A sermon preached at John Knox Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on November 16, 2014.
Editorial note: I’m working on correcting spacing issues. Thank you for your patience in the meantime.
Sometimes the stories I come across make me pause for a minute.
Take, for instance, this story from Tony Campolo I read this week:
Tony tells about the time when his son, Bart, was nine years old,
and Tony took Bart to Disneyland in California.
“Nowadays, there’s a huge general admission…” Tony explains…
“But back in the old days
you bought tickets for the rides you wanted to enjoy.
At the end of the day, as we were leaving,
little Bart turned to me and said,
“I want one more ride on Space Mountain!”
I told him we were out of tickets, you see,
and out of time too…
Bart responded, “But, but, Jesus wants me to go!”
Intrigued by his theological claim to be able to read the mind of God,
I asked where he got such an idea.
He responded, “From you!
Sunday, when you were preaching, you said that whenever we cry,
You said that He feels everything we feel.
Well, if that’s true,
then when I’m having a really happy time on the roller coaster,
He’s really enjoying Himself too!
So I KNOW He wants me to have one more ride on space mountain…!”
I know you might get a chuckle out of that, but it is a big CAUTION sign to me,
reading that this week,
particularly as my kids start getting older, wiser,
more nuanced with their arguments with their mommy and their daddy.
I’ll have to be more careful in what I say.
Compolo, however, seems to think that this is good theology:
“I am convinced…” he says, pondering this a little bit….
“…that God so empathizes with us
that our emotions are experienced by Him.
One of the reasons God sent His Son into the world was because,
in feeling the pain and sorrow of our lives so acutely,
[God] wanted us to be relieved of them,
so that [God] could be relieved of them…
No wonder Jesus said, “I have come that my Joy might be in you,
and that your Joy might be full…”
“And by the way,” he concludes,
“Bart did get another ride on Space Mountain…”[i]
I marvel at the God who is at the heart of our faith:
this gift giving
heart opening God.
This God who challenges and nurtures and creates and heals.
That God. The God of rollercoasters and of incarnation.
Sure, this is Pledge Dedication Sunday, or Community Celebration Day
if you want another way to think about it,
the day we wrap up our specific focus on Stewardship
and begin to get our heads around Thanksgiving
and even Advent.
But if there’s anything that I hope you’ve heard during this stewardship season
its that stewardship isn’t a season specific thing.
Stewardship isn’t about money. Not Really.
Financial gifts are important, sure, essential even,
if we’re going to have a place to call church and some funds to work with
But Stewardship isn’t ABOUT that.
This isn’t a NPR pitch week where we’re seeking matching grants.
The church isn’t a good cause that seeks a few dollars of support
and then invites you to go on your merry way.
Stewardship is all about our relationship with God.
That God: the gift giving, love seeking, heart opening God.
The God who loves you. You.
The God who created you with the image of God inside of you,
who filled you with the very breath of God, the ruach of God
and set you free to care for all things God created.
Lest we get hung up with the reading from Genesis
with its language of dominion over and subdue
just a few short words later,
God clarifies that: the earth creature is to till the creation
to keep it, to tend and to care.
And it is from THAT language, keeping and tending all that God has created
the world God has blessed us with
that we get our idea of stewardship.
Stewardship: all about our relationship with God.
So lets talk about your relationship with God.
How’s that Going? How is God moving and acting and responding in your life?
Well, I imagine if you are like me, then the answer to that really depends
on when you catch me.
I wrote down this week some of the times I particularly sense God’s presence.
That’s a pretty amazing activity, if you’ve not done that before.
And not everyone’s list ought to be the same, to be honest.
People experience God differently, because we’re all different. And that’s ok.
Plus its hard to sense God’s presence. To be still and know that God is there.
Particularly true in the hustle and bustle of our modern day lives.
But I spent 15 or 20 minutes or so at my list:
I had a few examples of being in the presence of absolute beauty:
–on a mesa top in Northern New Mexico, peering out over the valley below
just when a storm system rolled in, and the sun peaked through just right
–when I first saw my newborn daughters together, all swaddled up
eyes gooped, mouths open in full scream
I wrote down a few examples when I felt loved, unconditionally
by friends and my wife and teachers and
well, people who had excuse NOT to but who did anyway.
Mistakes made and forgiven. A couple of those.
Or a few instances of incredible mercy, amazing justice
God amidst the people fighting for equality in the civil rights movement
or some people, nameless and faceless, because it wasn’t about THEM,
just a few humble people from First Presbyterian Church in Chicago
who made sandwiches
and handed them out every Saturday on the streets
or mission trips to Guatemala or Alabama or Colorado or Tennessee
trips where WE were supposed to mainly be doing the mission
and coming home having RECEIVED so much love and care
from those we encountered along the way.
Who was giving and who was serving, exactly?
Or I can tell you how, this past week,
I was in a meeting where serious things were being talked about
and I didn’t always agree with where things were going,
but these words from Paul came to mind
and I gave a silent word of thanks for the gifts of God
sitting around this table or on this phone call
trying to find a solution to whatever it was we were discussing.
A quick mindfulness that they, too, were created in the image of God,
they, too, have gifts and skills and goodness in them
and right THERE, God was with me.
Sometimes, if you ask me, I can tell you these things about my own
relationship with God.
And there are sometimes, if I’m honest
that I am so stressed or frazzled or tired or disconnected
that its hard for me to answer quickly where God has been lately.
Or I feel alone. Or the actions of others who claim the name of Christ
are so hurtful, so painful
that I tune out, and don’t see God hurting there too.
Sometimes, if I’m honest, I can’t answer so readily.
That’s not to say God hasn’t been there.
Just that sometimes I don’t see it.
Stewardship is all about our relationship with God,
the God who created you and loves you, and me, whether we see it or not
whether we acknowledge it or not.
Discerning God in our lives is sometimes easy, and sometimes hard.
One of the things we believe is that we do that work better together
with a regular opportunity to hear Scripture and meditate about God
through sermon and song and prayer and silence
with friendships and people who can help us feel God alive in our midst.
It is also a year round activity. It is why the church is the church,
why we come together in the first place:
to hear God’s story and to find our place in it
to remind ourselves and to remind others that God is love
and that Love wins
Stewardship, when we think about it properly
is about discipleship, its about faith, and its about belonging
belonging first to the God who made and loves you
crazy, wildly loves you,
but, also, about belonging, for a time,
to a particular community of people
who can help you feel God
and enable you to go with God in the world.
This people, the Kirk.
So at pledge dedication Sunday here at the Kirk
we are pondering out loud:
What gifts have God given you?
What are the relationships, the skills,
the resources, the passions, the hopes
that God has given you?
Where do you feel God alive in the world?
Where do you feel God in your life?
If the answers are hard, that’s ok. If they flow readily, that’s ok too.
Either way, they are the precursor to your offering back to God.
In our tradition, the story of God’s crazy abundant love
isn’t just meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy,
though it often does that.
Its not just supposed to get us away from assuming we have to do things
to be made right with God…God loves us anyway.
And its not supposed to make us feel like that’s all there is,
that we’re all good, thank you very much
now I’ll turn back to tweeting about the Royals some more.
No. The story of God’s crazy abundant love is meant to lead to even more joy
the opportunity to give it back, to magnify it, to share it.
What’s that child’s song?
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more….
That’s GOOD theology too.
Now, we have a time every Sunday in our service called the Offering
and the point of the Offering isn’t just to collect money.
You might think that, but it is not true.
People give all sorts of ways, not just that way.
The point of the offering is to offer a moment in worship,
where we respond to God, give thanks to God
note that all that we have, all that we are, is a gift
and that we dedicate it back to the abundant giver.
We might need to think about ways we can broaden the offering
to seem to be more about money.
But for today, when you came in,
you should have been given a little sheet of paper with your bulletin
and you might be wondering what that’s all about.
Well, a bit later in the service, when we collect our offering,
we’re going to do it a bit differently.
All who are able will be invited to bring your offerings forward
along with your pledge cards, if you have them.
Now, not everyone has an offering on Sunday mornings.
Our family mails ours in, for instance.
And not everyone will be bringing a pledge card.
Maybe you left yours at home. Or are prayerfully pondering it.
Or aren’t sure you can make a pledge.
Or maybe you’re a guest or a visitor,
and you might be pondering whether this community
is the right one for you to help you grow
in how you experience the presence of God.
But offering is so much more than those two things.
Everyone can bring an offering. Everyone can BE an offering.
Whether or not you pledge or place an offering in the plate
your gifts are valuable, and cherished, and useful for God
as God seeks to work in the world.
So I have a third thing you might bring forward today, everyone of us.
Take a moment, and think about what God has given YOU
that you can use for the common good.
Write it down on the paper. Not your name. We don’t need that.
Just a gift. Just something which you recognize God gave you
that you might want to give back so others might know love too.
It might be something you want to use or plan to use because you are at the Kirk
or it might be something completely unrelated to this place.
What has God given you that you are thankful for, that you want to give back?
Take a moment.
. . .
And when our offering time comes, bring that slip of paper too
whether or not you have a financial gift or a pledge card today, bring that too,
and we will join them all together in our prayers of thanksgiving today.
Our theme this year has been Today and Tomorrow, the Body of Christ.
Paul tells us that each one of us is a part of the Body of Christ.
There are no unimportant parts, there are no trivial gifts.
Each one of us has parts to play, gifts to bring, stories to share
testimony to offer, hugs to give.
And here at the Kirk we do this together, a community of people seeking God
wanting to share God with others through loving and serving the world.
And the joy of it all, for me, is that RIGHT THERE I see God too,
alive and dancing and celebrating and inspiring us
doing new things in our midst.
All Together—Today and Tomorrow: the Body of Christ.
Thanks be to God, to the one who gives us so much out of God’s crazy wild love
who delights when we share it wildly too.
[i] Tomy Campolo, Let Me Tell You A Story (Nashville: Word Publishing) 2000, p 12