First lesson: Hebrews 11:23-31
Second Lesson: Joshua 2:1-24
Children’s story: Joshua 6:1-23
It may seem very strange to be reading from the book of Joshua on the first Sunday of Advent. It is very strange. I don’t know that I’ve ever done it before, and I bet your other pastors never did, either. But you know that I’m very interested in Genealogy and my family history. And I have learned that when we know who our ancestors are, then we know who we are. I know that I am basically deep down, a Child of God and a Child of the Earth because that’s who my ancestors were. I have worshipped in their churches and even stood in their pulpits. I have walked the paths to the farms where they worked and I have sat in their farmhouses. I have spoken with a very old man in a small village in the Netherlands who actually knew my great-great grandmother. I have bought flour in the windmill where she bought hers. I know who I am because I know who my ancestors were. In my heart I know that I am a European peasant woman because that’s who all my grandmothers were – Dutch and Swedish peasant women back as far as I have been able to trace.
So I’ve always been very interested in that long list of names in the book of Matthew. When Matthew wants to tell us who Jesus was, and tell us his story, he starts by telling us who his ancestors were – a very, very long line of men, and including a woman named Rahab who lived about twelve hundred years before Jesus. You know of course that it was very, very unusual to mention a woman’s name in a list like that so it’s especially unusual that Matthew should list five woman in that long list.
So here’s the story before the story.
The last time we saw God’s people they were camped out deep in the Sinai Peninsula. They had been slaves in Egypt for more than four hundred years, and in a miraculous moment, they had escape from slavery and had escaped into the middle of the desert into the middle of the night. You remember how when the very king of Egypt and all his soldiers came after them they had escaped by walking through the Red Sea with a wall of water on one side and wall of water on the other side. They had been living in the Sinai Peninsula for forty years and in that time they begun to know their God whom they had almost forgotten and they had begun to learn how to live as the children of God. As the family of God. With the Ten Commandments that God had given them. And we’ve had some of the stories of what their years were like in the desert there in the Sinai Peninsula. They had seen how God had guided them out of Egypt and protected them from powerful enemies. They had seen over and over and over again how God had fed them when they were hungry and led them when they didn’t know the way. And through all those forty years, they had been meandering their way back to the land that God had promised their ancestor Abraham centuries before.
And in our story for today a man named Joshua has become their leader. There had been at least a million of them when they left Egypt forty years earlier and who can tell how they had grown in those forty years? They are now a powerful nation with an experienced army. Joshua has led them in battle against two kings in Sihon and Og and the kings of a whole bunch of other cities as well, and Joshua and his Israelite army ran over their land and cities and easily devastated them all, leaving no survivors. And in our story for today, they are camped in a place called Sittim, within sight of the land that God had promised Abraham, and ready to settle there. But by this time four hundred years later, others had taken over their land and were farming the land there and had built cities there and they had kings there, and none of them had ever heard of any guy named Abraham or Abraham’s God or any promise and they were not about to leave the places where they had lived for hundreds of years. And besides which, there were a great, great many of them and their cities had strong walls around them and they had strong armies also.
Now you know that if you want to learn about your enemy, you send out spies. So Joshua sent out two spies. To see how strong the enemy was and to bring back word about how to defeat them and how to re-claim their land. Those spies headed for a city named Jericho that had very thick, very strong walls. Now if you want to know about a place you head for the bar, right? And sit for a while and listen for a while and chat for a while. So those two spies did that and there they met Rahab.
That’s the story before the story.
So here’s the story of a woman named Rahab who lived about twelve hundred years before Jesus. Rahab was a prostitute. She lived in that city named Jericho and she had a hotel there. Now you could call it a hotel, or you could call it an inn, or you could call it a bar, but it was really a brothel. And she wasn’t a Jew. She didn’t have a drop of Jewish blood in her. She was a Canaanite. Which means that she didn’t know God. She hadn’t spent the last forty years trekking through the wilderness and getting to know God and she didn’t worship God and she didn’t keep any of the commandments that God had given. Especially she didn’t keep the commandment about not committing adultery. This woman is definitely not one of “us.”
But one day these two Hebrew spies came checking things out in Jericho. And they stopped at the Rahab’s establishment. And after a while the word came to the king of Jericho that these two strangers were at Rahab’s house, and they must be spies. And the king sent messengers to Rahab asking about them. But look what this Canaanite prostitute did when those two spies came to her hotel. Or bar. Or brothel. Or whatever you want to call it. She took them into her home and she hid them safely on the rooftop of her house. And I love this part of the story. She lied. This prostitute stood up to the King of Jericho and lied. “Yeah,” she said, “they were here, but they left and if you hurry you can catch them.”
That woman, that prostitute, dared to stand between her king and those enemy spies she had hidden.
But there’s more about the gusty woman. She had heard about the Israelites and their strong army and she had heard about how they crossed through the Red Sea with wall of water on one side and a wall of water on the other side. And how they escaped from the Egyptian king and all his soldiers. She had heard what happened to the Kings of Sihon and Og and all the other cities. She recognized the power of God – that Canaanite prostitute recognized the power of God. She was scared to death of what would happen to her and her family when those spies came back to Jericho with their entire army behind them. So were all the other people who lived in Jericho. So she made a bargain with those spies. She bargained for her life and the lives of her entire family in exchange for their lives. She begged them, “When you come back again, and when you destroy Jericho the way you have destroyed the other towns, and when you take over our land, promise me that you’ll spare me and my family.” The spies agreed. “Our lives for your lives,” they said. And when the danger was past, she lowered them out of her window on a scarlet rope and sent them off to hide in the woods. And you heard how they kept their promise.
And as hard as it is to believe, this woman is one of “us.” She’s woven right into the family of Jesus. Matthew makes a point to tell us that this woman is the grandmother of Jesus.
So we are not surprised when we see that Jesus is talking with that woman by the well. Maybe you remember that story. She was also an outcast – a Samaritan – not a Jew. And you might recall that those Samaritans had some very strange religious beliefs. Some of them even sound suspiciously like Islam. And she was also a woman with a questionable history when it came to men, to put it delicately. She’s not one of “us” for sure. And Jesus stood there at the well in Samaria and engaged her. He had a long, drawn out, complicated theological discussion with her. And she stands toe to toe with him and looks him straight in the eye answers him point for point if you recall. I don’t know of anybody else in the Bible who could do that.
And we are not surprised, either, when Jesus has an interchange with the Jewish religious leaders. You might remember that. They had caught a woman in bed with a man not her husband. She’s certainly not one of “us.” We surely don’t do such things. And they were all set to stone her to death as their laws indicated they should do. But Jesus stooped down and wrote in the sand, and when they read what he had written it said, “If any of you has never sinned, he may throw the first stone at her.” And one by one, they put their heads down - those self-righteous religious leaders - and shuffled off in the other direction. And when all those upstanding religious leaders had taken their red faces somewhere else, Jesus looked at the woman with gentle eyes and said, “If they didn’t judge you, I’m not going to judge you either.” And we are not surprised that Jesus would say that, because look at who his grandmother was.
And you see what all this means for us, don’t you. If we call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. If we long to pattern our lives after his. If we call ourselves by his name, “Christian.”
We may have to look again at how we draw our circles and who is in and who is out of them. We may have to think again about who is one of “us” and who is one of “them.” We may need to learn the art of gracious welcome of people who are very different from us. We may need to unlearn that way we all have of immediately judging another person – based on our very first impressions. Or even our second impressions. We may need to develop tender hearts and gentle eyes and kind ears. We may need to search for the good in others. And maybe the day will come when we will humble ourselves to accept the kindness of a person who’s not like us at all. And then Jesus will call us very, very blessed.
Children’s story: I Samuel 16: 1-13
First Lesson: Matthew 21:1-11
Second Lesson: John 18:28-37
Sunday, November 22, 2025
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s the day we think of Jesus as our king, and already today we have had references to that in our service. But we don’t have kings in this country, and it’s a little hard to talk about kings in a county that doesn’t have kings.
But we do have kings in Sweden, where several of my family live. And we do have a very lovely queen Silvia and a handsome king Carl Gustav and beautiful young crown princess named Victoria and she got married in 2010. And you may recall that I spoke a couple of weeks ago about my cousin, Bishop Lars-Göran Lönnermark who is the Chief Chaplain of the Royal Family in Sweden. So in his capacity as Chief Chaplain of the Royal Family, he officiated at the marriage of Princess Victoria to her husband Daniel.
My other cousin, Birgitta thought that surely I would want to see the pictures of it all, which of course I did, and she sent me several pages of the newspaper clippings. They showed Lars-Göran in his bishoply robes and elaborate head pieces, performing the ceremony in the ancient, large, ornate, utterly beautiful cathedral in Stockholm. There was a map in the paper of the route that the royal couple would travel from the palace to the cathedral, so that people could line the streets and cheer them on. And there were pictures in the paper of the bridal couple in their old-fashioned open carriage with huge black horses and footmen in elaborate uniforms - waving to the crowds along the way. There was a picture of the cathedral from above and Victoria coming up the long aisle of the cathedral, with her long train following behind her. There was one of the royal couple on the balcony of the palace after the wedding, waving to the crowds below. There were pictures of all the dignitaries who attended from all the other Royal families in Europe and in some from other countries as well. A great many kings and queens and princesses and dukes and duchesses in all their finery.
Then a couple of years after the wedding Victoria and Daniel had a baby daughter whom they named Estelle and my cousin Lars-Göran officiated at her baptism and this time he sent me the pictures. Of the cathedral,and the dignitaries and the King and Queen and the princess and the baby princess – in all their glory. And since then there have been more royal weddings and more royal baptisms. And more pictures of all the fineries and the dignitaries.
So let me tell you about Jesus. His mother’s name was Mary and she came from a small out of the way town up in the northern part of the country that had a bad reputation. And that’s about all we know about her. But she turns up pregnant in this small town of Nazareth and nobody knows who the father is but a kind carpenter named Joseph married her and adopted her child. And that’s about all we know about him. Jesus himself was a born in a barn in a small place called Bethlehem, but we’re not quite sure of the year or the date of his birth. We do know that a bunch of shepherds – outcasts from society - in their smelly clothing and their rough language and their filthy hands - were the witnesses to his birth. We do know that he and his parents were forced to run for their lives when he was very young and lived for about two years as refugees in Egypt some 500 miles away. But we don’t know how Joseph managed to support them there.
North Kent Presbyterian Church, that man is your king.
When he was thirty years old this Jesus started walking all over the country, preaching about God and talking all the time about the Kingdom of God. He cured people who were disabled, and those who had horrible diseases and those who had fevers. He healed people who were suffering from serious mental illnesses. He blessed beggars in the streets and talked with prostitutes and held long theological discussions with women which was entirely unheard of in that day. He fed people who were poor and hungry – thousands of them - and even brought people back to life who had been dead. And he did all this in the name of God.
The Jewish religious leaders were threatened by him and afraid of him and they pestered him and harassed him continually. But the poor people and the sick people and the homeless people and the widows and children loved him. They followed him wherever he went, and whenever they heard that he was going to be in a certain place, they flocked to hear him and touch him and see him.
North Kent Presbyterian Church, that man is your king.
He didn’t have a royal palace, or even a home of any kind and he certainly didn’t have a magnificent cathedral. He traveled up and down the country side, walking, and he accepted the hospitality of strangers in whatever town he was in. Oftentimes he slept in the open country under the stars and so did his band of followers. Generous women provided for his needs, and he talked with people on the lake shore and in their homes and on the street and in the gathering spots in their villages.
They believed him when he talked about the Kingdom of God, though they misunderstood terribly what that meant. And one day, they borrowed a donkey and put him on it, and walked along beside it waving branches from trees as they shouted him their king. They walked beside his donkey and they shouted “save us, save us, save us” which is what Hosanna means. That motley rag tag bunch of widows and homeless people and children and grateful people whom he had cured of their illnesses and disabilities.
He had no golden crown, so they threw their jackets in the path. There was no royal balcony for him to wave from. So the widows and the homeless ones and the people he had cured waved their tree branches. There were no trumpets blaring at his coronation, so the children sang their songs. There were no black horses or open carriages for him to ride in, and no footmen along the route, but they borrowed a donkey. And that borrowed donkey picked its way carefully down the rocky path into the capital city. There were no royal dignitaries from other countries in their royal fineries. But there were Roman governors and Jewish religious leaders who had been looking for their chance to kill him. And there were Roman soldiers ready to pound spikes into his hands and feet and hang him on a cross. He had no royal robes and the simple clothes he wore would soon be bloody and torn from the beatings he was about to receive.
North Kent Presbyterian Church – that man is your king.
The Roman politicians and the Jewish religious leaders ganged up together and they accused him of being a king and they charged him with starting a revolt against the Roman Government. Which was a very serious offense. They hauled him from one political dignitary to another and one court room to another and one trial to another in the middle of the night. They asked him if he was a king, and he told them that his kingdom is not of this world. And five days after his coronation they executed him like a common criminal. They hung him naked on a cross for the whole city to walk by and gawk at as he died.
North Kent Presbyterian Church, that man is your king.
But your king was God. And he came back to life from death by the power of God, and now he sits in heaven, ruling the world in love and pity and power. His kingdom is not just in one tiny country in the Middle East. His kingdom stretches over the entire world. Wherever there are people who are his followers – wherever there are people who love kindness and seek justice and walk humbly with God. That’s where the Kingdom of Jesus is. Wherever there are people who side with the poor and sick and old and distressed and hungry and homeless and advocate for them. That’s where the kingdom of God is. Wherever there are people who refresh themselves in prayer and seek to obey God and long to pattern their lives after Jesus. That’s where the kingdom of Jesus is. Wherever there are people who understand that what seems little is really big and what seems big is really little. Wherever there people who understand that the rich are really poor and the poor are really rich. And that those who mourn will be comforted and the meek, of all people, will inherit the earth. Wherever there are those who understand that the peacemakers will be called the sons and daughters of God. That’s where the kingdom of Jesus is.
And that is you, North Kent Presbyterian Church. That is surely you, my beloved!
First lesson: Romans 12:9-16
Second Lesson: Luke 18:1-8
Children’s story: Luke 18:9-14
We talk a lot about prayer in this church and we do a lot of praying in this church. A few weeks ago now Rev. Howard Vanderwell and Norma deWaal Malefyt were here to talk with us about Presbyterian worship. They taught us to think about up and down arrows in our worship, if you recall. They asked to think about when in the service we are talking (or singing) to God, and when in the service God is talking to us. And when are talking with each other in worship. They helped us see that our Call to Worship is often a prayer to God. Oftentimes the songs we sing are prayers to God – songs in which we pour out our hearts to God in music. Two of our songs today are really prayers to God. Our opening song, “When Morning Gilds the Skies” and the song we’ll sing at the end of the service “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” are really prayers. We have a formal prayer of confession pretty much every Sunday. We pray with the children before they leave the sanctuary. We pray before we read scripture and we ask that God’s Spirit will reach our hearts in ways that will surprise us. And we have that beautiful moment in our service which I love - when the sanctuary is silent. And when all of us are making our way into God’s presence with our prayers. Prayers that rise straight from our weary spirits and our wounded hearts – prayers we don’t have words for, but we offer our tears and our sighs to God. Or our prayers of deep gratitude which sometimes also we can’t put into words – and we simply empty out the fullness of our hearts into God’s heart. Those are all times in our service when the arrow goes “up.”
And I love to imagine those prayers all rising straight up past the ceiling of this sanctuary straight into the very presence of God, who has been waiting for us, and who loves us more than we have words for, and who hears us. And then we pray in unison, the powerful prayer that Jesus taught us. And if you’ve noticed, the words of our final song these days are also a prayer.
So today I want to talk about four parts of prayer. Not that each part is in every prayer. Sometimes our prayers are more one thing than another, but it’s a pattern for prayer that may serve us well. We use the acronym ACTS – for the parts of prayer. You saw that in the bulletin this morning. We talk about Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
I am thinking of a dear woman named Millie. She and her husband farmed a small farm south of here. She had been very active in the Presbyterian Church – organizing all the women’s sales for years and years, and climbing up on the roof to fix shingles and she had also led that congregation in their mission outreach. She was well known and dearly loved in that church. By the time I knew Millie she wasn’t doing any of those things any more. She was mostly sitting in her brown corduroy lazy boy chair in her big old farm house. And in that brown lazy boy chair she was also praying a lot. Sometimes I would come to visit her she would tell me, “When I want to pray, I sit in my chair quietly and wait. And when I feel that God is with me, I start to pray.”
The first step in prayer is simply to adore God. To reflect deeply on the goodness of God and the grandeur of God, and the absolute majesty of God. So find a mental picture that reminds you of the greatness of God – waves rolling on the beach, perhaps. Or a delicate sunrise, or a brilliant sunset, or the sky on a perfectly clear night. Or a mountain scene. And stay with that scene in your mind for a few moments. And let the beauty of God, and majesty of God and the mystery and power of God roll over you and through you. Or find a Psalm that expresses the awesomeness of God. Read each word slowly and let the words soak into your soul. Or if music is the way you express your feelings, let the words of a hymn float through your mind. “O Lord, My God, When I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made. Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to thee: How great thou art, How great thou art.”
Then, when we are properly in awe of God. Then when we have a sense of the glory of God through the eons of time. Then we place ourselves like a tiny pinprick in all that was and all that is and all that ever will be. Then we begin to form our words to God.
And the first thing we do is confess. We confess that we are puny little specks in God’s consciousness. We confess that as much as we try, we so often cannot get it right. Even though we know better. We confess that for days on end, we dash through our lives without a thought of God. We confess that the world is a mess in so many ways and that we are a part of the mess and in our own way, we are responsible for that mess. We confess that even on our best days – even if we tried to make a difference, the powers against us are too strong and we fail. We confess individual failings in front of God – as if we had to remind God, who knows it all perfectly well already. Not like that man in our story for today. He stood in front of God proudly and announced how wonderful he was, and how perfect he was, especially compared to other people. And you know what Jesus had to say about folks like him, “The ones who exalt themselves will be humbled and the ones who humble themselves will be exalted.” There is a translation of the Bible that you may be familiar with. It’s called The Message and here’s the way the Message puts Jesus words: “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
And then we wait to hear God’s words of forgiveness to us. In our minds, we see the picture of Jesus hanging in shame on his cross and we claim Jesus. We cover our faces and wait for the loving voice of God to reassure us. And miracle of miracles, we hear that loving voice of God – forgiving us. And we imagine ourselves nestling like a baby in the arms of God. And we can breathe again.
And then we are full of thanks. Then we have long lists of things we are thankful for, and we can’t get them out of our mouths fast enough. We thank God for big things and little things and the longer we pray the more we think of. Maybe you have this habit: that before you fall asleep every evening you write down three things you have been thankful for that day. And maybe many more things than three - as a way of living in gratitude. We plan how we will say our thanks and show our thanks and do our thanks and give our thanks and live our thanks. We pledge that our entire lives will be one long song of thanks to God.
And when we have sat in awe in front of God, and confessed to God what puny little people we are, and when we have wrapped ourselves in God’s forgiveness, and when we have exhausted ourselves being thankful, THEN we start in with our requests. Sometimes we call them Supplications. THEN we pray, “O God, I’m so worried. I’ve got this pain and the doctor doesn’t know what it is, and we’re doing all kinds of tests, and I’m afraid.” THEN we say, “Help me because I’m worried sick about my son or my daughter and I don’t know what to do.” THEN we pray, “Oh God, my life is a mess and my marriage is in trouble, and I can’t see any good future ahead of me. So help me.” THEN we say to God, “Don’t you see all those refugees coming pouring into Europe with the winter coming on and no place for them to go and no warm clothing and what are you going to do about that, God? And what about all those innocent people dying in plane crashes that seem pretty suspicious? What about 129 people who were murdered in Paris and so many, many others who were seriously wounded a couple of days ago? Aren’t you going to do anything about that? These are you children. This is the world you made. Where are you? Get on over here and do something, won’t you?”
THEN we pour out our hearts in words and in sighs and in tears and in great deep grateful laughter. Then we ask God for our heart’s desires – for ourselves and for others. That’s when we take a good long look at the world and the troubles in the world – of every kind, and bring it all to God. That’s when we beg God and bargain with God and pound on God. And yank on God’s shirt and refuse to let go. That’s when we ask and ask and ask the same things for weeks and months and even years on end. Persistently. Like the widow in our story for today. Never giving up. Never slacking off. Pestering God in that way that God loves to be pestered. Which is exactly what God expects from us.
And sometimes. Not always, but sometimes – a sense of calm sneaks into our hearts, and we have the absolute assurance that we have been heard. And are well cared for. By our awesome God, who forgives us and receives our thanks and who all but smothers us in love.
There is another dear woman whom I know now who also sits in her navy blue lazy boy chair – in her nursing home room. It’s Jeannette Perry. Whenever I visit her we talk about how she misses all of you and how she used to sing in the choir and worship with all of you and attend the women’s breakfasts. She asks about you by name, and wants to know what’s happening with you, by name, and in the church. And then, every time I see her, she says with a sort of sadness in her voice, “I pray for all of you every day.” Tell the women in the breakfast group that I pray for them every day.” And the most recent time I visited Jeannette a couple of days ago she sent me back with this message for all of you: “Tell them that I pray for them every day. Tell them that I pray that they will have a good new pastor who will hold the church together.”
And so I have.
Children’s story: Mark 12:41-44
First Lesson: Mark 12:12-17
You haven’t heard me tell much about my grandfather Johan Ludwig Vanderhoven. He was called John in this country and he came to Grand Rapids from Rotterdam in the Netherlands when he was in his early twenties. He was a musician and an artist. He played the piano in concert halls and the organ in churches and he composed music and wrote hymns and gave music lessons. He had a heavy Dutch accent and a gruff way of speaking, and a big bristly while mustache. And pretty much every time I ever saw my grandpa he had a big fat cigar sticking out of one corner of his mouth and smoke swirling around his head.
My Grandpa John and my grandma Katie lived through the great depression with four children in Grand Rapids. Now you know that musicians and song writers aren’t paid very much, ever, and in that depression they were hardly paid at all. So grandpa found some kind of work hanging wall paper and painting and my dad and my uncle had a paper route and my grandma took in borders. But people in those days weren’t having their houses papered and painted very much either, so many days my grandpa didn’t work. And I remember my grandma telling me stories that some days she cried because she had only a quarter to feed four children and nothing at all in the house to eat.
But when my grandpa did make a dollar, he carefully put one dime in the pot on the back of the stove. Or if he made two dollars one day, he put two dimes in the pot on the back of the stove. And on Sunday, whatever was in that pot on the back of the stove went into the collection plate at church. A tenth of what he made. A tenth of whatever came in from that paper route and a tenth of whatever the boarders paid, went into the pot. And into the collection plate at the church.
Now hear this well. Nobody forced my grandpa to do that. No pastor grabbed my grandpa by the neck and told him he had to. And he didn’t do that out of guilt. My grandpa put a dime in the pot on the back of the stove because that’s what he did. He gave a tenth of what he had to God because he gave a tenth of what he had to God. In good times. In bad times. Because for all that big mustache and that gruff exterior and that heavy Dutch accent, and that big fat cigar dangling from his mouth, my grandfather was a very spiritual person. A man of deep faith. A man much devoted to God. And that’s what people of deep faith do. And people who are much devoted to God. They give generously. Even when it’s very hard.
And that’s what Jesus was trying to say to the rich young man. We read the story. That rich young man came running to Jesus and flung himself down on the ground in front of Jesus in great distress and asked, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus was in the middle of doing a hundred other things as he always was, and he was on his way to the next town where more people needed him desperately, as they always did, so he gave the young man a quick answer. He said, “You know the answer to that. Keep the Ten Commandments. Don’t murder anybody. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Don’t sleep with the wrong people. Respect your parents.”
But the young man kept after Jesus. He didn’t accept that quick answer. He said, “I do know all that. I’ve done all that. From the time I was a kid I’ve done all that. What’s next? What else can I do?”
And something about him made Jesus look at him a second time, and he stopped what he was doing. Maybe he recognized sincerity when he saw it. Maybe he looked past the fine clothes and saw a person who needed his attention. Maybe he pulled the young man up from the ground and looked him in the eye for the first time. And there was some of kind of an instant connection between the two of them. Jesus was drawn to him powerfully in that split second. He saw a young man who wanted to take the next step in his spiritual life. He saw a young man who wanted to be deeply committed in his life with God. And a moment of deep sadness came over Jesus just then. And he said to young man, “The next step is hard. Very hard. You’ve got to get free of your stuff. You’ve got to give it all away.”
And it was very sad. Because that well-meaning young man simply wasn’t able to take the next step in his spiritual life. He couldn’t detach himself from his stuff. He couldn’t manage to be really, deep down generous. And he turned his back, sadly, on Jesus, and walked away. And we never hear from him again.
So what we’re talking about this morning is a deeply spiritual matter. When we talk about giving to the church or stewardship, we’re not talking about paying the bills. It’s not that we sit down every month with the master card bill and the Macy’s bill and the cable bill and the phone bill. And then at the end of all that, we say, “well, how much shall we pay to the church this month?” It’s not that we’ve always given a certain amount to the church every month so that’s what we’ll do again this year (although that’s a very good start.) It’s not like that at all. (or maybe it is like that for you, and Jesus is asking you to take the next step in your faith.)
Because here’s what happens. We come to the point in our spiritual lives when Jesus is our companion all through the day. When we are conscious, every moment, that what we are doing and saying we are doing and saying on behalf of Jesus who can’t be here himself at the moment. That what we are doing we are doing in the strong power of God, who is as close to us as our breathing in and out. We realize deep in our bones that everything we have and everything we are is a sheer gift from God. Every moment we breathe and every thought in our head is God breathing and thinking and being through us.
If we’re waiting for results of a medical test, God is there with us. As close to us as our breathing in and out. When we’re struggling at our jobs, God is there with us. When we’re worried about our finances God is there to care for us and reassure us. When somebody we love is dying and we are watching and waiting and grieving, God is beside us. When we are anxious and stressed and uncertain of our futures, God is there to guide our thinking and bring us peace of mind. We sang it a minute ago. From the moment of our borning cry to the time we shut our weary eye, God is our loving companion.
Then our whole life is a prayer with our eyes wide open, and everything about us is a part of God, and God is intimately a part of us. Then Jesus invites us to take the hard step of really generous giving. He invites us to move beyond, “Did I kill anybody today? Or did I say any bad words today? Or did I tell any lies today?” He asks to us move into “Is my heart in the right place? Have I got my priorities straight? Am I truly a follower of Jesus or am I just pretending? Am I living in companionship with Jesus? Or am I so preoccupied with my own stuff and with getting more stuff that I can’t be generous?”
You are generous givers. I’m looking at a church full of generous givers. I get the reports every Monday morning (with no names attached) on the giving of the day before, and I am always grateful. That’s why this congregation is so intent on doing mission – especially local mission. It’s not that we have an extra dollar or two in our pockets and we might as well give it to the Mel Trotter ministries or buy a pair of pajamas for a neighbor child because we don’t have anything else to do with that money. It’s because that’s what Jesus would do and he is smiling broadly when he sees us.
And beyond your financial giving you are generous with your time and the skills that you have honed over a lifetime of living well. And the energy you offer for what needs doing in God’s world.
We’ve been talking these last weeks about what spiritual leaders or spiritual people look like. That’s what spiritual people look like.
That’s the mark of deeply spiritual people who are committed to being followers of Jesus way beyond the easy stuff.
Are you beginning to recognize yourselves?
First Lesson Hebrews 12:1-3
Children: John 6:1-14
November 1, 2015 – Holy Communion and All Saints Sunday
So I can pretty much imagine how it was. These twelve men had signed on with Jesus. At first it was just twelve men who were attracted to him for reasons they didn’t understand, and when he called them they had literally left everything to follow him. But they’ve been with him for a while now. They’ve traveled up and down the countryside with him, wherever he went, and amazing things are happening. Wherever they go with this man Jesus, crowds are following him – thousands of people. Miraculous things are happening. He is wildly popular and instead of twelve men following one man, this is becoming a movement. They’re beginning to have plans for this man Jesus and for themselves. They’re beginning to think that it might actually be true – what some people are saying all along – that he could actually overthrow the very powerful Roman governors. Those Governors who are controlling their country and charging them such high taxes. That are dragging them down into poverty. Those Romans who are charging them such high taxes that they are losing their farms and their homes and their businesses. Those Roman soldiers who are based in their country and who are harassing their women in the streets and making life hard for the men. They’re beginning to think that they could actually install their leader, Jesus, as King in their capital city, Jerusalem. With a royal crown on his head and sitting on a royal golden throne and wearing royal robes.
These guys are flying high. They’re inspired by the crowds around them, and three of them, at least, have just had a deeply spiritual experience up on the mountain with Jesus.They had actually seen his face change and his clothing become a brilliant white and they had heard with their own ears a voice from heaven – this is my beloved son.
So they are walking along the road and talking with each other. And they’re beginning to plan their own futures with Jesus after they install him as king. And I’m imagining that Peter is the first one to speak – he was always the first one to speak. And he says, “Well, it’s clear that I’ll be the Vice President when the time comes. You know I’m a man who gets things done. I’ll be right there beside Jesus, supporting him all the way. I’m the man for the Vice President’s job.” And Matthew is saying, “Well, I should surely be the Secretary of the Treasury because I’ve got all this good experience at collecting taxes. I do that very well.” But somebody else says, “Well, you’re very good at collecting taxes. No doubt about that, but you cheated people doing it.” And then Judas say, “But don’t forget, I’m the treasurer of our group – I’m the one who handles the money. Matthew worked for the Romans and he cheated the people. Who would ever trust him? It just makes sense that Jesus will choose me for the job of Secretary of the Treasury.”
And everybody knew without saying it that James and John, the two brothers, had the most money to contribute. They had left their fishing business, but their father and their employees were still handling things very well, and their mother was a very wealthy woman, and could well afford to be generous. Nobody had to say it. And Andrew says, “And don’t forget, I’m the one who found that kid with the tuna fish sandwich a few days ago. We didn’t have any money and we had all those thousands of hungry people to feed and far away from any grocery store, and I found the kid with the food.” And Philip says, “But of all of you, I’m the one who knows the Bible the best. I’m the Bible scholar around here. I should certainly have a very prominent position.” And James says, a little more quietly than all the others, perhaps. But James says, “But remember, Jesus choose me to go up the mountain with him and I had a spiritual experience so powerful there that I can’t even talk about it.” And after everybody else had had their say, John says, “Yes. But. Jesus loves me best.”
And Jesus catches wind of this conversation they’re having among themselves on the road and he asks them about it. And like naughty little boys, none of them says a word. So he looks at them and says to them, “Have you not heard a single word of what I just said?”
Did you not hear me say that I’m going to die? That I’m going to be betrayed and die and rise again? There’s going to be a crown in my future. But it’ll be a crown of thorns, and Roman soldiers are going to shove it down into my forehead until I bleed. And the only royal robe I’ll ever wear will be a purple rag that they’ll throw over my shoulders to mock me. And there aren’t going to be any important positions for any of you, either. And don’t even bother wondering who will be the Vice President and Secretary of the Treasury. Because you’ll die, too, and some of you will die horrible deaths.
Stop thinking so big, said Jesus. Don’t think big. Think little. Think very little. Look at this child and think little.
And if you want to talk about saints, Jesus would say. Don’t talk about the Secretary of the Treasury or Vice Presidents or kings, though they may be very good people. But don’t talk about high powered people in high powered places.
If Jesus were here today he would say, “If you want to talk about saints, think about a small church in a small community. And the power here. If you want to know about saints, think about six or seven people in a lively Bible study in the conference room of a church. Think about two or three or four children every week being surrounded by a church full of people who love them and teach them about Jesus. If you want to see saints, look at a congregation full of people buying underwear and sox and warm pajamas for children. Think about people putting toothbrushes and crayons and coloring books in Christmas boxes for children in all kinds of other places whom they have never seen and won’t, but whom they love anyway because they are children of God. If you want to think about saints, think about people writing out checks for peace here in this community and throughout the world. Think about two large barrels in a large room in that church and take a look at how quickly they fill up with food and how often that food needs to be emptied out and brought for people in their community who will eat it gratefully. Think about one dear woman who sits in her lazy boy chair in her nursing home and prays for the rest of us every single day. Think about a group of deacons who bring fruit and cheese and cookies for the others to eat. And while they are eating they laugh and share important stories and unimportant stories and get to know each other. Think about one friend bringing supper for another one, and sitting a bit to talk. If you want to talk about saints, think about a small congregation of about fifty people in one place offering their prayers to God in holy, mystical silence, and see and feel the power of those prayers. Hear that whole bunch of very simple people singing joyful songs, with maracas, even. Think about faithful, quiet people who are very generously supporting this church every week to make all that possible. Those are your saints, Jesus would say. Those are the people who are a part of the kingdom that I’m bringing.
And then take a good look, and see what it’s like in the Upside Down Kingdom of God where everything is the opposite of what you might think. Then see that little is really big, after all.
And then look at this table. With little cups of juice and small loaves of bread. And think of Jesus. Sit in this sanctuary in the quiet as the music is playing and remember Jesus. Think of his life and his love and his deeds and his death. Take a sip of this juice and feel his power in your life. Take a little hunk of bread in your hand and feel renewed for the work you do – in his kingdom that will never end.