Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Living Into Jubilee - a sermon

There have been so many positive comments, emails, phone calls and hand written cards in response to this sermon I thought it was suitable for sharing with a larger community. With thanks to Cheesehead for an alternative look at Mark's rich man. :-)

Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Our jubilee year ended with the big celebration last Sunday. The Jubilee committee is breathing a sigh of relief - it’s OVER! We have a few last details to take care of at our next and final meeting, but the Jubilee year - the year of preparation for the celebration and for the future is over. Now we can plant the seeds in our rested and rejuvenated fields, knowing we will have a bountiful harvest through God’s grace.

How appropriate, then, that the gospel reading for today should be the story of the rich man who was asked to give all he owned to the poor - and walked away shaking his head.
This may be the preacher’s least favorite of all passages to preach. We moan and complain to each other when the lectionary brings us this passage, or the story of the widow’s mite. We know that nobody wants to hear a straight up stewardship sermon. We know that a lot of folks say they don’t come to church because “all they really want from me is my money!”
We all assume that this rich man loved his money so much he wasn’t willing to live without the big house, the nice clothes, the power and status that come with wealth. And surely, very few people today would happily give up our cars, Tvs, beds and kitchens to become homeless folks wandering around to preach the word of God. If we, like the rich man, are responsible for a family’s welfare, we would certainly walk away shaking our heads - how could we give away the things our children need to be warm and well fed and safe? How hard that would be - how could anyone even ask us to do that?

We assume this was the end of the story for him. But we don’t know that for sure. Perhaps he walked away to a quiet place, where he could pray and reflect Where he could spend time in discernment of God’s call on his life. And then, who knows? Maybe, later, even maybe after Pentecost - he did do what Jesus asked of him. In seminary I met many men and women who gave up established careers as architects, nurses, engineers, psychologists, teachers, human resources directors, accountants, small business owners, even lawyers! to follow the call they had received. They left their homes, and in some cases lost their families, to follow the call they had received. For every one of them, giving up what they knew and were comfortable with was a hard decision. For many it was a decision that was years in the making. Like the rich man of the story, at first they walked away shaking their heads.

The thing about God’s call on our lives is that, if we don’t pay attention the first time, God won’t give up. We’ll hear that call again and again until we finally do what we are called to do. We keep being given new opportunities to say yes -

Next week 12 or so of us will give three days of our lives to go to Regional Assembly. A few of my colleagues are seriously envious, because they will be the only person attending Assembly from their church. But this congregation has a long and respected history of service to the church in our Region. Many of our members have been on one or another of the Region’s Boards and committees over the last 50 years. And we still serve the Regional Church. Linda has been serving as Moderator for 4 years, her term ends next week. Gayle serves on Regional Board and GLAD. Gwen serves on the GLAD Executive Board I serve on Disciples Women’s Executive Committee and the Church in Society Committee. Ton’Ee serves on the Disciples Pastors and Partners Executive Committee. We serve by attending Regional Assembly and voting on the issues, by participating in the Unity Walk, by showing up at installations and other Regional events. Hank and Gil even served the region last week by playing golf!

What are you willing to give to serve God in the church? In light of today’s passage, the first thing that naturally comes to mind is money. When Lupe and I were preparing for her baptism, I asked her where she thought the money in the offering plate went. She answered “to help the poor.” And a lot of it does. Last year between regular offerings, extraordinary giving for natural disasters around the world, and our Talents program we nearly tripled our outreach giving! But she was surprised to hear that most of the offering money goes just to pay the bills - the same way most of our income at home does. It’s a lot easier to ask for money to help hurricane victims than it is to ask for money for the electric bill and copy paper. There is no question but that this congregation is very generous in our giving. Last week in his offering meditation Hank pointed out that every year our budgeted expenses exceed our expected income by about $20,000, yet somehow we manage to get the bills paid and increase our outreach giving. The week before that, Mark challenged us to tear up the checks we had already written, and write a new one for a larger amount - he asked us not just to give an amount that would still leave us feeling financially comfortable, but to give more than we think we can afford.

Money is actually the easiest thing for us to give. The hardest things for us to give are time, effort, and creativity. People who serve the church, as ordained or licensed ministers - people who serve the church on boards and committees - people who take weeks or months creating works of art to be shared with the congregation - People who make phone calls to ask us for prayer or to bring food to a pot luck - people who make sure the lights are all working, the windows are clean, the bread and cup are all ready for communion - all these give up something of great value in God’s service.

We’re looking at a new beginning - the beginning of our next fifty years as well as the beginning of a new church year. In December we’ll be voting on new board officers and a new budget. We’ll be asked to pledge our giving for next year, for the first time in many years. You might be asked to serve in a new or different way. And your first response may well be “that’s a lot of work!” You may think you don’t have the time or the energy to take on even one more thing. I remember asking June to take on the challenge of sending cards and she wasn‘t sure she could do it - but I know, we all know, that now she thinks of this ministry as a blessing. Last Sunday Jody - who together with Gwen spent a lot of time tracking down former members so they could be invited to the Jubilee - came to me after the worship and said “I didn’t want to serve on the Jubilee committee because I thought it would take up too much time and effort, and it was a lot of work, but now I am so grateful that I did. I have seen people today I haven‘t seen in decades and may never see again.”

Jesus said “You can be sure that anyone who gives up home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for me and for the good news will be rewarded.” It is hard to give up our lives to serve God, to carry the Good News, to follow the teachings of Jesus. But he asks nothing less than the gift of our lives - not an hour or so on Sunday - not 10% of our money or our time - but the totality of our lives. He asks that we dedicate every moment to the service of God. And the rewards are indeed great, far greater than any sacrifice we may make. When we are living according to the Good News, emulating Jesus through our love and compassion and service to others, we do indeed have a hundred times as many houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and pieces of land, for we have become part of a much larger family in Christ. That may not be so obvious to most of us, but those of us who travel in service to the church - like Linda and Doug - find themselves with family where ever they go. Welcomed into the arms and homes of strangers. Fed by people they never met before. Accepted with love and without question, because they come in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is not why we serve, but it is one of the rewards we have been promised. When we give of ourselves, the gifts we receive are far greater than we can imagine.

When we leave this place today, let us keep in our minds the image of the rich man walking away from Jesus. Let us consider what it means to give up our lives to follow Jesus - and may we all decide for him, so that when God calls on us - when we are called upon to give and to serve, to His greater glory - we can say “Here I am, Lord.”

Hymn Here I Am, Lord

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