Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

Sunday Worship:
8:30 am & 10:45 am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: Stewardship

Crumbling Buildings, Commitment Sunday

Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV)

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.


Pastor Aaron warned us all last week we had a doozy of a Gospel on deck for our Building Fund’s Commitment Sunday this morning – with this talk from Jesus about temples and stones and buildings and more all being “thrown down.” “Not one stone will be left upon another,” Jesus promises. It sounds like bad news for a building program – like Jesus is suggesting what a waste of time and energy, money and resources all of those large stones and great buildings represent.

As your pastor in this place – as a Pastor in the world these days, frankly – it makes me feel like I have to defend what we’re up to around here when it comes to Building Funds and mortgage payments and Commitment Sundays. Why bother? What a waste? If all of these “earthly things” will soon be nothing but dust under the feet of the almighty, what’s the point of it, anyway?

And those are good questions. Great, faithful questions, really. Enough to make any one of us think twice, I hope, about what we’re up to. So with this morning’s Gospel and those questions spinning around in my head, I was tempted today to defend and to justify what we’re up to and why.

I was tempted to explain that, yes, it costs money – sometimes a lot of money – to make a church go, but that I think we do that pretty modestly and responsibly around here; that, just for some perspective, there are single family homes in this community that have mortgages equal to or not far from the mortgage we carry on this facility, for this family of faith.

I was tempted to preach – on yet another Building Fund Commitment Sunday – about how we’re simply called and commanded to give our money and our stuff away.

I was tempted to remind you all that our mortgage payment isn’t just about paying a bill, but that it’s about teaching us to do that – to give our money away, to be generous, to do with less – something most of us – something most people, myself included – need a little encouragement and loving accountability in order to accomplish in this culture of greed where we live.

I was tempted to remind you – and myself – that Jesus taught and talked more about giving away money than he did about anything else, because he knew it could become an idol in our lives.

I thought maybe we could use a reminder that this is an issue of faith for people like us – people with money to spare, compared to most of the rest of the world, I mean. That this is one of the easier ways, frankly – writing checks and giving money – that we can live out our faith. That making financial commitments that are faithful and generous and sacrificial – and honoring them – is a spiritual exercise that blesses us and others.

And I was tempted to simply remind whoever showed up today that our mortgage payments don’t just go to any old bank. But that they go to the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA – an institution of the Church – which helps to build and grow other communities of faith around our country and out there in the world, too.

And I thought it might be worthwhile to remind us all that we tithe our Building Fund, remember: 5% of it is building homes in Fondwa, Haiti, and 5% of it is helping to build a faith community at Roots of Life, right up the road in Noblesville.

I guess I was tempted to justify and defend all of this by reminding you that our Building Fund is about so much more than the large stones, the large buildings and the bricks and mortar so many see or think about when they consider the Church in the world.

All of that was tempting. But I decided against it. (See what I did there?) Instead, I decided to see Jesus’ words and warnings to his disciples about the temple crumbling to dust as all the encouragement and justification I need for what we’re up to around here – as God’s Church in this place – day in and day out.

Because before the Church – and long before this church crumbles to dust, I hope – there will be wars and rumors of wars. And we don’t need Jesus to tell us that, do we? And that means someone needs to pray about and fight for and work toward peace on the planet. That means there will be soldiers who suffer and plenty of people and places who need repairing and restoring and rescue, too.

And there will be earthquakes, Jesus promises, and hurricanes and tsunamis, droughts, red tides and wildfires, too. And that means someone needs to offer prayers and hands and resources to bind up the brokenhearted, to support rescue efforts, to mourn the dead, to rebuild what is destroyed – and to do what we can to prevent it all in the first place.

There will be famines, too, we’re told. And there already are. And the Church can send food and money and people to deliver it to those who are hungry. And we can support our own food pantries and we can show up like we did last weekend, with youth groups and volunteers, to lend a hand to people who are hungry in our own city. We can sell and shop for and support fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate, too, just for good measure.

And Jesus says we will be tempted to be led astray – that others will come in his name, preaching and teaching something contrary to the Gospel of grace and love and hope he proclaimed for all people. And this is what I think we do best around here, when we get it right. It is not a stretch to say that we – at Cross of Grace and as part of the ELCA (where people of color and women and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are affirmed and ordained) – we have a uniquely wide, welcome word of grace and acceptance and love and justice to speak into and to practice in our little neck of the woods.

And that’s just the big stuff. Many of the ways we’re called to be the Church are much closer to home, aren’t they? There will be strokes and melanomas. There will be heart attacks and cancers. There will be bullies and suicides; dementia and nursing homes; lost babies, broken relationships, addictions, layoffs and more.

And all of it is why the Church is meant to be in and for the sake of the world. See, we don’t stake our faith or our lives or our hope on buildings – on earthly things like bricks and mortar. But that doesn’t mean we stop using them as the tools – the means to the ends – for which they were designed. And the Church – whether we’re talking about the building or the institution – is nothing more and nothing less than a tool, used for the work of God in the world as we know it.

So we give and we build and we grow. And we do it in ways that are generous and sacrificial and that seem crazy to the world around us – and even to ourselves some of the time. And we do it precisely because all of this will be thrown down one day – not one stone or brick or wall – will be left upon another.

And we will be left with nothing but the abundance of God’s love for us and for the world. We will be left – not with our money or our things or our stuff – but we’ll be left with God’s mercy and forgiveness. We’ll be left with God’s hope, realized. We’ll be left with God’s kind of life everlasting, which is already ours… and already enough… and worth giving to and sharing with each other and the world in Jesus’ name.

Amen

"One Master, One Mission" – Luke 16:10-13

Luke 16:10-13

[Jesus said,] “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much. And whoever is dishonest in a little is dishonest also in much. If you are not faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you are not faithful with what does not belong to you, who will give to you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters. He will either love one and hate the other, or despise one and be devoted to the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.”


I’d like to thank Kaitlyn Ferry and Lisa Smith for the inspiration for today’s message. When we talked this week, Kaitlyn pointed out the connection between the Pet Blessing service and the notion of what it may mean to “serve two masters,” like we just heard from Jesus. And Lisa posted the perfect video illustration of it all on Facebook the very next day.

(Rather than read my description of it, you can watch the video here. Since we worshiped outdoors, for our annual Pet Blessing service, I couldn't just show the video to the congregation this time around.) 

In this short, sweet little video, a runway that looks to be about 15 feet long, is lined with cones and toys and treats other canine temptations. A dog is perched at one end of the runway, with his/her human standing at the opposite end. On the human’s signal, the hounds are supposed to walk/run/trot their way to their master without being distracted or stepping off the path. A guy in a black-and-white-striped referee shirt, a whistle around his neck, is timing their progress.

A German Shepherd goes first – very serious and all business – she runs straight to her master without missing a beat. Next goes a little Australian Shepherd – very anxious, but quick – who pauses halfway down the runway to sniff something, but doesn’t let the temptation get the best of him and continues on to the master who was calling his name. And finally, the video cuts to the happiest looking Golden Retriever you’ve ever seen, sitting like he should be at his end of the runway.

When he gets the command, though, the Golden Retriever takes a couple of steps and mouths the very first tennis ball along the path, takes a few more steps and gobbles a couple bites of food in the bowl he finds, jumps to the opposite side of the path to sample some food from another bowl, trots a few steps forward to toss a stuffed animal in the air, then he goes backward, to the start of the runway, and cleans two plates of some other tasty treats – all while the referee and timers smile and laugh, and while his poor, embarrassed master charges backward down the runway calling and pleading and begging for him to follow; which he does, sort of, while stopping at every other distraction and temptation along the way to lick plates, gobble kibble, and scarf down some hot dogs until his master has to grab him by the collar and drag him to the end of the course, to finally stop the clock“No one can serve two masters.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth.”

The truth is, when it comes to money and things and stuff, we are all more like the Golden Retriever on the obstacle course of life in this world, than we’d like to admit, right?

Here we are, here we sit, with God calling to us in ways we have been trained and instructed to go – to be faithful; to be generous; to give more than we take; to use only our fair share; to sacrifice, even, for the sake of others – with the example of Jesus shining like a beacon at the end of the runway.

And since Jesus does, we have to consider that it’s wealth and money and everything they represent – that tempt us and distract us and steal our attention from following our master as faithfully as we could. Like the tennis balls and stuffed animals and bowls of kibble that golden retriever couldn’t resist, we do our thing in this world tempted by too many things and by so much stuff – taking what we can get, whenever we can get it; gobbling up more than we need; ignoring the call and command of our master, too much of the time.

And all God wants for us is to keep our eyes on our master. With our attention focused there… With our eyes trained on Jesus’ example… And with our ears listening for his call and instruction, we will put God first – God’s ways, God’s wishes, and God’s will, I mean.

Because God knows it’s exhausting to have and to manage so many things and so much stuff, when we don’t do it well. It’s tiresome that so many of us in this culture live to work, rather than work so that we might live more fully. It’s debilitating and dishonest to keep up with the Jones’s at every turn. It’s a drain on our psyche and our spirit to serve the master of debt the way too many of us do or have done.

(The average household credit card debt in the U.S. is $5,700.00. For households that carry a credit card balance from one month to the next, that average debt climbs to over $16,000. And for households with the lowest net worth – for people with the least amount of money – the average credit card debt is something like $10,300.)

When we’re forced to service that kind of debt – or any desire, really, that feeds our greed (this isn’t just about credit cards) – we can’t possibly pretend to also serve God as fully as God calls us to, or as fully as we would like. We can’t give food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, or water to the thirsty. We can’t give as much to the church or to charities that do God’s bidding. We can’t be a blessing for the world around us the way God has blessed us to be in the very first place

There’s hope here, of course. And an example of it shows up in that video with the dogs, too. That sweet, selfish, squirrely Golden Retriever gets pulled across the finish line, not to be beaten or punished or shamed in any way. He’s made to sit, still smiling when it’s all said and done. He’s patted and stroked and loved by his master, anyway, embarrassed though she may be. And I imagine he has some more lessons and training and second-chances in his future.

And so will we, by the grace of the God who loves us no matter what, until we learn to love and to serve and to give in response to that kind of provision; when we recognize that God’s grace is more valuable than anything our money can buy; and that our wealth is only worth a thing when we learn to share it in the name of the master who gives it all in the first place.

Amen

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.