Pastor's Note

Give Sacrificially

I’d like to invite you to simply sit for a moment in the opening words from Jesus in Luke 12:32-34  Jesus’ first words are easy to overlook, but they change everything.  So, listen again and especially note the second part of this first sentence from Jesus: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” …“it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

It gives God pleasure to give – to us.  Imagine that!  Giving – to us – gives – God – pleasure.  What a beautiful place to start.  How could our mindset – how could our whole life, for that matter – be reoriented, if we started each day remembering that it’s God’s pleasure to give – to us?

A New Day

Dorothy Bass, a Christian author devoted to writing about faith practices, wrote a book called receiving the day.  In it, she invites we Christians into a faith practice that could daily open us to see God’s pleasure in giving to us.   She points to the story of God’s creation in Genesis, where the Bible declares how each day opens and closes by saying: “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”  “There was evening and there was morning, the second day.”  And so on…

Bass notes that in the story of God’s creation, each new day begins at sundown.  Listen again – the Bible says as God creates: “And there was evening and there was morning that day.”

Think about that.  What kind of new perspective would you and I receive, if we started to think about each new day as beginning when it gets dark.  Bass suggests this would condition us to the rhythms of grace.   A new day begins when we go to sleep.  When we go to sleep, God begins God’s daily work.

Bass observes: “The first part of the day passes in darkness: but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening.  At night, God is out growing the crops even before the farmer is up and God is knitting together someone’s wound before the clinic opens.  When farmer and physician wake up, they join in contributing to God’s work, only because God’s grace came first.  In the same way, God works on and in us, body and mind, while we sleep.  And that means when morning comes, the day is already worth being grateful for even before we have put our human touches on it.

Morning becomes a time to join in the labors that have already begun without us, and then, in turn, evening becomes a time to let others – and Another who is God – take over……(Bass, RECEIVING THE DAY, P17-18)

God Gives First

This new orientation helps us be mindful that God first GIVES to us.  Aware of what we’ve first been given, then we can live with more security, hope and strength -and all our daily actions flow from there. Besides each new day, consider also what it is that God, our Father, gives us.  What are we given by God that gives God such pleasure?  Jesus says, ”It is our Father’s pleasure to give us the Kingdom”.  But what is that kingdom?  Jesus tells us right away, that it is an “unfailing treasure in heaven”.  So, we know what that treasure is, right?  It is the treasure of eternal life – gifted to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ whole lifetime on earth was about showing people like you and me that God’s kingdom is built with mercy and ETERNAL love that’s given to us by God.   That’s the kingdom.

Ultimately in Jesus, we see that God has this magnificent obsession with wanting us to discover that He loves each and every one of us so much that God would give His very life for us.  In Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what God did.  God gave all He had in his only Son.  Jesus suffered and died – only to rise to new life – to become the Savior of us all.  God gave us His only son to show that love and self-giving are god’s way in the world.  God’s love and self-giving is meant for each of us to discover here and now…and for all eternity.  This is the unfailing treasure we live in.  And if this is our treasure, then, Jesus says, our hearts are to be there also.

Unfortunately, other treasures tempt our hearts.

Faded Treasures

I hold a simple memory from long, long ago of our oldest niece when she was about 6 years old.  We went up to visit my husband’s family who live in an industrial city that’s on the shore of Lake Michigan north of Green Bay.  On that summer visit long ago, we arrived to pull into the driveway where we were met by our 6 yr old niece who stopped us to announce that she had been to “Treasure Beach” that day.  That’s an area of lake shore where tons of little stuff drifts ashore from the great Lake Michigan.  Emily proudly announced that she had found 32 treasures that morning on “Treasure Beach”.  To prove it, she lifted an ice cream pail in each hand filled with driftwood, smooth rocks and other trinkets.  You would have sworn those ice cream pails contained gold coins for as proud as she was.  Her eyes knew treasure when they saw it.  That treasure captured her imagination and her heart.  That treasure claimed her as much as she claimed it.

But, you know the rest of the story as well as I do.  A day later, Emily’s treasure faded.  She forgot all about those 32 items.  She no longer had any interest in them.  Two ice cream buckets of stuff, already forgotten.

You and I know treasures like that too.  As a matter of fact, most of our treasures fade soon after we’ve claimed them.  Today we ask for forgiveness for those many treasures that tempt us away from the only unfailing treasure that truly exists.  That treasure of new life, mercy, and love from the Lord, in whom we live and move and have our being.  This treasure never fades.  It is a treasure given us by God’s good pleasure that claims us as much as we claim it.  And when we live knowing where our true treasure is, our hearts follow that treasure!

Anchored by this promise that God wants to give us the kingdom, we can hear Jesus’ commands in the rest of today’s gospel differently. Jesus next tells us to ‘Sell your possessions, give alms….make purses for yourselves that do not wear out….’

Imitating the Greatest Giver

I read a wonderful sermon online this week from Duke University that made this insightful point: “Our gospel today hinges on the repetition of a single word:  give.  ‘It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom’ and then immediately, Jesus continues, ‘sell your possessions and give alms.’  Jesus takes our Father’s action verb – give – and applies it to us, without any explanation.  He just tells us what makes the Father happy: Giving the Kingdom.  And then invites giving to characterize our own lives, as if relinquishing possessions and money is the natural way of life for a people who worship a God who, in giving us Jesus and the Spirit, has given us everything we need.” (“Giving’s End”, Rev. Dr. Roger Owens, sermon at Duke University, August 11, 2013)

Isn’t that a fantastic insight?  We imitate God’s good pleasure in giving by our giving.  Giving becomes our way of life because is God’s way of life.

Famous author Anne Lamont gives an example of this kind of giving from a piece of her life’s story.  She tells about first attending St Andrews, an African American Presbyterian Church in Marin County, California.  Anne is white and at this stage in her life, she was broke, an alcoholic, single and pregnant.  She was at the end of her rope but Anne says the people of St Andrews were the ones who tied the knot at the end of that rope and helped her hold on. Anne announced to the congregation that she was pregnant, and the people of the church cheered for her.  Then they immediately gave her food, clothes and most importantly the assurance that her baby was going to be loved by their church family. Church people also started slipping Anne little bits of money.  This included Mary Williams, a woman in her eighties, who regularly gave Anne little plastic baggies full of dimes.

Years later, Anne’s financial situation changed as she became a successful writer with plenty of money.  But Mary Williams still brings her baggies full of dimes and slips them discreetly into Anne’s pockets.  Mary knows Anne no longer needs the dimes.  She knows Anne’s situation has changed, but Mary’s hasn’t.  Mary is a giver and Anne receives Mary’s gifts and shares them as a reminder of the character of the church people she has learned to call her family and a reminder of the character of the God we all worship who gives and gives and gives to us.  (Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott)

This kind of giving is a sign of our participation in the very life of God, whose life of self-giving love spills over to us.  God comes to us in generosity.  As we live in God’s way, may God help us grow more deeply and sacrificially generous too.  Thanks be to God!  AMEN.