Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Luke 1:5-25, 57-80 "#morehope"

         Today is a special day here in our church because today we begin our preparations for Christmas.  Of course, we are not concerned about getting the wreaths up and the cookies baked and the gifts wrapped.  Here in church, we will focus on readying ourselves – our hearts and minds - for the birth of Jesus. 
         We call this season of preparation “Advent”.  Technically, the first Sunday in Advent is next week, encompassing the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day.  However, this year, in an unusual twist of the calendar, the fourth Sunday in Advent falls on Christmas Eve.  We will not have a morning worship service that day but instead will put our collective effort into, and our attendance at, our traditional Christmas Eve pageant at 5:00 P.M. 
         And yet, our Advent worship series entitled “Angels Among Us” deserves the full allotment of four Sundays to be particularly meaningful for you.  Consequently, for those of you who keep track of the liturgical calendar, we are beginning the season of Advent one week early. Hopefully though, by the time Christmas Eve rolls around, you will find that it has been time well spent when you experience once again the birth of our Savior through song and pageantry as the ancient story is once more told.
         In preparation for Christmas Eve then, we will be exploring the role of angels in the Nativity story for the next four Sundays.  You see, these messengers from God figure prominently, not just on the night of Jesus’ birth when they announced his coming to the shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem.  They also show up in the Gospel tales that lead up to the event in the stable.  And we will find that not only did these angels have something important to say to folks long ago, but that they also have something equally important to say to us as well. 
         When you really think about the angels that appear in the stories leading up to Jesus’ birth, I think it is interesting to note that they would have been very comfortable with social media, very comfortable in our world of tweets and hashtags. Remember how their messages were often short and to the point? Maybe not always 146 characters, but brief nonetheless.  For example, in our social media world, their favorite line would have been #DoNotBeAfraid. 
         As we look at the stories of these winged messengers who first came to Zechariah (the father of John the Baptist), then to Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds, and as we recall their reactions to the angels, we will contemplate what messages we might offer to our world, a world characterized by a pervasive culture of fear.  Surely we are 21st messengers of Good News – though perhaps not of the winged variety.  How can we – you and I - bring #morehope, #morepeace, #morejoy, and #morelove to the world?
         Now, most of the time in church, you are instructed to turn off your cell phones.  But, for these next four weeks, I invite you – in fact, i encourage you - to turn them on.  I invite you to tweet, use snapchat or instagram, post to your facebook page, or send an email broadcast to your address book.  I invite you in any way you can to proclaim the oh-so-relevant Advent message of the angels - #DoNotBeAfraid. 
         Maybe you will take a photo of our Advent lanterns or put something you hear into 146 characters and tweet it out.  Maybe you will post a status report on facebook indicating that you are here – in church – spreading God’s Advent message of #DoNotBeAfraid and this week’s particular message of #morehope.  Maybe you will simply send out the quote on the front of the bulletin.
         You see, the world needs to know what we proclaim here as Christians. The world needs to know that we will not conform to the norms of our culture.  The world needs to know that we will be different.  The world needs to know that we will not live in fear.  The world needs to know that we will continue to exist with a deep and abiding hope in the  promises God has made to us. 
         That is what the world needs to know - and now let’s look at the story of one angel who long ago proclaimed those messages as well….
         This first angel we encounter broke 400 years of silence between God and the Jewish people.  The date, of course, is uncertain.  Perhaps it was around 3 BCE.  The place was at the high altar in a temple somewhere in the Judean hills probably not far from Jerusalem. 
         It was a dark era for the Jewish people.  Not only had there been no prophetic word from their God in four centuries, but in addition, their spiritual leaders had become entangled in increasingly meaningless traditions and rituals, and their king (Herod) was both corrupt and tyrannical. 
         And it was on one of those dark and silent days that Zechariah arrived for his priestly duty.  There were so many priests that he only had to take his turn for a couple of weeks out of the year.  Of course, no one had told him that this time around he was going to kick off the Advent story.  They just told him to report to the temple, which he did.  He was in charge of burning the incense, a particular privilege awarded by drawing lots, a responsibility that Zechariah might have hoped to do maybe once in his lifetime. 
         So, there he was alone in the most holy part of the temple, the congregation on the other side of a screen praying as the incense burned.  Then, out of nowhere, just to the right of the altar, we are told, the angel Gabriel appeared.  It was pretty clear right from the start that Zechariah was not expecting an angel, and he reacted in a way that Gabriel would soon become accustomed to.  Zechariah was quite alarmed, and so the first words out of the angel’s mouth were “#DoNotBeAfraid.”
         The angel then went on to say that Zechariah’s prayers would be answered, that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son.  Continuing his pronouncement, the angel went to unusual lengths to assure Zechariah that this was good news, that he and Elizabeth would be happy taking the unused bassinet out of storage and setting up the nursery after all these years when they had long since given up any real hope for a family, that his son (for it would be a son) would grow up to be a great man with a somewhat eccentric diet, and that, most importantly, this child’s name was to be John.
         Quite taken aback by the angel’s monologue, Zechariah responded with an artfully worded question:  “How will I know that this is so?”
           Now Gabriel might have answered cynically, saying something like, “Well, when your wife’s figure balloons and she wants pickles and ice cream at midnight, when you first hear her pitiful cursing and moaning followed many hours later by the unmistakable cry of a newborn baby – then you will know that what I have said God has brought to pass.”
         But the angel did not do that.  He simply struck Zechariah mute and told him that he would get his voice back when the miracle had occurred. So Zechariah had to use sign language that day to tell the congregation that he needed to head home and could not finish his priestly duties.  He used gestures when he got there too in order to ensure that Elizabeth was in the loop.
         And, over time, it all did come true, as the angel had said it would.  Elizabeth became pregnant, and the public disgrace associated with her barrenness disappeared in a heartbeat.  The baby was born, and, a week later, his proud parents took him to the Temple for the traditional naming ceremony and circumcision.  When the priest got to the part where he asked the child’s name, Elizabeth spoke up and said that the child would be called John. 
         There was a bit of an outcry from the family at that point because everyone expected a son to be named after his father – Zec Jr. in this case.  Being part of a patriarchal society where women really had no say, the priest looked to Zechariah to set things right and put his wife in her proper place. 
         Zechariah remembered all that the angel had told him that day nine months before and understood that this was a most serious moment. Consequently, he decided wisely to forego the hand gestures and asked for a writing pad instead.  He took the heavy black marker and block printed the letters J-O-H-N. 
         And suddenly Zechariah had his voice back again – albeit a bit scratchy from not using it in nearly a year – and he immediately praised God - for the miracle of speech, for the miracle of his wife giving birth after all these years of barrenness, and for the most wonderful miracle of all, a miracle grounded in such great high hope that God had just set in motion in the world. Perhaps in that moment, Zechariah understood.  The upheaval had begun.  The world was about to turn upside down.
         Well, certainly you and I have been waiting for a long time for that turning to even seem like it is beginning, much less nearing completion.   Like Zechariah, we too live in dark times. 
         In light of the promises of Advent, how do we live in a world that seems to be so scary?  How do we live in a world where mass shootings happen in the most sacred of places?  How do we live in a world where conflict appears around every corner and where the political, racial, and economic divide gets wider and deeper at every turn?  How do we live in a world whose weather grows more erratic and violent every season? 
         Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has pointed out that often in the Bible it is out of barrenness that God’s new work emerges.  Not just barrenness like Elizabeth experienced, but barrenness in the sense of a powerful metaphor for anyone who feels empty, fearful, and helpless before God – and I would submit that – certainly this year - that would include all of us.  But does Zechariah’s encounter with an angel provide any guidance to us at all?
         I think so.  I think Zechariah’s story is one that is deeply rooted in #morehope, As Presbyterian pastor Deborah Sunco wrote, “"By the time we meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, they have stopped believing a baby will join their family.  The years have gone by, the gray hairs have sprouted, their bodies have wrinkled, and the child hasn’t come.  But I’m not sure they’ve stopped hoping for a baby. 
         Gabriel’s words tell us that they have prayed for a child, just like one might pray for  - what? - a month without a mass shooting or a Christmas when the world is not at war somewhere…Past experience might suggest it is worthless to pray for such things, but your heart cries out nonetheless, hoping past hope that this year something might be different.  The cry holds a flicker of faith in God’s power to revive, the hope that never truly, fully dies” 
         In this story we just read, Zechariah is told – after all these years - that his prayer has been heard.  If nothing else, perhaps we can see in this story that God’s spirit continues to be at work in those parts of our lives where we have given up hope, where we see only barrenness and emptiness. Perhaps we can see that, for God, these very situations invite intervention.
         I wish I had easy answers – a holy “to do” list – that would make the world a significantly better place this Advent.  However, I do not.  Sometimes I feel as lost as you do. 
         But I keep thinking of Zechariah.  I keep thinking of how he and Elizabeth never completely lost hope in a distant dream.  Maybe on one level they knew they were too old for a child and that the angel was too late.  Maybe that was what Zechariah was getting at when the angel struck him mute.  Maybe Zechariah just wanted to know why God had been silent for so long.
         As Anglican preacher Rosalind Brown noted, “Why did they have to face years of shame and disgrace? Why do bad things happen to good people? These are the questions that faced Zechariah and Elizabeth…These are our questions too and the (Gospel writer) doesn't answer them, so we (would) do better to notice what we are told: that (Zechariah and Elizabeth) had been faithful, that they discovered afresh that God does not always live by our rules, (but) God does hear our prayer.”
         So, in this season of Advent, in our dark times, the likes of which Zechariah and Elizabeth would be so well-acquainted, these Biblical characters – brought up short by an angel’s brief message – are examples of what it means to hope even when everyone and everything is telling you that your life or your world is beyond hope. 
         And that is not easy.  Advent hope is hard work.  Our dreams for this season and beyond are always so big – and those dreams always seem to fall short of reality.  It is enough to make us turn inward in our fear and disappointment.  
        But we must not do that.  Why?  Because the world is depending on us.  Because the world needs us to get the message out: first and foremost #DoNotBeAfraid  followed closely this week by #morehope. 
         So - do it!  Seriously, do it!  Tweet, email, post – or do it the old-fashioned way and have a conversation or send a note – or even simply give your bulletin to someone who was not here today. Just do it!
         Why?  Because the world needs to know that we will never give up on God’s promises and God’s dream.  Because the world needs to know that once long ago, when the meaning of names was so important, there was someone named Elizabeth (which means “God has promised”) and someone named Zechariah (which means “God has remembered”) who, just as the angel said, had a son named John. 
         Ponder the meaning of their names for a moment:  God has promised, and God has remembered.  Then proclaim the Good News: #morehope.  #DoNotBeAfraid.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hebrews 12:1-2 "All Saints' Remembrances"

         This past week I took a course at Maine Medical Center to become certified as an Advanced Care Planner.  That is someone who works with people to create an Advanced Directive (formerly known as a living will) for the first time.  It is also someone who, because an Advanced Directive is a document that is sure to morph over time as one ages or experiences health changes, helps to rewrite and edit one that is already in place. 
         Because a meaningful and helpful Advanced Directive is so much more than checking off boxes in an attorney’s office, we talked a lot about helping people reflect on what it means to live a good life.  In other words, what gives their life meaning and purpose, and what makes their life worth living. 
         As you listen to the All-Saints’ Remembrances this morning and recall (or meet for the first time) those people in our congregation and in our own individual families who died this past year, you will hear about just what gave their lives meaning and purpose, and it will be so many different things – choir, the Navy, creativity, precision, spontaneously dancing to Mac the Knife – and, of course, the joy of family, friends, and community. 
         I do not believe that the dead are gone forever, but rather that they go on living in ways we cannot fully understand.  I believe that, somehow in remembering them, they live in us again, teaching us what it means to have a good life, a passionate life, an abundant life.  I believe that better understanding that will guide each one of us to a good death as well.  After all, we are all going to die someday.
         Listen to their stories then.  Remember them  and their stories well – and reflect on just what it is that gives your life meaning.
MARK DIXON – Mark was part of our church family through his wife’s and sons’ commitments to our church.  Mark’s academic background was in science, and he fulfilled his passion working for research and biotech companies.  He received his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State and his Master’s degree from West Virginia.  Mark was very outgoing with a wonderful and contagious smile and a sense of humor appreciated by both family and friends.  He loved his dogs, classic cars, and music, especially jazz.  However, above all these things, the greatest joy he experienced was the joy he felt in watching his two sons grow up, participating when he could in their activities, and being their biggest cheerleader.  He was so proud of both of them and their accomplishments.
JEFFREY DYER – Jeffrey is Polly Dyer’s grandson.  Jeffrey attended Bonny Eagle and Portland high schools.  He enjoyed soccer, video games, and being outdoors, especially when he went fishing with his Grandpa Dyer at the family camp in Eustis.
LOIS FORAN – Lois is Joe’s mother.  She was also the best mother-in-law ever, and I can only hope that I am half as good at that role as she was.  By the time she was in her mid-thirties, Lois was the mother of eleven children, often raising them nearly by herself as her husband (and their dad) often traveled or worked exceptionally long hours. 
         One of her children described her as the nurturer, preparer of meals, washer of dishes, taxi driver, creator of projects remembered at 8:00 P.M. and due the next morning, groundskeeper, bookkeeper, nurse, doctor, confidant, planner, party host, referee, instigator, human calculator (before calculators), teacher, wielder of the ironing cord (you did not want to be the last person to run), comedian, dealer of cards, creator of milk soup, fried spaghetti, and city chicken legs.  She was the absolute authority for a pack of eleven.” 
         There are many stories (too many to mention), both true and apocryphal, about Lois.  Here is one that one of Joe’s sisters recalled:  “The new mustang and a bunch of us kids in the back seat urging her to “floor it”, so she did and got pulled over.  The cop made her get out of the car so he wouldn’t have to yell at her in front of the kids.”
         Joe summed Lois up well:  “My mother loved life - what else can I say?  She loved her kids, her husband, cooking, her family - and she loved to dance. Oh, how she loved to dance!  Among so many lessons, she taught me never to be shy about getting up on the floor when a good song is being played.  Thanks, Mom!”
ANN HARRIMAN – Ann was a longtime member of our church.  She sang in the choir for many years and was elected a Church Elder.  When not in the choir loft, you could find Ann helping at church suppers and fairs.  She frequently worked the bake table at the Holiday Fair and could always be found making brownie sundaes at most every pot roast supper.  Ann was gentle, kind, and always thinking of others before she thought of herself.  She was quite the roller skater in her youth, perfecting a trick whereby her partner would hold her by the ankles and swing her around, bringing her close enough to the wooden floor of the rink that she was able to light the match she held in her teeth. Ann was the last of the “Gold Girls”, here at church, - that much loved trio of BFFs that also included Muriel Yeager and Rosemary Tripp. 
         Ann’s daughter Leann said this about her mother:  “What I remember most and value in my mom was her care, concern and compassion for others.  She was always willing to help others in need and did so with grace.  My mom’s good sense of humor and her optimistic outlook would so often help us all through difficult times.  Her love of nature and how she passed this on to me.  She loved feeding the birds and especially the humming birds.  She loved to garden and taught me the names of flowers and plants.  She would often take us to watch the sunsets at Quaker Ridge in Casco.  My mom had a strong work ethic and passed this on to her children.  She was independent and would always try to do things on her own before asking for assistance. These are what come to mind first and foremost.  Thank you again for remembering my mom this coming Sunday.  I miss her!”
RUSSELL LAMBERT – Russ is Lori’s brother-in-law.  Lori’s husband Dan had this to say about his brother:  “From my earliest memories of Russ all the way to my last, he was always kind, gentle, and humble. Russ followed his bliss and was a true artist.  He was creative.  He was impulsive.  He was ‘a nice guy’.   Russ was probably one of the simplest people you might know and at the same time could be one of the most complicated.   He was quietly influential.
         Russ taught me the art and importance of subtle humor.  He taught me how to put my imagination to work on creating something and to not be afraid of making stuff up as you go along.  I’m not really sure that Russ entirely appreciated how many of our lives he affected in a positive way.”
HEATHER MAKER – Heather is Nancy Yate’s sister-in-law.   She leaves a family that meant the world to her, most particularly her husband Hal and her two daughters, Meghan and Alexandria.  Nancy had this to say about Heather:  “Heather's family meant everything to her.  She was very supportive of them all, but particularly her husband, Hal.  When Hal was in the National Guard, she began getting involved with supporting other families in the Guard, calling other wives and mothers to offer support in any way she could, even if it was only to bring a cup of coffee to them at their workplaces, or be a listening ear. 
        When Hal was put in charge of an Honor Guard unit, she was very proud, and often accompanied them to the funerals of fallen soldiers. After his retirement from the Guard, she and Hal became active in the United Vets Motorcycle Club, which turns out for various events and does fundraising for charity throughout the year.   She and her only sister, Holly, were very close, and she took Holly's grandchildren under her wing, as well as being a loving and giving mother to her daughters. I never saw her when she wasn't cordial and soft-spoken.”
MARCELLE OLSEN – Marcelle is Rolf’s mother.   Much of Marcelle’s adult life was spent serving her family, community, and nation.  She was in the Navy during the post-World War II period and then again during the Korean War.  In fact, she is unique in being the first WAVE to ever reenlist. Between her stints in the Navy, Marcelle attended Wagner College, where she met the love of her life with whom she enjoyed 54 years of marriage and raised three children.
         Marcelle’s church meant a great deal to her.  She was a devout Lutheran all her life and taught Sunday school for over 60 years - truly a saint in that regard!  She also volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and was an Avon representative for over 45 years.
Marcelle's hobbies included camping with her family, gardening, baking, knitting, water aerobics and sharing stories with friends.
JUSTIN SHARAF – Justin was an attorney and accountant here in Raymond.  He had several ties to our church.  First, as Nancy Yates recalls, he and his wife sang in the choir for a number of years.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, Justin was our church auditor, going over the books to ensure that every “I” was dotted and “T” crossed. 
         Caryl remembers this about Justin during her years as church treasurer:  “We would meet once a year and he would meticulously go over our books and help with corrections, then write a brief audit report.  My impression was that he was analytical, very intelligent, very precise, and kind (although the first three intimidated me at first).”
         Nancy also recalls his generosity:  “Even though (Justin) hadn't attended in a long time, every December he would send a check for $800 for his annual donation, along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and a request for a receipt with specific verbiage for the IRS.  He felt there was a right way to do things.”
 FRANCES WALTON – Frances lived in Raymond for 24 years.  He had an abiding love of God and was a deeply religious man.  He was a deacon at the East Raymond Chapel and was active at RVCC during the winter months.  He loved puzzles of all kinds, and on most Saturdays you would find him at the Fire Station cleaning the trucks and doing chores.
         Developmentally disabled, but mainstreamed before mainstreaming was considered viable, Francis was smart (brilliant in some areas).  His parents raised him with the same expectations as his three siblings. They challenged him, and he rallied. 
         Francis’ interests were both broad and deep. He loved to swim and walk.  He collected vintage comic books (with Blondie and Dagwood being real favorites), wrote letters, created greeting cards, and assembled model trains and vintage cars. 
         His family will always remember his beloved “packets” given spontaneously to family and friends – series of pages of intricate drawings of trains, people, fire trucks, cars, landscapes, and letters that he folded compactly and neatly and sealed with tape. 
         A family member described Frances this way: “Francis’ soul just shone, a steady and strong beacon for all in his family.  He was polite; he was gentle.  He was smart; he was compassionate.  He was generous and forgiving.  He was brave and determined.  He was protective and gave us stability in all things truly good.  He was unconditional love and joy.”

         Whether you consider these people to be saints or just good people, they are there, a great cloud of witnesses.  They do live on – around us and in us, always urging you and me to, first, find meaning and passion in what we do and, second, to live life to the fullest.  So – thanks to all of them for their gifts to us!
         In closing, listen to Frederick Buechner’s thoughts on folks like the ones we have remembered today:  “How they do live on on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them.
         Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer;
it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.
         The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us—and through them we come to understand ourselves—in new ways too.
         Who knows what "the communion of saints" means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us.
         They have their own business to get on with now, I assume—"increasing in knowledge and love of Thee," says the Book of Common Prayer, and moving "from strength to strength," which sounds like business enough for anybody—and one imagines all of us on this shore fading for them as they journey ahead toward whatever new shore may await them; but it is as if they carry something of us on their way as we assuredly carry something of them on ours.
         That is perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be but of seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now. If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too…’

1 Timothy 6:17-18 "Moving Out of Scare City: Staying Put"

         Though no one really likes to admit a mistake, I need to tell you that I have led you astray. I have misdirected you these past three weeks as you have attempted to move out of Scare City!  You see, all the while, we have had it all wrong!
         It started that first week of our worship series when we focused on how we build towers and monuments to our wealth and how we cannot seem to escape our obsession with wanting more, more, more.  We gotta leave Scare City, I told you, and get away from that!
         The second week we turned our sights on the deep-seated fear that causes us to believe that we will never have enough, that we need to take care of ourselves first, that there will never be enough to go around.  We gotta leave Scare City, I told you, and get away from that!
         And last week, we reflected on the barriers and walls we build to protect ourselves from others in the world – often people different from us - who might make a claim on us and on our resources. We gotta leave Scare City, I told you, and get away from that!
        All the while, I led you to presume that we had to depart, move on, get away from those impediments to realizing God’s dream of abundance.  And so we tried to light a path for ourselves.  We figured that we had to move out of Scare City and set down roots somewhere else. 
         However, the fact of the matter is that we do not need to move anywhere.  We do not have to transplant ourselves or go somewhere else in order to discover a theology of abundance rather than a lifetime of scarcity. 
         The truth is that we can stay right where we are – in this broken and divided world.  In fact, the truth is that we need to stay right where we are. Our focus should not be turning our backs on the jaded, greedy, crazy and unpredictable world around us.  In a way, our focus should not be on changing the world at all. 
         Our focus should be on changing ourselves – because when we change ourselves and become people with generous hearts, people who live their lives with open hands rather than clenched fists, people who understand that their power comes not from what they possess but rather from what they give, then all those we touch, all the world we live in, will change as well. 
         That is what the author of this first letter to Timothy is telling the young and eager church planter and leader.  The author writes under the name of Paul but most likely was not the Apostle Paul.  The writer was simply someone with good things to say who wanted to put some power and credibility behind his words.  So – he used Paul’s name – it was a common practice in those days - and therefore we will too as we focus on this passage.
         Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus after putting him in charge of the new church there.  The grizzled experienced evangelist later wrote to the equally inexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears preacher with some instructions. 
         In his letter, Paul wrote about community ethics and good living.  He also warned Timothy about false teachers.  These folks would be like first century televangelists who spouted the classic line:  “If you give me your money, guess what?  God will bless you.” 
         It was as appealing a message back in the first century as it is today for many folks.  However, all that focus on the gifts rather than the Giver did not work back then, and it does not work now. 
         And so, Paul imparts to Timothy his thoughts on the right attitude toward money and possessions.  And because his letter was read and re-read down through the ages and because it was cherished by the faith communities it touched, it became sacred Scripture.  Consequently, it surely has something to say to us today – in our small church with its big heart. 
“Tell those rich in this world’s wealth (Timothy reads from the parchment he holds, tell them) to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous.”
         I guess you cannot get around it when it comes to advice on community ethics and right living.  It always comes down to….”Tell those who are rich….” 
         It is difficult to talk about generosity (which lies at the core of Christian community ethics and right living) without talking about possessions.  It is difficult to talk about material wealth without contrasting it to the longer lasting  - albeit intangible - wealth God offers us –
the wealth of joy we feel when we do good, the wealth of connectedness we experience when we help others, the wealth of well-being when we know in our hearts that we have chosen to be generous in sharing and giving away what we have. 
         All these are topics, of course, that few preachers like to preach about and even fewer of you Sunday morning faithful like to hear about.  You see, in the end, when it comes to attitudes about money and our priorities for how we choose to spend it, that conversation can make us feel really uncomfortable. 
         Theologian Frederick Buechner had this to say about money:  “The more you think about it, the less you understand it.
         The paper it's printed on isn't worth a red cent. There was a time you could take it to the bank and get gold or silver for it, but all you'd get now would be a blank stare.
         If the government declared that the leaves of the trees were money so there would be enough for everybody, money would be worthless. It has worth only if there is not enough for everybody. It has worth only because the government declares that it has worth and because people trust the government in that one particular although in every other particular they wouldn't trust it around the corner.
         The value of money, like stocks and bonds, goes up and down for reasons not even the experts can explain and at moments nobody can predict, so you can be a millionaire one moment and a pauper the next without lifting a finger. Great fortunes can be made and lost completely on paper. There is more concrete reality in a baby's throwing its rattle out of the crib.
         There are people who use up their entire lives making money so they can enjoy the lives they have entirely used up.”
         I have now openly used the “M” word – money – making my thoughts this morning a money sermon – a topic, by the way, that Jesus was not afraid to talk about, In fact, did you know that in the Gospels, one out of ten verses (288 in all) discuss money?
        Now, I hope you have not convinced yourself that all this talk about riches and money does not apply to you because you are not wealthy.  Not! You see, we are all considered rich by global standards. 
         You can go on any number of websites that will compare wealth in our nation with every other country on earth.  Even those of us who hide behind the idea of being on a fixed income (And by the way, aren’t any of us getting a paycheck on a fixed income – no different from people drawing social security or disability or dipping into their 401K?), even those folks or those who feel that they are living paycheck to paycheck in this country are considered wealthy.  And all those websites take into account the variable cost of living – so there is no excuse there either. 
         As one blogger I read this week wrote, “You probably don’t feel (rich) – people rarely do. You probably wouldn’t call yourself that. And in our culture, you may not be regarded as wealthy. But in the global scheme, you are the 1%. You are wealthy. You are rich. Maybe you just didn’t know it….Most of us would count ourselves as middle-class. There are plenty of things we can’t afford, and far nicer places to live that we can’t afford.
Yet we are able to provide a good education for our kids, and have enough food to eat. When unemployed, the government, community and our family help us get by. When aging, we have access to life-sustaining medical care.”
         Our blogger continues:  “So biblically, if you have (access to) a car, can change your clothes a few times, and have some money in your wallet or bank account (at any time during the month), then you are wealthy. You are the one Paul is speaking to when he says, ‘Instruct those who are rich in this present age.’”
         But please also understand that Paul does not tell Timothy that being rich is bad or sinful.  It’s OK to be a rich American – really! 
         However, Paul does outline how we ought to approach our money.  He tells us that we should not become obsessed with how much we have or - more likely – do not have.  Our focus should be on our priorities, that is, how we choose to use our money. 
         And Paul writes emphatically that Christian ethics dictate that our money is to be a means to “go after God” as he puts it - to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous – exactly the attitudes that Jesus, before him, emphasized throughout his ministry, exactly the attitudes that are difficult to embrace today in our culture of unending materialism.  Think about it:
         Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” 
"Visa, it's where you want to be."
         Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
"There's always something more to discover with your Discovery Card."
         Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.”
"American Express -- Don't leave home without it.”
         However, for us who say that we are followers of Jesus, author Phillip Yancey noted, “Christians can do no better than to follow the example set by Jesus” – and that would be to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. 
         Surely that is the mission of a Christian church.  To do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous:  That is what must lie at the foundation of our motto – “small church, big heart.” 
         And so - to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous is what the ministries of our church strive to achieve. We work to do good by offering creative and musically amazing worship services that sometimes challenge and sometimes comfort but in the end bring us closer to God and to one another.  We work to be rich in helping others through direct financial assistance, putting together 16 Church World Service emergency clean up buckets, and gathering the contents for over 25 Thanksgiving baskets.  We work to be extravagantly generous – with our time and talents at Maine Seacoast Mission, in the offering of our space to AA, Scouts, line dancing, qigong, and the newly formed Raymond Arts Alliance.
         We need all of you – whether you consider yourself wealthy or not – we need all of you to be part of the mission of our church. We are all in this Christian business together.
         Consequently, your Council needs each one of you to carefully read the letter and pledge information you received this week.  Your Council needs each one of you to prayerfully consider and discern where this church fits into your priorities for how you spend your money.  Your Council needs each one of you to make a financial commitment to the ministries of this church.  Why?  Because this church is too important in these troubled times not to support.  Because this church is also on a fixed income and can only live the Gospel message to the extent you allow it to.  In this case, money does indeed talk.
         And, trust me, I am not saying it will be easy for any of us to pledge for the first time or to increase a pledge for 2018 – even a few dollars.  To do so involves an awful lot of trust in God and in the value of the intangible wealth that God provides when we choose to give – and give until it hurts. 
         There was once a man who wasn’t giving as he should. His pastor pushed tithing, giving 10 percent, but this man didn’t see how he could give that much and still meet his bills.
         The pastor said to him, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your monthly bills if you fall short, do you think you could try tithing for just one month?”
         As a moment’s pause, John responded, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I guess I could try tithing for one month.”
         The pastor shot back with, “Now what do you think of that! You’d be willing to trust a mere man like myself, who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your God who owns the whole universe!”
         We only leave Scare City behind when we trust in God’s abundance.  We only leave Scare City behind when we decide that we are going to live with different values than those put forth by our culture, when we affirm that church means more than cable TV and more than Starbucks.  We only leave Scare City behind when take to heart what our blogger noted, “In contrast to the life that this world offers, Paul says that wealth, wisely used, will lead you towards a life that is richer, sweet, more peaceful and luxurious than anything you can imagine.” 

         We only leave Scare City behind when, with the help of God, we embrace the irony that it is only when we change ourselves do we change the world in Christ’s name.  In the end then, leaving Scare City does not mean moving out.  It means letting God and the Gospel message in.