Commitment Sunday 2018
Congratulations to Linn Coghill and Tom Vaughn for completing the half marathon yesterday. I don’t know about Tom, but I do know Linn ran a personal best!
Did you know that good distance runners don’t just play general messages in their heads like “Relax!” or “Stay loose!” while running? Instead good runners play very specific messages over and over in their minds, like “Let lower lip sag!” or “Feel how loose my fingers are right now!” These specific messages help their whole body to relax and stay loose.
In the same way, Paul offers specific messages for living authentically faithful, Christ-like lives. To run the race of life, he says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” and “If it’s possible, as far as you can, live at peace with all people.” And as we seek to live as Christians, we are to “be on fire with the Spirit.”
As he did in his more famous ode to love in I Corinthians 13, Paul frames our lives of faith in love. For him, ‘love’ is more about what people do than about what they feel. In fact in the early church ‘love’ was often connected quite directly to helping other people out in their various needs, not least financial, rather than simply having ‘warm’ feelings for them.
This core value of Paul’s is illustrated in a phrased used by Paul Farmer, a physician and missionary who has spent a lifetime establishing medical clinics and advocating for the poor in the world’s most desperately impoverished communities. Dr. Farmer approaches all people with a ‘hermeneutic of generosity.’
The hermeneutic of generosity means evaluating all people’s actions from an assumption that their motives are good even if, at first glance, one might suspect the opposite. In such a framework, to honor people as Paul exhorts, includes attitudes and actions on our part that are not haughty. Rather they offer hospitality to strangers; seeking what is noble in every one.
I saw this played out some years when a stewardship chair lost his job in a downsizing. At a monthly meeting he announced his resignation because he felt hypocritical asking others to give when he would have to reduce his annual commitment. As he rose to leave, another member said, “Sit down. It’s ok. We know you can’t give as much this year, so we’re going to give more. You still have the leadership skills God needs for our committee and have the ability to contribute. This is what families do.”
Friends, we’re not as large a congregation as we once were. We’re not as young a congregation as we once were. We do not have the resources we once had. But as we approach the offering plates this morning with our pledges for the annual budget and Ignite to reduce the debt, we are the family God has put on this corner.
We are the family God has tasked with caring for one another. We are the family God has asked to rake yards, confirm youth, feed the lonely, the needy and one another in Grace, at Second Pres. And Margurite Christian students on weekends, tutor children, support grandmas and grandpas raising grandchildren, visit the sick, comfort the bereaved, embrace scouts and preschoolers and those in recovery. We are the family God has placed on this corner to worship together, sing together, to study scripture and discipleship together, to celebrate the glory of music together, and the diversity of gifts and talents in speaking choirs, liturgical movement and the glory of bagpipes, accordions, trombones and three baptisms in two recent weeks.
God is still using this family, on this corner, and as a family loves one another authentically, others will come, seeking to join what God has continued to ignite on this corner.
Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Hearing Churchill through Paul’s words and with a hermeneutic of generosity is to go out each day to make our lives by giving. To give love. To give joy. To give selflessly. To give generously. To give our all. This is the work God has for us to grow God’s family on this corner.
A preacher was giving a sermon on such “total giving.” When it came time to take up the offering, the plate came to a pew where there was a very small boy. He looked at the usher and said, “Could you lower the plate?” Thinking he wanted to see into the plate, the usher held it down a bit. “No,” said the boy, “a little lower please.” The usher lowered it a bit more. “More; could you just put it on the floor?” the boy asked. The usher was aghast but finally put it on the floor. The boy stepped into it, stood there, and said, “this is what I give to the Lord.”
Today we are asked to give. To give to our annual budget that represents not bills to be paid, or membership dues owed, but God’s love carried out from this corner. And to give to reduce our debt over the next three years. God has ignited a spark in us to meet this challenge. As we do, we will have more resources to engage the world around us, to deliver God’s word, grow faith and serve others as God’s family on this corner.