The Idolatry of Comfort

Mark 8:31-38                                                                                              2nd Lent, Building Day

Elizabeth M Deibert                                                                                1 March 2015

This sermon used many images (+).  Without seeing them, it will be harder to follow.  

+ The average American home has increased in size by 1000 square feet since 1970.  Meanwhile, the average size of the family is smaller.   While our individual homes have grown in size, the size of the church nationwide is shrinking.  + And new churches today like us have to wonder, do we have enough to build a house for God?   And the answer is, yes, we have enough.  Of course, we have enough.   The money is all there -- in our bank accounts.   But will we be free enough, faithful enough to give it?   +It will be a struggle to deny ourselves, for we are caught up in the idolatry of comfort.   Take up your cross, deny yourself does not fit our self-serving, comfort-seeking culture.   Many of us have trouble fasting through one meal, not to even think of greater sacrifices.  Notice that when Peter does not want to see things from a divine perspective, he is called Satan – adversary!

Hear the word of the Lord from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 8, verses 31-38.

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan!  For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (NRS)

This sermon is the story of four different churches formed in different contexts in different generations and with different architecture.   The four churches that I love.  The Faison Presbyterian Church, founded in 1793.   This building was built in 1920 after a fire destroyed the first one.  

Think about the simplicity of the life of rural farmers in North Carolina in 1920.   While losing their lives for the sake of the Gospel, they saved life by building a church, where folks have worshiped for generations.   +When I was ten years old, we added this fellowship hall.   My parents had three children in college and me still at home when they gave to help build this building.   Maybe that’s why my mother would say when I wanted new clothes, “No, we can’t buy that today.” 

When I was interim pastor in this church 2003-05, we added the Christian education addition.   An elder and I went to several families I had known all my life and said, “Please consider giving gifts of fifty thousand dollars.”   And some did and others gave what they were able.   And the gift I remember best was from Foster Williams a tenant farmer with little education.  Foster had a terminal cancer diagnosis and handed me $1000 and said, “This here is for the new buildin so the children can learn the stories of Jesus like I did.”  This life is short, and Foster knew the value of it.

+When Richard and I left seminary in Atlanta in 1990, we became co-pastors of the new church Immanuel Presbyterian.   We worshipped in a college until the day God called us to build a sanctuary of welcome for all people.   And we denied ourselves, and a congregation a little smaller than this one, built this sanctuary in Montgomery, AL.  And as young parents and pastors (two of us sharing one and a half positions) Richard and I gave what we could.   We lived in a rental house with two children in each bedroom, and it was a good life!  And though we scraped by sometimes, we lived well.  And best of this church lives well…for the sake of Gospel.

+And then we went to Cambridge to a church where Christians had worshipped since 1200.   This sanctuary was built in the 1400’s.  Think of the years of sacrificing that went into this church, the years of prayer, the years of proclamation.   +There are our two middle children, and there is the latest development of this church -- re-purposing an old nearby sanctuary into a beautiful fellowship space that doubles as a café in the city of Cambridge.  

+And now we have been here in Lakewood Ranch, FL, for nearly ten years.  Do we have enough money to build God a sanctuary, a house dedicated to worship?   Yes, of course, we have enough.  But, in order to gather enough from our personal lives into a communal building fund, a sanctuary fund we will have to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and lose some of our personal comforts so we can commit together to this great mission of Peace to make God by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. 

And the sooner we get on with losing our lives for the sake of the Gospel, the sooner we will discover God is saving both our lives and others by the power of the Gospel as it is proclaimed more and more.   As we heard on Thursday and Friday meetings of Peace River Presbytery, the baby boomers are moving to Florida and filling up the new neighborhoods in our community.  

+We are called to share with people the fact that ultimate satisfaction does not come from sports arenas, +country clubs, +fancy malls, or +centers for the performing arts.   While some temporary good can happen there, we want folks to know that God’s love in Jesus Christ is worth so much more than all that.   +People are moved by the architectural statement of churches like this, standing elegantly at the center of a village in England or +New England.  But what influences people the most is not architecture but the real generosity and compassion of God’s faithful.   

+I could not stand here and say, please deny yourself, if I considered the Gospel to be one value among many equals.   This is the most valuable and lasting thing we do with our money – to build up the church to keep following Jesus in sacrificial giving.  Some of you can give $100,000 or more if you decide to lose yourself in this love of God’s mission in the world.   Others will give $10,000 as a big sacrifice and for some, the gift of $1000 will be like the Widow’s Mite a more generous gift than the $100,000.

But what all of us will discover, as we give generously for the sake of the Gospel, is that we are finding the real life that endures forever – past cancer, past depression, past war and disaster is the real life that is ours in the suffering love of Christ. 

It was just two years ago in a crucial moment and in one month’s time, you pledged one million dollars and after 2 years, you have met those pledges at 97%.  And did we personally suffer or did our mission giving suffer because we stretched out and gave to the purchase of this building?   No, our mission giving went up to nearly 14% of operating budget this first year in our new home because we are committed to peacemaking, compassion, and justice. 

+Some of us heard yesterday Hunter Farrell’s inspiring call to the critical global issues of the PCUSA’s world mission.  I was especially moved by the commitment of the PCUSA to work for quality education in the lives of one million children.  If we were really courageous, sacrificial, and serious about following Jesus, we might even give away a portion of our campaign gifts.  Wouldn’t that be amazing!  Remember the Moorings Presbyterian in Naples gave us a portion of their building campaign money.  They committed to giving us $20,000 and said, “This is for your future sanctuary.”  The Pine Shores Presbyterians just handed me a check for $2600 on Thursday.

+Did any of you go hungry or not have enough clothing in 2013-14 when you gave so much to our first campaign to purchase this building and land?   No.  Maybe you sold a car you didn’t need or skipped a cruise or ate out less frequently or unloaded some stock so you or your kids won’t have to pay capital gain taxes on it.  We are living comfortably.   Don’t let that comfort be an idolatry.   Be ready to follow Jesus.  Deny yourself some comfort for the sake of the Gospel. 

I said to Richard and I’m saying to you my friends:  we have to push a little harder to get beyond our comfort zone to the self-denying zone.  This is a permanent place of worship for people for years to come.  Let’s up the ante.   Let’s give away more for the sake of the Gospel.   +Cause it feels great to turn into Peace Presbyterian Church and see what God has done with all our gifts – doesn’t it?  How many of you have come into this community since when moved here to State Road 64?   And how many more new friends, new ministries, new missions, when we have room for new worshipers in the sanctuary?  

This week, will you consider your self-denying, life-giving legacy of giving to a sanctuary?    When you let go of a chunk of what you have -- for the sake of the Gospel -- you will find what you really need, because God will be a little closer to first place in your life.