Sermon 12/2/2018

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Kingdom Service: Giving Which Glorifies God

Good morning! People are often puzzled about Advent, and I think that many might be puzzled by why a scripture from Jeremiah would be on the lectionary for Advent. Well, I think it’s probably good to remind people, that Advent is a time, which is not yet about the magical star in the East and the famous Wise Men, who bring their precious gifts to the baby Jesus, but instead it is a time about something, which can be summed up nicely with one word: longing. Yes, we can see from Jeremiah’s scripture, that Advent is all about our deepest longings in a troubled world, and the hope, which the Christ Child is about to bring to those longings. I loved how one commentator used the Spanish word, anhelo, which means, “I long.” So, what are some things, which you are deeply longing for this Advent? For me, I long for a time, when there will be no more poverty or homelessness; a time when everyone has enough, and they feel they can share generously with those going through a tough time. I long for a time, when there will be no more violence and wars, and no mass manufacturing of guns and other weapons, because the only weapon people desire to use is love. I long for a time, when people on all sides of politics, will be able to sit down at the same table and have decent conversation and respect and love for one another, though, they do not agree. I long for a time, when all people, across all groups will get along and love one another, and not be oppressed by racism, sexism or homophobia; all people, men, women, people from every race and ethnicity, straight, gay, etc. will consider each other sisters and brothers of the same human family. These are my personal longings during Advent this year and I’m sure you have a few in your mind! Today, I’d like to elaborate on my first longing for financial well-being, since today is Stewardship Sunday and Glenn will be speaking with us, later. Of course, ‘having enough’ is actually relative and it all depends on ‘our personal perception’ of what is ‘enough’. I always think about the widow, who gives only 2 coins of small denomination into the temple offering, but yet those 2 coins is everything that she has! So, actually ‘giving generously’ is not an absolute amount; rather, it is about ‘how much we give, relative to how much we have’. I think it’s important to note, too, that everything we have, we have been given as a blessing from God, as James 1:17 reminds us. This ought to change our attitude about how much we give!

The attitude of ‘everything we have, we have been given as a blessing from God’ may have been wrapped up somewhere in the attitude of a group of Bikers, who felt that they should pitch in to help people, who lost everything in the fires of Paradise. Yolanda shared this inspiring story with me this week. Let me clarify, that these are not bikers for Pedal for Protein, like what Patty Sanders is leader of, but these are the ‘rough and gruff’ Harley-Davidson Bikers! So, obviously this is a group of Bikers on Harleys, with a soft, caring and generous heart, who truly desired to do something to help the families affected by the horrific Camp Fire. One thing that they all decided to do, was to gather up household supplies, which they thought the families would need and drop them off at Paradise. Well, that was very needed and very helpful, but the Bikers still felt like they had more to give; it goes back to that attitude of feeling like they had been blessed with enough, and they wanted to give more, relative to what they had. So, they got together and talked with some leaders and people in Paradise, and figured out that one of the things, which the families needed most was, security guards, to watch over and protect whatever possessions they had remaining at their homes, that didn’t burn. Sadly, homeless people were taking advantage of the misfortune of the fire families and coming into their homes and taking their stuff. At the same time, there might also have been looters, who came in to take their stuff. It always make me so sad to see people, who not only don’t feel any compassion for or help people, who’ve suffered a loss, but they want to take advantage of them! So, the fire families really needed a group to act as security guards, making their rounds in their neighborhoods, and protecting what little stuff they had left, after the fires, from the homeless people and looters.

Well, the Jewish people, who were exiled to Babylonia in that devastating experience, also felt a need for protection, as well as for peace and financial provision, as captives in a hostile country. This is the background of what is going on throughout the book of Jeremiah. Many people have an aversion to Jeremiah and the other books of the prophets, because they believe these books to be about nothing but ‘doom and gloom’. However, the truth is that they have so much value for us if we study them more closely. If we read Jeremiah and the prophets carefully, we’ll discover, that sandwiched in-between all the ‘doom and gloom’, there are actually amazing nuggets of hope and promise from God! Yes, God’s grace and love are embedded in all the darkness of the exiles’ experience, just as God’s grace and love are embedded somewhere in all the devastation of the people in Paradise. And, this is in fact the whole theme of Advent: God’s hope and promise embedded in the middle of darkness and a chaotic world! So, Jeremiah’s passage fits perfectly for Advent! He says, “These days are coming,” and indeed the days are coming, when God will gradually fulfill our longings during Advent.

So, the fire families’ need for a security team, was a perfect role for the Bikers and indeed one of their longings this Advent is being fulfilled as we speak! Their ‘rough and gruff’ persona and Harleys were the perfect fit for acting as the security team over these homes of the fire families. I think it is so neat how God’s plans just somehow fall neatly into place, to minister to our needs, when we need it most! Sometimes, that help might come from a group, which we may have thought was the least likely to help, because of stereotypes and prejudices we have about Bikers. I think this is a beautiful story, which illustrates how God often acts in surprising, gracious ways to provide for our every need.

As I said before, today is our Stewardship Sunday, and Glenn will be talking with you about how he believes that God will continue to provide for Knox Presbyterian Church in surprising, gracious ways, and how each of you can be a part of that surprise and grace. As we can see from the story about the Bikers, our giving in a meaningful way does not need to be extravagant or cover every single need. I believe God only expects us to do our personal best, according to the resources we have and our prayerful discernment. The Bikers did exactly that, because they were pragmatic, in giving a service rather than a material item or money, which is one of their strengths, in providing protection and security. So too, can each of you, reflect on what your specific resources and talents are, and just give as generously as you can from this. God does not expect one person or family to wipe out all the financial challenges of this church! However, God does expect each of you to pitch in since this church is important to your spiritual and emotional health, and give with a generous and grateful heart. Also, we must remember that, everything good that we have is a gift from God as James 1:17 says, and we only have it, because of our gracious God. I was reminded this week by my friend, Rev. Dr. Don McKim, Reformed theologian, that his friend, Dr. Don Bloesch, former Theology Professor at Dubuque University in Iowa, said that ‘kingdom service means doing what glorifies God’; so may our kingdom service in stewardship for 2019 greatly glorify God!

So, as we plan for 2019, may Knox Presbyterian Church be a part of those plans, in a tangible way, so that the church has more than enough funds to continue ministering to all of your intangible needs, in your spiritual lives. I know from my experience with the session of this church during my ordination process, that this is indeed an amazingly generous congregation, and I have every confidence, that the Spirit will guide you to continue your tradition of kingdom service through gracious giving, which glorifies God! Amen.

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