Sermons during October 2019 Worship information below!
When I was in seminary, in the first sermon I wrote in my preaching class, I shared a story about a pastor and how surprised he was to hear that a former parishioner of his had been sent to a nursing home to receive custodial care. The pastor was surprised because as far as he knew, the parishioner, even though he was in his late seventies, was in perfect health. He had always been an avid outdoors man. But the pastor had been told that the man was sent to a nursing home because of his “distressing mental state.”
This surprised the pastor even more because he had always found the man to be thoughtful, intelligent, engaging sort of person. The pastor wondered, “Had age taken so high a toll?” “Well, you see it’s like this,” the pastor was told. “His children became distressed about his mental well-being. The parishioner had volunteered, in his retirement, to work a couple of days a week at the church sponsored soup kitchen. The next thing they knew, their father had gotten so involved over there that one day he sat down and wrote a check to the soup kitchen for $100,000. Just like that. With no discussion, no forethought! $100,000! He handed it over to the soup kitchen. This was a very large part of what was left of his life’s savings. Of course, his children thought that he gone over the deep end. So, they forced him to go into a nursing home where he would receive supervision.
I ended the story by saying, “This man’s love of God was extravagant, excessive and like Jesus he paid the price. Like this generous man, how do we move to a place where we trust God’s love, presence, and guidance in every aspect of our lives?”
In his critique of my sermon, at the end of this story, my preaching professor wrote, “Why would I want to trust God’s love if it’s going to cause me to go wildly out of control and get me committed.”
At that time in my life, I assumed professors knew more about theology and how God’s love is lived out in the world than I did; so, I took a black marker and drew a line through the story to remind myself I should never use it again.
I blacked out the story on paper, but I was never able to block the story out of my mind. I just never believed that the man was “wildly out of control” nor did I believe that he gave no forethought to what he was doing. I was sure the man looked at his finances and said to himself, “I can live on a whole lot less. I will have a place to live and food to eat and that is a lot more than many of the people I see every week at the soup kitchen.” So, knowing that my preaching professor was not within hearing range, over the years, with what I believe was God’s prompting, there have been a few times I have used the story in a sermon.
And once again, as I was studying today’s scripture reading, this story that I now refer to as the “$100,000 man” was right in front of me. I could certainly see the connection. Because, according to the author of Matthew, what Jesus is telling us is don’t be collecting treasure on earth because no earthly treasure is going to last forever. Instead focus your time, energy and money on your heavenly home where it can be with you forever. Certainly, the $100,000 man is a prime example of what Jesus is talking about – where our treasure is – where we spend our time, energy and money – there your heart will be also.
However, this time I felt God calling me to turn the story around and look at it from a different perspective. How would we respond if a parent gave a very large percentage of his/her retirement income to a charity? I am talking about 80 or 90%. I hope our first move would not be to have him/her committed, but I have no doubt we would be very concerned and want to become more involved in our parent’s financial affairs.
So, when Jesus says: “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth” does he mean that we are to deprive ourselves of the things of this world when we know that money, time and energy are needed to fulfill our responsibilities to ourselves, our families and God’s work in the world?
I think Jesus might answer that question with a “yes” and a “no.” As one author writes, “When the Lord said, “do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, he was not saying that we must not think, plan or save for the future. And he was not forbidding us to have money and possess earthly things.” He goes on to say “Money is not the problem, our misuse of it is. Money is not the problem, our love of it is.”
I think if you ask people who know me well they will tell you I am a very generous person; however, I also think that the tentacles of greed can choke us all from time to time. Larry and I own a small manufactured home in Florida we bought it for my sister when she thought she wanted to live in Florida. But, like us, she decided to move back home. We had planned to sell the place, but we had met a couple who were in desperate need of affordable housing. He had had a major stroke that had taken all their savings and they were now living only on Social Security and they had no family to help them. So, we offered them the house at a rent they could afford. Well, about a year later the husband died and his wife was left with just one Social Security check so we lowered the rent some more and took on more of the costs so she could stay in the house.
Then the call came from Florida on July 4th, 2018 that the air conditioner had stopped working. As Larry is trying to get a repair person out there on a holiday weekend, I start thinking about the money and when he tells me the guy says it looks like we need a new air conditioner I pretty much lost it thinking about how much a new air conditioner would cost. That is until very early the next morning, more like the middle of the night, when I was awakened by a soft quiet voice within me, which sounded just like the same soft quiet voice that called me to ordained ministry, asking me if I thought the woman who rents our place was safe considering she is 83 years old with multiple medical problems and living in a house in Florida in July with no air conditioning.
I didn’t go back to sleep that night. Actually, I started shaking thinking about what might happen to her in that terrible heat with no air conditioning. What in the world had I been thinking. Normally, I would have been jumping up and down demanding we do something immediately when Larry told me it was going to take some time before they could get a new unit in there. What had happened to me! I called the woman as soon as it was daylight telling her it was much too hot for her to be in the house and she needed to go to a hotel to stay until they fixed the air conditioner and Larry and I would take care of the cost. Well, she told me everything was alright because the evening before she called another person to look at the air conditioner and he had fixed it enough that she had some cool air. She told me he said it didn’t need to be replaced; simply a new hose was needed as it looked like the animals had chewed a hole in the old one. I certainly felt the shame of how I acted, but I also felt God’s forgiving presence.
The problem is not having earthly things, the problem is allowing our fear of losing our earthly things or not having enough earthly things to overwhelm us and take control of our lives. Jesus is not asking us to give up our possessions, he is simply asking us “Do we treasure what the world has given us or what God has given us?” because what we treasure determines the kind of person we will be. Quite honestly, I don’t like the person I become when earthly treasures take hold of my heart.
I want to close with one more story. It is not something I read or heard, but something I witnessed and I have shared it in every stewardship sermon I have ever given. One Sunday morning at the First UMC of Chicago, known as the Chicago Temple, I was standing in the ladies’ lounge and saw an African American woman on the other side of the room talking with two little boys. I did not know the woman, but I had heard her story. I knew that she had lived on the streets of Chicago as a homeless person. I knew that now her occupation was selling “Streetwise” newspapers – a newspaper about homeless people sold by homeless people to help them earn some money so they could get off the streets and into housing. I knew this woman was very proud of her job as a Streetwise vendor because she had gotten off the streets and into housing. I also knew that the two little boys with her, about 3 and 5 years old, were her grandsons and that she was raising them because the boys’ parents had abandoned them.
Standing there I watched as she pulled a paper bag out of her purse. From the paper bag she started pulling out crumpled one dollar bills – the price of a Streetwise newspaper. She said to her grandsons, “Let’s see how much Grandma earned this week.” She counted and put the bills in stacks of ten across the counter. I don’t remember how many stacks she had, but when she finished, she counted out 10%, laid it aside and said to her grandsons “This is what belongs to God.”
She didn’t say, “We will first deduct the cost of the newspapers.” She didn’t say, “We will give this to God if I can pay the rent this week.” She didn’t say, “We will give this to God if we have enough to eat this week.” She just said, “This is what belongs to God.
Possibly it is time for each one of us to ask ourselves what it is in life that we truly treasure. Where is our focus? Where do we spend our time, energy and money? Where is our love directed? And for whose benefit?
Jesus is not telling us to move our focus from earthly treasures to heavenly treasures in order to “earn” our way into heaven. Heaven is the Kingdom of God and the Bible tells us it is in this life and in the life to come. Heaven is about being relationship with God. It is about living in the fullness of God’s love and allowing that love to be seen and felt. It is about honoring Jesus the Christ and following his teachings in all that we do, say and think. It is about a forgiving heart, loving our neighbors near and far, sharing our gifts and talents with others and allowing them to share theirs’s with us. It is about having the courage to stand up for the oppressed and the marginalized. It is about living in a world now and to come that the love of money, possessions and power is transformed into a world of love, peace and fulfillment for all.
Let us ask ourselves: “What world do we treasure?” Amen
Service and Sunday School times Fall 2019
Traditional Worship in the Chapel – Sundays at 8:00am in the Chapel
A traditional service with communion. This service is held in our chapel which is just past the sanctuary. The chapel is a smaller and more intimate worship space.
Worship in the Sanctuary – Sundays at 10:00am in the Sanctuary
Song, prayer and praise! In this Contemporary/Blended service, you will enjoy music from our Chancel Choir, Bell Choir, The Band FUSION, and Pastor Luis’ electrifying sermons, as well as experience the friendship and fellowship of our congregation.
SUNDAY SCHOOL / SMALL GROUPS
Adult Christian Education
Group Conversation with Pastor Luis – 8:45 to 9:50
Children’s Sunday School meets during the 10am worship service.
Children are invited to the Sanctuary for the beginning of the 10am service.
Following the children’s sermon, children 4+ are invited to meet at the back of the Sanctuary for Sunday School.
Children younger than 4 will be walked to the nursery.