Sunday, September 27, 2015
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Third in series: “Gifts Make a Difference”
For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about gifts and our focus has been on financial support of the mission and ministries of the church. Today we want to change that focus and talk about the other gifts that each one of us has. Sermons about money often make people uncomfortable and some even misinterpret these messages as portraying the church to be all about getting in your pocket. The reality, however, is that stewardship is about how we use all of the many gifts that God allows us to use. This certainly includes our finances, but it also includes much more. Today is about stories…stories of ministry and of faithful stewardship.
The first story I want to recall is about our friend, Don Cole. Many of you know that Don came to our church a very few years ago seeking a community of faith who would not judge him. He stayed here through some difficult times in his life and became a member who got involved on many levels. He served as a Lay Speaker; he was on the Board of Trustees; he chaired our Mission Ministry Team; and he was our Exodus House liaison. He planned our First Sunday Mission Projects and made sure the supplies were here. Don was also the Sunday school teacher for the Harmony Class. Don looked for things that needed to be done and he got them done, often without being asked. He was also our “go-to-guy” for the computer network in the office. All of that AND he was a great good friend. I say all of this, not to memorialize Don Cole, but to demonstrate that each one of us has something to offer. Don Cole was not a man of wealth or means. He was an ordinary guy with plenty of challenges in his life who also happened to love Jesus. Ever since Don passed to the church triumphant I’ve been asking: “Who’s gonna do all the stuff Don was doing?”
“Who’s gonna…?” – that seems to be the $64,000 question these days. In our scripture this morning from Isaiah, we hear about a vision where Isaiah comes before the Lord and feels how unworthy he is to serve God. Here we go with yet another vision story and a call to repentance. An angel purifies him with the fire from God’s Word and assures him that his sins are forgiven. Then, when the Lord calls out for someone to go forth in his name, Isaiah responds: “Here I am – send me!” Once again we have this image of God using visions to inspire humans to step out in faith.
You may also recall a story from Mark 10:17-27, commonly known as the story of a rich young man. This well-to-do young man comes to Jesus, asking what he needs to do to get to heaven. Jesus tells him that he needs to obey the commandments…The young man says that he knows that and he has kept the law all his life. Then Jesus tells him that the one thing he is missing is that he needs to sell all he owns, give the money to the poor, and come follow. This the young man cannot do and he goes away, sad because he has many possessions. Now, I don’t believe that the message of this story is that we should all sell our homes and everything we have, give the money to the poor, and run off to live in the desert. God understands and expects us to provide for the needs of our families. What this message is about, I believe, is that we need to be able to discern between “need” and “want.” We need to understand that what we possess we do not truly own – we are only borrowing it from God and God expects us to give an accounting of how we have used what we are entrusted with.
The story is told of a well-known violinist who had in his possession a violin that was a couple hundred years old and worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars. The violinist viewed himself as a steward of the instrument. He knew that many great musicians had played this violin before he was even born. And he never thought for a moment he would be the last to play the fine instrument. He understood that the age-old violin was just temporarily passing through his hands. The violinist’s outlook on his violin illustrates the understanding of the role possessions should have in our lives. We all may possess things, but ultimately, we never own them. Hence, like the violin, the water from our faucet is not ours to waste; nor the electricity that lights our home. As wise stewards, we may use them but should never abuse them.
You see, the question – “Who’s Gonna?” – is about challenging each one of us to recognize that God gives all of us resources, talent, inspiration, and creativity. We did not come into this world with the things we now have and we will not leave this world with any of them either. The call, then, is to use what we’ve been given while we are here to do the work that God calls us to do. Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” We all have so much and much is expected. I don’t believe that any of us are stingy or unwilling to help; I think that we often just don’t know how to help or who to help.
There is this somewhat familiar tale:
Just then a Methodist pastor stood up to test Jesus. “Jesus,” he said, “what exactly do I have to do to go to heaven?” He said to him, “Well, what’s written in the Bible? What did your Sunday School teachers tell you?” He answered, “Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “that’s right. Do that and you’ll be saved.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who exactly is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied: “A man was traveling from Sand Springs to Downtown Tulsa, and was jumped by a bunch of gang members, who mugged him, beat him, took his wallet and car, and left him half dead. Now by chance a prominent lawyer from the city was riding by; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Then there was an influential minister of a very large church passing by. When he came by the place where he lay in pain and saw him, he also passed by as though he didn’t see him. But then a Muslim man of Arab descent, while traveling to the nearby Mosque for prayer, came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. He went to him and bandaged his wounds as best as he could to stop his bleeding. Then he put him in his own car, brought him to an emergency clinic, and sat all day with him until he was seen by a doctor. He didn’t leave his side all night. The next day he took out his credit card, gave it to the lady at the desk of the clinic, and said, ‘I’ll pay whatever his medical costs are; if he owes anything else just send me the bill.’” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who was mugged and left for dead?” The pastor looked at him, hung his head dumbfounded and responded, “The Muslim man who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
What we strive to do in our church is figure out the best ways to “Go and do likewise.” It is what our Mission Ministry Team is designed to do and something that our Church Council discusses at nearly every meeting. We need your help; we need your dreams and visions of what God has placed on your heart about service to the kingdom. Everyone in this church is part of the effort. Even if you are no longer physically able to do the work, you can still help us cast a vision and plan for the mission. We still need an individual to step up and take Don Cole’s place as Mission Ministry Team Leader. We still need someone to step up and take over the First Sunday Mission Projects. We still need someone to step up and teach the Harmony Sunday school Class. Who’s gonna do what Don used to do? Who’s gonna come forward and offer the talent, the time, the creativity, and the inspiration that God has given you to use in service to God’s kingdom? Who’s gonna? In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.