This year for our stewardship campaign, we decided to try something different. Our congregation has never been much for traditional stewardship pledges, especially since many of us now do our giving through automatic electronic transfer.
But we still wanted to bring attention to stewardship, especially to how much it actually costs for some our basic church functions on a regular basis. So we decided to try a stewardship giving tree. The idea is similar to that our Christmas giving trees that will be going up in many other congregations as the holiday season approaches, but instead of hanging items needed by adopted family members (e.g.s – boots for a 9-yr-old girl or a book for a 4-yr-old boy), we’ve hung envelopes with our various monthly expenses on them as well as a few other regular expenses:
- Natural gas
- Copy machine
- City water
- Bi-monthly Upper Room subscription
- Snow plowing ($XX per event)
As we progress through our 5-week stewardship series, we are encouraging people to take envelopes from the tree – items/bills they wish to “sponsor” for a month or two. They should put their contributions in the envelopes themselves so we can both know what the contribution is for and track how well this experiment is going. The beauty of the envelopes is that even after we’ve taken down the tree and moved on from our stewardship campaign, we can keep a basket of the envelopes out throughout the year.
We are pretty excited about this new endeavor. It keeps people aware of what our necessary expenses are (without shoving an often-confusing spreadsheet in front of their noses), and it is more interactive than a basic pledge campaign. Plus, it gives congregation members a little bit more ownership of what’s going on in the church building itself. The hope is that they’ll feel even more engaged when they can say, “I’m sponsoring the electric bill this month,” or “I’m sponsoring the snow plowing today.”
Since we just started yesterday, we don’t have much of a gauge on how effective this will be yet. But we’ll let you know how it goes! 🙂
Texts used – Exodus 17:1-7; Philippians 2:1-13
- Today we embark on our stewardship sermon series for this year. So let’s talk a little bit about what stewardship is and means before we begin.
- General understanding: stewardship time = fundraising time for the church → And of course, there is some truth to that.
- Describe stewardship giving tree
- More than just about money → We talk about giving of our time. We talk about giving of our gifts, our passions. We talk about giving of our hearts, our dedication.
- But what I’d like to explore as we talk about stewardship this year is not how stewardship happens because that’s going to be different for every person. We all live very different lives. We have different gifts. We come from different circumstances. The ways that we give to the church are always going to be different. And thank God for that! Because each one of us – every person in this room – can be a blessing to this congregation and to God’s mission out beyond these walls in a unique and special way. What I’d like to explore as we talk about stewardship this year is the why behind stewardship. Why do we choose to give – of our time, of our talents, of our resources, of our devotion?
- Simple answer = gratitude → We give of ourselves to this church because we are thankful for its presence – in our lives, in our journeys of faith, in this community. We’re thankful for the people here. We’re thankful for the mission and ministry done both in and through this church. We’re thankful for the ways that we encounter God here.
- But sometimes, things get in the way of us both expressing and even experiencing our gratitude. And some of those obstacles – those enemies of gratitude – are what we’ll be exploring through the next few weeks.
- What they are
- How we may encounter them in our own lives and in the life of the church
- How we can move beyond those obstacles to truly express and experience that gratitude again
- Today – tackling our first enemy of gratitude: nostalgia → Now, I want to recognize right off the bat that nostalgia is tricky. I mean, who among us doesn’t love sitting down and going through old pictures, old yearbooks, old keepsakes, or old scrapbooks? It can be a powerful experience to look back and remember.
- Put it this way: if nostalgia weren’t an often-pleasant experience, the U.S. scrapbooking industry wouldn’t be valued at $44 billion (yes … billion … with a B!)
- And I’ve had conversations with a number of you over the years about various reunions that you’ve attended – high school class reunions, reunions for various clubs/interest groups, professional reunions, etc.
- Describe Sharon’s/Marsha’s GAC nursing cohort reunions
- Nostalgia can certainly bring us joy, contentment, and even amusement in our “looking back” moments. But we also cannot spend all our time looking backward.
- One of the dangers of nostalgia = rose-colored glasses phenomenon: looking backward and remembering only the good, ignoring the challenges/struggles/conflicts → And I think that as the church, we are especially prone to this. We look so fondly back on what I tend to call the 2 “golden eras” of the church – the 1950s and the 1980s.
- Church attendance was booming after the end of WWII
- Churches were expanding – adding on large education wings and office suites and building bigger sanctuaries
- Time when “everyone went to church”
- Churches were still pretty full – maybe not as full as the 1950s, but average Sun. attendance, even in small churches like this one, was still at or just below 100
- Most churches still had a busy and well-attended youth program for all ages
- Youth groups
- after-school programs
- Large confirmation classes
- Full Sunday school for everyone – K-12
- Sunday worship almost always included 1-2 songs offered by a large and vocally diverse choir
- And sure, all of that was great. Would we love to have at least some of that today? Of course we would. But there were certainly ugly spots in those eras of the church as well – the prejudice and exclusion of the 1950s (all pastors were still men, and the vast majority of them were still white), and the over-emphasis on programs in the 1980s that led to an institutional belief in a quick and easy fix for whatever ails you. And each church had its own struggles during those times as well. But we don’t like to remember those struggles.
- And we certainly aren’t alone in our reticence to remember those times. – today’s OT reading = part of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness after they’ve escaped from Egypt
- Context: comes right after what we read last week when the Israelites’ were complaining about not having food → God’s answer: provide quail and manna
- Basic storyline: people have wandered a little bit farther into the wilderness and set up camp at a place where there is no water (admittedly kind of a big deal when you and your family and your livestock have been walking through the desert all day) → people complain to Moses (again) → in fear and frustration, Moses cries out to God, “What should I do with this people? They are getting ready to stone me!” → God instructs Moses to take his staff (same staff used to turn the Nile River to blood and part the Red Sea) and strike the Rock of Horeb with it → Moses strikes rock in the presence of the Israelite elders and out comes water
- Last week, I pointed out that there are basically 2 frequent complaints that the Israelites utter over and over again throughout their wilderness journey:
- 1) “We wish God had just killed us in the land of Egypt. At least then we wouldn’t be here.”
- 2) “Life was better back in Egypt!” … Life. Was better. Back. In. Egypt. Back when we were slaves. And mistreated. And Pharaoh was free to kill our children. But at least we had food. At least we had water! Life was better back in Egypt. → today’s text = variation on that – text: The people argued with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why are you arguing with me? Why are you testing the Lord?” But the people were very thirsty for water there, and they complained to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?”
- Seems to be a pretty ultimate case of rose-colored glasses nostalgia – illustrates a powerful danger when we look backward and only remember the good: neglect to see the good going on around us in the here and now and even forget some of the good of our more recent history → At this point in their journey, the Israelites are only about a week or so out from their experience of God providing the quails and the manna. One week. And yet they have already forgotten. They have forgotten God’s provision and God’s faithfulness. They have forgotten God’s compassion and God’s protection. In a moment of need and panic, they have turned their gaze away from the One who rescued them from slavery, and they’ve begun to look to each other and to Moses for what they need.
- Scholar: In slavery, every day is the same. There is something comfortable about suffering, because it is predictable. Freedom can be much more trying. Out here in the wilderness, when they have to depend on God, when they are in uncharted territory, there is no predictability. They wake up every day having to trust that God is going to lead them somewhere.
- Joy of their freedom wore off pretty quickly
- All they are left with = powerful desire to survive → survival that they knew for so long, oppressed and threatening and painful though it was, was what they wanted to return to
- But the Israelites could not go backward. And friends, neither can the church. This is where our nostalgia can get in the way of our gratitude. Like the Israelites, we look to times past. We remember the good. We want to experience that good again. And none of those are bad things! What turns our nostalgia sour in the church is when we try to go back to “the way things were” – when we choose to withhold our stewardship (in whatever form) until things go back to the way we remember them … But really, there is no going back. Only forward.
- Same scholar: It is telling that this generation of exodus wanderers never makes it to the promised land, perhaps because their nostalgia won’t let them go there. Liberation and hope lie in wait for those who can stop pretending that the past was perfection and who can walk in faith toward God’s future.
- 7 last words of the church: “We’ve never done it that way before.” → extreme nostalgia leading to fear of looking toward the future with something new
- Now, this is certainly understandable because new is scary. New is uncertain. When we try new things, we don’t know whether they’ll succeed this time. Or the next time.
- Our Chocolate Affaire = perfect e.g.
- Tried it the 1st yr → fairly successful
- Tried it the 2nd yr → flop
- But there is encouragement in that A) we had the courage to try something new and B) when it didn’t work quite so well the 2nd year, we were able to let it go. We appreciated it for what it was, but we moved on to something new.
- NT text combats that unhealthy form of nostalgia by reminding us that we are a community, and that we find God together – text: Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.
- Goes on to remind us who Jesus was and what God has done for us through Jesus’ death and resurrection
- Grounds us in the core of our faith
- Helps us remember why we come to church, why all of this matters to us
- Helps turn our eyes and hearts and attention to what God may be doing now and in the future
- Friends, there has to be a balance in the life of the church as in any other aspect of life. We cannot move forward by simply forgetting our past and refusing to honor it because when we do that, we forget all of the people and experiences that have shaped us and made us who we are today. But we also cannot live in that past. We cannot go back there and recreate what was because we are different and the church is different and the world is different. And to be honest, I think that this is something this congregation is actually pretty good at – honoring those people and traditions that built us up while also looking forward and trying new things. We have one heck of an example in our decision to dissolve the yoke and try to go it on our own – a decision that seems to have made us stronger and helped us grow just in the last 6 months. So friends, I’d like to end with a question this morning – a question that I will ask with each sermon in this series on the obstacles or enemies of gratitude: How can we release our nostalgia and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.
 Ex 17:4.
 Ex 17:2-3.
 Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 66.
 Erickson, 67.
 Phil 2:1-4.
Texts used – Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16
- With two 4-yr-olds at home, you can probably guess what one of the most common phrases in our household is right now – 3 little words: It’s. Not. Fair. Frankly, you don’t even have to have kids to know just how prevalent this phrase is in childhood. You only need to have been around children who’ve been playing together for more than 5 minutes. Inevitably, you will hear one of them lament, “It’s not fair!” Maybe it has to do with a toy. Maybe it has to do with a game. Maybe it has to do with a snack. In our house, it often has to do with who gets to pick the afternoon movie. And maybe it doesn’t have to do with anything specific at all!
- IF we’re being honest – “it’s not fair” is a phrase that is far from restricted to childhood alone → hear it from adults almost as frequently
- In terms of relationship
- In terms of work-related issues (benefits, pay, treatment, etc.)
- In terms of politics
- Just about anywhere and everywhere.
- Childhood phrase “It’s not fair” has become replacement for “I’m not getting my way”
- With children (and maybe even sometimes adults) → many typical responses to this
- Simple logic: “It was your turn last time. Now it’s your brother’s turn.”
- Long-winded explanation: “Johnny gets bigger portions than you because he’s older. His stomach can hold a little more than yours can, and his nutritional needs are different than yours.” (admittedly: often lose children long before you finish the explanation)
- Playful response (from a familiar member of our congregation): “Some kids get nice moms and some kids don’t.”
- Somber: “Life’s not fair” (also not super effective for a young child who doesn’t really understand the gravity of a statement like that anyway)
- Our response at home: “That doesn’t mean anything” → fairness for you ≠ fairness for me
- Granted, this is a concept that flies pretty well over the heads of two 4-yr-olds. But think about it for a minute. How often, out in the world, do we deem something “not fair” at a glance? And how often are our ideas of fairness and equality so intertwined that we cannot separate the two? Do we even need to separate the two?
- Scripture readings for today address fairness and equality and whether or not we can call them the same thing
- Before we dive in, let’s set down a couple definitions so we’re clear as to what we’re talking about.
- Equal: being the same in quantity, size, degree or value
- Fair: in accordance with rules or standards
- So as I said, both our Scripture readings for today address fairness and equality, but probably not in the way you might be thinking. Both our Old Testament and New Testament readings tell stories, stories in which the characters are basically saying, “Wait a minute! That’s not fair!!”
- OT – story of Moses and Aaron leading the Israelites through the desert after their escape from slavery in Egypt → In fact, this story comes follows directly on the heels of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea on dry land and leaving the Egyptian army to be obliterated as the waters crashed back together.
- Not exactly a pretty time in their history → This is part of that period where the people’s elation at being freed from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh has actually worn off, and now they’re beginning to realize how difficult this journey through the wilderness is going to be … and they don’t like it very much.
- Verse after verse … story after story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and against God → 2 frequent phrases:
- 1: (heard in our story today) “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt.”
- 2: “We were better off in Egypt! At least there, we had food and water.”
- Basically the Israelites’ version of “It’s not fair!”
- And this is exactly how our story this morning starts out – text: The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
- But the Israelites certainly aren’t alone in their complaining in our Scripture readings this morning → NT – parable of the workers in the vineyard
- Basic storyline
- Landowner goes out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard → agrees to pay workers one denarion
- 2 important points
- Pt. 1: “early in the morning” → What time to farmers get up?
- Jack – 4:30 a.m.
- Gregory – 3:30 a.m.
- Dad – 5:30 a.m.
- So the first workers are recruited basically at the crack of dawn to start their work day in the vineyard.
- 2: Denarion = 1 day’s wages for field worker → translated to U.S. minimum wage for 10 hrs. work = $72.50
- NEXT → landowner goes out again a few hrs later (~9:00a), sees more people standing around in the marketplace with nothing to do → hires them as well
- Text: He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.”
- Process is repeated at noon, at 3:00 in the afternoon, and again at 5:00 in the evening
- At the end of the day → landowner instructions to his manager: “Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.”
- Now this is where the trouble comes in: When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, “These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.” → field workers’ version of “It’s not fair!”
- And maybe that’s our reaction to this parable, too. “What do you mean the people who worked for one hour got the same pay as the people who worked all day? How does that work? How’s that fair?” If we stick with the math we did earlier – 1 denarion = $72.50 today – then some people made $6.04/hr while some made a whopping $72.50/hr! And everything in between. That’s not fair! That is definitely not fair!”
- But is it truly not fair? Or is it not equal?
- Remember definitions from earlier
- Equal: being the same in quantity, size, degree or value
- Fair: in accordance with rules or standards
- Pay of the workers in the vineyard certainly isn’t equal (obvious) BUT is it in accordance with the rules/standards set out?
- Landowner’s reply in the text: “Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give this one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?” → “Are you resentful because I’m generous?” There it is. This question strikes right at the heart of the difference between equal and fair. When things are equal, it’s quantifiable. It’s is measurable. It is objective – not influenced by emotions, opinions or personal feelings. But when things are fair, there is a measure of generosity involved. Fairness isn’t quite as measurable. It’s subjective – open to interpretation based on emotions, opinions and personal feelings. Fairness is a motion of the heart, not the head.
- Tricky distinction because there are plenty of things in the world that are equal but not necessarily fair
- In the U.S., women make $.72 for every $1 a man makes → all women basically equal to each other … but is it fair?
- In MN, minimum wage is $7.75/hr but in order to afford Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom unit, families must earn $17.20/hr (working 40 hrs/wk, 52 wks/yr) → equal for all those working BUT … If you did the math on that in your head, even if that household includes 2 full-time working adults (which many households certainly don’t), that still doesn’t add up with the minimum wage. $7.75 x 2 = $15.50. Not $17.20. Is that fair?
- In the U.S., the Family Medical Leave Act only requires employers to provide job protection and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons MEANING when it comes to maternity/paternity leave in America, men and women are guaranteed 0 weeks of paid leave. à equal requirement for everyone (though certainly carried out differently by different employers) BUT … compared with the rest of the world
- Mexico = 12 weeks paid leave
- Korea = 41 weeks paid leave
- Estonia = 87 weeks paid leave
- Where is what’s fair?
- Even trickier distinction when it comes to faith → theologies of the past have muddied the waters about what’s fair and equal when it comes to God
- Perfect e.g. – Doctrine of Discovery: series of papal bulls from the 15th century “gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they ‘discovered’ and lay claim to those lands for their Christian monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be ‘discovered,’ claimed, and exploited. If the ‘pagan’ inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.” → bred the mentality that not all are equal in God’s eyes,
- Europeans were better and more worthy
- Everyone else was a “pagan” and deserved to either be converted, enslaved, or killed
- Now, we certainly don’t want to say that we think like that anymore – that we’ve spent centuries trying to shake off that unequal, unfair mentality – but there are still remnants of that superior thought that circulate today.
- In the form of racism (my race is better than your race)
- In the form of sexism (my gender is better than your gender)
- In the form of nationalism (my country is better than your country)
- But what do our readings today actually teach us? How does God react?
- With the whining, complaining Israelites: Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. … The Lord spoke [again] to Moses, “I’ve heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat. And in the morning you will have your fill of bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” In the evening a flock of quail flew down and covered the camp. And in the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the desert surface were thin flakes … When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” … Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” → God’s response had nothing to do with what the Israelites deserved for all their whining and complaining. It had to do with God’s loving response. It had to do with God’s compassion. It had to do with God’s generosity.
- God’s response in Mt = short but to the point: So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last. → Again, it has nothing to do with equality. If God were worried about equality, then those who were first would be first. Or all would receive the same at exactly the same time. But God’s concern is fairness and generosity – covering the needs of those who come, no matter when we come, how we come, or what we bring with us. God’s radical inclusiveness isn’t about balancing some great book of pluses and minuses in the sky. It’s about compassion and generosity in the face of … whatever … whether we understand it or not.
- Should be our example for how we live out our faith
- Quote from Glennon Doyle Melton: Christianity is not about joining a particular club; it’s about waking up to the face that we are all in the same club. Every last one of us. So avoid discussions about who’s in and who’s out at all costs. Everybody’s in, baby. That’s what makes it beautiful. And hard. Amen.
 ,Ex 16:3.
 Ex 16:2-3.
 Mt 20:4 (emphasis added).
 Mt 20:8.
 Mt 20:9-12.
 Mt 20:13-15.
 Ex 16:4, 11-14a, 15.
 Mt 20:16.
 Glennon Doyle Melton. Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. (New York, NY: Scribner Publishing, 2014), 141.
Texts used – Genesis 3:1-15; 1 John 2:24-3:3
- When I went to college at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, I settled pretty quickly into a Religious Studies major.
- Found the classes fascinating
- In-depth study of various world religions
- Philosophy of religion courses – Modern Religious Thought and Religion and Morality
- Topical exploration courses – Women in World Religions, The Problem of Evil
- Among all of these requirements and electives, there was one class that I found particularly challenging: “Critiques of God”
- Basic break-down of the class: 400 level course, small attendance (~12 students), exceptionally intelligent professor, met for one 3-hr. class per week to hash through things
- Description from the course catalogue: “Criticisms and objections to the concept of a Supreme Being, leading either to atheism or to non-theistic religions. Movements, systems of thought, and major thinkers who for various reasons have rejected the idea of a God.” → Basically, this class presented us with every major argument posed throughout history for why God could not/should not exist.
- I have to be honest with you, this class was really difficult for me. I’d never had my faith questioned like that before – directly denounced on an intellectual level. This class didn’t just challenge aspects of my faith – a doctrine here or a Scriptural interpretation there. It challenged the very foundation of my faith – the existence of God.
- Now, for the last month, we’ve been talking about various uncomfortable aspects of faith – relationships and stepping outside our comfort zones, wrestling with God and hope. But today, I want to talk about how uncomfortable it can be to cling to faith even when it is challenged and questioned. In our empirically-minded, proof-centered society, we have to admit that it can sometimes be uncomfortable for us to ground ourselves in One who is intangible and unexplainable, inconceivable and ultimately unproveable.
- OT passage w/Moses illustrates just how unexplainable and undefineable the nature of God truly is → catch Moses in a particularly uncomfortable moment
- On the one hand, Moses is trying to come to terms with God’s actions.
- 1st: appears in a burning bush and speaks to Moses out of nowhere
- Next: declares this scrubby little patch of desert “holy ground”
- Then: fills Moses in on God’s grand intention to free Israelites from centuries-old Egyptian enslavement
- Final wrap-up: “Oh, by the way, Moses, you’re going to do this for me.” – God in text: So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt. → Imagine how dumbfounded Moses must have been by all of this.
- Scholar: In one brief utterance, the grand intention of God has become a specific human responsibility, human obligation, and human vocation. It is Moses who will do what Yahweh said, and Moses who will run the risk that Yahweh seemed ready to take.
- And as if dealing with all this isn’t enough, Moses also finds himself struggling to grasp the nature of God, to understand who God really – text: Moses said to God, “If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they are going to ask me, ‘What’s this God’s name?’ What am I supposed to say to them?”
- God’s reply = cryptic at best
- Heb. word = difficult to pin down – repetition of word “life,” verb “to be” → being of being … becoming of becoming … “I am who I am” … “I will be who I will be”
- We have to feel for Moses here. I mean, he asks God for a name, some sort of identifier that he can take back to the people of Israel – proof in the face of anticipated skepticism, a name that will speak persuasively and rationally and convincingly to their minds. But instead, God gives Moses something even more vague and confounding than anything Moses could’ve come up with on his own: a name-formula meant to speak abstractly and transcendently to their hearts.
- Brueggemann: [This] formula bespeaks power, fidelity, and presence. This God is named as the power to create, the one who causes to be. This God is the one who will be present in faithful ways, to make possible what is not otherwise possible. → This is a truly beautiful description. It’s poetic. It’s inspiring. It carries an indelible implication of holiness – sacred mystery and divine otherness … which is great … when you already believe. But today, the skepticism and incredulity of a post-modern world demands something measurable, something concrete and definitive, and for us, this causes an uncomfortable tension.
- But I want you to stop and think for a minute about the life of Jesus – teaching when and where he shouldn’t, spending time with people that the Jewish leaders had already written off, loving his neighbors and his enemies alike, preaching a message of forgiveness for all. Jesus lived the gospel message directly into those times and places of uncomfortable tension, and we know that when Jesus faced the ultimate test of skepticism and spiritual hesitancy on the cross, he prevailed! So why should we be so afraid to even try?
- NT passage speaks to this tension btwn. the faith in our heart-descriptions of God and the stipulations of our “prove it” culture → text: And now, little children, remain in relationship to Jesus, so that when he appears we can have confidence and not be ashamed in front of him when he comes. … Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is.
- This passage is full of incomplete language. It acknowledges that what God is doing “hasn’t yet appeared.” The work of the gospel isn’t done yet. God is still working on us, in us, and through us. And it’s always harder – more uncomfortable – to describe a work-in-progress.
- Scene from movie “The Vow” → artist is creating art/sculpture → boyfriend asks: “What is it?” → her response: “I don’t know yet.”
- That’s the way we are, too. That’s the way our faith is. It’s not a definition. It’s not measurable or concrete. It’s not a moment of perfection frozen in time but a journey designed to bring us closer to God each and every day.
- NT text also guarantees bumps in the road: I write these things to you about those who are attempting to deceive you. → Gr. “deceive” = “lead you astray,” “cause you to wander” – The deception the author is talking about goes beyond harmless, little white lies. This deception refers to those people and things and ideas that try to distract us. It refers to anything that tries to pull us away from our faith.
- Relate to this → Toward the end of my senior year in college, I was struggling with reconciling the 4 years I’d spent intellectually studying religion with the faith that had fed my heart and soul my whole life. Somehow, in the midst of one critical-thinking class after another, my faith had migrated from my heart to my head … and it was stuck there.
- Worship – hymns, prayers, Scriptures, sermons, all of it – became something to analyze, a source of study instead of a source of joy and renewal
- Fortunately, I had a professor who, though she couldn’t talk about her personal faith in the classroom, was willing to speak to students outside of class. → helped me delineate between the intellectual side of things and the faith side – eventually freed me to lose myself in the awe and adoration of worship again
- Scholar’s advice: When we center our selves, not in secular society’s immediate interests or anxious fears, but in God’s claims and intentions for us, we remember the One to whom we are finally accountable and from whom we draw our strength.
- Reassurance from text: See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! → “God’s children … that is what we are!” Even in the face of the most scrutinizing questions and uncomfortable challenges, this love – this title “God’s child” – cannot be taken from us.
- So how do we respond to those scrutinizing questions and uncomfortable challenges – doubts, skepticism, incredulity? → Sorry, all … I don’t have any concrete answers for you today. But let’s think about some important concepts.
- First, we need to be okay with not knowing the answers to all the questions. Moses surely didn’t know all the answers after his encounter with God in the desert … but he went anyway. Faith, at its very core, is unexplainable. Unproveable. Intangible. Inconceivable. We need to learn to be comfortable with that discomfort, to rely on the sovereignty of God – Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all – even in the face of all the world’s skepticism and doubt.
- Book of Heb: Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. → As Christians, we are not called to have the answers all the time. We are called to ground our identity and hope in the God that we know in our hearts.
- Flip side – means we don’t give up
- Don’t give up on continuing to learn about our faith → God at work in us
- Remember text: [God’s] anointing teaches you about all things … and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. → God is continually teaching us. Yes, there will always be some questions that we can’t answer, but how can we keep moving forward in our journey toward God if we stop trying to learn about God?
- Also important to not give up on sharing God with the world – continue to share the gospel, when it’s comfortable … and when it’s not → Remember, God is still at work in us and through us. As Christians, we are called to carry God’s message of love and forgiveness to the world and to portray that love and forgiveness however we can. We are called to embody the gospel in the face of whatever the world may throw at us … because you never know who your words and actions are going to effect. You never know who God is touching through you.
- v. 5 – “The Summons” calls us to this embodiment of the message → I find it powerful and telling that this verse comes at the end of the song. All the prior verses are full of questions – questions about who and where and how God is, questions about how and when and why we encounter God, questions about trust and commitment, hope and faith. And yet, when all the questions have been exhausted, there is this final verse – this statement of belief and devotion and faithfulness.
- Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
- It kind of reminds me of my “Critiques of God” class. That class was full of questions: questions posed by the professor, questions posed by our readings, questions posed by my classmates – questions that haunted me long after I’d headed home at night. Fortunately, there were other Christians in the class with me – people who could talk their way through their faith intelligently and calmly without getting defensive or flustered or resorting to the “Because I said so” line of reasoning.
- Without even knowing it, embodied God’s presence for me – taught strength, love and gracious in the face of uncomfortable questions and challenges
- At the end of the class, their words and actions helped me remain grounded in God. When all those penetrating philosophical questions had been exhausted, the words and actions of these other Christians reassured and even strengthened my belief, my devotion, and my faithfulness.
- In a world full of questions and doubt, how can you embody God’s love? In a society focused more on fact and figures than devotion and discipleship, how can you proclaim God’s forgiveness? What will win out in your heart, the skepticism … or the summons? Amen.
 From The University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire’s online course catalogue: http://www.uwec.edu/OAKDEV/RAR099/CATALOGUES/2009-2010/SPRING/RELS.HTM#450
 Ex 3:10.
 Walter Brueggemann. “Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 713.
 Ex 3:13.
 Ex 3:14.
 Brueggemann, 714.
 1 Jn 2:28; 3:2.
 1 Jn 2:26.
 C. Clifton Black. “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 410-411.
 1 Jn 3:1.
 Heb 11:1.
 1 Jn 2:27b; 3:2b.
 “The Summons.” Traditional Scottish melody, words by John Bell. The Iona Community, Scotland, 1987.
Texts used – Genesis 32:22-32; Acts 10:9-23
- Okay, for the past few weeks we’ve been talking about how our faith needs to be uncomfortable sometimes, and we’ve been walking through a number of different Scriptural passages:
- Jonah pouting over Nineveh
- Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego in the fiery furnace
- Peter walking on the water
- Other types of passages → dealing with uncomfortable topics like difficult relationships and hope
- So we’ve talked about the ways that faith can be uncomfortable, but we haven’t talked about why faith needs to be uncomfortable … yet. J
- Essentially all traces back to something we will pray together soon: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” → dangerous prayer
- In this short and seemingly-simple phrase, we are fully offering ourselves up to God – no strings attached, no escape clauses, no questions asked, no holds barred. “Your will, God, not mine. Your plan God, not mine. Your way, your path, your message … your everything, God, not mine.”
- But what if we don’t like where God is leading us? What if we don’t like what God is doing or saying? What if we’d rather resist God’s call than follow it?
- It’s questions like these that make us uncomfortable, and it’s because of questions like these that sometimes, God has to wrestle us out of our comfort zones instead of just asking politely.
- Both Scriptures for today deal with wrestling
- OT passage = obvious, physical wrestling – text: But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke.
- But we find Peter wrestling in our New Testament passage, too. → not physical wrestling but mental, spiritual, emotional wrestling in his crazy dream of sheets full of animals descending from on high
- Acts: Inside the sheet were all kinds of four-legged animals, reptiles, and wild birds. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!” Peter exclaimed, “Absolutely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” → Now, I think it’s probably tough for us to appreciate what a serious struggle this is for Peter. He’s a devout Jew who’s spent his entire life abiding by all 613 Jewish laws … including all the laws concerning dietary restrictions laid out in Leviticus 11.
- E.g.s – forbidden to eat every animal with divided hooves but doesn’t chew cud (cows = okay, pigs = not okay), all that walk on paws, and all creatures that swarm or move on their bellies
- And yet here in this vision, Peter sees all those unclean animals and more lowered down in a sheet before him and hears God saying, “Eat.” Peter vehemently replies, “Of course I’m not going to eat that, God! I’ve never broken the rules before, and I’m not about to start now.” But God again instructs Peter to eat, and this time, the command comes with a chastisement: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
- Response leaves Peter struggling against his history, his faith, everything he’s learned about how to live his life – leaves Peter wrestling with God in his head and in his heart → Peter: I know you’re saying this to me now, God, but what about everything I’ve been taught that you said before?
- Sounds like some of the arguments going on throughout the denomination and larger church today, doesn’t it?
- This struggle takes us back to questions we asked at the beginning: What if we don’t like where God is leading us? What if we don’t like what God is doing or saying? What if we’d rather resist than follow? → We find some aspect of God’s call uncomfortable, and so we resist. We resist the discomfort. We resist the change we feel is coming. We resist the path that God has laid out before our feet because it might be hard. It might be uncertain. And so when God asks us to go and do, instead, we wrestle.
- Not alone in this discomfort, desire to resist → in fact, in pretty good company
- Even Jesus wrestled with God in the face of discomfort. → Garden of Gethsemane in Matt: Then [Jesus] went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.” … A second time he went away and prayed, “My Father, if it’s not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.”
- Did you catch those words? Did you hear that dangerous prayer? “Not what I want but what you want. … Father, your will be done.” There was a part of Jesus – a very human part – that didn’t want to suffer the excruciating pain he knew was coming, that didn’t want to die such an agonizing death. And yet even in the midst of wrestling with God, what was Jesus’ prayer? “Thy will be done.”
- We see 2 things in this example
- First, it’s okay to wrestle with God → Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that we’re never supposed to express frustration or confusion or doubt or anger – especially not anger! – over what God is doing. Questioning – wrestling with God – is wrong, unfaithful somehow. But Jesus shows us that it’s actually okay! Why? Because God is big enough to be able to take it, all of it – all our questions, our fears, our doubts and anxieties … all of it.
- 2nd – God is always in control → in control in the Garden of Gethsemane, and clear in NT and OT texts, too
- Gr. in Acts: “never consider unclean” = literally “you not unclean/unholy/profane” – could be translated as text does (“never consider unclean”), could also be “cannot make unclean” … SO Gr. “make,” not just “call” → God is making it clear that Peter doesn’t have the power or the authority to declare what is clean and what is unclean, what is holy and what is profane. That charge belongs to God and God alone.
- In Gen., God tells Jacob “you struggled with God and with men and won.” – Heb. “won” = more like “you are capable” → implies Jacob is less the victor than he is the endurer … There isn’t actually a winner here. God is commending Jacob for being capable of wrestling with God, for having the strength to persevere.
- Important to note: God doesn’t abandon us once the match is over. → Scholar: The author does not report that Jacob let go of God or even that God left him. … In some sense, this means that God and Jacob remain bound to each other, facing this future. … An individual may hang on to God, claiming the promises, persisting in relationship.
- So not only is God not offended when we need to wrestle, but God may even encourage it. Sometimes we need to wrestle with God – really, uncomfortably wrestle! – because only through this wrestling is God finally able to persuade us – perhaps kicking and screaming – out of our comfort zones. If it looks like we’re not willing or able to take that first step outside, God will “help” us … like it or not. Remember, our comfort zones are small – no space, really, for change or growth. Only when we are outside these comfort zones can we be truly open to the great and beautiful things God has in store for us.
- See this in Jacob’s life and legacy
- Directly following blessing – returns to Esau, not in fear and trembling or in danger but in love → restores relationship with his brother
- Sons become 12 tribes of Israel
- Joseph → Jesus!
- Also see this in Peter’s ministry
- Vision of the animals in the sheet challenged Peter’s view of clean vs. unclean, expanded and enlightened Peter’s view on who was “worthy” of hearing the good news of the gospel
- Ministry up to this point was strictly for the Jews
- After this = Cornelius – Roman Centurion, Gentile → becomes a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ along with his whole family and his whole household (servants, etc.)
- Internet Monk and college chaplain Michael Spencer’s description of Peter’s vision: It was an inexplicable encounter with the Holy Spirit totally outside the bounds of safe church teaching. It was an experience with God that got through to Peter and helped him form his Jesus-shaped life.
- See something like this at just about every General Assembly
- Lots of serious struggling and wrestling → week basically dedicated to hashing out hot-button church issues, no matter what those might be
- Clashing opinions
- Hurt feelings
- But even in the midst of this contentious, uncomfortable wrestling, there is prayer. There is worship. There is fellowship among God’s children on both sides of the issues.
- Scholar: When it comes to struggles in daily life, we can count on God’s mixing it up with us, challenging us, convicting us, evaluating us, judging us. … God honors the relationship both by engaging in the struggle in the first place and by persisting in that struggle through thick and thin. The most meticulous of preparations cannot guarantee a certain shape for the future. God may break into life and force a new direction for thought and action.
- Also see this wrestling – this tension between where we’re comfortable and where we’re called – in v. 4 of “The Summons”
- Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name? → Think of it this way: How much of our wrestling deals with who we think we are vs. who we think we should be for the world? God is trying to show us that we and all those we encounter in life are blessed and forgiven – precious children – but that’s not always how we feel … and so we wrestle.
- Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? → This is Jacob’s question – Jacob’s struggle. He feared where God was sending him – back to the land of Esau, back to the brother he’d wronged. And though in reality God is bigger than all our fears, we are often afraid of where God is sending us … and so we wrestle.
- Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around, through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me? → This is Peter’s question – Peter’s struggle. Peter wasn’t sure God’s message was meant for Gentile ears, and so he was reluctant. But like Peter, God wants us to share our faith – share God’s very self, sight and touch and sound – with the world around us. But reshaping is hard. Before we can participate in that reshaping, we must be reshaped ourselves … and so we wrestle.
- We don’t like wrestling with God because it means we know God wants us to change something. God wants us to take a chance – to go somewhere we’re afraid to go, to say something we’re afraid to say, to spend time with someone we’re afraid to get close to. But we don’t want to cause trouble. We don’t want to make waves – not in our own lives, not in the lives of those around us. At the same time, we are followers of Jesus, the Risen Christ – the ultimate boat-rocker, the one who brought revolutionary messages like “Love your enemy” and “Take up your cross” and “Father, forgive them.” Ultimately, the gospel wasn’t meant to be comfortable.
- Bishop Gene Robinson’s question to the 220th GA (in Minneapolis in 2010): If you’re not in trouble for the gospel you’re preaching, is it really the gospel?
- If growing in our faith doesn’t occasionally lead us to those uncomfortable times of wrestling with God, what does that say about our faith? Amen.
 Gen 32:24.
 Acts 10:12-15.
 Lev 11:26.
 Lev 11:27.
 Lev 11:41-42.
 Matt 26:39, 42.
 Gen 32:28.
 Fretheim, 568, 570.
 Michael Spencer. Mere Churchianity. (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2010), 127.
 Fretheim, 569-570.
Texts used – Psalm 42; Hebrews 6:9-20
- Halloween morning 2003 dawned bright and beautiful like most days in Hawaii do. The sun was warm, the sky was clear, and the waves were beautiful – big and perfect for surfing.
- Bethany Hamilton → 13 yrs. old
- One of the most promising young surfers on the circuit
- In the process of securing sponsorship by major corp.
- Favorite in upcoming regional tournament
- To put it mildly, Bethany’s hopes were flying high. Everything was going right in her life, and one of her biggest dreams – that of becoming a pro surfer – was tantalizingly close to being realized.
- Oct. 31 – surfing with best friend, friend’s father and brother
- Then, the unthinkable happened. As Bethany was laying on her board out in the water, a 14-foot tiger shark swam up, grabbed hold of her left arm with its powerful jaws, and pulled her into the water. Thankfully, Bethany was able to escape the shark. Her companions were able to get her to safety, call an ambulance, and slow her bleeding, but when Bethany woke up in the hospital the next day, her left arm was gone.
- To give her hope, her dad reminded her of a Bible verse → I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – But in the face of such a tragedy, what could she have to hope for now?
- Hope can be a funny thing
- Know in our heads – supposed to be positive, encouraging
- But in reality, it’s not that easy. Hope, at its very core, is a longing for and a belief in something that is yet to be, something that is unseen and unforeseeable. It is uncertain. It is uncomfortable. It is scary. In the face of difficult situations, “hope” can feel more like a four-letter word than a lifeline. But it also cannot be denied that both the challenging and uplifting sides of hope are integral and blessed facets of our faith.
- Ps gives us a pretty clear picture of the challenging side
- Ps: My tears have been my food both day and night, as people constantly questioned me, “Where’s your God now?”… I will say to God, my solid rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I have to walk around, sad, oppressed by enemies?” With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me, constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”
- Also see uncertainty in Heb [ lang., not NT book Hebs.]:
- Ps begs the question “Why are you so upset inside?” – Heb. “disquieted” = nuances of growling and mumbling → So our own souls are groaning within us – debating, restless, vacillating back and forth between our need for hope and our tendency to doubt and fear.
- Heb. for the Ps = full of uncomfortable language
- “My whole being is depressed” = sunken, cast down
- “Why do I have to walk around, sad, oppressed by enemies?” = connotations of walking around in darkness
- “Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.” 
- Heb. “craves” implies palpable/tangible longing – a strong physical discomfort that can be relieved only by God.
- These feelings of uncertainty and discomfort can entwine themselves around our hope and cause us to falter under that extra weight.
- Bethany’s story, part B
- Understandably, Bethany had trouble adjusting to life with only one arm. Doing things as easy as buttoning her jeans, opening a bag of bread, and putting her hair in a ponytail became extremely challenging. But Bethany is an incredibly strong person. She was determined to surf again because surfing was her life. It was who she was.
- Within month of returning home – ended up back on a board and surfing again
- Despite setback after setback, she entered regional surfing tournament anyway
- But, unable to keep up with the competition – didn’t make it out of 1st heat → discouraged, quit surfing
- For Bethany, that initial glimmer of hope was ripped away as quickly and viciously as if the shark had attacked her all over again. She obviously couldn’t surf anymore – couldn’t even make it out to the big waves that had brought her so much joy – and without surfing, who was she? She had dared to dream, dared to hope, and all it had done was bring her more pain.
- This = reason hope is so uncomfortable for us
- The unknown: such a necessary element of hope – can’t hope for something that’s already a certainty, there has to be risk involved
- The possibility of failing
- Story from Peter’s former classroom – “Max”
- Started off the year very negatively – work and behavior
- Part-way through the year → complete 180
- After 2 mos., slowly started to slip back
- Peter’s conversation with him → scared to hope
- It was easier and safer for Max to approach school without any hope. Success wasn’t part of his history, his life, or his comfort zone. Remember, hope, by its very nature, involves believing, trusting, and longing for something that cannot be guaranteed. And that’s scary! So it’s better not to hope than to hope and be disappointed, right?
- Wrong. As Christians, our ultimate hope comes from God, and so for us, that word – “hope” – should be about the joy and blessing and strength that we get from being loved and forgiven people.
- Scripture illustrates this
- Basically the whole point of our NT text speaks to God’s hope and God’s promises
- “make your hope sure until the end” 
- “God wanted to further demonstrate to the heirs of the promise that his purpose doesn’t change” 
- “This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being,”
- Fred Craddock, renowned preaching professor: Here the encouragement of the church is firmly grounded theologically in the justice or fairness or faithfulness of God. … Not only is God aware, but also God is just and dependable, … the solid and unshakable foundation for all hope is the character of God. → Now it’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean God is going to give us everything we hope for simply because we’re Christians. We live in a world of both joy and pain, success and struggles, light and darkness, and there will be times that shake us and cause us to feel like we’re crumbling. But even in those times, God is still God is still dependable. God is still our ever-present and unshakable hope.
- Diff. Scriptural illustration of this unshakable hope → hemorrhagic woman in the gospel of Mark
- This woman is uncomfortable.
- Bleeding disease has plagued her for 12 years
- This woman is uncertain.
- Religiously unclean → knows she shouldn’t be mingling with the crowd
- But it’s clear that although she’d lost everything else – family, temple access, wealth, social status – she still clung desperately to hope. It was hope that encouraged her to weave her way through the multitude surrounding Jesus that day. It was hope that caused her to stretch out her fingers and touch the fringe of his cloak – a hope grounded firmly and solely in the person of God in Jesus Christ, the only place she could turn for hope when everything else in her body, in her life, and in her culture had let her down.
- See this message of strength and joy in hope in Bethany’s story, too
- After her failure at the regional competition, Bethany joined a mission team from her church – a group that was headed to Thailand after the tsunami that devastated most of southeast Asia on Christmas Eve day 2004. In the midst of all that devastation and loss and pain, Bethany made a connection with a young boy … through surfing. Imagine the impact of this: You have a country full of people who were suddenly and understandably terrified of the ocean – the place where they had once found food and livelihood and beauty – because it had just ripped away everything that they knew and loved: livelihoods, homes, people. Yet in the face of this uncertainty, discomfort, and fear, Bethany was able to begin to restore hope through her God-given gift: surfing.
- Left Hawaii → viewed surfing with uncertainty, discomfort, and fear
- BUT → returned to Hawaii with a greater, stronger hope
- What caused this change? → Bethany’s hope wasn’t grounded in herself anymore. It wasn’t grounded in her own identity or abilities as a surfer. Instead, like the hemorrhagic woman, Bethany’s hope had become grounded in the God who gives us eternal and everlasting hope through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
- And this is the approach encouraged by our Scriptures for today – grasping at an audacious hope even in the midst of uncertainty, discomfort, & fear.
- Ps says twice: Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God. → phrase starts out with challenge but instead of being defeated, psalmist clings to hope
- Scholar: To hope in God means … that we know and articulate hope and despair simultaneously. … Even Jesus, who fully embodied dependence upon God, could not escape the disquietude of the soul [in the Garden of Gethsemane]. Neither shall we. The good news, however, is that neither shall we be able to escape the steadfast love and faithfulness of God … This is the source of our hope and, indeed, the hope of the world.
- Bethany’s story – conclusion
- With a new hope grounded in her identity as a loved and forgiven child of God, Bethany returned from her mission trip with a renewed dedication to figuring out how to surf again.
- Father adapted a board – easier to hang on
- Trained harder than ever
- And just over a year after the attack, Bethany took 1st place in the Explorer Women’s division of the 2005 National Championships.
- Considering her injury, Bethany’s comeback was miraculous. But even her incredible professional surfing comeback pales in comparison to her personal Instead of shying away from the uncertainty and uncomfortableness of hope, Bethany grabbed hold with everything she had and hung on for what turned out to be an amazing ride.
- And isn’t this what the next verse of “The Summons” expresses?
- v. 3 – Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
- We’ve been ending each sermon of this series with questions, and the questions I want to leave you with today are inspired by this powerful verse: Will you hope for amazing things? Will you hope even when it looks like hope is lost? And will you ground that hope solely in our all-powerful and all-loving God – Creator of the universe and Redeemer of all? Amen.
 Phil 4:13 (NRSV).
 Ps 42:3, 9-10.
 Ps 42:6.
 Ps 42:9.
 Ps 42:1-2a.
 Heb 6:11.
 Heb. 6:17.
 Heb 6:19.
 Fred B. Craddock. “The Letter to the Hebrews: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 78.
 Mk 5:24b-34.
 Ps 42:5.
 McCann, 854.
 “The Summons.” Traditional Scottish melody, words by John Bell. The Iona Community, Scotland, 1987.