Satisfied with What You Give Peace Presbyterian Church
I Kings 17:11-15 & Luke 20:45-21:4 Dedication Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 13 November 2016
Today is our Dedication Day, which means we will be inviting all members and active participants at Peace to dedicate yourselves to God by making pledge in trust, a promise (adjustable to your circumstances) to give a portion of your income back to God. This we do as an expression of our gratitude for all our blessings, and as a commitment to help this church accomplish very meaningful goals. A little more than a year ago, we began a building campaign for the sanctuary to be built in 2017. Many of you made generous pledges of all sizes getting us to the one million mark. That allowed us to talk to lenders, securing a loan, and to the architects and builders, designing a 360-seat sanctuary, which we can just barely afford. This building campaign runs through the end of 2018, so we are hoping new friends at Peace will join us in pledging to the building fund for the next two, which will help us to build a portico and covered walkway between the buildings. If you pledged already, there is no need to complete that side of the page. But we hope everyone except our guests will complete the operating side of the page, the side that says, “Satisfied” at the top.
This is the time of year when we shape a budget for the coming year. It is when we consider raises for our staff and plan for future staff, like a pastor or director for youth and family ministry. Without commitments from you, our planning becomes guessing, so we are grateful to every one of you who makes a pledge to the operating fund of Peace. We hope you are prepared turn in the pledge page in the bulletin (one or both sides). I will invite you to come forward with your pledges and/or your weekly offerings when we come to the time of offering.
We’ve been on a theme of Being Satisfied. Two weeks ago, I preached on being satisfied by the grace of God, which has been lavished upon you, giving you a secure identity as beloved child of God. Last week we talked about being satisfied with what you have, resisting the urge to covet what others have, being content to live a more simple life, so others may simply live.
Satisfied with who you are, satisfied with what you have, and satisfied with what you give. If you are not satisfied with what you give, it is probably for one of two reasons: You have not stretched yourself enough, so the Holy Spirit in you is nudging you to do more. Or the other possibility for your dissatisfaction might be that you are giving all you can, but you can’t stop comparing yourself to others and wishing your gift were larger. Today’s readings are about single women who struggled with the little they had to give, but we read them, knowing that each of them responded faithfully, one by arguing with the prophet of God about her own situation, and one by giving away all she had to live on.
First we read the story of the widow at Zarephath. There’s a drought in the land, or an economic recession, we might say, and the widow is struggling. She is rightfully scared that she and her son will die. Elijah challenges her to share anyway, just I am challenging you who struggle financially to share something with your church, as an act of faith. Hear the story from the Old Testament.
1 Kings 17:11-15
As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." 12 But she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." 13 Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth." 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. (NRS)
This courageous woman argued at first, but in the end, she was convinced to do what was not practical. She shared the tiny bit she had with a man in need. And the food lasted miraculously, as in the NT story of the loaves and fishes. But what happens after these verses is even more excruciating. Her son gets sick and becomes comatose. The text says there is no breath in him. She rails at Elijah for bringing this tragedy upon her, but he comes and prays over her son with a rhythm that seems like CPR, and God revives him. Let all who struggle with limited resources and with failing family members know that God will provide and God will heal. Sometimes those provisions and healing do not come as we want or when we want, but God will take care of us in every season of life.
Especially in the most painful moments of distress, we can turn to God for sustaining power, for the breath of life that overwhelms the death of dis-ease in us.
Our second reading is Jesus’ condemnation of the powerful people who love to be respected in public places, who do not care about the poor. Jesus sees wealthy people making offerings along with a poor woman, who had nothing. Hear the reading from the New Testament:
Luke 20:45 - 21:4
In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, 46 "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
21:1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on." (NRS)
If you are giving sacrificially today, if you are giving away something you need, then you too are like the widow. You are one whom Jesus commends. In many places in the New Testament, Jesus speaks out against those who have money, especially as they look down on people without money. As we learned last week, money is not the problem -- the love of it is. The way we use it to keep ourselves powerful and others in weaker positions in the problem.
What dawned on me in my study this week is that our Old Testament reading is for those of you who are living on very tight budgets, feeling rather desperate about money most of the time. And our New Testament reading is for poor widows, but even more aimed at those who look down on the poor. It all of us whose wealth blinds us to the needs of the poor. Jesus names our abundance, and says the person giving a few dollars every week is more generous. Generosity is measured more by what you have to give, not by the amount you give. Paul also said that the Corinthians, who were in an economically-strong region that he hoped they would generous, easing the load for others.
Here’s the bottom line: Our mission is to make God known. Do you see that as a valuable mission – making God known in the world? By our words and by our deeds. By our worship and by our service. Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. If we are to effectively make God known, then we will be growing, no stagnant Christians. We are followers of Christ, so that means we are going somewhere, learning and teaching all ages about what it means live like Jesus in our day. That takes time, energy, imagination, love, and money. I am so excited to have eleven youth participating in confirmation. I’m so excited to be baptism four Van Aken children on December 4.
Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace. These last several years have proven how significant it is to be building a community of peace. We desperately need more peace in our world. We may disagree on how to achieve it, but we all agree that we need it, and as Christians we are committed to a peace that breaks down the barriers that divide us, as it says in Ephesians 2. From the very beginning of Peace’s life, we have said, we will always be building a community of peace, means we’re called to commiserate with the Cleveland Indians, not just celebrate with the Cubs, particularly in matters more important than baseball when it is so close and divisive. People have been yelling at each other over this election. Mean things have been said – both sides. Families and neighbors and congregations are divided. But we Christians are called to a higher plane of discourse and respect. Our mission is to make God known by building a community of peace that respects all the voices and listens to them because we trust in God, the One who made all these people.
President-elect Trump and Secretary Clinton are both children of God and we will treat them as such, no matter how we voted. Have you prayed for both of them this week? I hope so. Have you prayed for the people who are rejoicing and for the people who are weeping in all the races? I hope so. Being Satisfied with who you are means you know grace so well, that you understand it to be given even to the ones you are tempted to despise or mistrust. Our faithful attitude needs to lead our feelings and not the other way around. God’s grace is a given. How we receive it and live according to it, and share it with others is the variable.
Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. To make God known we are challenged to love like God and to care like Jesus did, especially for those maligned and rejected. As we care for people, even the ones hard to love, we are filled with Holy Spirit, clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. As we put up with one another and forgive each other, we are binding ourselves together in love and letting peace rule in our hearts. And these are not just nice words. These are words that call us to the hard work of caring. It is hard work to care for people who are being disrespectful on either side of the election. It is exhausting work to keep reaching out to people who are homeless and struggling to put food on their tables. It is fierce and pain-staking work to keep lifting up the people who are despairing and feeling hopeless. But we will not give up. We will keep our mission. We will fund our mission. We will grow our mission. We will build our mission. We will live into our mission – that the God of love might be more fully known through us, the people called Peace.
“No matter how each of us voted on Tuesday, as Christians we are called to be peacemakers, who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. So before coming to communion, we light this candle, praying for our country, giving thanks for all veterans who have served it, and committing ourselves to the healing of divisions and to the promotion of hope and promise for all the people.