given on Sunday, August 28, 2011
Note: This particular sermon precedes the annual charge conference. The scripture being used is 2 Corinthians 8 which explains the value of managing money and giving generously to others. It is the foundation of Methodism.
Charging Up . . . extravagant generosity
This week I read an article about one of the Libyan Americans from the Kansas City region. He had gone to Libya to work, but arrived there in time for the revolution. The job disappeared, the safety dissolved, and the journey became life and death. The journey turned into an escape as he drove across the rough landscape, staying off roads, and getting back to the United States.
Do you know what his concern was once he got back into Kansas City? It was not for his own safety, not for all the material loss he experienced, not for the Libyans. The Star’s story ends:
. . . he’s not bothered, except by one thing: The war he left behind was waiting for him when he got home, even in seeing his niece.
“She’s surrounded by stories of Gadhafi wanting to kill people, people wanting to kill Gadhafi — all that rhetoric, sometimes she repeats it.” He pauses. “She’s 4.”
He lets the last two words hang in the air over the parking lot outside the restaurant, and then stays quiet for a long time. It’s 10 p.m. here; in Libya at that moment, rebels were still fighting Gadhafi’s troops street by street in Tripoli.
Those last few lines of the news story sunk deep into my heart. Here we sit, safe and sound in our homes. We hear the news, we witness violence in so many forms in a remote manner, a virtual manner, and we become desensitized.
Yet, it reaches us. And it charges us up as Christians. It makes us want to do something. We want to see a world that truly is transformed by God’s grace. We feel compelled to give. The quandary is how.
As one of the thousands of small rural churches crisscrossing the country—even the world, there is no way that each one of us can meet the multitude of needs individually. The giving, the mission can be achieved by connections. The power of one is multiplied many times over by working together, by giving together.
I am so fortunate to witness that type of power right here in our community. Over the past few years I have seen a small band of Methodists decide something needs to be done, and together—not individually—they do it. Maybe it is a family who struggles to manage the special needs of foster children. Maybe it is a neighbor who is struggling with health issues. Maybe it is simply a maintenance issue of the church.
The issue is not the point; it is the power of the members when they join together to minister. They become charged up. They connect with one another to assure that a need is met. Together they work in connectional ministry and together they deliver grace.
Small churches alone can make a difference right in their own community as long as they identify a mission, develop a plan, and simply step up and do it. The church that does not work together will not carry out God’s work—it loses its charge.
Today, and each Sunday, we worship together. We sing our hymns of praise, we make our offerings, we pray together, and we study God’s words. When worship is over, we meet together. Most Sundays that gathering is filled with fellowship—asking how each other is, discussing the latest news, offering up concerns or joys. Sometimes a plan is discussed off in one conversation, and sometimes prayers are called for in another discussion. The connections are there, but the power of uniting together is not.
The same day that the newspaper reported the experience and the concern of the Libyan American who just returned from his ordeal, the headline was the resignation of the KC School District’s superintendent. The outpouring of concern was for the 17,000 students who have struggled for decades to have a school that prepared them for a productive adult life. The community is outraged. There is no plan—yet. But there certainly is a shift from every facet of the community to join together to find a solution.
The world around us, even hundreds of miles from the eye of a hurricane, reaches into our small, private world. We do not exist alone on an island in this vast world. We cannot isolate ourselves from the cries of the people whether right here in our community or clear around the world in a distant country. We live in a connected, global community and the only way to make a difference is to be connected.
Labor Day weekend our community, which crosses a county line, comes together for a fair. Seemingly this is not a concern; rather it should be time for family, friends, and FUN. Our community reaches beyond the town’s streets. It reaches into the fields and neighboring communities. We rally, become charged up as a community to come together, and right there in the midst of it is God.
Sure the churches sit in the middle of town. Sure the doors are open and the space is being used. But what is the primary purpose of providing the hospitality, the sloppy joes, and the dessert? The purpose is to give. We give of our cooking talents, of our time, and of our money to provide for connectional ministries.
Choosing to identify a local need—the cost of heating in the winter months ahead—is setting the goal. The plan is in place to create a community relief fund and it takes everybody working together to carry out the plan. Yes, we have a responsibility to meet the connectional ministries of the global church, too, but it is the immediate needs in our own local community that brings us together and activates God’s grace.
What a joy it is to participate in two small churches that know that God’s grace is key to a quality life. What a pleasure it is to know that God’s love is present right here in these pews. What an honor it is to serve in the small church that knows how rewarding it is to give so others may know God’s love. Let’s step out those open doors today, charged up to carry God’s grace to those in need here and around the world.
Dear Gracious Father,
You loved us so much that you sacrificed your own son so we might learn how to love, too. The stories of the Bible explain over and over the result of giving to others. But the stories of our churches joining together in ministry demonstrate the power of that love.
Thank you for being present among us in times of trials. Thank you for hearing the prayers lifted up for worries in our neighbors’ lives. Thank you for showing us that working together meets more needs than working alone. Thank you for giving us the means and the strength to make a difference in the lives of our neighbors whether next door or whether around the world.
Be with us this week as we heat up our stoves to bake, as we rest in the evening to serve during the day, as we put our own issues to the side to focus on the needs of others, and as we open the doors to reach out to others whose hearts and minds are weary. –Amen