Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30, 2011 - "And Why?"

John 3.16

Today, Consecration Sunday … to put before the LORD a financial promise for 2012.

Today is also Reformation Sunday … when we remember the work of the Reformers - Luther in Germany, and the Swiss Reformers, Calvin in Geneva and Zwingli in Zurich … from Calvin comes theological currents in which we still swim today - the sovereignty of God, the covenant, a high regard for science and the arts, and a just society.
From Calvin’s Geneva to Scotland’s John Knox … and from Scotland through the British Isles … and from the British Isles, to the New World … 

Today, Reformation Sunday … we celebrate the Reformed/Presbyterian Tradition … just the other day, off of El Segundo, to the east of Hawthorne Blvd., a Hungarian Reformed Church … 
Churches in Europe that adhered to the vision of John Calvin came to be called Reformed … and they came to the States here - German Reformed, French Reformed, Dutch Reformed, and Hungarian Reformed.

From those churches, here and in Europe, missionaries spread out across the globe … that’s why we find Presbyterian Churches all over the world … Presbyterians are never content to simply enjoy God; it is our spiritual DNA to share God … to move into the world, build churches, hospitals and schools - spread the gospel … to make this a better world.

In the British Isles, the Reformed Churches came to be called Presbyterian - because of our form of government - we are governed by Presbyters - from a Greek word that means “elder” - an older one, literally, and figuratively, one charged with the task of oversight, caring for the community of faith.
I’m a teaching elder … Ann Marie is a ruling elder … and together, we form the Board of Elders - responsible for the spiritual and material welfare of Calvary Presbyterian Church, Calvary on the Boulevard.

A part of our care for the welfare of Calvary is the teaching of stewardship - to manage the affairs of our lives, to the honor and glory of God, in such a way, that we can be good and faithful givers.

Two weeks ago, we turned our attention to the question, “To Whom do we give?” 
Last week, the question, “How much?”
And today’s question, “Why?”

Why do we give?

There are several good answers.

Number one, we give because God gives … created in the image of God, it’s our nature to give.
We give to our parents.
We give to our children and grandchildren.
We give to worthy causes and we give to the glory of God.

We are, by nature, givers.
Sure, there can be selfish streak in all of us, but our deepest nature, our truest character - we are givers, because we are created in the image of God.

Number two, we give to support the work of Christ through the local church, and through the local church, to the church around the world.

Let me underscore something very important - the efficiency of the church - dollars given are carefully used and guarded for the work of Christ.
The church is primarily volunteers … and even at national headquarters, and with our missionaries, no one is making a big salary, no one gets rich with our money.
Monies given to the church are monies well-given … and because our overhead is small, better than 90% of our monies go for the actual work of mission. That’s about as high as it gets, and better than most charities. If we want to fund a cause that uses money well, there is no better cause than the church of Jesus Christ.
When we pay our per capita, we’re underwriting the administrative costs of the church - with per capita, we pay for paper clips and pencils.
So that our mission money all goes to mission.
The church is a very efficient steward of our monies.

Number Three - we give to free ourselves from the power of money.
Money’s a big deal - always has been, and will remain so until the end of the age.
Money can take us by surprise, and before we know it, money takes center stage … like the Bible says, it’s the LOVE of money that’s the root of all evil … and if we’re not careful, we lose control of our money, and our money gains control of us.
Every time we give, we declare our freedom from the power of money.
Every time we give, we celebrate our trust in God - that God will provide … like seed scattered in good soil, an abundant harvest is promised.
Giving declares our freedom from the power of money.

At most, God asks only for the Tithe … only in the rarest instances does God ask for more.
Jesus asks the wealthy young man to sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow him. Such a radical demand is the exception, not the rule.
Yet for all us, God invites us to be good stewards.
Paul says, set aside a reasonable amount every week … the tithe can be our guide, the half-tithe our goal … whatever we do, choose a percentage, and then put pencil to paper, and calculate the amount.

God ask a few important things, one of which is faithful giving of time, talent and treasure.
We can do it.
It’s in our nature to give.
All we need sometimes is a gentle reminder … or maybe a firm reminder - giving cleanses the soul and frees the mind … a person who gives is healthier, happier and stronger.

Good giving is good living.

Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23, 2011 - "How Much?"

1 Corinthians 15.57-16.4, 2 Corinthians 8.1-15

Whatever the call,
Whatever the cause,
We sit down and calculate.
How much can I give?

Time, talent, treasure.

When it comes down to it, time is probably the most  precious thing we have … we can’t save it, we can’t over-spend it … we can’t hurry it on, and we can’t slow it down … time marches on, at its own pace, and we only have so much of it, and then, the clock ticks its last second away, and we’re gone … dust to dust, earth to earth - still the simple reality of life … yet in between, the dash.

Have you noticed the dash in obituaries?
The date of birth; the date of death … and the dash in between.
The date of our birth; the date of our death - not much we can do about beginnings and endings. But in between, the dash; the dash belongs to us! Or at least a part of it does.

Most of the time, we don’t have much choice - we have to sleep, we have to eat, we have to go to work.
But there’s time in there that demands a choice.
There’s time that will be spent one way or the other - wasting time, which is a good idea now and then, and using our time to make this a better world.

How much time can we give to the cause of Christ?
Like anything else, we have to figure it out.
Surely Sunday morning is one of our commitments … can’t always make it here, I know that, and some of us have difficult work or school schedules.
But steadiness on Sunday is vital … choosing to arise in a timely manner, getting ready without undue delay, a thoughtful drive to the church, not harried and hurried, so that we’re ready to engage in worship - to greet others with a smile and open arms … 
Sabbath time.
Sunday time.
Time to worship the LORD.
How much time can we give?

During the week as well … every church has its meetings … sometimes too many. But face-to-face time is essential. 
Email and phone calls are great … but time together is vital.
Hearing and seeing and watching others.
The sound of the voice.
The cast of the head.
How the body is held.

How much time can we give to the cause of Christ, and how much time can we give to one another in the fellowship of Christ?

If time is precious, talent is powerful.
Putting our shoulder to the grindstone, our hand to the plow, our feet on the ground.
To get the job done.
Sunday school teaching.
Leading the liturgy.
Cleaning up after worship, putting things away, hanging around afterward to see what needs to be done.
Answering the call to be a Deacon, and elder, or a committee member … putting our talents to work.
Show up to help … join in … make things work.
We all have talents.
Some of us are good with money management.
We know how to make plans.
Carry them out.
Some of us work well with others, and some prefer working alone.
Some of us like to speak in public.
Some of us are prayer-warriors.
Some of us share our faith effectively with others.
Some of us have the gift of hospitality … we like to have people in our home, and we like to visit with others.
Some of us like to cook.
To find those places where our talent can make the difference.
If time is precious, talent is powerful.
How much talent can I give?

And then treasure.
Treasure goes where we can’t.
The dimes we give here end up in places all around the world … missionaries, hungry children; build a school, a hospital, or a church; dig a well, encourage peace-making; train nurses, community development, fair-trade practices … treasure goes where we can’t.

Treasure, or money, as I said last week, IS a big deal.
A big deal for all of us.
And a big deal for the church.

How much can we give?
10%, the tithe.
5%, the half-tithe.
2 or 3%
Whatever we give, it’s important to put pencil to paper - calculate - what percentage do I wish to give? That’s the best place to begin.

The tithe is no longer a requirement, but it’s a worthy goal.
The half-tithe is probably where most of need to be.
If hard times come upon us, then maybe less.
But we need to put pencil to paper, and figure it out.
The percentage, and then make a promise, fill out the pledge card - “LORD, this is my faith promise. As you have provided in the past, so I believe you will provide my daily bread today and tomorrow. And here’s what I plan to give,” and then name the amount, and sign your name!
It’s between you and God, and just a few people here who are delegated with the task of overseeing our financial life together. I don’t know what anyone gives; never have and never will. It’s a private thing, and it’s always handled with great discretion by those who are charged by the church to be good stewards of what God’s people give.

Time is precious.
Talent is powerful.
Treasure goes where we can’t

How much can we give? Amen and Amen

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16, 2010 - "To Whom?"

Psalm 116

Starting today, and for the next two weeks, it’s Stewardship Season … a time to review the whole business of giving … with a special focus on our money.

Who doesn’t think a lot about money?
We all think about it.
And we think about it a lot.
How much we have, or how much we don’t.
Every day, a lot of time is spent dealing with money.
Making it.
Spending it.
Saving it.
Investing it.
Paying bills with it
Wondering if we’ll have enough.

Money is truly a big deal.
And it’s a big deal for the church, too.
We have a building to keep up.
A staff to pay.
We buy music for our choir.
Curriculum for our Sunday School.
Paper and pencils for the office.
Soap and paper towels.

Money’s a big deal.
And we need to be thoughtful about it.

Three questions guide us for the next few weeks:
To whom do we give?
How much do we give?
Why do we give?

This morning, To whom do we give?

Someone might say, Well, pastor, that’s easy enough to answer. We give to God!

True enough.
We give to God.

The God who created the heavens and the earth … and breaths the breath of life into each of us every day of our life.

Genesis 1 - the whole universe - the big picture - the sun, moon and stars - every creature, great and small, including the creepy-crawly things.

And Genesis 2 - God and a handful of dirt, and a puff of God’s breath, and the dirt becomes a human being … 

The God of many journeys … who walks with us and talks with us and guides us through the day.

It’s helpful now and then to take stock of such things.
To count our blessings, and name them one-by-one.
To remember the LORD our God who gives us life.
This God of many of journeys.
God big enough to create the heavens and the earth.
Small enough to fit into Bethlehem’s cradle.
Strong enough to die for the sins of the world.
Gentle enough to live within our heart.

The Psalmist celebrates deliverance.
The Psalmist writes an honest story.
No fairy tale here … there’s heartache and trouble … tears, stumbling, grief, and betrayal … life is no bed of roses for the Psalmist.

We don’t know the details.
We don’t know the story.
We don’t know when, what and where.
But something bad happened.
And the Psalmist cries out for help.

Did help come immediately?
We don’t know.
How long did it take?
Days, months, years?
But deliverance came at the right time.
And now the Psalmist writes with gratitude.

The LORD hears my requests for mercy.

In the end, things turn out all right.
The dark night of sorrow passed.
The sun rises.
The clouds have departed.
A new day dawns for the Psalmist.

Because of God’s goodness.
God’s mercy and love.

The underpinning of our life.
The source and the destiny.
The Alpha and the Omega.
The beginning and the end.
And everything in between.

When we sit down to consider our Pledge Card for next year.
When we pray about what we might be able to give.
When we look ahead to the future, it is right and good to remember how the LORD’S hand has been upon us … leading and guiding us, through thick and thin, sick and sin … in the middle of the night, and in the light of day … 

The God of gracious presence:
I am with you always, to the end of the age.
I will never leave you or forsake you.
Where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there.
And when everything is done, you’ll be with me forever!

Stewardship begins with praise and thanksgiving.
With confidence in the LORD, because the LORD is good, and the LORD’S sees us through to the end … the One who gives us Jesus Christ, gives us all that’s necessary for the needs of the day … our daily bread - for body and soul, in this life, and in the life to come.

To whom do we give?

We give to the LORD our God, ever-faithful to us, and loving us forever. Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9, 2011 - "Prayer, Practice, Peace"

Philippians 4.1-9

Jim and Susie invited three couples over for dinner. At the table Susie turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"
"I wouldn't know what to say," the child replied.
"Just say what you hear Mommy say," said Susie.
The little girl bowed her head and said, "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

Well, that’s one way to pray.

There are lots of ways to pray, and there’s no better teacher than the Apostle Paul … a man who prays often … 
Much of the Bible is prayer … most of the Psalms are prayers - prayers of praise, lament, thanksgiving and doubt.

The shortest prayer in the Bible - Peter sinks into the raging waters … he cries out, LORD, save me.”

Writer Anne Lamott says she has two prayers: “Help, help, help,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Several things about prayer:
  1. Prayer is positive … prayer is a confession of faith … we believe in God … the God of creation who called everything good and took off a day for rest, and told us to take some time off, too.
  2. Prayer is the practice of trust … that God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good … and God hears and answers every prayer!
    1. God says Yes, or No, or Maybe … but every prayer is heard - every prayer is answered.
    2. When we talk about “unanswered prayer,” what we really mean is an answer different than what we wanted.
    3. There is no such thing as “unanswered prayer” … every prayer is heard by a loving God, and a loving God answers every prayer.
    4. Prayer is the practice of trust.
  3. Prayer is a confession of humility … we’re not God, and while we might passionately desire something that seems truly good to us, prayer recognizes our limits of understanding … we’re not old enough or wise enough or big enough to understand the universe and how life works itself out … we do the best we can, and when we pray, we put it into the hands of God, and we trust the promise of God - to be at work for good, in all things. We don’t know very much, but God does. Prayer is a confession of humility.
  4. Prayer is hopeful … because this our Father’s world … and though some proclaim doom and gloom, we cry out hope and peace.
    1. Those who predict the end of the world and threaten people with punishment misread the Bible and fail to proclaim the gospel.
    2. Those who rummage around in the past, thinking that yesterday is better than today, miss the point of the Bible. There has never been a golden age anywhere - it does us no good to put on rose-colored glasses when we look at the past. It does us no good to yearn for what was. And what was is never as good as we might think it was.
      1. Remember, God put angels with flaming swords at the Garden border - there is no going back to Eden; only going forward.
      2. Paul says, I forget about things behind me, and so does God.
      3. When the disciples meet the risen Jesus, they ask him if he’s going to restore the kingdom - King David and all of that … but Jesus doesn’t rummage around in the past … Jesus knows there’s no golden age, there’s never been a time better than right now, never a time more opportune, more important, than right now … because God is at work, at work in all things, right now, for good … prayer never looks backward, but always forward.

Practice these things, writes Paul.
Try ‘em out every day … make some mistakes, and keep on learning … like a tennis player, a pianist, or a teacher … the art of teaching is never fully achieved … nor that of the Christian life … we don’t arrive; we practice.
Practice what is true, says Paul, because the truth is what sets us free.
Practice what is holy, and there’s no greater holiness than loving God with all of our heart and soul and strength and mind.
Practice all that is just, and there’s no greater justice than loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Practice all that is pure, and there is no purity greater than doing God’s will, and no expression of God’s will more clear than the Beatitudes.
Practice all that is lovely, and there is no greater loveliness than a life lived in devotion to God - a life as Micah proclaims: do justice, embrace faithful love, walk humbly with God.
Practice whatever is worthy of praise, and there is no praise greater than loving God’s good earth, taking care of all God’s creatures, great and small, and helping the widow, the orphan and the stranger at our gate.

Practice what you learned, received, heard, or saw in us, says Paul. A cloud of witnesses, worthy examples.
No better examples than Paul, Jeremiah, Joseph and Moses, Deborah and Lydia and Mary … we do well to steep ourselves in their lives … 
The cloud of witnesses is large … Calvin and Luther … Martin Luther King, Jr., William Sloan Coffin and Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks who refused to move to the back of the bus, because Rosa knew that Jesus would never ever ask her to do that, but only the devil!
The LORD God has given us a bounty of women and men who embody the grace of God in special measure, who call out of us our best instincts, who remind us of our better angels.
Find a good example, and follow it.
Pay attention to the cloud of witnesses; learn from them.

Paul says, The God of peace will be with you.
Jesus says, Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives.

The world gives peace, all right - at the point of a sword or with a hangman’s rope … the world seeks peace through violence, power and control … 

Jesus says, You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them … but that’s not the way it will be with you.

‘Tis the God of Peace we worship, the Prince of Peace we follow. 

So, there we have it, dear friends.
The news from the church of Philippi … prayer, practice and peace.

And may it be said of us here at Calvary:
We are a people who pray well.
Who practice the good things of life.
And walk in the ways of peace.
Amen and Amen!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October 2, 2011, "Bragging Rights"

Philippians 3.4b-14

I love to watch old TV westerns … 
Beautiful horses, beautiful women, and gunslingers …

And always the showdown in town … the camera angle at hip-level, so we can see the guns slung low, ready for action.
A slow walk toward one another … one of them draws, and then the other - boom, boom, and someone drops.
The mortician steps out of his office, gathers up the body; the winner steps into the saloon for a drink with the boys … just another day in the Old West, or so the movies would have it.

Paul the Apostle is challenged by spiritual gunslingers … 

Paul says, “You wanna fight with me? You wanna draw on me? Ya’ better be careful. I’m well-armed, and I can draw fast. You think you can brag? Listen to me!”
I was circumcised on the eighth day.
I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.
I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
With respect to observing the Law, I’m a Pharisee.
With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church.
With respect to righteousness under the Law, I’m blameless.

Paul wins!
He’s king of the hill; top of the heap … the fastest gun in town.

But Paul asks us a very important question:
Is this what we really want?
A bragging society?
Everyone trying to outgun the other?
Playing the game: Who’s bigger, better, brighter?

It’s a game that hardens the heart, and ends badly … 

Before Paul is Paul, he was Saul - a hard-hearted man.
Saul holds coats while the crowd executes Stephen for blasphemy ...
Saul orders lashes without a moment’s hesitation … 
Saul throws people into prison … 
Saul’s proud of it … I’m bigger, I’m better, I’m brighter.
He’s a hard-hearted man!

On the Damascus Road, an explosion of heavenly light … Saul falls to the ground.
He knows it’s the LORD.
His confidence melts away.
Who are you, LORD? Who are you?
The LORD answers Saul … 
The LORD says, I am Jesus.
And you’re harassing me.
Get up and go to Damascus, and you’ll be told what you must do.
Saul meets the ultimate gunslinger … whose draw is lightening-fast - who never kills, and always heals … whose love for us wins the day!

What do we learn from Paul?

Sometimes what we value isn’t valuable at all. 
Paul describes what he once valued as skubala (skubala) … Greek for garbage, or dung … the Common English Bible translates it, sewer trash.
Paul lists the things he once valued: we can summarize:
Race, religion and his record of personal accomplishments.
Human temptations:
My race is better than your race … my religion is better than your religion … my personal record is better than your personal record.

Paul has bragging rights on all of this.
But when it comes to the gospel, none of it counts.
God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our LORD Jesus Christ.
Everything Paul formerly valued is nothing more than sewer trash.

Things have to be left behind to move ahead with Christ.
Paul had to leave behind his bragging rights.
The disciples had to leave behind their nets.
Abraham and Sarah had to leave behind their land, their families and their father’s household.

God replaces what is left behind.
For Abraham and Sarah: I will give you a new land … new names, and new family.
For the disciples, I will give you the skills to fish for people.
For Saul on the Damascus Road - You will be my apostle to the Gentiles.

The light of Christ clarifies what’s important.  
In God’s light we see light.
That’s why we’re here today … that’s why we study … and share with one another … where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, Christ is there … in his light, we see light.

Christ becomes our life.
To be found in Christ, says Paul.
His righteousness ...
His sufferings …
His death ...
The power of his resurrection …
Leading to the hope of our own resurrection from the dead.
Growing in Christ takes time.
I’ve not yet reached the goal, says Paul.
I work at it every day.
I forget what’s behind.
I reach for what’s ahead.
The goal I pursue - the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.

Christ, the bright morning star; the lilly of the valley; the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Dear friends, we are all tempted by the same base sins: race, religion and personal record. On the Damascus Road, the light of Christ reveals to Saul how wretched these temptations are, and what evils they create. 
Saul said, “No more of this!”
And Saul became Paul - the great evangelist of faith, hope and love.
It is our calling, and our joy, to be co-workers with Paul, and lead others to the bright light of Christ. Amen and Amen!