I am in my third and final year of my lay-ministry program and I'm trying to get a sense of the direction my "calling" will take me. I have had the honor of being the guest "preacher" at our church on a few occassions. I have also been asked to consider being the Chaplain to the Volunteer Fire Department, but I think I'd like to be a volunteer fire fighter! Social justice is a passion of mine--I believe in human rights and that we all are entitled to dignity and respect and that our policies and actions should reflect that. So, I'll keep my ears and heart open for signs. This page will host sermons I have written and/or given as well as some thought papers I've done for my Lay-Minstry program.
The $600 Billion Challenge
“Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett are asking the nation's billionaires to pledge to give at least half their net worth to charity, in their lifetimes or at death. If their campaign succeeds, it could change the face of philanthropy.”
So reads the headlines of the June 16, 2010 on-line Fortune Magazine.
In the August 4 news cycles it was reported that they and 38 (of the estimated 400) billionaires vowed to give away half their fortunes.
Imagine the change this could make in our society if they are as successful as they hope--$600 billion given to charity! It has the potential to dramatically change the charitable behavior of Americans. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a direct line to one of them?
But, I imagine the billionaires are feeling a bit anxious about the whole thing--What does going public with big gifts do to the peace in your life? Won't pleas from charities be unending?
Bill & Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet wanted that “a small group of dedicated philanthropists be somehow assembled to discuss strategies for spreading the gospel to others.”
Luke tells us in today’s reading:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
I don’t know if Bill, Melinda and Warren had this passage in mind when they started the $600 Billion Challenge but it does make me go hmmmmm.
What I do know is that I’m not a billionaire but I do have a very rich life. So what is the message here?
Luke tells us that it is God's good pleasure to give us the kingdom. So, maybe He’s challenging us to give in response to God's gift: sell your possessions and give alms--give to those who are poor.
Some very smart Biblical Scholars tell us that almsgiving, along with prayer and fasting, make up the foundation of Jewish devotion. And this important tradition of almsgiving and praying and fasting continued in the early Christian communities. The giving they did was directed to those who did not have what they needed. Giving had a certain priority, and that priority was concern for the poor. Almsgiving was a way of doing justice.
I don’t believe Jesus is telling us to literally sell everything and give away the proceeds. I think he’s saying to look at our lives and what’s keeping us from His Kingdom. What are we holding onto in this world–stuff that won’t last anyway. Are we good stewards of our gifts? Isn’t the kind of life Jesus is talking about more about choosing to live more simply, choosing to intentionally have less stuff, choosing to cease from amassing more stuff? Isn’t it about choosing to discover our sense of well-being in a just sharing of material possessions?
Be generous in giving to those in need.
If we do this, God will reward us with lasting riches in heaven.
“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If we read the last verse closely, we see that Jesus tells us that our heart will follow our treasure. Jesus knows that our hearts are quite often not where our stated priorities are -- the heart does not follow the head. Our hearts follow our treasure—our stuff.
Throughout much of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus talks to His disciples about their fears and worries and each time reminds them that God knows where they are and what they need. Jesus also calls His disciples to responsibility—to focus on seeking God's kingdom.
Jesus is teaching us what really matters in life. He is reminding us life is about more than making the next appointment, retrieving all the E-mail, aiming for the next promotion, or taking the dream vacation.
So, whether you’re a billionaire or a farmer, Jesus reminds us of what really matters. He understands our tendency to get wrapped up in the things of this life. Many of these may be good things, but they become a higher priority than knowing God. They become the focus of our lives . . .
Jesus makes it very clear that He wants our treasure to be in heaven.
Rest A While
How many of you are on vacation? How many of you need to be on vacation? What’s vacation mean to you? What images just popped into your minds? Now, I know Alex has just repeated the dialogue from the movie, Forrest Gump—“when you go somewhere... and you don't ever come back.” But we’re not going to go there this morning.
Is vacation an opportunity to go to new and exotic places? Or to revisit familiar places? Is it time to visit family and friends? Or to go on an adventure?
I know that when I plan a vacation I have grand plans to do all the things I don’t always have time to do in my day-to-day life. I bring my running clothes and my iPod chock full of high energy songs, my water color paints and pencils, a jigsaw puzzle, my laptop, my camera, my bathing suit and goggles, my skis, my snowshoes, and a couple of books.
How many of you know what I’m talking about? What are your favorite things to bring and do on vacation? I tell myself that I’m going to get up early everyday and go for a jog, get some sort of exercise everyday, then find some time to get in touch with my creative side, finish up some projects, and find some time to catch up on Oprah’s or the New York Time’s book list.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus recognized that they needed a rest, time to recharge their batteries. The disciples had just returned from their missions. They had been out healing the sick, casting out demons, and spreading Jesus’ message. Next week we will hear about Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes. Jesus knew what his disciples had been doing and what was coming and He understood their need for rest.
Our family recently spent a few days in Wellfleet on Cape Cod (along with 25,000 other people) in search of just that – a deserted place all by ourselves to rest a while.
We have become complicit with the idea that the only way to find peace and quiet is to go away far away from home, spend inordinate amounts of money in a very short amount of time, wait in line with lots and lots of really, really loud people and rush really, really fast to have a good time all in order to slowwwww down.
I’m not sure that is what Jesus had in mind when he invited his disciples to come away to a deserted place - all by ourselves to rest while.
Isn’t that really what we’re looking for? Time away to rest a while?
The Gospel story goes on to tell us that the only time away they actually get is a brief time in a boat traveling along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The story tells us that upon arrival at the other side, they’re met by a crowd of thousands seeking to be healed. “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” Back to work.
Just for some perspective, the far side of Galilee was a territory avoided by some of the strict Jews. Many of the inhabitants there were of mixed blood. The Pharisees saw them as no better than the despised Gentiles.
It was supposed to be Jesus’ day off. He was hoping to get away from the pressures of ministry and relax. Everyone’s entitled to that, aren’t they? Jesus took his disciples across the lake to get away from the crowds for a while. He was very weary. He went to the unpopular shore looking for a bit of peace and quiet. Yet when he arrived, another crowd of needy people found him there and he did not send them away. He let them invade his space and Jesus had time for them.
Could the disciples take advantage of their time to rest? Did they even have time to rest? Could they take advantage of their brief time alone with Jesus?
Do I take advantage of my time with Jesus? Did I pack Jesus along with my other favorite things? Did I, in my planning, schedule time for Jesus? For my faith? Jesus called his disciples back after their mission work. Is Jesus calling us back? Back from our pressures? Back from our modern-day version of healing and demon-casting? Back to Him?
I never end up using half the stuff I bring along or doing most of the things on my mental list. Instead I trade my morning jog for a second cup of coffee with Barbara in the morning quiet before the kids get up. Instead of painting, I sit and watch the kids ride the waves. Instead of reading I stare at the ocean and take in the wonders of God. It isn’t about how much we accomplish; it’s about our relationship with Jesus.
Today’s Gospel sounds to me more like an invitation to prayer, to centering, to grounding, to finding focus to prepare for the work and works ahead. Jesus is our vacation. Our calming balm, our peaceful waters, our golden sunset.
Through Jesus we are able to celebrate life in joy and grief. He is the one who is there for people, even on his day off.
As Bobby said after a rather fabulous afternoon at the beach, “For all those who haven’t gone on vacation, Lord hear our prayers.”
Have you noticed that people in the Bible are always going somewhere? From Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, to Moses leading his people from Egypt to the Promised Land, to Abraham “going from the country of your kindred…,” to Jacob’s journeys from Canaan to Bethel and beyond, to Jonah traveling to Nineveh, to Mary and Joseph going from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth, to Jesus’ ministry from Galilee to Capernaum to Bethany to Jerusalem and to the Apostles travels everywhere.
Today, in the Old Testament reading, Jonah was instructed by God to “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city…” In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus invites Simon and Andrew and later James and John, to “follow me…..”
What must that have been like for them? No cars, trains, busses, planes—no public transportation to speak of—so the only way to get there was by walking—or if you could afford it, by mule or camel. And the walking wasn’t all that easy—dry rocky desert, hot sun beating down. They would have had to carry whatever supplies they needed—water, food--no rest stations along the way—no Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, 7-11s. No MapQuest, GPS or Tom-Toms to make sure they were heading in the right direction. A journey with just God’s word as their guide.
Jonah at least had a destination—Nineveh, and an objective —to proclaim God’s message. The earlier chapters of Jonah tell us that he wasn’t too keen on doing what God asked. In fact he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction thinking he could put some distance between him and God. But, as we know, Jonah couldn’t deny God’s call. The first disciples didn’t know where they were going and only had a vague idea of what they’d be doing—“I will make you fish for people.” Unlike Jonah, they seemed eager to drop everything and follow. A journey with just God’s invitation to His will.
And what about what they left behind? Their families, homes jobs, friends, responsibilities. Who picked up the pieces after they left? Who provided for their families? Practical questions for what seems an impractical request.
What about our journeys? What is like for us today? Do we hear God’s call? It may not have the magnitude of Jonah’s call to warn a city of imminent doom and destruction or the anticipatory excitement of being in Jesus’ presence, spreading His message. But don’t we hear Him? Don’t we see injustice, prejudice, loneliness, discrimination, inequality? What’s God calling us to do? Haven’t we found ourselves in situations that just didn’t feel right? Haven’t we thought, “Someone should do something?” I challenge us to think of ourselves as the “someone.” Where will our journeys take us? Are we ready and willing to make our journey with just God’s urging as our path.
Was their faith better, stronger, different? We know Jonah’s wasn’t—he ran away. Did they have less to lose than we do? Were their lives more flexible than ours? Are our responsibilities bigger than what theirs were? Simon, Andrew, James and John had fishing businesses, families, friends, they were members of a synagogue…. So what was different?
How many of us planned on being where we are right now—geographically, emotionally, spiritually? Very few of us have stayed on the path we started on 5, 10, 20 years ago. Each encounter we have, every choice we make, takes on a new path—a new journey. People we meet, jobs we’ve had, places we’ve visited and lived, experiences we’ve had--all have an impact on our lives and others’ lives. The classic holiday movie, “Its A Wonderful Life,” gives the main character, George Bailey, a chance to see how his journey has impacted not just him, but an entire community. What a mixed blessing that would be—to see where we’d be if we had chosen a different journey.
Where is God for us on our journeys? Are we listening and following or are we running in the opposite direction? When God called His people to go, He went along, nudging, guiding, directing, correcting, insisting. Even when they tested his patience—over and over again. He’ll do the same for us on our journey. God promises to be with us no matter what. In today’s Psalm we hear, “Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God; who is refuge for us.” To bring a more contemporary reference, in the Carrie Underwood song, “Don’t Forget To Remember Me,” the mother tells her daughter, “Here's a map and here's a Bible if you ever lose your way.”
Trust what you hear God calling you to do. Have faith in the path of your journey. Don’t let the static of our busy, over-programmed lives block out God. It wasn’t easy for Jonah, Simon, Andrew, James and John to leave their responsibilities and all that was familiar and safe, to journey into the unknown. But they had faith that God was with them. God is with us, now and always. We just need to listen and be willing to trust. We must make God’s word our guide and respond to His invitation to do his will.
Michael Card’s song, “Joy In The Journey” tells us, “There is a joy in the journey, there's a light we can love on the way. There is a wonder and wildness to life, and freedom for those who obey.”
Let’s make our journey with just God’s promise as our purpose.