Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Economy of a Faith Community

Micah 5:2-4, 6:6-8
Many years back I was the facilitator of a weekly Wednesday Bible Study.  I inherited this Bible Study from the Senior Pastor who inherited it from his Senior Pastor when he was an associate there.  So goes the life of Bible Study sometimes.  The clergy come and go but the people remain strong and faithful. 

Well in this Bible Study there was a woman, Barbara, who was a regular attender as she had been for many moons.  Barbara has since crossed over to the shores of the great beyond, no doubt in a very secure, loving and Godly place.  And I will remember her.  We would study, dialogue and debate the merits of the Apostle Paul, the value of scientific discovery and  creationism, the theology of Calvin and Luther and their buddies, what Jesus said and did, a few recipes every now and then, and then of course our lives.

Inevitably, and without fail somewhere along the way in each and every session Barbara would turn to me and a lull in the discussion and say, “I just don’t know what God wants for me”, “I don’t know what God wants me to do”.  Well you can imagine that after hearing this over and over again like a broken record or a scratched CD I was getting impatient with her (internally!!!) 

I’d try to rationalize, give her some ideas, some thoughts and then finally one day I turned to her out of desperation and with quite an emphatic voice, “Barbara, what does the Lord require of you????  To do justice, love kindness, and to walk with him [sic].  How you do it, that’s entirely up to you”.  She looked at me with her big blue eyes and nodded.  I thought she understood.

The next week of course came and at the end of the Study Barbara said, “Suzanne, I dunno, I just don’t know what the Lord wants from me”.  I looked at her and said, “Barbara, I dunno either”.  We both shook our heads and moved on.  The next week came and so did the next, status quo, nothing changed.

Seemed to me that I gave her a pretty clear picture of what God wanted from her, or for any of us for that matter.  And, like I told her and I truly believe it, how we do justice, love kindness, and walk with God is entirely up to our creative, wild and imaginative minds.  I find that rather exciting personally. 

Today is our yearly Stewardship sermon.  It's the day I talk about money and church and giving from the pulpit.  Many people say the church is always talking about money but really I preach about money only once a year even though 11 out of the 39 parables that Jesus preached were about money, even though 25% of the Gospels is either about  money, stewardship and the resources that God has given us.  I know the limits you place on me even though they are not orally expressed.  

However before we get there I want to lay some historical context for our scripture from where this often quoted passage – do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly - comes from. 

It was the second half of the 8th Century BCE and the people of the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel had turned their backs on God’s law once again.  They were in danger of losing the covenant promises that God had made with them.  They were cheating on God with other deities, they were cheating in general and they were robbing from the poor.

Micah then describes how there was a widespread public show of their ‘religious’ devotion or rather the lip service that they were paying to God without earnest intent.  And, God really didn’t want that. So Micah tells them that there will be a new ruler to help them, that failed leadership is not the end of the story for them.  Also that this new ruler rise up from a small little town outside of Jerusalem, someone of humble means, lowly status. 

 From Eugene Peterson's The Message

Yes, that often quoted verse comes from the Book of Micah in the Hebrew Bible.  He tells the people that this new relationship with God will not be dependent upon scorekeeping, what can we do, what can we sacrifice (ram, turtledove, goat) to get God off our backs rather he tells them that God doesn’t want any of that, what God wants from them is to treat one another with respect and kindness, to make right what is wrong and to love, simply love.  That’s it!

Today I will talk about faith, action, and money or, the economy of our faith community. 
Economy, for all intents and purposes and for our consideration today is the production, consumption and expenditures of goods and services of a community.  It's the way in which a community or organization organizes itself to do business or to achieve a collaborative goal with whatever resources it has.  It's a matter of getting money, spending money, and saving money for a particular purpose and we are no different when it comes to that. 

But of course we are very different than our friends and businesses down on the Post Road.  We are guided and called together for a different purpose, a Godly purpose.  We are called together to worship and love God, to study the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and to live and walk in his ways.  How we do that is entirely up to our creative, wild and imaginative minds. 

Now I know that there are creative, wild and imaginative minds out there!  Don’t think I don’t know you.  There are some great and wonderful ideas out there of how and who Orange Congregational can be and that’s all good.  The spirit is definitely alive here.  But folks, much of what you envision takes money. Nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars, your pledge.

So how do we begin?  First and foremost we pray.  We pray that the Holy Spirit of God is with us and beside us in all of the decisions that we make.  We are in the God and Jesus Christ business first.  If we lose that vision, if we fail to base all of our actions and decisions upon the rock of our salvation then we will eventually fail.  So we pray that God direct our actions and grant us wisdom in our decision-making. We pray that our actions follow the work and ministry of Jesus Christ, which, in effect is to do justice, love kindness and walk with God.  We pray that God help us to be good stewards, both individually and collectively of this place that many of your ancestors worked so hard to build.

What we do next is to carefully plan out the ways in which we make real the mission of this Church. Through collaborative efforts, and I place very high emphasis on collaborative, we craft together a budget that will support our plans to further the mission of Jesus.  Each board and committee has submitted a small budget (made up of dollars and cents) that they think will enable them to do their work.  Council is reviewing it and by January will present another healthy, balanced budget for 2015.  Second year in a row!  The budget is based on what we need to do ministry and your pledges that are received.

Adequate money to meet the budget will not come from loose plate change, a dollar here and $10 bill there.  It can only be achieved through your prayerful pledge.  Each pledge counts.  Each pledge is valuable whether it’s $10 a month or $1,000 a month.  Each pledge says that you believe in Jesus Christ and are willing to further his mission. Each pledge says that you believe in the vision of Orange Congregational, not in the nitty grittiness of meetings but that you are willing to stick by OCC for the long run because you value the worship and the community that it provides for you.  Each pledge is an outgrowth of your faith.

I pledge to OCC because I believe the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ.  I believe that I am saved and redeemed each day by the love of God and I am grateful.  And one of the most visible ways in which I want to express that and acknowledge the abundance that God has given to me is through my pledge to OCC.  I believe in THIS church and the work that we do and that we can make a difference in this community and that we can help to transform lives. 

To pledge is important.  Next week we will collect and dedicate your pledge cards.  I pray that the Spirit of God will guide your heart in this endeavor. 

Now back to Barbara.  Although you didn’t know her, she was a living witness to Jesus Christ.  Much of what she did with her time was doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.  May her memory be for a blessing and may we uphold Gods name on our lips and the living Christ in our hearts.



Dina said...

That's a very convincing sermon and appeal.

Suzanne said...

Let's hope it motivates and inspires folks!