Sermon February 3, 2019 “ Ministry Sunday” by Rev. June Fothergill Matt. 25: 31-46; Mark 6: 31-44
Since we already talked some about hips, I had forgotten that I am in good company with my hip troubles.
One of the highlights of the past year for me was our banner project. I love it when we do something at our church which brings together people from different worlds. In this case we had teens from A3 and Springfield schools, members of Rotary and their families and folks from our church working together with a young artist who lives part of the time in Costa Rica. The most obvious outcome of our collaboration was the mural which is now gracing the back of our education wing. Yet, other outcomes and relationships are still unknown. Will the high school artists remember the experience and have a soft spot in their hearts for the church? Will our mural inspire our neighbors? It is good to look at how God transforms lives through our ministries but much of the outcomes we have to place in God’s hands.
Jesus told his disciples not to worry about outcomes but to pay attention to the needs of people and how they can meet them. He told them when they realized the crowd was hungry- You feed them. He told the tale of the last judgment when those who cared for the poor and outcast were actually offering care to him. He realized that meeting human needs was part of building his kingdom. He wanted to empower his disciples to do this and continues to empower us even today. We experience this every week when by the gift of God we always gather enough food to fed those who come in need. Sometimes we only find out much later the impact of our ministries.
Recently we made a connection with the Youth Transition Program at the Springfield schools because the woman in charge of the program is an alumni of Ebbert’s youth programs. She thought of us when looking for a good place for her developmentally different students to get work experience. She apparently learned about how to care for all people as a youth in our church. We see the impact of our past youth ministry today in her vocation and renewed connection with us.
I have found that we at Ebbert as fairly typical of our generations and culture in that we don’t easily talk about things like “ transformation,” or ‘impact.” Because we don’t tend to talk about dramatic transformations, we may wonder what the Spirit is doing in our midst. I think that the Spirit of God is at work among us in the persistence of faith and service. Many of us have been involved with the church and have followed Christ in some way all our lives. We have a love in our lives that just won’t let us go and has been there, nourishing and forming us all our lives. Sometimes when tough things happen, which happen to all of us sometime, we may question and struggle but we seek to stay rooted and grounded in that love of Christ.
So it is with this sense of faith that we engage this capital campaign. This campaign is an opportunity for us who have followed Jesus all our lives, who have received the nourishment of the Spirit and our fellow Christians to do a big audacious thing with our ordinary lives. This campaign is inviting us to go on an adventure of faith, maybe even transformation. I know it is true for me personally. I have found that something has shifted in my heart about giving. I realize that I am excited to ask you to give to this elevator project. I am less afraid of asking because I realize it is a great joy to invite you to participate in doing something significant and loving together.
I value the ministry of hospitality an elevator represents. Because it is an act of love not just for the people in our own church who struggle with the stairs but for new people who could know of God’s love and grace because of an accessible building and ministry. I am excited about the possibility for example of inviting the MIUSA conference to be held here. This is a group based in Eugene which trains and empowers disabled women from all over the world. I went to part of their training conference last year- a joy it would be to invite them here!
I am also excited to expand our outreach to families. We have had some family events over the last couple years and generated a list of interested families. When we did the outreach at the parade this year I notice several families along the route who had children in wheelchairs. What a wonderful thing it would be to be able to include such families in any family program like Messy Church we initiate. We have outreached to the Brattain Early Learning Center Head Start the last few years but also sharing the building is an Early Intervention preschool for children with disabilities. How wonderful it would be to invite them to family events and worship! I know that there is a woman in our neighborhood who uses a wheel chair who might enjoy coming again to our meals. When we have an elevator I am sure the word will get to her- come on down to 6th and C again. And of course, the reality is that many of us as we grow older face difficulties getting around. My own mom is one of them, our own Larrian Thompson and others. An elevator would ease much struggle and make it easier for folks to enjoy coming to worship. We will continue to have a vital ministry with older adults in our community, how important it is to serve them well. Our elevator project is therefore rooted in the love we have for people. It is a Big audacious goal to challenge our faith and lives. We have opportunity do something sacrificial, significant and future oriented – that can benefit us now or soon and make this space more accessible and useable for ministry in the future.
Some folks, quite legitimately have asked me – but why invest so much into an old historic building. Are we being foolish? Well, perhaps we are. None of us know for sure what the future holds. The big earthquake may decide it all for us. Nevertheless, what I have noticed is that this building is a community asset. There are no other church buildings like it in Springfield. It is the oldest church building and one of the oldest buildings. So it has a role in the community as a historic landmark. It tells the community a story about the importance of faith in the lives of those who have gone before us and of our faithfulness today. Being forward looking stewards of this historic legacy is our opportunity today.
Also, this is not a building used only by a small group of believers on Sunday morning. It has become a community caring hub thanks to our own ministries and the work of some of our partners. They have found this space to be inviting and useful for their missions to help autistic spectrum young people grow in self esteem and opportunities, to help welcome and teach immigrants so they can flourish, to teach youth the joy of music and cooking, to welcome young people of a variety of abilities to participate in scouting, and to outreach to our Hispanic neighbors with God’s hope and love. In other words, we are not the only ones who value and appreciate this asset of a beautiful and useful space to meet and learn and grow together.
Yet, most of us will decide to give to this capital campaign not only because of what an elevator can add to our ministry, but especially because of the important relationships and friendships we experience here in this community of faith. Those relationships are not dependant on a particular building but they are nurtured when we gather for worship or learning or fun. I can envision a future in which our ministry may expand beyond this building to include more small groups in neighborhoods. Yet, there is also something powerful about sharing a space and tending it together for the sake of Christ and his ministry. We can do it from tents or homes , coffee shops or even bars but right now this place in our hub. It is from here that we will reach out as God invites, nudges and calls us to go. I think that people with limited mobility have much to offer our community as we continue to listen for God’s vision. It is an act of love and justice to work to include them. So finally, an elevator isn’t about an elevator but it’s about a way to act with love and justice in our world. So that when the least of these come to us for food, or welcome, clothing or water , care or consideration we can welcome them with open doors and hearts.
We do not often talk about how God moves in our lives. Today we have a few folks who are willing to give silent testimony to what difference God’s presence here at Ebbert UMC has made in their lives. I have a few statements that the folks on Wednesday night shared with me. I was unable to get their photos so the pictures here are from Wed. folks but not necessarily those who shared. You are invited to read these testimonies to how God is an work among us. May God bless the testimonies and our work together for his purposes. Together we lift up body and spirit to build God’s kingdom.
Sermon January 27, 2019 Stewardship: Revealed in Prayer
Scripture: Exodus 19:1-8; Matthew 6;7-13
After attending prayer meeting where everyone prayed very loud, a little boy remarked, “ If they lived nearer to God , they wouldn’t have to shout.” ( p. 142 Laughter from the Pearly Gates by Bob Phillips)
For me, prayer is being open to connect with God, my loving, gracious Creator. Prayer can include intercession and asking for what we need, but prayer is more than presenting God with a “ wish list.” Prayer is taking the time to listen to God’s wisdom, guidance and word for our lives.
When I served Boise First church we had a women’s study group that read books together. One we read was Prayer and Our Bodies by Flora Wuellner. Flora had been my prayer teacher in seminary. I loved her and all she had taught me about prayer. So I was excited to teach her book. The first session I used an exercise I had been given by a clergy sister. It involved writing on a blank picture of a body what we thought or felt about our bodies at that moment. I dutifully gave everyone the paper to write on and the instructions. After a while we shared our creations. I’ll never forget when one woman who was quite overweight and very intelligent and skilled showed her picture. She had found scissors and cut out all the parts of the body figure except her head, her hands and her feet. I admit to being a bit shocked. But then she held it up so that the lovely pattern of the couch upon which she sat showed through. And the person across from her exclaimed, “ But Katherine, look, look you are beautiful.”
There it was -the answer to all our prayers and concern when she first held up her cut up picture. There was the direction we all needed- remember you are beautiful in the eyes of God! It was a sacred moment.
I think this is Jesus point in Matthew when he says to the people, don’t prayer so everyone can hear you, be sincere. Don’t just heap up lots of words, trust God to know your needs. He has seen how prayer can become a performance or a way of saying things just to get what you want. Instead, Jesus says that prayer is about relationship. It is connection with God who is Abba, Daddy, one who loves you and welcomes you into an embrace of welcome- a scared moment.
Henri Nouwen says about prayer, “ In prayer we seek God’s voice and allow God’s word to penetrate our fear and resistance so that we can begin to hear what God wants us to know. And what God wants us to know is that before we think or do or accomplish anything, before we have much money or little money, the deepest truth of our human identity is this, ‘ You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased.” ( Luke 3:22)p. 56 A Spirituality of Fundraising)
After establishing that prayer is about relationship with a loving parent, Jesus goes on to say, pray
“ Thy kingdom Come , thy will be done.” Jesus prayer welcomes and looks for God’s kingdom and will. This is what our campaign prayer reminds us. “Lord what do You want to do through me.” Prayer is a time to listen and discern God’s will, to look for ways to participate in God’s coming kingdom.
For me, sometimes this comes in the form of a petition. Over the years I have prayed as I go to visit someone in the hospital or in trouble I pray, “ God be in my heart and my understanding.” It is a way of opening my heart and life to God’s purpose for the visit. Such prayers help us to be open to God’s presence in our lives. Sometimes we may receive a clear sense of what God wants. Other times we do what we feel is the best we can give and trust God to be in the outcomes. I know that sometimes I come to a hospital bed and really have no idea what to say or do in the face of someone’s suffering but I give what loving presence I can muster and place the rest in God’s loving hands. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done is prayer offering our lives into God’s hands.
This relates to our stewardship decisions as well. Openness to God’s presence in our lives and willing- ness to seek God’s will and kingdom can help us let go of some of our fears and attachments and open us to God’s possibilities. “ What do you Lord want to do through me?” for this elevator campaign can open us to possibilities for giving, or nudge us to give of our time and energy. What do you Lord want to do through me? Can also open us to ways God wants us to share what we have been given in time, resources and talents to keep our church healthy and vital. Taking time for prayer can help us learn to be open to God’s presence and guidance in deeper and more meaningful ways and make our lives more filled with meaning and joy.
In the Myrtle Creek church there was a woman who could have been the bane of my existence. She was in charge of the kitchen, which meant that fortunately she complained regularly to me about kitchen mishaps and missteps – usually by me. But she didn’t become the bane of my existence for two reasons 1. I was aware that holding her in prayer was one way I could let God help me appreciate and understand her. 2. She was also faithful in prayer and compassion and honesty. When the time came for us to use the kitchen for the snacks for the after school program every week, to my delight and surprise she came and did the snacks herself every week and enjoyed getting to know the children. I will always remember her witness of prayer and faithful service.
In the prayer Jesus taught us Jesus goes on to include petitions for a list of human needs. Jesus once again zeroed in on what was most important: our daily sustenance or physical needs for life. Our relationships made healthy through forgiveness and our spiritual health and protection. As he has said before, God knows that we need and wants to see them fulfilled. In fact part of the work of thy kingdom come, is to provide for these basic needs for everyone.
This part of the Jesus prayer invites us to place or trust in God for our security. It also invites us to participate in building healthy relationships through choosing forgiveness. Prayer then according to Jesus is also a matter of trusting God and participating with God in meeting the human needs we all have. When we make our stewardship decisions we can both grow in our trust in God for our ultimate security and know that God understands our human needs. This list can help us perhaps sort out what are truly needs and what are things we hang onto for other reasons. Trusting God for our needs can open us to generosity in new ways. Perhaps we will have the courage to try tithing or to make what feels like a sacrifice because in prayer we have grown in our trust of God.
I have an international doll collection which I love. And I still enjoy the treasure hunt of finding new dolls from different countries. But, as I have grow older, I have also thought about the time when I will want to give that collection away. I don’t know who would want it, but I like the idea of passing on to someone else something that has given me joy. I am still discerning how to be a good steward of this collection.
Our stewardship is revealed through prayer. This means that it is prayer that guides our stewardship decisions. It is prayer that helps us let go of our fears or resistance and embrace generosity. Prayer helps us to make God’s kingdom our priority and trust God for our security and worth. It is prayer which guides us to see the vision of God’s kingdom in what we can do together through our giving.
The prayer Jesus taught us give us guidance for our prayers:
Jesus calls God Daddy and shows us that prayer is a sacred relationship and connection with God who loves us.
Jesus asked us to prayer thy kingdom come, thy will be done. This shows us that prayer is taking time to listen and discern God’s kingdom and will and learn and grow in God’s presence.
And finally, Jesus prayer includes petitions which show how God cares about our most important needs. Prayer helps us to grow in trust in God and God’s care for us.
I have enjoyed using the prayer for our campaign almost every day. I invite you to join me in praying it now. Gracious and glorious God, we thank you for the abundant love and grace that you pour upon Ebbert UMC . We offer all we do to your glory. Fill us, O God with your goodness, generosity and love as we engage in this campaign to address the current and future needs of our expanding ministry. Guide us as your church and give us the courage to move forward in the direction you would have us go. May your Holy Spirit keep our hearts and minds united and enable us to forge a legacy of faith and service to hand on for generations to come. Give me the insight and wisdom to discern what you want to do through me in our Lifting UP Body and Spirit to build God’s kingdom campaign. We ask this through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
Sermon January 20, 2019 Gratitude Sunday
Scriptures: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11; Colossians 3: 15-17; Luke 17: 11-19
Two old friends met each other on the street one day. One looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?”
The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you: three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“But you see, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand dollars, free and clear.”
“Sounds to me that you’ve been very blessed.”
“You don’t understand!” he interrupted. “Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million from her.”
Now the man’s friend was really confused. “Then, why do you look so glum?”
“This week . . . nothing!”
Whew. I think maybe he could have used a dose or two of gratitude! I gave opportunity for the folks who come to our meals to express their gratitude on Wednesday. 22 of them returned the arrow cards like the ones you have in the bulletin. They expressed gratitude for the food but also for the relationships and Christian faith we share. One fellow came up to me and expressed his gratitude that I sit and talk with folks during the meals.
When I first started this capital campaign for our elevator, I remember telling my Spiritual Director that I thought it was really all about relationships. Our stewardship decisions are grounded in gratitude and much of that gratitude is about the life giving relationships in our lives. I want to look at our scriptures this morning through the lens of gratitude and relationships. Our stewardship is grounded in Gratitude for life giving relationships.
One. Gratitude to God for creation and its bounty- Deuteronomy. I like to imagine this scene from Deuteronomy. The people are waiting with Moses to enter the promised land. They are full of hope that finally they will have a land of their own where they can grow their own crops and build up their community. Moses has led them through the tough times in the desert but this passage promises them that there will be a new life for them. Moses describes for them a ritual which will remind them of their primary relationship with God. God is the source of their freedom and the source of all that they have and will have. This ritual of bringing the first fruits of the new land is grounded in a relationship of gratitude between them and God.
This relationship was forged in the more difficult times of slavery and desert wandering. They have had to learn to trust in God for their lives; to realize that all of creation- from the Nile of Egypt to the rock in the desert are God’s creative work. They had complained to God and now they were learning to give thanks and praise to God. This ritual for the promised land was a way God gave them to keep their hearts and lives focused upon gratitude and God.
I think we experience this most here at Ebbert in our gratitude for those who have come before us. We have been given a building and grounds that can be a source of significant ministry to and with our community but also involves our good stewardship. We are grateful for how God worked through the people in generations past but like those Israelites we now stand on the edge of a new land.
We can tinker around just fixing things but these past few years we have done two things to move in to a new land of ministry together.
We have found more partners to use the buildings with us so that many more people come and go from this place and receive significant services and build important relationships, whether it’s a young adult with autism discovering some self esteem, or a new immigrant learning a new language in an atmosphere of acceptance, or young people finding the joy of singing and cooking or people who are hungry being fed and more- this space has become a community caring hub.
And we have reignited a dream of a more accessible building to meet the growing needs of our congregation and a more inclusive outreach to new people. This dream started to put on reality when I met Richard Zink, a building designer who was volunteering at Egan Warming Center. He volunteered to look into a possible design for an elevator for our building. We have great gratitude for all those who held this dream and worked for it in the past and for Richard who helped us see across the Jordan toward its completion. All this is grounded in gratitude to God our creator for giving us this space and these opportunities for ministry and life.
Secondly, we have gratitude to Christ Jesus for his healing and salvation. Like the lepers in the story in Luke, we have received in our own lives and as a community of faith gifts of healing and forgiveness or grace from our relationship with Christ Jesus. It is his cross and resurrection which form the foundation of our gratitude. Because of Jesus we trust that no matter what happens in our lives, new life is possible through God.
Yet, like the lepers, we don’t always remember to turn to Christ with gratitude for this gift. We let other things get in our way. Susan Mongam, a spiritual writer points out that connecting with Jesus and his way of the cross – a way of dying to new life can help us live with more gratitude and love. She says, “ This is a process of dying to whatever blocks me from transforming love; carelessness, possessiveness, human arrogance- anything that separates me from any other being.”
“ And as one who was dead and is alive again, we behold all as gift. The air we breathe, the trees and rocks and waters, the living and the dying, what we eat and drink, this wondrous interchange- all is the gift of love outpoured. And your hearts overflow in gratitude.” ( P. 9-10 Susan Mangam, “ Sing to the Lord a New Song” Weavings, Nov/Dec 1992.)
This gratitude that we discover when we let go of whatever blocks our relationship with grace opens us to new relationships and possibilities.
In a way the decision to work toward building an elevator for our building is a witness to our believe in Christ and his saving presence in our lives. We trust that everyone matters to Jesus and becoming more accessible to people with physical difficulties opens our hearts to them. Like Jesus, we want to invite everyone to the banquet so they can get to know him and love him and be loved by him. We don’t want anyone left out in the cold.
Also this opportunity to do a Big Audacious thing- raise a lot of funds for this project allows us to grow in faith and gratitude. We are invited to reach down into our hearts and place our trust in Christ and his salvation and meaning for our lives and sense of security, not just our bank accounts. We are invited to pray and grow closer to Jesus. I like the way Henri Nouwen puts it, “ If we raise funds for the creation of a community of love, we are helping God build the kingdom. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to do as Christians. Paul is clear about this, “ Make love your aim.” Making our space accessible to everyone is an act of love and justice. I am grateful to Christ Jesus for this opportunity to witness to faith and to share his love with others.
Finally, we have gratitude to the community of faith- how Ebbert people and ministries touch our lives. Colossians which we read as our call to worship this morning reminds us of the role of the community of faith. “ And let the peace of Christ rule your hearts to which in deed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” ( 3:15)
I know that I am very grateful for the church, the body of Christ here at Ebbert. As I noted, I thought this capital campaign was about relationships and I still do. The process of the campaign has been one which allowed me to appreciate relationships with the team and others as we work together on this big project and also keep our other ministries going. Frankly, most of us are here more because of the people not the buildings. An elevator isn’t about the bricks and mortar, it’s about the relationships that develop and grow because accessibility is easier and more possible. As Larrian said this morning, when she was a young girl running around here, she never dreamed the stairs would become a barrier. Now, out of our love for her and others we work and give to remove that barrier.
This community of faith has touched our lives in so many ways. Today we have opportunity to recall and express our gratitude to God for this community of faith and what it means to us. The arrow in your bulletin is for this purpose. You are invited during the prayer time and hymn to write down something you want to thank God for about your experience at Ebbert or through our ministries. During the prayer hymn you can bring them down and place them in the basket. We will be displaying them for us all the enjoy. If you would like an usher to pick up your card just raise your hand and someone will get it for you. Also after you bring or give your arrow, we want to offer to you the gift of a devotional booklet for each household. We invite you to use it during the days ahead as we continue to explore together our Lifting Up Body and Spirit to build God’s kingdom theme.
I believe that gratitude is the foundation, of any God’s centered stewardship and giving. Spiritual writer , John Koenig puts it this way, “ For maturing Christians, praise and thanksgiving are a kind of foundation for their everyday perception and decision making.” ( p. 15 John Koenig, “ The Heartbeat of Praise and Thanksgiving.” Weavings, Nov/Dec 1992)
So today we give thanks and gratitude to God for creating all that is and giving us a place in it. With the early Israelites we express this gratitude through rituals of praise and offering. We give thanks and praise for Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord who has brought healing, grace and renewal to our lives over and over and who calls us to share this good news with all people so that no one is left out. And we give thanks and praise to this community of faith, for the people who have and continue to touch our lives with love and grace, for the ministries and music we can make with one another and for the opportunity to do a Big Audacious Thing together.