Let's Go!
2010-09-28 by Stephen Schuette

These readings have it all:  a lament followed by a pep talk (Habakkuk), a half-time speech from the coach (1 Timothy), and a radical statement of faith’s power followed by encouragement to keep on keeping on with it (Luke).

To take the idea of a half-time speech from the coach a little further… The game isn’t over and there’s still a lot of play left.  And maybe you’re down (or “the wicked surround the righteous,” as Habakkuk puts it), but work the game plan as you’ve practiced it and as you envisioned it.  Your endurance and persistence and patience and inner strength and “self-discipline” and “trust” will stand.  And it will not just be a witness for a future promise.  It will be a witness to who you are right now and the one in whom you put your trust.

But what of the impatience to which Habakkuk is a witness?  I think of the cry in the civil rights movement that urged it forward:  justice delayed is justice denied.  Must we simply be patient when there’s something to be done?  I don’t believe that the text is encouraging us to wait when there are things to be done.  I don’t believe it’s urging a passive acceptance.  Justice needs some urgency or else it will always be delayed.

Instead I think the texts are more focused on attitude than pacing and how to respond to the delays.  “Don’t lose your confidence,” they seem to say.  “God did not give us a spirit of  cowardice.”  Don’t lose your patience and your conviction about what God has promised.  Don’t become frantic or disturbed by the delays that you experience.  Rather, go deeper into the source of your strength and move from strength rather than letting anxiousness overcome you, frazzle you, distract you.  If you are anxious about the timing think about it another way:  it's only a matter of time.

Ever tried to remember a name and the more you tried the further the name goes from your memory?  But in a quiet moment it comes.  The Kingdom of God will not come because we want it.  More often it's about getting out of the way and allowing it.

The contrast couldn’t be clearer:  either centered faith or a distracted, unfocused anxiousness.  Inwardly you know it.  There’s something not right about the proud.  You can’t fake this.  It has to be genuine.  All hands in and “let’s go” on three…1, 2, 3…

More on Stewardship and Communion
2010-09-28 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

There is a great mini-article on the origins of World Communion Sunday on wikipedia.com (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Communion_Sunday).  Interestingly, World Communion Sunday, which started at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh (preaching home of Craig Barnes, one of my favorite preachers!), came out of the work of the Stewardship Committee at the church!  It was in the depths of the Great Depression, and a clear call to reclaim the unity of the body of Christ in the midst of all that was going on at home and abroad.  The minister at the time, Rev. Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr, also wrote a hymn, "God of Our Life," (Presbyterian Hymnal #275) which would be very appropriate for this Sunday.

Faithful stewardship MUST recognize our connectedness as a body.  Otherwise, the question of giving of time, talent, and treasure is "what can I afford to give," rather than "what gifts has God entrusted to me to be used in and through the body of Christ?"  Stewardship requires a 1 Corinthians 12 view of the church - each of us has something that is absolutely necessary for the healthy functioning of the body.  The question of what God has entrusted to us and is calling us to give and use through the church also must be answered in context of the community and the times. 

Abundance at the Table
Coming to the table reminds us of God's providence for our needs and our lives.  It reminds us of our reliance on God's grace alone, rather than on the "security" that we derive from holding on so tightly to what we have.  We are reminded of our unity in Christ as we gather together, and we should also be reminded of those who are absent from the table.  Communion is Eucharist - it is thanksgiving.  We should think of the communion table more like a big Thanksgiving meal - chairs of all kinds pulled up, make-shift tables set up through the house to make room for everyone, and more food than we would ever know what to do with!  Imagine the Lord's Table as overflowing with God's abundant love.  Think of the great hymn by Fred Kaan, "Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ" - "Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again.  Pass the word around - loaves abound!"  God gives us more than enough, abundantly more.  Where else is God's self-giving generosity so apparent than around the Lord's Table?  Shouldn't our giving back reflect our gratitude for God's generosity?

Question on Stewardship
2010-09-28 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

Question: Stephanie - I like the impetus for communal lament - how does such lament fit in for the beginning of stewardship season?

Response: Much of the lament in Scripture is communal lament - including our passages from lamentations and the Psalm for this Sunday.  Communal lament recognizes our connectedness as a community of faith - when some are hurting, all are hurting.  Communal lament recognizes sorrows or ills in the life of the community, even if those sorrows and ills are borne unequally.   Right now in our communities, there is undeniable cause for lament.  While some communities have weathered the recent recession relatively well, other communities have been decimated.  I don't know of a single community that has been untouched by the recession, but even if such a community exists, even those members must join the lament.  Recent census data reports that 1 in 7 people in this country live in poverty, and 1 in 5 children.  I recently read a statistic that among homeless women, 1 in 5 is pregnant.  All of that is reason for communal lament, no matter where we live. 

In terms of stewardship, if we are called to care for the most vulnerable populations, if we are called to promote peace and justice and to live lives that point to the kingdom of God, we must take a hard look at how we are using the resources that God has entrusted to us.  There are enough resources in the world to provide basic needs for all people - nutritious food, shelter, and clothing.  Most of us in (American Mainline Protestants) have more than enough, and yet we often feel as if we are just short of what we need.  We are accustomed to upgrading our lifestyles in accordance with our income.  What if we were accustomed to upgrading our own lifestyles only in accordance with the welfare of our community?  What if each of us lived as though we made 80% of our current salary, and then used the rest for giving and savings?  Not all families are able to give 10% of their income.  But some could give much more than 10%.  Ironically, the data on giving in the US shows that the percentage of income that a household gives each year to religious or charitable organizations is inversely proportional to income levels.  In other words, households with the lowest incomes give higher percentages of their income than their wealthier counterparts.

If God has provided enough resources to go around for everyone, and yet so many in our communities, in our country, and throughout the world are without basic food, shelter, and medical care, where is the disconnect?  If we lament the needs that surround us, if we lament the ways that God's created world has been polluted and transformed from a life-giving planet to a toxic environment, if we lament the status quo - as we should - then we must also hear in that a call to more faithful stewardship of what has been entrusted to us - individually and as the church.

Thanks for the question!  Those are some preliminary thoughts, and certainly not easy ones to think about, and even less "easy" to preach.  I wonder what others think?

Report from Sept 26
2010-09-27 by Stephen Schuette

To report on the sermon from Sept. 26...  I came to the conclusion that the story of Lazarus and the rich man is exceptional.  Most stories from the Gospels contain something of the whole in their kernel.  In fact that may be part of the genius of the gospel writers.  However in the story of Lazarus and the rich man it may be the reverse.  This story seems to need the whole of the gospel around it, and may never have been meant to stand alone.

On its own it's a bit like the story of Ebenezer Scrooge facing the ghosts of past, present, and future without the ending where he shouts out the window to buy the turkey and became the one, of all people, who knew how to keep Christmas.  And while there are certain points in our lives that we can never recover again, the hope of the gospel needs to be the larger truth in which the story of Lazarus and rich man is told.

Starting Thoughts
2010-09-27 by Stephanie Sorge Wing

Starting thoughts -
I imagine that as most of us prepare to preach and lead worship this Sunday, World Communion Sunday will be on our minds and in our liturgies.  This week's lectionary readings provide some - shall we say interesting? - texts for this particular Sunday, which also coincides with the first Sunday in our church that we will be inviting members to make pledges for 2011.  A quick glance through the texts is almost enough to make the confirmed lectionary preacher go rogue for a Sunday! 

The passage from Luke begins with a request of the disciples - "Increase our faith!"  It is a good request, and one that many of us perhaps find on our own lips, but it is met by one of Jesus' famous one-liners: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."  What follows is a somewhat disturbing parable about a slave's expectations of reward following the work that is obviously expected.  Kimberly Bracken Long points out in the Feasting on the Word commentary that this parable is to encourage us to understand faith as a way of life, rather than something received to be stored away and added to.  She highlights the importance of our faith in the life of community, and what better time to think about that connection than on World Communion Sunday? 

The reading from 2 Timothy also points us to look at the life of faith to which we are called.  Pointing to the faith heritage handed down by mother and grandmother, can we not also reflect upon the faith heritage we have received from our mothers, grandmothers, and other ancestors in faith on this World Communion Sunday?  I am also drawn to the 13th verse - "Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."  The mention of "sound teaching" immediately brings to my mind the many disputes among Christians today - interdenominationally, intradenominationally, with those who worship "next door" or "across the street," and with those who worship a few pews down from us.  Perhaps we can invite the congregation to ask with us what it looks like to be united as one Body of Christ, to recognize our one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, when we don't even recognize the same baptisms, or offer welcome to all at the table of the Lord.

Finally, we have two readings from Lamentations.  We are also offered the choice of Psalm 137.  I often go to the Psalm for a Call to Worship, though the telling of happiness of those who take little ones and dash them against rocks might be rough.  On my initial scan through the lectionary passages, I nearly skipped right through those from Lamentations.  And yet, this is the only time in our 3-year Cycle that we are offered Lamentations in the Sunday lectionary readings.  How often do we, as a worshiping church, have the opportunity for communal lament?  Perhaps we organize special services  - such as the "Blue Christmas" or "Longest Night" service that is becoming part of our Advent worship.  We might gather immediately following major disasters or tragedies, or on the anniversaries, but there is seldom room in our regular Sunday worship for time and space to lament.

I am going to paraphrase and butcher something that John Bell put much more eloquently.  Each Sunday when we gather, there are those in our midst who do not particularly feel like giving praise and thanksgiving to God.  They do not fell like singing joyful songs.  Perhaps we find ourselves there at times.  Where is the room for those individuals in the life of the worshiping community?  But if we can afford and offer that space, on occasion, for lament in worship, then they can more authentically be united to the worshiping body, to hear that our praise is your praise, and your lament is our lament.  It really doesn't take much to look around and see cause for lament in our society, and I imagine that most preachers can quickly name at least a few individuals in the congregation on whose hearts are words of lament, not to mention those unknown to us.  As I continue to enter into the Word this week, I feel drawn to grab this once-in-three-years opportunity to preach from this book of Lamentations.

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