Where Your Heart Is: A Committed Heart
This might shock you, but I was once a sorta-ornery kid growing up.
Maybe that doesn’t shock you, come to think of it.
You know, preachers kids,
Get away with everything…
I didn’t do anything bad, not really,
But I did explore a lot, on my own or with one of the other kids.
It helped that the church we moved to was old
A beautiful, English Gothic style building styled by architect Albert Groves
built in 1917.
Deep oak pews that creaked when you sat in them
Abstract stained glass in reds and blues.
Churches like that one, Westminster Presbyterian of Saint Louis
have served generations as a tool for ministry and mission.
And for a curious 13 year old,
It was a like a treasure
Lots of classrooms and closets and dark rooms to explore
(we call those boiler rooms today).
One particular morning I remember looking through some storeroom or another
And flipping through some framed art
That once adorned some wall or another
But which now lived in storage
A friendly home for the dust of a stale basement.
The one I remember was behind two or three other pieces.
I had to flip them over to get to it.
But the one that stood out was a drawing of the sanctuary
A layout of sorts, with the chancel and the pulpit up front
The main and side aisles and the doors at the back
And then all those oak pews
Numbered, even numbers on the right, odd numbers on the left.
It looked a bit like those drawings you see on stub hub
When you’re looking to buy tickets to a play or a concert
And you’re trying to figure out where your seat is going to be.
It was a pew rental chart.
Westminster, like many many churches
In the early 20th century
Funded their ministry through renting out its pews every year.
Can you imagine a time when sermons were the hot ticket?
These churches didn’t do stewardship campaigns
They didn’t invite participants to dream the organization’s dream
And to become part of it.
Instead, they charged top dollar for the front rows
And funded their annual budget more like the Kansas City Chiefs
Than your kids’ soccer team.
All of this emerged when churches in our country
Were trying to figure out how to do church
In a society where there was no public funding, like there used to be in Europe.
It was a different sort of time, and
there was a lot wrong with all this solution.
For one thing, it cultivated class envy, a system of putting the well to do up front.
You might imagine that the most expensive seats were near the exit
Where you could sneak out, but no,
People wanted to be seen.
It became a prideful thing.
This whole enterprise missed
that some people weren’t in a position
to know whether they’d be able to give regularly enough to rent a pew.
And so it relegated them to the bleachers.
Maybe worst of all:
It suggested that worship, or anything in the ministry of a congregation,
was for sale.
It treated church participation, like the rest of society
As governed by a sort of SCARCITY
So that only those with more means could have the unobstructed view
Oh and everyone else can look up to them having it in the meantime.
It was awful.
So the church got rid of the practice quite some time ago,
And in a time where many people decry the commodification of various parts
Of church culture,
We’d do well to remember it was once much worse.
Today things are different. Thanks be to God.
Most churches, instead, seek to INVITE people to join its cause.
It is a conviction that our work is compelling and worthy and life giving
To us, sure, and more so to the world.
We get our guidance for what we are doing from people like Paul,
Who wrote to the Thessalonians about their increase in faith
And the expansion of love for one another in their community.
This is our mission: to grow in faith,
And because of it, to be community minded, loving and serving the world
In Christ’s name.
Today churches seek to explain clearly how, unlike other non-profit entities out there,
congregations are completely self funded by its participants.
No grant money or foundation support undergird our work.
Instead, ALL the mission we talked about last week, that’s something YOU enable.
Pooled resources that fund the time and the labor
That is the heart of our ministry in the community. YOU give that.
This structure, lovingly imagined and built and maintained
As a place where people can gather and pray and get married and say good bye
A place to organize the work of outreach
So we can take chili to teachers at Center Elementary
Or food to Cherith Brook
Or collect units of life saving blood in our atrium
YOU support that.
A building like this is a tool for ministry and mission,
With utility bills and boilers and HVAC equipment to keep us warm and cool and safe
And all the other things that go with that
Accessible doors and insurance payments and code inspections.
Those are not the exciting parts of ministry, of doing good
But they are no less important
For a community of people to have a place to go
To do its work.
YOU do that.
And then there is a staff, your pastor
And a crazy-gifted director of program and Christian education
And our wonderful office administrator
And our talented musicians,
and a couple of custodians, and a youth intern,
These people whom you have asked to help you be about all this work.
These are the needs of a congregation, if we’re going to be a congregation.
And while it is true
that we talk about the underlying principles of stewardship all year long
It is only once a year that we ask one another to consider
what it means to support all of this
Through a pledge of financial support.
I want to explore a bit more with all of you why we do things this way,
And its not just because of the abuses of the old system,
though those are awful in their own right.
Its also because we want to do things in line with our theological convictions
That this world we live in is God’s world,
That the more we understand THAT,
Then the more we see that ALL we have is a GIFT from God
And that God invites us to share these gifts with others
Particularly with those who need them the most.
To see all that we have as gift
And to be able to look around and see that there is so much more going on
So much more possibility
So much more hope
So much more love
So much more food for the hungry, clothing for the naked
Medicine for the sick
In fact, more than enough,
If we can get ourselves around to seeing and sharing it
That is the stuff of ABUNDANCE.
Jesus’ invitation to participate in the realm of God is,
In large part,
an invitation to see that we live in a world of ABUNDANCE, not SCARCITY.
You see this all over the place in the gospels:
–in that moment on the hillside,
when Jesus has been teaching and its getting dark
and 5000 or more have surrounded him
and the disciples are worried that they’re gonna get hungry
and so they ask Jesus to send them away
to find the nearest fast-food restaurants
but Jesus tells THE DISCIPLES to feed them
and out of their five loaves and two fish
and whatever else those 5000 shared
the entire crowd is fed.
— or in the blessing of a widow who gives her last two mites
–or in the approval of workers who invest what is entrusted to them
without burying it in the ground for safe keeping
–or in the consternation of the rich young ruler
by the advice of Jesus to sell what he owned
so that others might thrive and survive,
itself an invitation to TRUST Jesus that its going to be ok.
–or, in this beautiful reading we have before us today
a simple prayer
where the pray-er orients our self to God…hallowed be your name
recognizes God as the giver of what we need…
give us each day our daily bread
and asks for forgiveness and the ability to forgive others
while praying in hope for safety and uprightness
…followed by this story about a friend seeking out another friend’s help
late at night.
The lights are off. The windows are closed.
Everyone is in bed. There might be snoring, who knows.
And there is a knock at the door.
Your buddy is there. He’s got an unexpected guest, and the guest is hungry
And he doesn’t have any food. Can you help?
Now: its late. Its inconvenient. Its not my problem.
So the answer comes: “do not bother me; the door is already locked,
My children are in bed…I cannot get up and give you anything”
And Jesus says: my, how different it is in God’s world!
Where you might come at any hour
Your needs might arise when its inconvenient
But God provides!
So go ahead, Jesus says: Ask, and it will be given to you;
Search, and you will find;
Knock, and the door will be opened for you.
Jesus’ INVITATION to participate in the REALM of God is,
In large part, an invitation to see that we live in a world of ABUNDANCE,
and an assurance that God will give what we need
maybe not what we ask for, or what we expect
but everything we need, if we have eyes to see it.
If you’re like me, you might have noticed:
It feels like SCARCITY is winning.
In CULTURE…CHURCH…and LIFE ITSELF…
…we LIVE by the dim light of the ASSUMPTION
that everything that MATTERS—is SCARCE.
Jobs are scarce,
Undecided voters are scarce, apparently
safe places free from violence are scarce
peace is scarce,
justice is in very short‐supply in lots of corners of this world.
Increasing NEED makes its case that you just can’t love everyone,
we can’t help just anybody who comes along, that there have to be LIMITS—
Chronic LONELINESS makes companionship or community feel SCARCE.
And FAITH is scarce—at least it is to those who will tell you
that ONLY those who live a certain way,
or believe certain things,
or follow an exact path—can get to God.
Our best intentions seem to run headlong into these “REALITIES”:
there is NOT ENOUGH…to go around.
And when that is the case, we hoard. We cling tightly to our things.
We keep the door closed when someone knocks.
We don’t risk new and brave things with our time and with our money
Efforts that might make a real difference.
And, at the heart of the matter, this is because of fear.
We are afraid of being on the wrong side of the scarcity divide…
But…we don’t have to live like that.
Instead, Jesus teaches us,
We can live the way God CREATED us to live:
Grateful for God’s many gifts
Sure that God will and does provide
And heeding the call of God to share with joy and hope.
The matter of scarcity and abundance
goes deeper than our wealth, our things, our possessions.
Its really about how we orient ourselves to life, and to our creator….
There are a lot of sermons in there,
(though you only paid for one, so one is all you get…I kid)
But I hope the main point of it is clear—God invites us to see the world differently.
Not just this Sunday, when we’re asking everyone
To grab a pledge packet and to consider a contribution to The Kirk for next year,
But as a way of life, as a counter-witness to the world
That, as people who follow Jesus
We seek to be joyful and generous
And free of the burdens of worry and scarcity.
We are so fortunate.
And it is just a joy to participate with God in a world of abundance
So that, by taking our gifts, our time and our dreams and our money
And prayerfully, thoughtfully sharing some of them with others
Not only will our lives be better, happier, brighter
But so will the lives of others.
I want to confess that, over the years, I’ve struggled with this.
I suspect that many of you have too.
There are some times I feel more rattled by what’s going on in my life
Or in the world, and I am challenged to cultivate a generous heart.
But I am seeking to do better.
I’m seeking to give more of what I have to places and causes that matter to me.
I’m seeking to spend more time with others
who can help me see
This world as overflowing with love and possibility
Rather than as tumbling down all around.
For my whole life, the church has been one of those places.
Maybe its been that way for you too
or you’re just getting connected to a church community.
But I’m not sure where else in our society we hear something like that.
And I’ve never met an unhappy generous person. Never.
One whose heart is committed to things bigger than themselves and their worries
Set free to give with abundance.
Each one of us has been asked to pray and to consider our own part to play
in the ministry and mission of this church.
How are we called to do that?
We are called to do so out of a joy that is found
when we dwell in the abundant grace of God!
We are called to celebrate what God has so wonderfully done in our world—
a grace that is there, for you, for me,
even with all the baggage we carry.
WE are asked to invite others to join us,
So that they too can hear and see and experience the extravagant
Abundant grace of God.
An altered script. A kind word in the midst of the fray.
We are called to celebrate what is possible with God:
a life lived the way God wants us to live—
captivated not by fear and concern for having enough…
but set free to live into God’s abundance.
Each one of us has a part to play here at The Kirk.
As you consider this call to be stewards of this ministry,
the challenge from scripture this day is to consider this:
God’s world is a world of abundance.
That’s the only way God operates.
EXPECT abundant love and grace from God.
EXPECT it from others.
EXPECT that you will live today doling out grace and love.
It’s an EXTRAVAGANT way to live.
Some would say FOOLISH…
…It’s the ONLY WAY God chooses how to be with us.