves holes in hearts.

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that it is when things seem the darkest, that the Son of Man will come. In Mark’s community, some thought that Jesus would return before they took their last earthly breath. Mark himself seems to be uncertain, for while he writes “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” he also writes, “But about that day or hour no ones knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

We wait, living in the “now and not yet.” God has come to us as a human, as a baby whose family heard him giggle when his dad tickled him, and made marks on the wall as he grew too tall for his tunic. They watched as he was tortured and nailed to a cross, and then gasped in awe at his empty tomb.

We participate in Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection when we gather around the altar to receive Jesus’ body and blood. While we live in the resurrection, we also live in the not yet, waiting, as we confess this morning in our creed, until Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and dead. We wait for his kingdom that will have no end. Already Jesus has established the means through which we are drawn into relationship with God, but we do not yet live in complete communion with God. Already the realm of God is evident, but that realm is not yet fully established.

Our morning light delays its arrival, and our evening darkness comes earlier, our days shorten, and the night takes over. Advent is about waiting in the dark, watching for the light of the new day to come. We gather together in community to light another candle while we wait. Waiting is hard, as anyone who is pregnant knows. Or if you have gone to DMV. Or if you have been on the phone for help from Verizon.

Jesus tells us to keep awake while we wait. I’m not sure we are asleep! Some of us in fact were up quite early on Black Friday morning. We are traveling, visiting, shopping, wrapping, cooking, caroling and writing cards. But maybe Jesus isn’t referring to being busy. Maybe Jesus is talking about paying attention. Maybe Jesus is telling us to notice the “now” of God’s kingdom because, unlike our waiting at DMV, noticing the “now” of God’s kingdom will help us to wait for Christ’s coming again with hope.

Even now we experience the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. God acts through rescue workers who come in to help in restoration efforts after earthquakes and flooding. Sponsors walk beside addicts, encouraging them as they struggle with sobriety. Churches provide shelter for those with no warm, safe, dry place to be. People provide clothing and cook for those who are naked and hungry. Estranged family members say, “I’m sorry. Can we start over?” People pray for those who are sick, and call those who feel alone. Love sparks, and a life partner is found—sometimes even late in life.

I challenge you to keep awake this Advent season. Keep awake by noticing all the ways God is at work in our world. I encourage you to write down those things you see and hear. Keep an Advent journal, and write in it every day. Where do you see people working for justice for those who have no power and no voice? Do you hear words of reconciliation spoken? Pay attention to the ways in which people care for each other. Rather than let worry keep you awake, let gratitude keep you awake! Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

~Pastor Cheryl Griffin

[1] The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

 

Bearing the Fruit of Generosity

Matthew 25:31-46      Christ the King     November 23, 2014

 

Are you a liturgical nerd?   Do you know that today is the last Sunday in Pentecost?  Then you might be a liturgical nerd!  The season of Pentecost begins with the Day of Pentecost.  This year, the Day of Pentecost was June 8.  It’s been Pentecost ever since.

Today, the last Sunday in Pentecost, is the last Sunday of the liturgical year.   Next Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent.   Advent begins a new liturgical year.   (Do you feel like a liturgical nerd yet?)

Today is the Sunday of Christ the King.   In fact, “Christ the King” is redundant!   “Christ” means “God’s anointed king.”  (The Hebrew for “Christ” is “Messiah.”)   In the Old Testament book of Samuel, you can read about Saul, who was God’s first anointed king.   The next king, David, was the greatest of God’s anointed kings.   King David and then his son, King Solomon, led Israel as a world power for about 80 years.   But then God’s people endured 800 years of military defeat and occupation and devastation.   For centuries, they longed for a new king David.  They looked for a coming messiah who would restore them to military and political power.

Who do we say the messiah is; the Christ?   We say Jesus is the Christ.   But was Jesus the king that God’s people expected?   Jesus did not come as a triumphant king.   In fact, the lectionary readings make this clear.   Next year, on Christ the King Sunday, we’ll read the gospel story of Jesus, beat up and bedraggled and standing before Pontius Pilate who asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?”[1]   Two years from now, we’ll read a story of Jesus hanging on the cross – with the inscription: “This is the King of the Jews.”[2]

In this morning’s reading, at least, there’s the promise of future glory.   We read, When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.   There’s an expectation that had grown up by the time the stories in Matthew were compiled.  Do you see it here?   The “Son of Man” was a figure who had been expected for more than 200 years by the time Jesus was born, one who would come from God in judgment, to end history and establish justice and peace.  Here the Son of Man is identified with Christ, who will come again – and who will bring power that Jesus himself never exercised!   We look for that.   “Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.”

However, on this Sunday of Christ the King, that is not the primary focus of the reading.   Instead, we are reminded that Jesus the Christ is intimately present with us – even and especially in human suffering!   Remember what he says to “the sheep at his right hand?”  Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”   When did that happen?   Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

What a stunning description of God’s presence in our human lives!

This morning’s passage ends with a warning of judgment.   Whenever there is judgment in the Bible, it’s because God’s people have not taken care of the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, those who are estranged, those without adequate clothing, those who are sick or in prison.   (I don’t know why religious people spend so much time talking about sex, when taking care of the poor is so much more important to God!)

Of course, a passage like this one can be frightening!   What if we haven’t done a good enough job of taking care of the poor?   As the Son of Man-Jesus says to the goats at his left hand: You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”  Is it according to our performance in taking care of the poor that we earn either the reward of heaven or the punishment of hell?

There are words that deepen the mystery and suggest that it’s not so simple.  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”   Do you see what’s going on here?  The “righteous,” those who performed well, didn’t even know that they were doing that!   They didn’t calculate!   They didn’t check their checkbooks or their calendars first!   They simply gave of themselves.   Their generosity was spontaneous.

When is your generosity spontaneous?

You give of yourself spontaneously when your love is deep, right?   When you don’t have to think about it, when you don’t have to calculate, you’re feeling called to give of yourself and your money.   It’s God the Holy Spirit calling you to that response!

Generosity is fruit of the Spirit.   It’s in that list that Paul teaches the Galatians (and us!): the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[3]  How radical this is!   Our volition is involved.   But that’s only our response.   We receive the very ability to be generous from God the Holy Spirit!

I do not hesitate to be specific about the need for all of us to bear the fruit of generosity – in giving our money, our time, and our abilities to support our congregation’s ministries in 2015.   That’s because everything that will be in our ministry budget will go towards caring for those who are in need, and bringing the presence of God to those who are suffering.   It’s why we do everything we do as church!   Why do we gather for worship and study, or even just to have fun?   It is to give thanks to God for the blessings of this day, and to receive nourishment from the Spirit to do the work God has given us to do.

That work is to embody Christ’s compassion to those who are hungry and thirsty and estranged and naked and sick and locked up in prison.   But Christ’s compassion is not limited to literal, physical suffering.   We embody Christ’s compassion to each other and to those we encounter who are spiritually hungry and thirsty; who are hungering and thirsting for God, for meaning, for hope, for joy.   We embody Christ’s compassion not only to those who do not have enough clothes to wear, but also those who are naked in any way: those who are vulnerable and at risk.   We embody Christ’s compassion to those who are sick, for instance, with “affluenza” – those who suffer fomr the hollow the pursuit of materialism, but who don’t know how to get to deeper meaning in life.   We embody Christ’s compassion to those who are imprisoned by regret or fear.   We welcome the stranger in this place – that’s why we built the Gathering Space out there, and why we wear name tags – but we also embody Christ’s compassion towards those who are estranged from family, or friends, or any kind of support group.

The reason for being generous in supporting the ministry program of our congregation is because here we provide community for each other as we learn from the Holy Spirit and from each other how to bring compassion to those in need, in the places of our ministries, where God has given us work to do.   It’s why we have a church staff and a building with all its expenses: so we can gather for worship and study; to be nourished by God the Holy Spirit; so we can scatter from this place to act with the compassion of Christ the King.

If you pick up your giving packets this morning, you’ll save us a boatload of postage!   I recommend a tool you’ll find in that packet, which I have used for years so that my generosity towards the congregation will be as spontaneous as possible.   I use this “Growth Giving Challenge” sheet.  It allows me to see the percentage of my income that I give to support the congregation.

Years ago I worked up to a tithe of 10% (and then a little bit beyond that!).   I worked up to that level of generosity year-by-year, increasing my giving by 1% of my income each year.   Now, I use this worksheet now to make sure I’m above 10%.   Then I fill out my “Estimate of Giving Card.”   And I don’t have to think about it anymore!   I simply pull out the card to see what I should write on the check.   It’s automatic.  I don’t have to calculate more than once a year!   I’m not like those who are righteous in the gospel story this morning, who didn’t even know they were bearing the fruit of generosity.   But it’s as close as I can come!   (And, yes, I’m old fashioned.  I still use checks.   But while I was on sabbatical last summer, I discovered that it sure is easy to use the on-line giving portal!   It even told me what I had to include to cover the 3% fee that’s charged to the congregation.)

I invite you to join me in generously supporting our congregation because God the Holy Spirit moves among us when we gather, to strengthen us for mission out in the places of our ministries, where God gives us our work to do.

In the name of God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Pastor Andy Ballentine

 

[1] John 18:33-37

[2] Luke 23:33-42

[3] Galatians 5:22-23

(If you would like a copy of an earlier sermon, e-mail Pastor Ballentine or Pastor Griffin and s/he’ll send you a copy!)