Gifts, the Power of Community

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: October 27, 2019
Wisdom Reading: Hinduism, Atharva Veda 7.52. 1-2, Hebrews 10 selected verses, Matthew 5:14-16
Message: “Gifts, The Power of Community”

Wisdom Readings

Hinduism, Atharva Veda 7.52. 1-2
Let us have concord with our own people, and concord with people who are strangers to us; the Divine create between us and the strangers a unity of hearts. May we unite in our minds, unite in our purposes, and not fight against the Divine Spirit within us.

Hebrews 10 selected verses
So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way. So, let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Matthew 5:14-16
You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Message

I believe the author of Hebrews believed deeply in the idea of community. In the passage we read this morning the author encourages the hearers to gather together as a community of faith. In the book the author also refers to what Cynthia was speaking to as she shared with the children our bringing and dedicating of our pledges participates with all those who have come before us here at FUMC. The author refers to this as “a great cloud of witnesses who surrounds us.” Community is a crucial thing.

Will you support the church with your Prayers, your Presence, Your Service, and Your Gifts? We have been on a journey this month. Revisiting what it means to support the church. Perhaps, what it means to BE the church.

We have talked about the meaning and practice of Prayer and our connection to one another and the world. We have listened to ways to be present to and with one another and those around us. We were challenged last week to serve with passion our church and our world.

Today we wrap up this series on Stewardship, however, it is not a topic that ever goes away, we, as the church, are not only concerned with stewardship, with prayer, presence, service, and gifts one month of the year, these actions are daily practices in following the Way of Jesus. These are daily practices of not just we as individuals, they are practices of the church, what it means to be the church, Followers of the Way.

Today, we move to supporting the church with our gifts, yes money, however it is more than that. This day is a culmination of all four, which is a statement of supporting the church with our gifts in all their forms.

I was sitting in an OTOC training, Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up; Why People of Faith matter, last weekend when it struck me how to perhaps bring this all together today. As I was pondering gifts, as well as prayer, presence, and service, a passage from the gospel of John came to mind as I listened and took notes at the training.

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to God.”

The words came to me as I considered the teaching that day on Power, Ego, and Anger. Those words, especially in the faith community, can carry very negative connotations. In reality they are neither positive nor negative in and of themselves. Power simply is. According to Webster it is the ability to do something or act in a particular way. We all have power of one kind or another.
Ego simply is. It is, according to Webster, a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
Anger simply is. According to Webster it is a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

It is not the word and action itself that is positive or negative, it is what we do with it and how we channel the energy coming from these ways of having and being. I believe the words attributed to Jesus in our tradition, You will do greater works than these, are connected to these.

We have an ego, individually and collectively. Who are we? What is our sense of self? What difference does it make? FUMC has a particular sense of self and certain awareness of ego, grounded in spiritual practices motivated to do the difficult work of justice and compassion into the world around us for the common good of all persons!

We have power. As a predominately white mainline congregation we have a certain amount of power and privilege. Yes? How do we position that power? How do we use our privilege for the common good of all, especially the poor, the oppressed, the hated, the discriminated against? How do we best build that power to speak truth to the powers that be who are perpetrating injustice, oppression, hatred, and discrimination?

And, I don’t know about you, but I have anger. I look at the world around us, the state of our country’s leaders, the evil and injustice that presents it anew seemingly every morning! Oh, yes, I have anger. What was the definition, a strong feeling of annoyance and displeasure? Amen? Yet, anger with no direction and positive influence will only eat me alive, will only gnaw and tear away at communities and churches. We have to channel that anger into power for the good of all persons.

And today, at the end of Prayers, Presence, and Service, we are to talk about Gifts. Money. Money, especially in our culture and society is Power. It can also be a profound expression of our sense of self, not just as individuals but as a community of faith, as the church. It can also be a focused channel of our anger, a way that stands up to the injustices of our world.

Why do you give of your resources to organizations, especially non-profits? Anyone? Why do you give money to the church? Because we ask for it? Because we need it to meet the budget the Finance Committee has put together? Maybe there are some of you who give for only those reasons. However, let me share with you why I give, and I would suggest this is why, deep down we all give.

When I encounter our children here at FUMC, see them at the front of the church singing for us, gathered for the children’s time, learning about the foundations of faith and seeing them participating in community, when they connect on Sunday Morning. When I see the excitement of receiving their 3rd Grade Bible and then watch as one of them reads their new bible during worship service sitting here in a pew, that’s why I give. When I experience them singing their songs at Vacation Bible School, or help them learn about bringing the light of the world into our worship service and then take it back out into the world as acolytes, that’s why I give.

Watching our youth build relationships and have the opportunity to go on the Black Votes Matter Trip, come in here and lead us in worship, or playing with the little one’s on the front lawn at the all church picnic, that’s why I give.

When I see our adults building community with 30, 30! New small groups, not put together by staff, but by you! Gathering together for fellowship time between services, taking classes such as Tai Chi, Zumba, that’s why I give. UMW, Mow Crew, Folders, Proofreaders, volunteers, and Dine Out Groups.

Our Mercy and Justice teams and Social Justice Work are second to none. Outreach, Immigrant Families, Eco Team, OTOC, Race Relation Discussions, Pride Parade and Festival, Protests, Feeding Ministries… just a new one this week, Coat Drive and Turkey Dinners, that’s why I give.
Our Music and Worship, Children’s Choir, Youth Choir, Adult Choir, Bell Choir, and Taizé.

Building Management, Steve, someone told me he has it all written down, I hope so. The wealth of knowledge he has is incredible as he cares for our facility, and the little things, saving us money. Coming back from lunch the other day I saw Steve and Jerry out at the shop, I walked over to see what they were doing. They were cutting up and repurposing an old bookcase into shelves for Mark and the music department, constantly repairing and maintaining. And our Personnel, our Staff, youth, Communications and Presence, our clergy staff, leadership and pastoral care, that is why I give.

Because We Give, these are the things and so much more we are able to do and be.
Because We Give, our Prayers and Presence and Service and Gifts participate in and with the very Presence and Action of God in the world around us!
Because We Give, our sense of self could not be stronger.
Because We Give, we are able to focus and channel our anger to make a difference in the world for the Common Good.
Because We Give, we build the kind of power needed to influence and work on changing the hearts of those who would promote division, discrimination, and hate in our communities, country, and world.

Let me ask this… stand if any of these apply to you.
How many here have served on a committee?
How many have helped prepare a meal here at FUMC?
How many have helped set up chairs here at FUMC?
How many have attended on of the race relation discussions?
How many have helped at Sienna Francis House or the feeding ministries?
How many have helped mow the lawn or trim the bushes at FUMC?
How many have visited the sick?
How Many have taken a class at FUMC?
How Many have prayed for our church and world?
How many have attended centering prayer or Taize?
How many are involved in OTOC or one of our Mercy and Justice Teams?
How many have participated in the choir?
How many have attended Worship at FUMC?
Look around you! If you are comfortable doing so, take the hand of the ones next to you.

Here, in your hands, as the author of the gospel writes, Is The Light, bringing the God-colors into the world. The tradition tells us, we’re going public, as public as a city (or perhaps a church) on a hill. You Are Light Bearers! And that Light, when grounded in the Power, Sense of Self, and Just Anger of the Love, Compassion, and Justice of God, will shine bright from this place…
Here, in your hands is why I believe our tradition tells us Jesus said,

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.

Because, here in your hands, is the Power of Relationship!
Here in your hands, is the Power of Community.
Here in Your Hands, Is Why We Give!
And This. Is. So. Thanks Be! Amen!