Giving your treasure back to God. By Rev. June Fothergill  November 8, 2015Treasure_VersionB

Mark 12:38–44;  Matthew 6:1-6

Shortly after Dan retired his wife asked him , “ What are you going to do today?”  “ Nothing.” He said.  “ That’s what you did yesterday” She said.   “ Yes,  He answered, but I wasn’t finished.”

This past week my husband and I attended a UMC Retirement Workshop.  The experts suggest that we attend a couple of these before we retire.  I have to tell you two things about the UMC retirement system- it’s a bit complicated ( thus the need for a two day workshop)  and it is generous, thanks to the ongoing generosity of all of you.  It struck me a while ago that our pension programs as a church are one of the ways we participate in God’s mission.  These funds provide for the lives of many, many widows and even some orphans.  I personally couldn’t make sure that all the widows of our retired pastors have funds and health care but when I give to God’s work in the church, I help that to happen!   It may not be as exciting as a project in the third world but it makes a day to day difference in so many lives.

Giving our treasure back to God, is choosing to be part of what God is doing in the world.    Sometimes I worry that our meals ministry doesn’t really change lives, and then I woke up one day and realized that it was my life that has been changed!   I was looking through my 30 year unorganized collection of sermon illustrations and found many articles and examples from ministries related to homelessness, some of them from 30 years ago.  Thanks to all of you now I could write some of those articles and stories myself.

For example, if you go to the basement, you will see a poster there that is made up of puzzle pieces that one Wednesday night I put out on all the tables and invited people to write on them their names and thoughts about being the body of Christ.  I gathered them up after the evening and found enough to re make the puzzle on the wall. It’s been up there awhile but I still see people looking at it and commenting on it.  In fact last Wednesday someone suggested- why don’t you let us fill in the missing pieces.

In our meals here at Ebbert we are doing something bigger than ourselves.  We are not only providing  regular, counted on meals for many hungry people, we are also offering a place where folks can experience or at least glimpse the beloved community that comes from Christ.  Where folks want to be part of the puzzle that says we all matter in the Body of Christ, where people listen to one another, where there is relative safety for body and spirit, at least for a time.   This is not something I do, or you do , this is what God does!

This is what it means to give God our treasures.  I like the way Jacob Armstrong puts it,   “Giving is our answer to God’s invitation to join Jesus in his mission! “

It’s exciting to answer that invitation, yet, sometimes we wonder how much of our treasure we are to give.  What is the acceptable amount or way to give our treasure?  Jesus preached about this in Matthew and Mark tells a story.

Mark tells us that Jesus sat in the Temple one day and watched the people giving their offerings.   He had just called to account the elite of that day for neglecting the widows. He had turned over the temple money changers and offering animal sellers. He had reminded everyone that this was to be a place of prayer. Now he watched as the wealthy poured their coins in the offering boxes for all to see. Matthew tells us that earlier He had warned his disciples to be careful about giving as a performance for others to see.

Then a poor widow came up and put in a couple coins worth less than a penny.  She was one of the forgotten ones, one of the least in power and privilege in his day.  He pointed her out to those around him.  All these others gave from their wealth, he said,  but she gave all she had to live upon. Jesus saw a poor widow and took the time to notice her humanity, her struggle, and her great faith. He called those around him to open their eyes and look deeply. He wanted them to see what he saw. ( Seasons of the Spirit)   Her humble act of devotion mattered.  She gave her treasure back to God.

Jesus understood that giving can become performance, an attempt to look good to God and others.  He told his disciples to beware of this type of giving. Instead look to the humble widow.  Her sacrifice seemed to matter little- it barely made a sound in the temple square. Yet, Jesus noticed!  We are invited by Jesus to look at our giving with a humble heart.  Giving our treasure to God is not about the amount or the recognition, but being open to being changed by and a part of what God is doing- not just in the world but in our hearts.

There is a story about a couple from the US who went on a mission trip in Korea.  One day they passed a field where a boy pulled a plow while an old man held the plow handles.  The husband was amused and took a picture.  “ That’s a curious picture I suppose they are poor,” he said to the missionary who was their interpreter and guide.  “ Yes,” was the reply, “ That is the family of Chi Noui. When the church was built they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money so they sold the only ox they had and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves.”  The husband and wife were silent for some minutes. Then the wife said, “ That was a real sacrifice.”  “ They did not call it that,” said the missionary. “ They thought it was fortunate they had an ox to sell.”

That couple went home and humbly looked at their own giving and realized they had never really sacrificed. They changed their hearts and their giving.  Are we today also being called to sacrificial giving?

In the scriptures from Matthew today Jesus puts side by side concerns about giving with ideas about prayer.  Giving our treasures to God involves trusting God as the source of our lives.  Taking the time to commune with our Savior helps us see afresh his love and sacrifice for us.  To see with gratitude all that God has given us.

Also our time in prayer strengthens us and inspires us for this participation in God’s mission. Communion with God can give us the insight to know how and when to give sacrificially.  Spending time with God deepens our trust that participation in God’s mission includes meeting our own needs and what is enough.   Such prayer connects us with the flow of God’s mercy and love for us and for our world.

This next week we will be sending out a letter with a Treasure Commitment Card enclosed.  This will be an opportunity for you and I to be in prayer for how God wants us to put our prayers into action.  We have the wonderful opportunity to give our treasure to God.   The scriptures guide us that the spiritual discipline of tithing a portion of our wealth first, will deepen our trust in God.  It puts our prayers and desires to be part of God’s work into concrete action.

I found this illustration about tithing in my father’s sermon notes. It comes from John Henry Soltman and was part of a  letter from a man in Medford Oregon. He wrote, “  I heard a Methodist minister suggest a six months trial of tithing as a means of approach to a better spiritual understanding. Well, I had tried about everything else, so my wife and I decided to try it. We seemed seldom to have enough money to pay current bills anyway. We took 10% off the top and divided the rest between our needs.  Do you know what happened? The old pay check seemed to develop a two way stretch just like a modern girdle. It covered the whole situation and firmed up our spiritual foundations.. after six months we couldn’t stop, we didn’t want to, because we had discovered our treasures in heaven.”

Remember that newly retired guy I started with?  Well, we are invited to a life with greater meaning and purpose!   And we are not finished!   For  it’s exciting to be part of Jesus mission to care for this world.   I look out at all of you and see so many ways you are participating in  Christ’s mission.    Supporting  Imagine NO Malaria,  Helping raise grandchildren or caring for an elderly parent, being there for a friend, feeding the hungry  and so much else and of course contributing to this congregation.  We have  so much treasure of time, talents and money to give to God.

And we know that we will experience life more fully, when we respond to all that God has done for us by participating in what God is doing in the world.   We can choose to invest our time, money, and energy in the things of God, things that are so much bigger than what one or two of us can do on our own.   Isn’t it great that we get to be a part of things that only God can do, finding joy and meaning in the knowledge that we played a part. God is calling us to sacrificial and joyful  giving.

 

Sermon  Nov. 1, 2015  “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee”  by Rev. June FothergillTreasure_VersionB

Mark 12: 28-31;  Matthew 6:24

The Bishop’s Symposium I went to this week reminded me that although we live in a culture here in the NW that includes many people who have no interest in the church, God has a mission for us.   We in the UMC offer a way of faith and life that can make a difference in the lives of people.  When we focus on our experience of God, and what difference it makes in our lives, we have a key for what we can share with persons in our community.   When we begin to talk with each other about our relationship with God/ Christ, we will learn how to share with others who may be seeking an authentic relationship with God.

I chose as the sermon title this old song,” O Master Let Me Walk with Thee,”   because it has been the longing of my heart for most of my life.  I am so grateful to have Christ in my life as master and friend.   One of my treasures is a little leather bound hymnbook from the Church of the Brethren dated 1876.  As I was reading through it carefully one day I found this gem,  “Thou art the sea of love/Where all my pleasures roll/ The circle where my passions move/ The center of my soul.”  ( Hymn # 10 “ God all in all” A Collection of Spiritual  Hymns  Lancaster PA, 1876)   It thrills me to pray those words .   They remind me of the choice I make each day to serve with love the One who loves me, who is LOVE.

What is your experience of your relationship with Christ?    These passages invite us to commit our hearts and lives, the center of our souls to Christ. From that commitment, all other choices and priorities will flow.

Jesus puts it bluntly in Matthew 6.  We can’t be committed to two different Masters.  We can’t serve both God and Mammon  ( wealth/ money).   I tend to chaff against either /or thinking.   Yet, I get what Matthew  and Jesus are saying,  they are creating a contrast to get our attention, to invite our commitment.   It is like the OT Joshua and Elijah giving Israel their choice- do you serve God or do you go after other lesser gods.  A divided heart can break or at the very least be strained  and confused.

Clarence Jordan sought to live with a full commitment to Christ in a time when racism in the south divided people’s hearts. He created a  Koinia community where both blacks and whites lived together.  He also wrote a little book about the Sermon on the Mount where he points out- “  So Jesus is saying that to try to regulate your life by both standards of measurement is like a man who tries to look at two things at once and sees neither. You will be utterly confused. You must focus your life upon one way or the other. You must choose whether you are going to look upon things through the eyes of Christ or the eyes of the world.    … notice that he doesn’t say that you shouldn’t serve two masters but that you can’t.  “  (p.93  The Sermon on the Mount  Judson Press, 1952)

So what does it look like in our lives to choose between letting God or Mammon/ money be our master?

  1. I admit my policy has often been to ignore mammon.   I let other people do it – like my husband, or a mutual fund.   Maybe I do this because I don’t have an aptitude for  finance, but I suspect I do it more because I just don’t want to be bothered and somehow it makes me feel virtuous that I don’t spend much thought to money matters.  But this is false thinking.  My money and how it is invested, earned and spent is important. It was important to Jesus.  So being careless about money is not what Jesus is talking about here.    Just because I don’t think about it much doesn’t mean I’m not serving it.  My disregard can mean I am taking it for granted.

Could it be that choosing  Jesus as my master rather than money can mean I do pay attention to my money?  That I ask-  is it invested in ways that serve Christ?  Am I spending it  in ways that reflect my love of God and the world?  Am I earning it in a way that reflects my faith?  Am I giving it away in ways that are joyful and faithfilled?   Could it be that to serve God with all of my heart means to include God in my money matters?

That’s actually kind of exciting. That one of the important aspects of each of our lives- having the finances to provide for our needs, can also be an area where God can be  and is at work.   This is not a part of our lives separate from our faith  and even can become an expression of it!   What a fun way to think about my stuff, my material treasures- how can their use, their investment reflect God’s purposes?  When I put God first in my life- I start to see how  God is part of all of my life!.

I think this is what Matthew and Jesus are trying to tell us with this contrast.  You can’t serve God and Mammon ( wealth/ money)  Both can’t have first place in our hearts and life choices.  But the commitment to God can help us put money in its proper place.

  1.  Secondly, making this choice  to make God our master opens us to the guidance  God wants to give us about how to live our lives.  In the Mark’s passage this morning Jesus teaches us about our priorities.  He says love God first  and also love neighbor as self .  This gives us another way of looking at our treasure.  To choose to commit to God as our master is to love God and others; to make that work of love the priority of our hearts and actions.  When we do this then we have a criteria to look at our financial lives.  To see how our use of money can reflect love.  To ask , does the place and priority we put on our material treasures help us to love God and neighbor or hinder?

Jacob Armstrong tells a story about how his obsession with keeping his new car clean led to his angry behavior toward his children when they spilled pop in the new car.   Sometimes we do get out of whack. We let material concerns and anxieties get in the way of our loving.    I know that sometimes I get anxious about a financial situation and  become irritable and snappy.    Sometimes we struggle with living out of God’s priorities.  I want to love my neighbor and God, but well sometimes I just forget and get wrapped up in my own life and stresses.  There are many pushes and pulls on our lives.

Biblical scholar, Roger Shinn way back in 1954 warned us that making God our priority can be difficult.   “ When Christianity came to northern Europe, rulers sometimes led whole armies through river for mass baptisms. As the story goes some warriors walked into the water with the right hand held high and dry. The soul could belong to God; but the unbaptized right hand could wield a sword as freely as before.  Our own story may be like that. We pledge loyalty to God, but withhold something dear. Some habit, pet vanity, ambition or bank account remains unbaptized,  uncommitted. So we try to serve God with half the heart, soul, mind and strength.  “ (p. 55 Roger Shinn, The Sermon on the Mount. New York, Abingdon Press.  1954)

The good news is that we have another way to live.  In Christ Jesus we know God to be a source of grace and forgiveness and a Spirit that walks with us.   So choosing Christ as our master  allows us to change, to grow , to learn how to love God and others more consistently and completely.   We don’t get it all figured out immediately when we ask Jesus to become the master of our hearts, but with Jesus there beside us, we are on a journey of learning and growing in love, in how to treat others well, in how to live with  God like priorities with our finances.

This is what John Wesley called “ entire sanctification” of going on to “ perfection”    We believe that having Jesus in our hearts makes a difference!     It doesn’t mean that we will never be irritable or make foolish money choices but that Jesus and the community of Christ  will help us along the way.  For Wesley,  the basic unit of the vital church of Christ was small groups of folks sharing with each other about their relationship with God and helping one another learn and grow in Christ and holy living.  This is our tradition.  That  God takes us imperfect, divided heart people and helps us grow in wholeness, in love, in loving relationship with our world and our God.

So this is where it all starts- we are loved by  God  who challenges us to make LOVE the center of our souls.   To serve one Master will all our heart , soul, mind and strength. And when we do so we discover that  this One provides the love, the assurance, the guidance, the companions  we need to walk in holiness and love, to put our finances and our ambitions in a wider deeper perspective.   To have an undivided heart.    Song writer Linea Good  says it in music and poetry. I invite you to listen and decide- what will be the center of my soul, who shall I serve and treasure?

Linnea Good Song   “ There is your heart”

“ From a year in which I remembered that before we were called to give, to return , to love, to act, to explain, to do a single thing, we were loved.”

Clouds hanging low in the sky

Wind comes acircling by

How can we savor the wonder of this day?

Laughter that dances on air.

If you had only one prayer

Would that a thank you might be all you’d say

Lay your burdens down

Sing your own life’s part

There where your treasure lies

There is your heart

 

Mornings do melt into day

Life is a moment’s delay

How can we hold to the things that have no touch?

Money and talent, and time

These are the gifts of our kind

Offerings here to a life we love so much

Lay your burdens down

Sing your own life’s part

There where your treasure lies

There is your heart

 

Water and air that are clean

Space for the children to dream

Each of us cradles a vision of how this could be

Shower your vision with care

And offer to God with your prayer

Your money, your talent, your time gratefully

Lay your burdens down

Sing your own life’s part

There where your treasure lies

There is your heart

October 25, 2015   Sermon- A Change of Treasure- A change of Heart by Rev. June Fothergill

Matthew 6: 19- 21  and Mark 10: 46-52 Treasure_VersionB

Over the years as a pastor I have had people come to me asking for financial help. In other churches they tended to be transients on their way somewhere else who needed gas money or a meal.  In Wasco, the little town on Hwy 97  one man came to my door demanding I drive him 10 miles down the road and showed me he prison ID.  I said no to him.  Another man came by and asked if he could camp in our yard. I said yes to him and even invited him to dinner.   The hardest ones for me to deal with were those who had great needs that I could not fulfill.  Who asked of me more money and treasure than I had or was willing to give.  I have struggled with how much of my treasure to put toward the needs of others.

The story of Bartemaus helps me with this struggle with my treasure.   He heard about Jesus and immediately wanted to connect with him- Jesus son of David have mercy on me!  He was discouraged by the folks around him but cried out all the more-have mercy on me, Jesus.

What if we were to take our struggles with treasure in our lives to Jesus with the same cry- Have mercy on us Jesus!     Bartemaus recognized his need for Jesus.  Do we?

Jacob Armstrong  in his little book about treasure that we’re using these next four weeks for devotions and study, suggests that we begin by asking ourselves two questions:

Where do I want to invest my treasures?    Where am I really investing my treasures?

We all have treasure- our money, our time, our resources and skills- things we greatly value.   Armstrong identified that for many people where they invested their treasure didn’t lineup with here they wanted their hearts to be.   We want our hearts to be with Jesus and his kingdom. Yet, too often our treasures are going in other directions.  AS he puts it  “ We want to give our lives to our church, our family, our God. Instead our heart follows our debt, our job, and our bills and we haven’t even realized it.  As a result we’re left feeling conflicted and empty.” P. 7 ( Treasure by James Armstrong)

Jesus tells us in Matthew to store up treasures in heaven not on the earth.  We understand storing up treasures on earth.   We have earthly treasures. But what does it mean to store up treasures in heaven?

Apparently in Jesus day good works were a treasure laid up with God.  In Mark 10 he tells of a man seeking to inherit eternal life- sell your possessions and give to the poor and  you will have treasure in heaven.   In  Matt 12:35  Jesus says “a good person brings good things out of a good treasure and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.  “

Luke 12:21 there is the parable of the rich fool who relaxed  when he had his barns full but died that night.  Jesus says of him,  “ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God. “  Jesus had noticed that where your treasure is there will also be your heart.

Bartemaus was a blind beggar. That must have meant that he sat at the side of the road and asked people to help him with coins.  He spent his time seeking money so he could eat and live.  HE was dependent upon others generosity.   Then he heard about  Jesus.  Instead of asking Jesus for money he cried out for mercy.   B had been seeking material treasure, but when he hears of Jesus he realizes the possibility of deeper treasure- to receive the mercy of  Jesus.   He senses that Jesus can give him more than a few coins.  A treasure of greater worth. So he’s willing to cry out, to run the risk of the crowd’s displeasure to reach Jesus.

Could it be that we too need more in our lives than the coins, the money that provides for our material needs?  That even sometimes the treasures of our possessions and money can become burdens?     I remember once talking with a cousin of mine who had loads of money.  She was considering what to study in college. She told me that she almost had to study business whether she wanted to or not because she needed to know how to take care of her money.   I remember realizing  that for her  having so much money was restricting her options in ways I didn’t have to consider.

I have talked with folks who are growing more frail and wondering what to do about their  house and yard- all the treasures they have accumulated in a lifetime.   My friend Mary once told me at 95 that  although she knew it would be a good idea to move into an apartment or duplex with her sister who needed her- she just couldn’t imagine how in the world she would deal with moving and sorting all the things in her house!  It was overwhelming.  Her material treasures felt like a burden.    What can we do when we sense that our earthly treasures are not fulfilling our lives or have even become burdensome?   We can cry out to Jesus” Have mercy on me.”

Of course Bartemaus ‘s problem most days of his life wasn’t too many possessions but too few.  He lived on the edge financially.  That too is the struggle for some of us.  Some of us of barely get by each month or wonder how we will pay our bills.  Some of us struggle with the burden to too much debt and wonder how we will ever be free of it.  Financial worries and woes can drag us down emotionally and physically.  What can we do when we realize that our earthly treasures or lack of them have control of our hearts?  We can cry out to Jesus, Have mercy on me.

When Bartemaus did that, he ran into opposition.  The folks around him wanted to shush him up.  He was disturbing them!  Honestly, isn’t it true that when we start to really talk about our earthly treasures, we get nervous.  Who wants to talk about money and treasure?  Especially at church! Yet, Jesus talked about wealth and money a lot!  He knew that unless we honestly deal with how we use our treasure, our hearts will not be right.   As we saw a couple weeks ago, those possessions and worry about them did get in the way of people joyfully and freely following Jesus.   Jesus wants to heal our conflicted hearts!

So Jesus told the crowd, all those who would keep Bartemaus and us from relationship with him to instead, invite Bartemaus to come to him.  The crowd has a change of heart and encouraged Bart and helped him come to Jesus.  I think this is what we are wanting to do in our stewardship program this year.   WE as the church want to invite all of us to come to Jesus with  the conflicts and concerns we have around the treasure in our lives.  We don’t want to ignore the issues  but to create pathways of prayer, devotion, sharing that will help us all come to Jesus and receive the call and healing of our hearts Jesus offers so we can build up treasures in heaven.

For that is what Jesus offers to Bartemaus  He asks him,” What do you want me to do for you?”  He invites BArtemaus to consider the needs of his heart. What is the treasure that Bartemaus most needs, what will help free him to full life and walk with God?  What does he need help with in order to live fully?

Now, we know the story so of course we say- well duh he wanted to see.  But he could very well have asked for other things- don’t we sometimes?   He could have asked for money or a wife or a change in how society viewed blind folks or beggars.  He asked for what would help him align his treasure and his heart. To see meant that he was freed to give up begging and follow Jesus with his whole life.

When we come to Jesus in our prayer for his mercy- what do we need? What will give us the life we desire, the freedom to love and serve Christ?  What do we need from Christ to help us align our hearts and our treasure?

One example is the people in the crowd in this story of Bartemaus.   At first they shush Bartemaus.  But then Jesus tells them to bring Bartemaus to him.  They are invited to have a change of heart; to take time to reach out to a blind beggar instead of pushing him away.    If I treasure my safety, my reputation, my agenda rather than listening to Jesus and his call in my life , what do I miss?  If I start to listen to and be open to these new and challenging relationships- what treasure in heaven to I discover?   When I treasure the call and gift of the Spirit in each person I meet, how does that effect my heart?  When my heart responds in compassion to someone in need- how do I discover the treasure of Christ?   Mother Teresa said that she experienced Christ here before her in the eyes and being of the poor she served. They were her treasure and there she saw the treasure of God.

There are many ways  Jesus can help us to  realign our treasure and heal our hearts.  Maybe for some of us it’s a realignment of time to spend more of it with family and friends.  Maybe for some of us it’s a realignment of our money, to give more of it toward the things that matter us like the poor and our church and its mission.  Maybe for some of us it’s a realignment of our mental energy away from worrying about our finances to making helpful plans and  sticking with them.  Maybe for some of us it’s help with  difficult decisions about what to do with our earthly treasures.

The good news is that Jesus truly cares  about our hearts and wants to help us align our treasure and our hearts.  Jesus wants us to learn to put our treasure where our hearts can rejoice  and love and grow in faith.

One of my very favorite things is when I give a gift to someone that truly answers the need of their hearts.  I remember giving my son a gift one time that lit up his face!   Could it be that God can help each of us   to  use and give our treasure in ways that will light up other people’s faces, that will  make God’s kingdom more visible, that will bring joy to us and to Jesus?  I invite us to explore this possibility together in the weeks ahead.  That our hearts and our treasures may align and  join Bartemaus in following Jesus with joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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