Sunday, November 16, 2014
Now I know what I see. I don’t entirely understand what I see, but I know what I see. I see a Christmas tree loaded down with hats and gloves and mittens and warm scarves and blankets and warm pajamas and even winter coats. And I have been told that these warm winter items are going to children who need them in this very cold winter coming up.
I see barrels in the fellowship area where we have coffee hour every Sunday and in those barrels I see bags full of cereal, and peas and beans and corn and ravioli, and stew and spaghetti sauce. I see boxes of macaroni and cheese. I see brand new slippers for adults and brand new underwear and brand new shirts and sweaters for adults. And I see a sign that says that these items are going to the North Kent Service Center for those in more need. And I am proud to be your brand new, temporary, part time pastor.
I see a jar that says “Pennies from Heaven” and I see that members of this congregation have been bringing their small change and I see that recently a total of $429 worth of small change was sent from this congregation to the Ronald McDonald house and the Mel Trotter Mission.
I see empty paper bags and I have been told that this congregation provides meals for children – children who eat free breakfast and lunch at school – just to make sure that they don’t go to bed hungry every night.
Last week I saw a whole table full of small Operation Christmas Child boxes filled with candy and school supplies, and coloring books and socks and wash clothes and little toys and toothbrushes and toothpaste. And I have been hearing some of the stories about Samaritan’s Purse and I am learning that those boxes are going to places like Nigeria and Mongolia and maybe places in this country to children who have need of such simple and necessary items. And I am proud to be your pastor.
And I see that next week is the last week to bring “bucks for Birds, which somebody will have to tell me about, but what I bet means that families in this community are going to have turkeys for their Thanksgiving dinners.
And last Sunday I sat with the Presbyterian Women of this church and heard about the upcoming cookie walk, which raises funds to be given away to good places like Philippine relief and North Kent Community Services, and the mission of the Lake Michigan Presbytery and scholarships at Alma College.
I sat with the Mission committee the other evening and I learned about several of the mission outreaches of this congregation which aren’t even on the list that’s in the bulletin. Places like Safe Haven, and the Women’s Resource Center which among other things, helps to provide appropriate clothing for women looking for work.
I have been learning about the care you show each other and I have seen firsthand how you care for those who are in hospitals or nursing homes or ill in their homes.
And I do know about the Presbyterian offerings which this congregation participates in also – almost $2000 went from this congregation to Presbyterian mission causes in 2013. In the Christmas Joy offering, and the Peacemaking Offering and the Pentecost Offering and the One Great Hour of Share Offering. And I am proud to be your brand new, temporary, part time pastor.
And I know about one other of the projects on the list in your bulletins. I know about the “Little Dresses for Africa.” And maybe you do, too. These are very simply made little dresses that go to young girls in Africa. They are new and bright and cute and when a young girl wears them in her community she sends the message that somebody cares for her and that she is not an easy target to be abducted and sold into sex slavery. I am very proud that this congregation is helping to save young girls in Africa from such a fate.
But much more to the point, Jesus is proud and very pleased.
Because you heard what Jesus said, didn’t you? Jesus said that what matters is that we give food to those who are hungry and clothing to those who need it and that we care for those who are sick and visit the prisoners. It does not matter how we look like or what we wear or where we live. It does not matter whether we consider ourselves to be conservative or liberal or someplace in between. It does not matter how old we are, or whether we are single or married. It does not matter if we have important positions in the church or not. It does not matter how much we have safely stashed away in our retirement accounts or how much education we have. It does not matter what we think in our heads. It does not matter how carefully we search for just the right words to say what we believe. (Now that’s important, and we Presbyterians do a fair amount of that if you may have noticed.) But in the end, what matters is that we have brought macaroni and cheese and provided pajamas and underwear and that we have saved little girls from being abducted off the streets into sex slavery and provided clothing for women looking for jobs.
We do what we do because we are followers of Jesus and that’s what followers of Jesus do. That’s what Jesus asked us to do and that’s what we do. Jesus spent his days with those who were poor – feeding them, healing them, and talking with them, and being their advocate. He wore himself out every day being surrounded by those who were clutching at his clothing wherever he went. They were widows who had children to help them and no social security income to fall back on and people who had had their homes and their farms foreclosed out from under them. They were literally hungry and sick and disabled and they were desperate for some good news. He spent his days having conversations with women whom nobody else would pay attention to, and touching people with hideous deadly diseases, and talking with beggars in the street. He blasted the powers that be who made a point of oppressing the poor.
And he expects the same of us if we call ourselves followers of Jesus.
And now I’m going to get Presbyterian on you. We don’t do these things because we have a really committed and generous and creative Mission Committee who encourage us. (Though that is very true.) We don’t do these things out of guilt. We don’t bring mittens and socks and winter coats because we want to convince God to love us. Let me tell you sincerely that from the moment of our births God has loved us uncontrollably and there’s not a thing in the world we can do about that, one way or the other. We don’t make all those dozens and dozens of cookies because we want to make sure that we go to heaven when we die. That was taken care of long ago at a place called Calvary. We don’t visit shut-ins to impress God or anybody else.
We do what we do out of gratitude. Deep gratitude. We buy toothbrushes for other children because all the kids in our family go to the dentist regularly. We visit those in the hospital and nursing homes because we love them and we are grateful to God for the gift they are to us. Our refrigerators and freezers and cupboards are stuffed to overflowing and any time we feel the tiniest bit hungry we can get ourselves a very good meal or a snack. And if we’re very fussy and we don’t feel like eating what we have in our refrigerators and freezers and cupboards we can take ourselves out for a meal of anything our heart desires at our favorite restaurant. And out of that great blessedness, we supply some turkeys for families in our community. Or we give a hundred dollars to the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering or to the Christmas Joy offering coming up. Or we give thousands of dollars every year to this congregation.
We have life with God. We have rich, abundant, joyful life with God every day no matter what the weather is. Every morning and every evening we look out at the sunrise or the sunset and we soak in the blazing splendor of the glory of God. Several weeks ago now I asked you to make long lists of all the ways you are blessed, and maybe you have done that.
And I say this carefully: I think that some might even say that our life with God is rich and abundant and joyful even when the days are very hard: on those days when we are afraid for our children, or grieving a loved one, or when we are constant pain. Or when we are far too busy and our lives are stressful and we can’t see over the piles of work and responsibilities in front of us. In those moments also we have found the riches and abundance and joy in our lives with God. We are held every day in the big warm loving hands of God and we have the sure assurance that nothing can really harm us when we live our lives in God’s hands. And out of deep gratitude for our daily riches and abundance and joy, we work hard to give some of that richness and abundance and joy to others.
You are smart, well-educated bunch, I am discovering. And out of gratitude for that and out of gratitude for the very comfortable lifestyle we all have – we contribute financially to the work and ministry of this church. And we are not stingy.
Now I am just beginning to learn your stories and already I know that a good many of you are or have been teachers – and that some of you are teachers in very difficult places. And I cannot begin to guess how many thousands and thousands of children have been blessed by knowing you. How many times you have intervened for good in the lives of children who were headed in very bad directions. I am hearing that some of you have sadnesses in your families and complex issues in your families and that you are silently, faithfully, lovingly tending to them. I know that some of you are passionate about care of the earth and living things in this world that God created good.
And I am proud to be your brand new, temporary part time pastor. But much more to the point, God is pleased.
God is saying “Well done, good and faithful servants. That’s exactly what I expected of you.”