Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Holding on, Loosely" -- a sermon on Generosity, for All Saints Day

John 11/Psalm 24

            Today is All Saints Day – and I can’t help thinking that every one of us has at least one person we are remembering today 
            -- at least one person for whom we will light a candle, at least one person for whom we give thanks because they were ‘saints'  for us
            – they let the light of God’s love shine through them in some way or another. 
            Today is All Saints Day – a day when it has become our custom to name those who have died in the past year – and also to light candles for others who we remember, who we call saints. 

            Saints.  No matter how many times I say it, it still seems odd, at least I some ways. 
            Because we associate the word ‘saint’ with those extraordinary heroes of the faith.  “I’m not a saint!”  Are you a saint?
             It can be a problem, this word.  What is a saint, anyway?  

            Whatever you think, today is a day to remember people in our lives that have been gifts to us, in one way or another. 
            We call them ‘saints.’ 
            But what is it about them that makes them a saint…. I have been thinking about that this week, and I have been thinking about my dad.             
He is one of my saints, even though he would also be someone who would claim, “I’m not a saint!” 
            He is one of my saints, because his life is a gift for which I give thanks, because he taught me so much:  about faith, about love, about holding on, loosely.   
            He loved to laugh, to tell jokes, and to sing, even though he didn’t know all of the words. 
            His favorite Bible passage, he liked to tell me, was from John 11:  “Jesus wept.”
             He said it with a twinkle in his eye. 
            Not only did this verse say a lot about Jesus – but it also was short and easy to remember.  My dad.
             He used to stand next to me in church, singing with strong baritone, helping me find my place so that I could sing along.  My dad.      He and my mom told us Bible stories, and taught how to pray.        Except that my dad had a special way of teaching us. 
            He would sit down at the edge of our beds, and he would talk to us in this creaky old voice, and say, “I am Methusalah, the world’s oldest man.” 
            He would claim to know Abraham and Moses and David.
             But he was sooo old that he would forget or fall asleep during the Lord’s prayer, so that we had to supply the missing words.  My dad. 
            “I’m not a saint,” he would probably say.  He belonged to God, and the light of God shined through him.

            You might wonder, on this day, why we are reading Psalm 24.        John 11 makes sense.
             It is about the hope we have as Christians, what makes us saints.  But why are we reading from Psalm 24 as well? 
            Probably it is assigned for All Saints Day because of the verse about having clean hands and pure hearts, but I can’t help noticing the verse first verses today. 
            They are good verses for All Saints Day too.
             “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” 
            Everything belongs to God – and we belong to God too. 
            We come from God, and we go back from God.
             In the middle – is the gift.  We are gifts to one another. 
            We are gifts to God, too.  Hold your life, loosely.
             My dad did that.  He took Jesus very seriously.  Himself – not so much. 

            When I first learned that we would be in the middle of our stewardship campaign on All Saints Day, I worried. 
            I didn’t’ want something like “Stewardship” to get in the way of remembering the saints and giving thanks for their lives.
             I didn’t want something like money getting in the way of talking about saints as those who trust Jesus and hold their lives loosely. 
            But the more I thought about it, the more I had to wonder why.     What is it about money that makes me want to avoid the subject?            Is it because I have to admit that there are times when I have been good at giving – but there have also been times when I have been bad at giving?
             Is it because I know that money is a touchy subject for all of us, including me?
             I almost have an easier time confessing when I haven’t been so good at prayer – than I do my failures in financial stewardship.

            But you see -- giving – whether money or time or talent – but we are talking about money right now – is a spiritual discipline, like prayer.  We don’t do it so that God will love us more – God couldn’t possibly love us more than God already does. 
            We don’t do it because we have to – but we do it – we give – because God already holds our lives so tightly, because God weeps with us, and rejoices over us, and when we give – we are able to hold our lives a little more loosely. 
             And the two things – that are important in the spiritual discipline called giving are that we give regularly,  and that we give proportionately. 
            We give regularly so that it becomes a habit.  We just get used to it. 
            We get used to it in the same way as we get used to opening our hands and receiving the bread and wine for communion:  Jesus’ life and forgiveness, for us. 
            We get used to it in the same way we get used to folding our hands and bowing  our heads in prayer.   And when we get used to it… it gets down into us, so that, when a young man who grew up in this church got a bonus from his company recently, the first thing he thought of was to share a portion of it with his faith community.

            The second discipline involved in giving is that it be proportional – that is we give according to what we have, not what we don’t have.
             I know a woman who was very intentional about giving more – because she knew her congregation – her church family – well enough – and loved them well enough  -- to know that she could do it while others  – could not. 
            She gave proportionately, according to what she had.

            And the third discipline – did I say there were only two? 
            The third is joy.  Give joyfully. 
            Because your names are written in the book of life. 
            Because God holds your life so tightly.
             Because the whole world, and everything in it, belongs to God.  Because life, in all its terror and all its beauty, is a gift. 
            Because you get to hold babies, to wade in oceans, to break bread, to sing, to hear the stories of your parents, your children, your grandchildren.
            Because this is your church family – because we belong to one another --
             Because the sign of the cross is marked on your forehead.    Because Jesus wept, and rose from the dead. 
            And because God promises – that God will take your life – your whole life – every single part of you, including your finances – and used it to proclaim the glory of God. 
            And the light of Christ will shine through you – through us – as a congregation. 

            Give regularly.  Give proportionately.  Give joyfully.  Joyfully.

            I can’t help thinking today as I am remembering – there was this time I was a young adult, and I was just out of the nest.  And this terrible (I thought it was terrible) thing happened one night.
             It was dark, and I was trying to lock my car out on the street, and the key got stuck in the lock. 
            And I pulled and I pulled and I pulled and the key broke in there.  I went up to my apartment and I called my dad.
             What else could I do?  I explained my dilemma and said I didn’t know if I could afford a locksmith. 
            And he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry.  I’ll give you money.”  And I said, ‘Dad, you don’t have any money.” 
            And he laughed and said, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” 
            I was so depressed.  And I thought it was the end of the world.
            And my dad made me laugh.   

            He was willing to give me what he had – and what he didn’t have.  And he would do it joyfully – -- and sacrificially --because he loved me.     He held his life loosely. 
            But he held mine tightly. 
            Who do you love – that much?

            Hold your life, loosely.
            It’s the only way you can ever hold it, anyway.
            That’s what so many of the saints have taught me -- by the way the lived, by the way they died – by how they gave.
            Their lives belong to God.
            And the light of Christ still shines in them.



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