Sermon of the Week
A Kirk with Purpose: Worship, Relate, Work
Keywords: Henri Nouwen, Talents, Stewardship, Mentors, Purpose Statement, Meaningful Work.
Yesterday I was up in Parkville at the fall meeting of Heartland Presbytery.
That’s our denomination’s regional governing body,
and I saw the guy I worked with for eight years
over at Southminster Church,
when I was the associate pastor there.
What I love about Jeff is the way he seeks to
have his best influences shine through him,
the people who have shaped and formed his life and his faith
at the forefront of what he is doing today.
He’s a good example of that phase: every mentor has a mentor.
That’s quite true for Jeff.
Even though I only saw him for a moment yesterday
it reminded me of all the opportunities I had to talk with him
and learn from him.
Good mentors, good bosses are like that, I suppose.
A few weeks ago
we talked in our worship service about everyday saints,
those people in our lives that have loved us and shaped us
and in some cases, continue to do so.
These people are in that category.
One of Jeff’s saints is Henri Nouwen.
Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest and author
who explored in great detail what it means to live our faith
in real ways, in authentic ways
given the challenges of modernity.
Nouwen was interested in psychology and social justice and community.
He wrote a great little book called The Wounded Healer
that tried to get us to understand
how all of us carry baggage, and hurt, and scars,
from a lifetime of things not going the way they should,
and how, when we don’t hide from those wounds
but when we understand them, treat them, surrender them to God,
we can become not only healthier ourselves
but finally capable of helping heal others in true and authentic ways.
That’s the sort of work that Nouwen did:
helping us engage with those parts of our lives
that are tricky, that sometimes we’d rather not expose, or deal with, right.
Everyday saints sometimes help us do that.
Nouwen believed, quite rightly,
that we only become stronger, healthier
when we are honest with ourselves and with each other.
Nouwen has a gift for that sort of insight.
So when I got home from Presbytery
I was thinking about my mentor Jeff and my time with him
and went to my bookshelf and found a little book he gave me to read
that I never read.
It went into that pile of books that was
my I-hope-someday-to-read-you pile of books.
Somehow that pile has a tendency of just growing larger,
so it ended up on the bookshelf for some later date.
The book, which offers a small collection of Henri Nouwen’s
public comments on stewardship,
was called A Spirituality of Fundraising.
Years ago, I think I put it into that read-ya-later pile
because fundraising isn’t quite how we think about stewardship, you know.
Stewardship isn’t just about raising funds.
It’s never about that,
even though there are all these jokes,
about how all pastors ever do is talk about or ask for money,
which really goes to show you, I think
how we don’t really like to talk about or think about our money at all.
Some of how we feel about money
is a lot like how we feel about our wounds:
maybe better out of sight, out of mind.
Truth is, we don’t talk about money very much in church. Not here, at least.
We more frequently talk about talents, which is a funny little biblical word
that was an ancient unit of mass.
It varied depending on where in the ancient world you were.
A Greek talent was about 26 Kilograms; a Roman talent was about 32 Kilograms.
It was used to weigh out precious metals—
silver, or gold—
and so it was not just a unit of mass
but a reference to an amount of money.
Jesus told a few parables about talents:
people given some money,
and how they handled it.
We preachers like talents as a word,
because it sounds a lot like our English word talent, as in skills or abilities.
When my kids were in elementary school
the school put on a Talent Show,
which wasn’t a fancy display
of large amounts of silver or gold (can you even imagine),
but wonderfully daring offerings
of dancing and gymnastics,
brave kids singing their favorite pop songs,
eager efforts at playing the piano
or telling jokes from index cards…
jokes that make any father proficient in telling dad jokes so proud.
Why did the can-crusher quit his job?
Because it was soda pressing.
I’m reading a book on the history of glue.
I just can’t seem to put it down.
This double meaning makes talents a word we love to use in stewardship,
because it reminds us that we’re not just talking about raising funds.
We always stress that stewardship
is about how we apply our faith to our lives,
all of our life,
and commit to using the gifts God gives us for God’s purposes.
Talents is a great double entendre to help us with that.
It means both our gifts and our financial resources,
and for those of us who seek to follow God on the way of Jesus the Christ,
we have to remember that almost 40 percent of his parables
dealt with faith’s relationship with our money and our possessions.
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
Sell everything and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.
Come follow me. (Luke 18).
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6).
Another author on my bookshelf, Mike Slaughter
who wrote a book called
The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience,
“There is no clearer indicator of our ultimate values
than our financial priorities and practices—how we spend,
how we live, how we save, and how we give reveal the true altar of our hearts.”
This is why we sometimes say that “budgets are moral documents,”
whether they’re our personal home budgets or our nation’s budgets.
“Put your money where your mouth is.”
Well, we do.
But more than that:
where we put our time and our energy and our passion,
those too reveal our truest priorities, our deepest concerns.
Pastor Jeff helped me learn from Henri Nouwen.
I’m not sure his work would have crossed my desk if it weren’t for him.
I flipped through that little book of his
A Spirituality of Fundraising
and was immediately struck by the epigraph at the beginning
you know, those few little words on a page all to themselves
before the book gets started.
Nouwen’s book on fundraising starts with the words
Make love your aim.
That’s a quote from the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians
but it really helps us to understand what Nouwen is trying to do.
The book contains his efforts to help fundraisers understand that,
from the perspective of the gospel,
the Good News of God,
that fundraising is not a response to a crisis.
It is not about fear, or scarcity, or the funds-without-which-we-all-go-home.
Christian Fundraising is about purpose, or about mission.
Here’s how Nouwen puts it:
Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe
in such a way that we offer … an opportunity to participate
with us in our vision and mission.
Fundraising is precisely the opposite of begging.
When we seek to raise funds, we are not saying,
“Please, could you help us out because lately it’s been hard.”
Rather, we are declaring,
“We have a vision that is amazing
We are inviting you to invest yourself
through the resources that God has given you—
your energy, your prayers, and your money—
in this work to which God has called us.”
I’ve been thinking about our vision as The Kirk
a lot in the last year or two.
I’ve been praying a lot about our vision, too,
along with all of you
in various places: our bible studies, our staff meetings
our larger gatherings
whenever our session meets.
The short version is that we want to make love our aim,
to put God at the center of our lives,
and to dwell there,
because we are captivated by love
and a world that is ruled by love is just
bursting with so many possibilities
that we want to make it our own cause.
I mentioned last time
that our session adopted a new purpose statement this summer.
How are we as a church going to focus?
Can we grasp God’s vision for us, one that inspires us to go all-in together?
And we came up with a three-part vision:
We welcome all to experience God’s Love in Jesus Christ.
That’s part one.
Welcome is at the heart of our time together,
and it’s a welcome to experience God.
That’s the what.
The how comes next:
And meaningful work together.
That’s part two.
We’re gonna worship.
We’re gonna relate,
authentically and purposefully to each other.
We experience God in our Worship
when we approach God and ask for her presence
when we seek God, and see what we find
when we knock on the door, and wonder who’s going to open it wide
And then cross over the threshold to the other side.
This passage from Matthew is wonderful,
but it is so often misunderstood.
We read it, and we think “this is about God, giving us what we want, when we pray,”
then we pray for the Royals
to go out and sign Bryce Harper and Josh Donaldson.
Or, maybe if we’re more serious,
we pray for God to come take this cancer away,
or to bring back someone who left me,
or to undo that deep hurt I caused against someone
and then, when that isn’t what happens,
we question whether God can actually DO anything.
This passage in Matthew isn’t about that at all.
It’s about us, and our attitude when we approach God.
Do we come to God with an open spirit,
wondering what we will find?
Or do we come to God, expecting God to do what I demand of God.
Jesus says that we CAN experience God, we WILL experience God,
if we approach with open hands, and a willing heart:
Ask. Seek. Knock.
And you will find.
The door will be open for you.
God will be there,
to help and to heal, in God’s very own way,
maybe what we’ve asked for,
and maybe not quite,
but God is always on the other side of that door.
We SEEK God in worship,
and in the relationships we form, the friendships we build.
So we’re gonna worship
And we’re gonna relate
And we’re gonna work together too…
Not work that is exhausting,
or busy work, work just to work, to look like we’re busy.
That sort of work, maybe we shouldn’t do.
But meaningful work,
where that experience of God’s love in Jesus Christ shines through.
You’re doing that work:
–going to Center Elementary school,
and just showing the teachers and staff that we care for them,
or being a mentor for kids who need one.
–Things like weaving plastic bags into light-weight,
water-proof sleeping pads for the homeless.
–Recognizing peacemakers in our neighborhood.
–Donating life at blood drives.
–Repairing wheelchair ramps and clearing debris at Christmas in October.
–Showering sick people with quilts and casseroles.
–Learning about gun violence and systemic poverty and the dangers of nationalism.
–Building a community where we can look beyond our secular partisanship,
and be guided by God’s politics,
where the hungry will be filled with good things
and the hopeless rooted in a new hope.
So that’s part two: Worship, Relate, and Work.
Part three is the goal of the worship, the relationships, the work:
what the Bible calls: The shalom of God,
or, as we’ve put it:
we [will] promote peace and justice in the world.
We’ll look at that more next week.
But that’s it.
I’ve expanded on it, so it might sound more complex than it really is,
but this is this Kirk’s purpose:
We welcome all
to experience God’s love in Jesus Christ,
through worship, authentic relationships, and meaningful work together,
while we promote peace and justice in the world.
And you, dear friend, are invited,
to dream what that sort of vision
can mean for you,
and for south Kansas City,
and for the whole world.
There’s no secret that we connect talk of stewardship
with Thanksgiving, with God’s amazing gifts to us.
The Prophet Joel is often read during Thanksgiving Services,
a time when we reflect on the bounty of the harvest,
and the way that we rely on the world to produce
good food to eat
and clean water to drink.
Every year in November, we pause not just
for stuffing and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie,
but to count our blessings,
to thank God for the abundance in our lives,
to maybe, just for a moment,
step out of the concern for scarcity
and the anxiety that we don’t have enough,
to trust in God’s promises that,
when we work together,
there’s enough for EVERYONE—
threshing-floors full of grain,
vats overflowing with wine and oil.
Enough for everyone.
There’s enough for our ministry together, too,
when we are captivated by the vision of the future that God gives to us.
Our ministry together requires our talents,
in every sense of that word:
your energy to help where you’re particularly gifted and interested,
your time to put into friendships,
your financial gifts to help fund
a building for ministry and a staff to make it happen.
If you have some great dad jokes, they help too.
This doesn’t just happen.
It happens because we all commit to it,
because the vision excites us for what we can be together.
I’m so grateful to be able to walk with you on this journey of faith.
As we take stock this Thanksgiving,
I’m thankful for you, and the love we aim for
as we do church together,
as we “be” church together.
Let’s continue to look to the future,
asking for God’s support,
seeking God’s guidance,
knocking new doors for Jesus’ sake,
and may we
worship and relate and work with joy,
this Thanksgiving week and beyond.
May it be so.
 Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1972).
 Slaughter, Mike and Karen Perry Smith. The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016) p 1.
 Nouwen, Henri J.M. A Spirituality of Fundraising (Nashville, Tennessee: Upper Room Books, 2010) pp. 16-17