Facebook, Twitter, radio, TV, they are all abuzz with the events of today being the official start of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act. I posted this on Facebook today; “A simple reminder today…”Health care is a basic human right.” – ¶162 of the United Methodist Disciple”
As I commented to comments I reflected with a little bit of sadness. I am realizing that we, as the Church (note BIG ‘C’) have really moved out of the healthcare arena. Probably due to cost involved, liability, and the fact that once money was being made the vultures moved in.
In my hometown of Charlotte, NC one of the two major hospital went through a name change. What use to be called Presbyterian Hospital is now known as Novant Health. Their logo looks like N: but that is another story.
What is sad is that originally Presbyterian Hospital was started by the Presbyterians of our area. It was a simple 20 bed medical center. Now is attempting to lose all relevance with its denominational past. “Novant Health” removes all connotations that Christians, seeking to follow God’s will to help the sick and the least of these in our area.
What would it be like for the church to feel the call again? What would it be like for the people of Christ to take Matthew 25 seriously and reach out to the least and the lost, the SICK? What would it be like for the church to offer healthcare to the poor and not leave it up to our government?
Is it because it costs too much? We cannot afford the liability costs? Are we simply scared?
I feel we, as the Church in the US, have taken, in general, a back seat and are simply hoping the government will fix the problems instead of letting Jesus do it through us.
|Do you see the eyes of Christ the King?
Photo from www.edgarjd.com
holy man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the
table was a large pot of stew which smelled delicious and made the holy
man’s mouth water. The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to
be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths. The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, “You have seen Hell.” They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one. There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man’s mouth water. The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, “I don’t understand.” It is simple” said the Lord, “it requires but one skill. You see, they have learned to feed each other.”
(here is a very rough draft of my sermon, enjoy and help me out by clicking an ad, thanks and happy preaching)
Foolish or Wise 11-06-11
It was a picture perfect fall day in the mountains. It was one of those days that you look up into the sky and tell God, “stop showing off.” As I hung out in the locker room with the groomsman and groom we waited for the time to take the long walk to the site of the wedding. We were Grandfather Mountain’s country club and we were walking to this island in the middle of the valley and golf course. Yes it was one of “those type” of weddings and as the officiate I was simply along for the ride. The family and guests started to gather and so did the clouds. We stood out there, on that island, with the bride in her sleeveless gown and veil whipping in the wind. Oh, did I forget to mention that instead of being the nice sunny fall day it was unseasonable cool and most people came dressed for 60 degrees and not the 45 it actually was. As teeth chattered, mine included, I talked as loud as I could over the wind to pronounce this couple man and wife. It was their dream wedding but it wasn’t exactly like they had planned.
Some of the best advice I ever received as Alycia and I prepared to get married was from my associate minister who actually married us. In one of our pre-material counseling sessions Alycia and I were discussing the worst case scenarios about what could happen as families, ex-wives, out-of-towners, and friends all collided to celebrate our day. Our minister looked at us and he said, “no matter what happens, at the end of the day, you will be husband and wife.” That gave us some peace and we could rest a little. We had to remind ourselves of that as a bowie knife wearing husband number three backed up strait into husband number one after the rehersal. Things don’t always go as planned.
When things don’t go as planned it is an opportunity to gain patience. This is not what you want to hear in the middle of these situations. When your three year old who is on the floor of the grocery store throwing an epic temper tantrum, the person who comes up to you and reminds you that this is the perfect time to practice patience, may actually find themselves on the floor because of the fist you just planted on their face. Sure in the hindsight it may seen as a place patience is fostered but not in the throws of chaos. Fuses can be very short then and patience can be a long way away.
In this parable of Jesus ten bridesmaids await the arrival of the groom. Back then a wedding was a frantic and chaotic as it is today, except in Jesus’ time it could last a couple of days. The way a wedding went back then was guests and the bride and her family all gathered at her house and awaited the arrival of the groom. When the groom showed up the guests and bridesmaids all went out and greeted him, lit torches and then in a grand processional walked to the groom’s house. There the groom’s family and guests awaited their arrival and then had the ceremony and banquet that could last for several days. You can see how a little mishap could make things go easily array.
The groom has a flat tire on the way to the bride’s house or entrance into the bride’s city doesn’t go as easily as they had hoped because of Roman soldiers. For whatever reason, in this parable the groom doesn’t show up until midnight. Some of the guests have fallen asleep, including some of the bridesmaids. When they yell that he is coming everyone jumps into action and start to light their lamps. Five of the bridesmaid had brought enough oil and five hadn’t. The five foolish ones run off to the nearest 24 hour Walmart to buy some more but when they finally get to the groom’s house they had already gone inside and they are left out in the cold. Things don’t always go as planned. Jesus tells us to “keep awake because you don’t know the day or the hour.”
There are two ways of looking at that last statement. One way is the revival preacher kind of way. “Be awake, be alert because you never know when Jesus will come back again. Where do you want to be when he returns? When Jesus comes back where do you want to be part of the party or out in the cold?” This interpretation leads us down a threat line of thought. We are warned to be ready. We are commanded to be on alert out of fear. I have to admit I am usually turned off by this type of preaching. I am uncomfortable with preaching that way because I have witnessed it be more about emotional manipulation than preaching the gospel. Yet it does have it’s place and there are tons of people who find that message inspiring and thought provoking.
When we play on the idea of fear or the threat aspect of this scripture people do stand up and listen. Fear and threats are prevalent in our daily lives. There are certain malls that people will not go to because of the fear of the people who frequent them. There are others who have bunkers in their back yards stocked with a decade’s worth of food and supplies to live through whatever attack they are predicting is coming next, whether it was the nuclear scares of the 60s, Y2K, or this idea that once again the world will come crashing to a halt because of the Mayan calendar in 2012. Simply watch the news tonight and you can find out what the next thing is we should fear.
There is purpose in this tactic though. I think back to my Boy Scout career and all the way up from Cub Scouts to being an Eagle Scout we were taught the Scout Motto, Be Prepared. The merit badges we earned taught us things that would prepare us for life. Wilderness Survival, camping, economics, environmental science, hiking, first aid and so on. The work you did in these earning these badges gives you the foundation to handle things as life is lived.
You never know when these skills you learned will come in handy. The first summer we moved to Thomasville Alycia’s parents came up to visit and her Dad and I went to Winding Creek to hit a couple of golf balls. As we were crossing over business 85 on 109, a lady pulled out in front of traffic and the little truck that had just passed us smacked the trunk of this lady’s car, spinning her 180 degrees. There is no worse sound than a car accident. Knowing we should hang around as witnessed for the police Ken and I got out of the car and asked if everyone was alright. The grandmother who was driving the car was upset and the mother who was in the passenger seat was trying to comfort her daughter who was in the back seat and who was bleeding from a small cut on her forehead. When I noticed the cut I asked if she had a first aid kit and my father-in-law did in the back of his car. The little girl started to freak out at this point as she realized she was bleeding and the mom started to go off into another world as well. But using my first aid training I learned almost twenty years earlier as a Boy Scout we applied pressure to the wound and we could tell she would be okay.
We have to be alert, always ready, because we don’t know the day or hour of the groom’s arrival. Some of the bridesmaids were ready, some were not. The wise were prepared, the foolish were not. If we are ready, if we are prepared, then the arrival will not surprise us. But to do that we have to train ourselves and form a foundation of knowledge and faith to be ready to use when necessary. As we are do this our vision of reality changes. For example, if I told you to count the number of white vans you saw for the next week and you took this seriously you would start to see white vans everywhere. You will notice them in the grocery store parking lot, at stoplights, and on the highways. Do this and you will start to ask yourself, is there an increase in white vans? Did Jim call people who owned white vans and asked them to drive close to me this week? No, but since our eyes were looking out, ready to see white vans, we were more apt to see them. If we are alert and ready our eyes are opened up to see God coming all around us.
The other way of interpreting this story is hearing the good news that God will come. No matter how dark your midnight may be or if you feel like you have any oil left in your lamp or not, God, the groom, is coming and will come. Our time is not like God’s time but God keeps his promises and he will come. When we read this piece of scripture this way we hear the promise involved, the hope, and the covenant. We tend to get so stuck on the bridesmaids who are left out that we forget there are guests and five bridesmaids that are in the party because they were ready. We pray all the time for God to come into our lives and if we are alert God does.
Today is All Saints Day is a celebration of those who have gone before us and who reside in the presence of God’s glory this morning. I had the honor of being let in to the lives of Frances and Wesley during their last days here on earth. As their illness started to overtake their bodies their families and I prayed that God would come, end their suffering. God in God’s time did come and answer our prayers. Peace and wholeness came to their lives eventually. It took some time and family members sat there for days and nights and waited, and waited, and prayed, and waited. As I look back at my visit to these Saints who have gone ahead of us I can see that God was really there all along. In those rooms where loved ones gathered, God was there. In the Hospice Care workers who came to provide comfort, God was there. In the silence of not knowing what to say but knowing you want to be by their side, God was there. God comes, God always shows up.
We all have saints in our lives. Those people who shape us and mold us into the Christians we are today. We remember them as our Sunday School teachers, the leaders of our church in years past, the people who pushed us to believe in God and see God in our midst. They are people who we point to and say God used them to help us grow. They are Saints and we remember them.
The truth is we can combine these two interpretations of this scripture. If we are alert and if we are prepared then we can see God coming into our midst all around us. God comes, in the darkest hour and through the people we love and cherish. If we refocus our minds to see God all around us, then we will start to see how active God truly is in our lives. Five bridesmaids were foolish because they had to scramble when the groom showed up and the party passed them by. They had limited vision to see and limited hearing to hear God’s promise. Five other bridesmaids were alert and prepared and when the groom shows up in their midst they are there to welcome and follow him to the party.
Today we remember our Saints and we recognize that they were wise in their lives. They were prepared to see God in their midst and they have gone on to follow him to the eternal party. The bread we break and the cup that we share today reminds us of the connection. In our Great Thanksgiving we say that we join the all the company of heaven as we praise God’s name. In the mystery of this sacrament we are joined together as people here on earth, with those who are surrounding the eternal table of God. In the sharing of the body and blood of our savior we join them once again, celebrating that our God has come and that we are in the midst of God.
And all God’s people said…Amen.
Who Do We Serve?
(First 40 seconds of Money is played) As I thought about this sermon this is the first song that popped into my head. It is Pink Floyd’s Money. If you didn’t catch the lyrics they said, “Money, get away, you get a job with good pay and you’re okay.” The sound effects in this sound maybe a little dated because our cash registers don’t make that sound any more, but most of us still knew what that sound was. I guess if we were to update this song for 2011, instead of 1973, we would hear a card swipe noise.
A lot has changed in the world since 1973 when Pink Floyd’s Money came out. Right now America is in a battle with money. We are having major economic struggles. There are people on the right who are making demands and people on the left doing the same. They wall want reform but they cannot agree on how to do it. Some say the rich should pay more, some say the rich should pay less. Some say everyone should pay the same. But beyond our governmental money is our personal finances. It is reported that 75% of Americans have credit cards and the US Census states that on those cards is $886 billion in debt and it was expected to be up to $1.177 trillion by 2011. The average credit card debt is $5,100 on their cards. Our average worship attendance is 78 for this year, 1/3 of those are children, so around 50 adults are here each week. This means that we, as a congregation, probably have around a quarter of a million dollars in debt sitting in this sanctuary right now. I know some of you are out or were never in debt, so that means the 50 people number is probably down to 40 or 35. This begs the question, who are we serving?
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount he talks a little bit about money. In Matthew 6:24 he says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” This is true and I am going to take today’s sermon to look at why it is true. We are serving one or the other and using one to serve the other. Many people are uncomfortable for ministers to talk about what the Bible teaches us about how to use our money because they think that is meddling, or getting involved in their personal business. I make no apologies today because I want you to grow closer to God. God requires that we give our whole being in service to him. That involves all aspects of our lives and person. This includes money.
Some people may say that this is not the right time to talk about money. With unemployment so high and people not doing well in their jobs, money is tight. We are ending our Stewardship Campaign and as we approach the last two months of the year we will be talking a lot about the $22,000 we are behind currently. As our nation’s politicians battle with one another about how to use our money, is this really the right time to discuss what God says to do with the little we feel we have? It is not the right time, it is the perfect time to talk.
It is at crisis moments that people are willing to make the biggest changes in their lives. It is faced with the decision to give up smoking or have the live saving surgery needed, that people choose to give up the habit finally. It is when you hit rock bottom with your alcoholism that you finally decide to get help. It is when the bills are piled to high and you have pulled the phone out of the wall so you don’t have to listen to those creditors anymore, when you may want to look at how you can dig yourself out of the hole you are in financially. Now is the perfect time because if we do not switch who we serve we will be left alone and high and dry.
here is a good little video that helps bring this into perspective.
What does money give us? Our world tells us that money gives us happiness. Donald Trump once said, “Whoever says money can’t buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.” We are bombarded with countless advertisements that tell us how to use our money to purchase things that will make us happy. It is the newest tablet that can solve all our lives’ issues. We that new car make truly make us feel better about ourselves? Does it really matter what TV we watch the game on? According to the commercials, YES!
Money gives us security. We feel secure in our lives when we have insurance to cover anything unexpected and a savings account that makes up for the unexpected things that the insurance doesn’t cover. This way we have control over anything that comes our way. Investment firms want us to make sure we have the right number before we retire and that needs to be close to a seven digit number. Our houses use to be the rock on which our financial situation stood. Yet three years ago things changed and now a lot of people owed more than their house was worth. As the market has risen and fallen and risen and fallen, people have seen their savings, rise and fall, rise slightly and then fall even more. We are stuck and that feeling of security that our money has given us is gone.
When you get into small talk with someone before about three sentences in we ask, “What do you do for a living?” It is a natural thing to ask because how we make money is how we identify who we are. I’m a computer programmer. I’m a nurse. I work with children as a day care provider. I’m a second shift fabric cutter. Yes these jobs, which we earn money doing, give us a sense of identity, purpose and hopefully fulfillment. It feels good to cash a paycheck. It feels great to get money for doing work. But does that truly leave to fulfillment?
W. Graham Scroggie, as pastor at the turn of the 20th century, once said, “There are two ways in which a Christian may view his money—‘How much of my money shall I use for God?’ or ‘How much of God’s money shall I use for myself?’” This is a direct change in thinking when it comes to money. When we see our paycheck, our bank accounts, our investment profolios we think, our money. Yet if we track that money back far enough, to the reason we got it in the first place, we always end up at God. We get a paycheck because we are good at our job. We are good at our job because it fits our talents and abilities. Those talents and abilities were given to us by God. What if you don’t like your job. We get a paycheck for doing work. We are able to do work because we have two hands, lungs, feet, a heartbeat and a brain. All those come from God. We really don’t need six degrees of separation to find out that everything we truly have comes from God. Yet that is a different way of thinking about things.
It is different to us but it was engrained into the thinking of the people in the Bible. If we read Exodus we get the story of the Hebrew people being moved out of slavery in Egypt and into freedom in the wilderness. It is out there that God starts to train his people to become the nation he wants them to be. In chapter 25 Moses is getting instructions from God on how to build the Tabernacle, the church. It starts off saying, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give.’” They are doing so because they are overjoyed by the gracious God they worship, who has brought them out of slavery and into freedom. Then in chapters 35 and 36 people start to bring freewill offerings to the Tabernacle. People start piling their gifts and preparing to build their temple. Gift upon gift comes, until finally Moses has to speak up and say, “‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.”(36:6-7) The Israelites were so moved by God’s gracious gifts that they flooded the sanctuary with more than they could handle. They gave so much that it was almost too much. I truly pray that our cards on the altar, would reflect the same sentiment.
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he gives them an update on one of the first Christian capital campaigns. Paul had sent word out to the churches he helped start that there was a need in the believers of Jerusalem. Many of the believers were from the poor in that city and to make matters worse a famine had hit the area. Paul called in some favors and asked for some help. Paul tells them that he knows they are not seeing great times too but it was their duty, they faith, they dedication to follow God that calls them to serve God by helping others. It is here in chapter 8:7 that Paul writes, “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us- see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” If we as Christians want to make it clear who we serve, we have to put our money to work through the act of generosity.
There are many spiritual disciplines out there to partake in. Prayer and meditation can center our souls and give us time to hear God in our daily lives. But carving out time to daily talk with God also demonstrates priorities. It says that out of everything I need to do today, talking with God, listening to God is something I have to do. My time with God is too important. There is also fasting. This is the discipline of not eating for a certain period of time, like fasting from lunch on every Wednesday during a holy season or for a whole day. The purpose of fasting is to once again put in perspective what is most important in our lives. God is most important, more important than our time and our food. When we feel hungry we are reminded also of all the things God has given us because at the end of that period of time we will have a full pantry to open up and feast on.
There are more spiritual disciplines you can participate in, like service and worship. But I highlighted these too because it takes a couple of things that we cherish in our lives and it reorders our thinking about them. Our time and our food are vitally important to us but when we put God in front of them we are reminded who we truly serve. Do we serve the clock or the calendar, or the creator of time? Do we worship the food in front of us or do we see it as a blessing that comes from the creator of the earth?
Giving or being generous is also a spiritual discipline because it reminds us who we truly serve. Richard Foster is a Christian theologian from the Quaker tradition and he once said, “If money determines what we do and what we don’t do, then money is our boss.” Giving is not an extension of what you possess. It isn’t the left over fruit that doesn’t serve any other purpose. We are not to give God our leftovers. Giving is an expression of who possess you. We give because God is working in us and through us to transform the world.
Rev. J.H. Jowett said that “The real measure of our wealth is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money.” What would you be worth? Is your worth found in your check book or in your savings account? Or is it found in the ways you live out your faith? Are your daily actions a reflection and a response of the God who loves you? Are you putting God in front of all aspects of your life or just the ones you feel you don’t need to necessarily control? Money is money, but God is God. Jesus states that we cannot serve two masters. Paul tells us to excel in everything including our giving. What is God telling you to do?
And all God’s people said…Amen.