Sermon of the Week:
Love One Another–How to Plan for Tomorrow
Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Keywords: Purpose, Henri Nouwen, Talents, Stewardship, The Kirk. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
A few weeks ago, on All Saints Day,
we talked about everyday saints,
those people in our lives that have loved us and shaped us
and in some cases, continue to do so.
This week, I was thinking about some of those saints,
two of them, actually,
people who loved me by handing me books I should read.
Both of them, it turned out,
gave me books written by the same author: Henri Nouwen.
Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest
who explored in great detail what it means to live our faith honestly
given the challenges of modernity.
Nouwen’s work focused on the intersection
of psychology and social justice and community.
And he wrote with a style that encouraged his reader
to go deeper than what we ordinarily have going on the surface.
He encourages his reader to go beyond the superficial.
I was introduced to Nouwen when I was a grad student,
studying to become a pastor,
when the chaplain at my university
handed me her tattered copy of a little book Nouwen wrote
called The Wounded Healer.
Here. Read this. She said.
Then see if you can live it.
In The Wounded Healer, Nouwen explores
how all of us carry baggage, you know,
the hurt and the scars,
all that stuff we bear from a lifetime of things not going the way they should,
and how our natural inclination is to not deal with all that.
We find ways of covering over it, or burying it, ignoring it.
On the other hand, Nouwen explains,
when we don’t hide from those wounds,
when, on the other hand, we understand them, treat them, surrender them to God,
deal constructively with them,
not only can we become healthier ourselves, thanks be to God,
but we can also become healing people,
people who help other people heal,
by engaging with them in true and authentic ways
and encouraging them to do the same.[i]
In short: The honest healer, the effective healer, is the wounded healer.
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.
Nouwen believed, quite rightly,
that we only become stronger, healthier
when we are honest with ourselves and with each other.
Jump forward a decade, when my former colleague Jeff Clayton,
knocked on the door to my office
and dropped a little book on my desk.
Hey, read this. But I want it back.
(If Jeff’s name rings a bell, it might be because he was one of the people
who came to The Kirk on that rather chilly October afternoon last month
to sing bluegrass and folk music for our Music on the Lawn event)
I remember that detail, him saying that he wanted the book back
mainly because I still have that book on my bookshelf.
It ended up in my I-hope-someday-to-read-you-pile of books
and I forgot about it for a few years.
This book was called A Spirituality of Fundraising,
and it contains Nouwen’s reflections on stewardship.
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 just 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 Jesus’ 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
(That’s from our reading this morning).
You’ll often hear Christian theologians,
such as Mike Slaughter, who wrote a book called
The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
say things like this:
“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.”[ii]
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.
This weekend I returned to that book that Jeff gave me
grateful, as I was, for his gift of music to the Kirk recently,
grateful for his mentoring and his helping me become a better pastor.
I flipped through that little book of his
A Spirituality of Fundraising
and I 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.”[iii]
There’s a verse in the book of proverbs that says ‘without vision, the people perish.’[iv]
Maybe that’s what Jeremiah was animated by
when he was encouraging his fellow Israelites
who were away from home, involuntarily in exile,
overwhelmed by change and chaos and anxious to return to normal.
To those people, Jeremiah said: build houses. Plant gardens. Grow families.
Seek the welfare of the city where you find yourself,
because in their welfare, you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah is a forward-looking visionary.
You’re where you don’t want to be, he says.
I get it.
I feel that too.
I carry with me the hurt and the scars and the grief.
But let’s talk about it, and what good it will do if we don’t look it right in the eye
and then turn the page on it together.
This works, says Jeremiah,
because God has a plan, God holds us close,
God has, for us, a future with hope.
Without a vision, we become hopeless.
But, when we turn to God,
who asks us to care for ourselves and our basic needs (shelter, food, family),
and, through that care, to seek the welfare of others,
we find a vision for our life that is so hopeful.
Because we see that there is the possibility of healing there
a restoration of community
and the tools we need to get us through the time of exile still to come.
The converse of that proverb is that ‘with vision, the people thrive.’
Vision doesn’t always mean that you have everything worked out
but it does mean that you have an idea of what you’re all about,
core ideas that can sustain you and guide you into the future.
For the past year or two we’ve been guided by our new purpose statement
which, if you asked me what it was all about,
I would probably tell you that it is our effort
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 cause.
To the question:
How shall we plan for the future?
Can we grasp God’s vision for us, one that inspires us to go all-in together?
To that question, our session answered 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’s Love.
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.
What we learn in worship, in this hour, it has a purpose,
which is to help us relate to one another, authentically,
and to help inspire us to meaningful work.
Not work that is exhausting,
or busy work, work just to work, to look like we’re busy.
Not the equivalent of the one who fasts, standing on the street corner just to be seen.
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,
even in the midst of a pandemic:
things like supporting the kids and families of Center Elementary school,
by ensuring that they have the supplies they need while learning remotely.
We’re partners with people who are trying to keep people in their homes
by offering utility and rent assistance,
people like Community Assistance Council and the Center Education Foundation,
and we’re helping partners like Cherith Brook keep serving those who do not have homes
but who need a good meal, a hot shower, and a fresh change of clothes.
If this were a normal year, we’d be
weaving plastic bags into light-weight,
water-proof sleeping pads for the homeless.
Donating life at blood drives.
We’re so looking forward to the day we can do that again.
We’re reaching out to each other
showering people we know and love with cards and zoom calls and maybe even casseroles.
We’re learning about systemic poverty and the impact of COVID at our seek justice roundtable.
Building a community where we can look beyond 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.
This is Meaningful work.
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.
The vision God has for all of us
is a world where peace and justice will reign,
where everyone can live together with love and compassion.
But that’s it. That’s the vision.
I’ve expanded on it this morning, 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,
what it can mean for your corner of the world.
How do you plan for tomorrow in the middle of a crisis?
Well, we remember that God has plans for us, a future with hope.
That we’re asked to take heart, to wash our face, put oil on our forehead,
and to seek heavenly treasure, which I’ve always taken to mean
that the truly valuable things
are not material goods,
but those talents that we can share and invest and multiply
when we use them to help heal this broken world,
treasurers in heaven, talents for the Kingdom of God.
The Kirk is the place
where we can focus on these basic things:
peace and justice
these basic things that the world so desperately needs.
And the Kirk needs you to help make this community what can be,
through your financial gifts
your support for one another
your service and your engagement.
Thank you for being the church.
Thank you for making The Kirk your community of faith.
May we all pledge to do what we can
so that this community can thrive
and, through our welcome, worship, relating, and work,
may the Kingdom of God shine
and may all God’s people know the Love of God.
May it be so.
[i] Nouwen, Henri J. M. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1972).
[ii] 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.
[iii] Nouwen, Henri J.M. A Spirituality of Fundraising (Nashville, Tennessee: Upper Room Books, 2010) pp. 16-17
[iv] Proverbs 29:18