Sunday, November 22, 2009

Give all You Can!

Give All you can!
Joel 2: 21-27 In the face of loss the prophet calls his people to give praise to God
Matthew 6: 25-33 Wealth belongs in a relationship of trusting God, who provides for creation.

Joe Walker (former Conference staff person) tells about Jonesy, "one of those people" who exemplify in their lives the freedom that comes from grace.
"Jonesy" was a little lady in his small student pastorate in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Church had only two rooms, one to worship in, and one to eat in. Jonesy was one of those extremely faithful members, there whenever anything was going on. She came from a rugged background in the Arkansas Mountains, and she lived in a little ramshackle house a couple of blocks from the church. Her greatest disappointment, expressed every time the church had a potluck, was that all the water had to be heated on the stove, since the church did not have a hot water heater. She couldn't stand the fact that her church could not afford a hot water heater.
One morning the young pastor Joe Walker came to his church, patting the bricks of the little building to be sure all was in the right place, when suddenly he noticed in the corner of the kitchen a hot water heater. It was not a new hot water heater, but it was new to the church, with evidence around it that it had been freshly installed. Joe immediately walked the two blocks to Jonesy's little house. She was waiting for him on the porch. She tried to keep him on the porch, but he went right on in the house. She tried to keep him in the living room by offering him some cookies, but he headed on into the kitchen. He looked in the corner and, just as he knew he would find, there was an empty space where there used to be a hot water heater. "Jonesy!" he said, "You didn't have to do that!"
"If I had had to do it," she replied, "I wouldn't have!"
She then took her young pastor back into the living room to tell him a story. "Back in Arkansas," she explained, "people pass on truth to each other by telling stories that aren't true. This is one story my mother told me. When I was just old enough to understand she took me on her lap and told me, 'the night you were born I looked out that window up into the sky and saw a star, a brand new star that had never been there before. And then I heard all the angels in the heavens come together to sing a song that had never been heard before.'" Then Jonesy looked at her young student pastor and said, "Joe, I have my own star and my own angel's song, what do I need a hot water heater for?!" (From Rev. Rich Bolin’s sermon on Wesleyan Economics: Give All You Can, Culver City UMC).
What a wonderful attitude, completely in line with our three week emphasis on stewardship. We each have our own star, our own angel’s song. We have been given so much by God our Creator, sustainer. As we give thanks today for the blessings of our life, we trust these in the blessings, from a God who never gives up on us, who never withholds what we need to live full lives, full of joy, full of hope, full of peace, full of love. The prophet Joel announced , “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh…” so do not fear, be glad and rejoice! (Slide)
“Before his Ascension, Jesus said that he would be present and send the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). That promise was fulfilled when the Spirit descended as wind and fire at Pentecost. The Spirit’s fulfillment continues in the Spirit’s ongoing activity among people of faith. John Wesley, in keeping with church tradition, recognized the Spirit’s work, especially surrounding the sacrament of baptism. Just as the spirit alighted on Jesus at his baptism, so too God gives us the Spirit to us at our baptisms”. (Wesley Study Bible)
The Spirit has been poured into every pore, every part of our being, abundantly , overflowing like a heart bursting with love, like a sold out crowd during the world series, like a thanksgiving feast, like a Disneyland light and fireworks show, like the stars in the sky, the drops in the ocean, the leaves on the all the trees, like the voices of all worlds choirs, like chocolate in Hershey town, like all the diamonds in Africa, like all the coal in Appalachia, like all the snow in Antarctica, like all the animals in all the earth, all the power of a hurricane, or volcano or earthquake, all the ships in the ocean, all the planes in the air, all the varieties of flowers, all the foods people eat all across the world, all the smells, all the sounds, all the sights, all that touches us, God is more than all of this.
Fear on the other hand causes us to be afraid, afraid there is not enough time: “2012 is the last day of the Mayan Calendar, and we need to worry”, there is not enough money, we do not have enough to solve issues like homelessness, HIV/AIDS, starvation, environmental health, not enough resources, our oil will run out, our water will run out, not enough defenses, send more troops, more police, more boarder patrol, more drug enforcement, not enough jobs.
Fear is the opposite of faith, and silly Jesus who proclaims in the midst of all the fears of our life” Therefore do not worry about your life!” Jesus don’t you know about all our worry’s and concerns, don’t you get it? Don’t you see what we face here in the real world? In fact Jesus does see, God does see, the Holy Spirit does see.
Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring worries of its own”. Thanks , something else to worry about.
No, Jesus does not teach us to fear, but to trust, trust in the face of the fears that surface in our lives, fear of cancer, fear of lack of money, fear of a lack of a job, fear of death, fear of going hungry, of loss, of grief, of powerlessness, of being hurt, of being taken for granted, of being forgotten, of not having enough, trust Jesus says, trust the prophet Joel says cast all your hopes and dreams on God! And you will have nothing to fear.
Once we have been freed from our fear, we will be free to give all we have to .
Jesus said that God was like Jonesy. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” John 3:16
The essence of God’s nature is to give. This begins to reveal to us the richness that is to be found in the doctrine of the Trinity. Trinity tells us that God is not to be understood in static terms, but rather, that God’s very being is already in relationship. Justo Gonzales has said that rather than trying to understand the Trinity, we should be imitating the Trinity. God gave his only son. God’s Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are children of God. God touches our lives with cleansing fire to set us free for service. God is like Jonesy, not taking in and holding on, but flowing out and letting go.
John Wesley was like Jonesy, though he did not speak so poetically.
“First, provide things needful for yourself; food to eat, raiment to put on, whatever nature moderately requires for preserving the body in health and strength. Secondly, provide these for your wife, your children, your servants, or any others who pertain to your household. If when this is done there be an overplus left, then "do good to them that are of the household of faith." If there be an overplus still, "as you have opportunity, do good unto all." In so doing, you give all you can; nay, in a sound sense, all you have: For all that is laid out in this manner is really given to God. You "render unto God the things that are God's," not only by what you give to the poor, but also by that which you expend in providing things needful for yourself and your household.” (from John Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money”)
Friends, we are living abundant lives. Our cup overflows. It is not a matter of the cup being half-full or half-empty. Our cup is overflowing. The exact point at which the cup overflows is determined both by how much is flowing into our cup and by how big our cup is.
"This is Wesleyan economics: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Gain all you can through honest industry and disciplined living. That is, gain all you can without doing damage to your own health, doing violence to your spirit, or harming your neighbor. Gain all you can without manufacturing products that are harmful or taking part in cutthroat competition. Gain all you can, not by promoting corporate greed, but by promoting corporate responsibility and working for the common good.
Save all you can by reducing your consumption. Don’t purchase what you don’t need. Saving all you can is not about putting money in the bank. Rather it is not spending money on anything beyond our basic needs. As we examined this second principle of Wesley’s last week, we noted that rather than being an old fashioned party pooper who doesn’t want us to enjoy life, Wesley is in fact a time-honored sage whose advice is prime for the 21st century. For what the world needs now is an ecological economics that sustains the planet by consuming less.
And then Wesley tells us to give all we can. Wesley is not talking about tithing. He is talking about “Jonesying.” Rather than saying that we should calculate a percentage of our income to give, he says we should determine what we actually need, and then give the rest. Wesley practiced what he preached. Bishop Kenneth Carder reports that as a student, Wesley lived on twenty-eight pounds. “He earned thirty pounds, so he gave away two pounds. As his earnings increased, he continued to live on the same twenty-eight pounds. When he earned 120 pounds, he gave away ninety-two pounds. Wesley wrote to his sister, 'Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it should find its way into my heart.' He told the people that if at his death he had more than ten pounds in his possession, they could call him a robber." Bishop Carder made that observation several years ago in a sermon titled, “On Being Two-Thirds Wesleyan,” in which he suggested that Methodists were doing better at the gaining and the saving parts than the giving one. Actually, I think we are finding all three to be a challenge these days.
Nevertheless, friends, let us embrace the fullness of Wesley’s economics, for the sake of our world, for the sake of our souls, in response to the grace we have received, as persons each with our own star and our own angels’ song, let us gain all we can, save all we can, and give all we can". (Bolin) Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sermon 11-15-09

Luke 16:1-10

Save all you can
Save energy, Save money, save time, save coupons, save yourself, being saved, save today, save for retirement, save food, save the women and children first, save at, Students against violence everywhere, save the day, save a game, Eric Gagne, Dodger save leader, Troy Percival: Angels Saves leader, Dog risks life to save a friend, Jesus Christ Saves, research saves lives, save natural resources, clean hands saves lives, Eco font saves ink, discount shopping by mommy saves, print coupons and save. Save the trees, robot zombie cat saves Halloween, disco tune saves man’s life, find the best travel deals and save, these are just a few of the
43, 300,000 ways to use the word save.
Today we are concerned about how John Wesley the founder of Methodism used the term in his sermon on the use of money. Last week we heard about how we are to gain all we can, without harming our neighbor, our own health. Wesley said, “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it.” Rather, says Wesley, money “is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked…. It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent.”
So today we exam what Wesley meant about the second principle, Save all you can. He has quite the list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to saving all we can.

First: “Having gained all you can, by honest wisdom and unwearied diligence, the second rule of Christian prudence is," Save all you can." Do not throw the precious talent into the sea”
Wesley believed each of us as having a potential gift to offer to the world. We may accumulate money, or train to be skilled in one area, or focus our talents in ways that will not be a waste. As he states:
“Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desires of the flesh; in procuring the pleasures of sense of whatever kind; particularly, in enlarging the pleasure of tasting….Despise delicacy and variety, and be content with what plain nature requires. In other words he would not be a “ foodie, or a fan of the Food channel, he was practical in his instructions, that we not ought to spend time wasting our energy on things that only satisfy the body, without regard to how that energy could be used to help others.
Wesley goes on “Do not waste any part of so precious a talent merely in gratifying the desire of the eye by superfluous or expensive apparel, or by needless ornaments... "Follow thou me." Are you willing? Then you are able so to do” Accessorizing would be lost on Wesley, Mr. T would have to trade in a few of his gold chains in order to follow Wesley’s teachings. In fact, we might adopt the practice of the Pilgrims who stuck to simple styles, practical, and even left their items in a will to relatives. A passenger named Brewster left in his will, "one blew clothe suit, green drawers, a vilolete clothe coat, black silk stockings, skyblew garters, red grograin suit, red waistcoat, tawny colored suit with silver buttons." Yes we can wear color, contrary to the legend of the pilgrims they wore colors and a variety of outfits, but all were modest and practical, not overly showy.

Four: Lay out nothing to gratify the pride of life, to gain the admiration or praise of men. content with the honour that cometh from God. Spending money or time or energy in order to be admired by others was a waste according to Wesley, you should only be concerned with honoring God in all that you do.

Five: Teach your children the value of money from an early age.
In conclusion, Wesley asks: “Brethren, can we be either wise or faithful stewards unless we thus manage our Lord's goods? “ We are given so much, and we are asked to use what we have been given to bring justice to the world. The prophet Amos reminds us that there are guidelines to how we are to use our skills and gifts , to use them for good and not evil, so that you might live. Further we are to love good and hate evil, establish justice… Wesley calls us not to waste our gifts, talents or money on things that do not bring good, do not bring justice to the world. We will explore more about what it means to give next week as we conclude our series, for now it is good to remind us to save our best for God’s work.

Wesley’s sermon on the use of money uses the Luke passage as the scriptural context of his thinking.
“A certain rich man had a steward” - .
Jesus starts with a story that seems fairly ordinary: There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought that this man was squandering his property. It is not hard for his listeners or us to imagine an employee being dishonest. Schemes of Bernie Madoff, welfare fraud, embezzlement are all familiar scandals to us. So what does the manager do? He figures out that he can perhaps fix the problem by saving all the debtors a bit on their bills by giving them a steep discount, take 10, 20 % off if you pay now.
Ok so far, now Jesus is about to lower the boom, let’s see how the Rich Man punishes his dishonest manager.
However, Jesus tells a different ending to the one we might otherwise expect. Instead of condemning the manager, he commends the manager for his shrewdness. Instead of calling him out, he is praised. One commentator said it this way: While the steward's motives may have been only to make the debtors more congenial towards him, the master benefits equally from this new-found spirit of good will. The debtors no longer owe an unfairly tallied debt to the master; no longer do they see the steward as an out-of-control agent for the master. Thus, the master is once again respected and honored for re-establishing a right relationship between himself and his community.
The point of the parable in Wesley’s view, is all about relationship, and how we use what we have been given. Consider the Rich man, who like God gives the manager much to manage, abundance in fact. But instead of using that abundance well, the manager squanders what has been given to him in trust, sort of like when we squander what God has given us. Yet even then all is not lost, we can find a way to make it right again. The manager finds a way of reducing the debt of those who owe the already rich man in a way that restores their faith in him to be fair and principled. The manager rights the wrong. He saves his master from embarrassment, he saves those who have debt by reducing their loans, and he saves himself from being fired.
We are called not to waste what we have been given, and we have been given so much, we have such power to transform the world, if we follow God’s way.
C.S. Lewis said it this way:” Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased!"
-C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses
(New York: Macmillan, 1949), 2.
In his programs on teaching people to be fearless thinkers, Michael Price talks about the power of our minds. He states that we have such powerful minds, and yet that power is so often untapped. For example, he talks about those who become hypnotized. He talks about how when people are in a trance, they can be pursued with suggestions to the mind, that cause people to act or do things they would not have done. The power of suggestion even extends to physical, if someone is in a deep trance and it is suggested they just burned their skin, a red spot will appear.
So much of our fear is perception of what we think might happen, and so to be fearless is to look at a different way of perceiving, of retraining our brain to look at our lives differently.
The bottom line is that we underuse our abilities, and this is means we save too much back from the world. We become reluctant, afraid, anxious about sharing too much with the world, and so we hold back. Wesley did want his congregations to save all they can, not to waste energy on unimportant things, but this did not mean we are to habitually hold back. We are called to love the Lord with all our hearts and minds and strength, which means we are called to love the world in this same way.
I mentioned the pilgrims a bit ago, and I have always admired their courage to see religious freedom in a place the world had barely heard of. Of the original group
Half of their 102 members perished: "of the 17 male heads of families, ten died during the first infection"; of the 17 wives, only three were left after three months.

Their dedication to practice their faith free from the restrictions that they believed were contrary to God’s will. They did not want to waste time, they wanted to establish a place where not only themselves but generations that would follow would have a place to worship God, and not be persecuted in doing so.
We are called to save all we can, not to waste all that has been given to us. “Waste not want not,” using our resources carefully, prayerfully to transform our lives, to transform the world with God’s help. Amen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Gain all you can, Save all you can, Give all you can

With thanks to Rev. Rich Bolin who sermon I liberally borrowed from!
Mark 12: 41-44
>"Wesleyan Economics 1: Gain All You Can" (first of three sermons)
My colleague Rev. Rich Bolin of the Culver City United Methodist Church told me the story of about he started to think about Wesleyan Economics. Last Spring the Culver City United Methodist Women hosted their annual Flower Festival with the very appropriate and timely theme of caring for our planet. Each of the tables was decorated with a Green theme, such as water conservation or the diversity of grains that sustain life on this earth. Rich says: “I was a little surprised when Darlene (one of the women) asked to borrow a volume of John Wesley’s sermons as an aid in decorating her table. She was looking for John Wesley’s sermon on “The Use of Money.” Now I suppose that could be considered a “Green” theme, but I didn’t think that was quite the angle that the planners had in mind. Then Darlene explained to me that Wesley’s instructions to the people called Methodists regarding the use of money could be applied to our stewardship of all creation. In brief, Wesley urged Methodists to “gain all you can,” “save all you can,” and “give all you can.” Darlene piqued my interest, so I went back and read Wesley’s sermon myself. Sure enough, what I found there is wisdom for the ages. Wesleyan economics is Biblical economics, which is kingdom of God economics, which happens to be what our lives and our planet need to survive and to thrive.”
After I heard this story, my interest was piqued as well, and so I read the sermon and then discovered the same thing Rich did: Wesleyan economics is wisdom for our age. I then presented the idea to the Finance committee, they became interested and so today is the first of three sermons on Wesleyan economics as we think about stewardship. The key is to realize that God calls us to be good stewards, of our green/money, our time and our use of our talents and gifts.
Consider the way Jesus contrasts the two attitudes of those who are giving at the Temple in Jerusalem.First, Jesus teaches about the scribes: for the sake of appearance, of, considered by Jesus to be self-serving and call attention to themselves. They were dishonest, and “Devour widow’s houses”. That is they gain their wealth by unjust means. Jesus then compares this with the widow, one who puts two small coins into the treasury. She is giving all she has, all she has to live on. Jesus compares her attitude with the rich give out of abundance, but she gives out of poverty. Jesus then teaches that this poor widow, has “put more than all those who are contributing to the treasury”. Why? Because Jesus sees what is in her heart and soul, she is giving out of devotion, out of a desire to contribute all that she has. God knows the difference between those who give out of selfish desires or out of an attitude to serve God.Mother Teresa said it this way: “If you give what you do not need, it is not giving”. Jesus teaches that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, all our soul, with all our strength, and how we live our daily living, how we use our time and energy, gifts and graces, as well as our green resources has everything to do with being a faithful disciple, to transforming the world. Wesley certainly believed that how we use our money is connected to faith.
Wesley’s instructions are easy to summarize: “Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”
Of course, Wesley says to “give all you can.” What preacher wouldn’t? But “Gain all you can”? Is this an appropriate Christian maxim? Bill told me last week of the story of a preacher who announced from the pulpit, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money to retire the mortgage on the church.”

A sigh of relief went through the congregation.

The preacher continued, “The bad news is the money is still in your pockets.”

Wesley immediately points out that though the scripture says, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” it is not money itself that is the problem. “The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it.” Rather, says Wesley, money “is an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked…. It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent.”
This past weekend I attended the fall meeting of the Board of Congregational Development, a time when we consider the funding proposals for new and revitalizing churches in the Southern California and Hawaii area. The basic concept is this: when there is a need for a new ministry, a plan is developed, refined reviewed by various committees and then makes it way to the Board. Only the most viable, sustainable projects are forwarded for our work, plans that do not include certain information, fail to provide a step by step plan, developed with a expert, or does not seem wise right now, does not have the right leadership, are all returned to the group who submitted the plan. Even then, the proposals far outnumber the amount the Board has to grant. This means, when we finish our work, we both celebrate for the projects that are able to use talents and gifts, money to make new disciples for Jesus Christ, and we mourn the projects that we were not able to fund, due to a lack of funds, or proposals that do not seem quite ready. A portion of your offering is forwarded to the Board every year, so we can start new ministries in places like, Fontana, a new development in San Diego County, Guam, Fullerton, La Puente. What you do with your money influences what we can do to grow new congregations, new disciples for Jesus Christ.
So Wesley encourages us to “Gain all you can, but …” Ah, now Mr. Wesley starts meddling. He has the audacity to suggest that the means by which we make money matters. He goes so far as to say that some professions are not appropriate for Christian people. “Gain all you can, But … we ought not to gain money at the expense of life, nor at the expense of our health…. We are to gain all we can without hurting our neighbor.”
John Wesley follows his instruction to gain all you can with a long list of don’ts. Do not work at a job that is destructive to your health, mental or physical. Do not put yourself in an environment where the air you breathe is unhealthy, or where proper time is not allowed to eat and to rest. Do not work at a job that expects you to cheat or lie. “If we are already engaged in such an employ, we should exchange it as soon as possible for some which, if it lessen our gain, will, however not lessen our health” or risk the loss of our souls.
Is it any wonder that Methodists have historically been at the forefront of advocating for worker’s rights? The first official Methodist Social Creed in 1908 called for an end to child labor, a 40-hour workweek, a living wage and the rights of workers to organize.This monument in Moscow city depicts the children (standing in the middle) surrounded by filthy grown ups - each grown up has its own flaw or sin, one of the most common sins of the modern society, together they like stand around the innocent children that have nowhere to go - going to either side would lead to some kind of attachment.
“Gain all you can,” says Wesley, without hurting your neighbor. Here Wesley, goes into such detail and calls into question common business practices. Do not devour your neighbors’ lands and houses by saddling them with debt and charging excessive interest. Do not sell your goods below the market rate in order to ruin your neighbor’s trade. Do not entice away your competitor’s employees.
In addition, do not make stuff that is bad for people! Wesley put it a little more properly: “Neither may we gain by hurting our neighbor in his body. Therefore we may not sell anything which tends to impair health.” Gain all you can, Wesley urges us, but if you are maximizing your profits by selling tobacco to anybody and alcohol to alcoholics, and if you are Las Vegas, enticing people to check their ethical behavior at the boarder, then stop it and find another way to make a living!
Gain all you can, says Wesley. So how are we supposed to gain all we can? Through honest effort and disciplined living: “These cautions and restrictions being observed, it is the bounden duty of all who are engaged in worldly business to observe that first and great rule of Christian wisdom with respect to money, ‘Gain all you can.’ Gain all you can by honest industry. Use all possible diligence in your calling. Lose no time. … Never leave anything until tomorrow, which you can do today. Moreover, do it as well as possible. Do not sleep or yawn over it: Put your whole strength to the work. Spare no pains. Let nothing be done by halves, or in a slight and careless manner. Let nothing in your business be left undone if it can be done by labour or patience.”
“Gain all you can, by common sense, by using in your business all the understanding which God has given you. … You should be continually learning, from the experience of others, or from your own experience, reading, and reflection, to do everything you have to do better today than you did yesterday. And see that you practice whatever you learn, that you may make the best of all that is in your hands.”
Then, “Having gained all you can, by honest wisdom and unwearied diligence, the second rule of Christian prudence is, ‘Save all you can.’
“But let not anyone imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by ‘gaining and saving all he can,’ if he were to stop here. All this is nothing. … Having, First, gained all you can, and, secondly saved all you can, then ‘give all you can.’”
However, I am getting ahead of myself. We will consider “save all you can” and “give all you can” over the next two weeks.
Wesleyan economics is Biblical economics is kingdom of God economics, which, I dare say, is not Wall Street economics. According to Sondra Wheeler, a Wesleyan scholar and professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., “… to take Wesley’s sermon ‘The Use of Money’ seriously would require a whole new way of thinking about how we earn and use money in a world in which others are in want.”
We all have some thinking to do … and not just about our individual choices or how much to put in the offering. We also have some thinking to do about how we order this local and global economy, so that we all might have healthy, life-affirming choices available to us to make a living, providing for our families, and ourselves and sharing generously where there is need.
One day a certain old, rich man of a miserable disposition visited a rabbi, who took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window. “Look out there,” he said. The rich man looked into the street. “What do you see?” asked the rabbi.

“I see men, women and children,” answered the rich man.

Again, the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror. “Now what do you see?”

“Now I see myself,” the rich man replied.

Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver. No sooner is the silver added than you cease to see others but see only yourself.”
O Lord, help us to give selflessly, with gratitude for the God who has given us everything. Amen.