Yesterday was hopefully one for the history books – hopefully called sessions of Annual Conference will be no more than a page in the annuals of my life. Frances and Virginia, our lay delegates from our congregation, Jane and Rob as District Delegates, and Don and I left early on Saturday morning toward Lake Junaluska to adopt the 2011 budget for our annual conference. I understand Marty was at the conference office waiting to update the website with the information decided. Thanks for her good work at the Annual Conference assisting to keep us all updated on the happenings around the conference.
It’s not hard to imagine plans more fitting on a Saturday morning, but the work must go on. Bishop Goodpaster followed the singing of three hymns – a wonderful sound in a room with some passionate singing. He first apologized for having to assemble our conference once more this year. But he quickly reminded us that we have a process we have all agreed to follow as United Methodist and this was part of it. We need to be able to fund the work of the church and that not only takes prayer and worship but also financing.
He started with a selection of scripture form II Corinthians 8:
We want you to know, brothers and sisters,* about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege* of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking* among you. 7Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you*—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.*
8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9For you know the generous act* of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—11now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’
The Bishop said the darn-est thing, “You know this passage could have been written yesterday!” He was addressing the concerns of the economy – the concerns of the world around us. The Bishop proclaimed the tension the news from the economist and the good news of Jesus Chirst. He said, “Our stewardship crisis is because of listening to the wrong tapes in our minds.” He said, “If we care only for OUR interest, we will become a spiritually empty shell of nothing!”
From II Corinthians again…for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege* of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking* among you.
He said, “He said if we give out of our scarcity or our supposed “fixed” resources, then we limit what we can accomplish for God!” If we continue to live in a scarcity we will wither and die!” Are we in a maintenance mode or willing to share. It was real interesting, he said he received an email recently that listed the average incomes of each county in North Carolina. If he considered the number of working United Methodist times those average earnings across our counties (if we followed God’s suggested giving plan of 10%, the old-fashioned tithe you may recall, then our purpose there would not be to assemble a budget to fund ministries; rather we’d be assembled to try to figure out how in the world we could get rid of massive amounts of money. “God has blessed us,” he said, “with more than enough – for everyone.” He suggested that his reading of the scripture reminds us that our generosity is nothing short of a manifestation of our love. But he left us with a question, and I pass it on to you, “What can we offer Christ for the world?” And are we willing to share, “according to our means.”
That’s what he said, or at least what I heard him say. He said words we need to hear once again. Over and over again.
There are ways that we buy into a downtrodden systems. Old ways of thinking; old ways of doing. We get used to the normal old maintenance modes of life. We are used to the world we live in – whatever, however that might be. We are conditioned to just deal with whatever is. It’s good enough. It was good enough for 15 years ago. It, whatever you know needs to be there, it was nice, so it still must be nice – although we really know it isn’t what it needs to be.
I remember a while back – when the televisions weren’t flat – that somewhere I frequented had a tv that the color control had started not controlling the color – sometimes it was more green, sometimes more red, sometimes more blueish. But never what it was supposed to be! Never. Well, it was ok though. It was just tv., so it was ok. But it wasn’t really like we all knew it should be. It was a far cry from the normal tvs we saw around us. But when we just sat and looked at it, we’d get used to it – it was good enough.
I recall going to the pet store growing up – it was on my route through the mall. The puppies and the cats, and all those crazy little animals. One of my favorite sections was were the fish were. It was so neat – they had all colors of fish and all shapes throughout the section of the store. I wish I didn’t, but I did – I’d disregard the signs and tap the glass, just to watch the fish swim hurriedly across the tank. I knew that’d get them moving fast.
Only later when I read once that fish will actually become conditioned to the tapping on the glass. If the glass was tapped often enough as a person walked up to the glass, then even when the person didn’t tap on the glass the fish would swim the other way as they noticed movement. Over and over again they were trying to get away from the constant tapping on the glass – even when it wasn’t there. They’d been so conditioned to run the other way even if the person walking toward the tank was there to feed and care for the small fish. They’d begin to expect the worse, even if the truth was counter their fears – they’d stopped looking for the good!
I remember Bishop Jones sharing a story from the mission field. I don’t remember the lead in, but if I recall correctly, there was a group that had gone over the Atlantic for an international mission event. They were helping out – caring for people or repairing something. The first few days, they were fine, but near the end, there was a noticeable difference in the mood of the group.
The local person who was helping them adapt to the location, asked about what was wrong. Some of the group stated that they’d worked all week and little had actually changed around them. The local leader replied, this is the part I remember from Bishop Jones’ story, the leader replied, “That’s the trouble with you Americans, you only know how to hope if you are winning.” Personally, I doubt this trait is limited to just Americans, but much of the advantaged people of the world. Just this edition of the Christian Century announced on the front cover that 93% of the starving in the world live in three areas: Asia, The Pacific, and Africa. We are the advantaged, even in these times – a short season compared to the life lived by so many other of God’s created people around the world. The leader said, “you only know when to hope if you are winning.”
There’s something about life experiences that seem to condition us to deal with just the basics of life. To come to expect nothing more than the norm. To deal with real life! To live in the real world! as they say.
Yeah, and sometimes you might be right. But there is something about the fact that we, you and I, and others come here and to other churches, or synagogues, and even mosques, to hear the word of God say so plainly once again that the way things are out there in the big bad world aren’t the same way – or at least shouldn’t be the same way – here as they are out there. Yeah, we have to consider sound principles,
but that can’t be the only force we let lead our community or our lives.
You see, we’ve more leading our lives than merely sound earthly principles and personal opinions. The presence of Christ can make such a difference.
I wonder how it would have been to have been there when Jesus healed the woman on the Sabbath day in the synagogues. Her arrival, she’d gone like the week before. She’d struggled to get there before, her back all hunched over. Painful – probably. Perhaps even more painful because of the way others looked at her. They’d size her up even before she spoke a word or even before she’d lifted her face.
Frances Taylor Gench, one of my professors at Seminary, in her book, Back to the Well, considers this “Bent Woman.” She suggests that the 18 years this woman was “bent over” was over half her life that was probably only about 36 years. ( ) She poses a question, “Given the woman’s restricted field of vision, one wonders if she would have been aware of [Jesus’} presence. Jesus is represented as taking note of her presence, interrupting his teaching, and calling her foward from the margins to the center of the worshiping community” (87). And he says to her, “you have been set free.” And Dr. Gench, who we all called Frances, as we did most of the professors at Union-PSCE, to remind us of our connectedness because of our baptism and life lived in Christ, she suggests that the woman “assumes an eschatological (or of the end of earthly time) posture appropriate to the coming of the Son of Man and God’s new age.” A reminder of Luke’s Jesus foretelling the final days, as in Luke 21:28, “Now when these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption in drawing near” (87). She goes on to remind her reader, “that not everyone recognizes the significance of the events taking place around them – specifically those in leadership. So the deep joy offered by Jesus living in and around them, was only received with deep suspension and questioning. They were failing to recognize the goodness unfolding before their very eyes.
How often we do the same thing in life. The goodness happening around us is overshadowed by our conditioning. It seems that we are quiet content just to go with the normal ol’ stuff of life and forget about the possibilities of God in our very presence.
Where are the places where the possibilities of Jesus await your life?
Perhaps it is within family relationships. wounds long scared over or raw from this morning’s fresh fight. Perhaps there was THAT teacher or administrator or another student at your school. Or that co-worker that drives you mad. Perhaps you may even feel God has in some way let you down. Perhaps the presence of Christ waits to be revealed in the way you care for employees in your charge – standing with them verses the bottom line figures for the corporation. Perhaps it’s time you really wrote or called your congressional representatives about an issue that effects more than your wallet.
It goes with out saying that our vote next week is a vote of possibility. We aren’t agreeing to take on debt, we aren’t saying yes to new construction. We are wondering if the congregation supports our leadership beginning to work securing funds to make our building able to support our church’s work for us (especially mindful of our children and youth spaces for the future, your ease of access to get to this sacred space), and for our greater community.
You see, the same old bent over ways of life aren’t required in the presence of Jesus. Because God in our midst is able to do more than our human minds can even imagine. Even if we don’t know enough to ask what we should be doing for Christ Jesus. Sometimes we just have to stand up and be set free to live into a new life. Place old fears and pains behind us and see and start looking for possibilities all around us.
I wonder if you might want to pray. I mean just come to the altar rail and pray – or right where you are. Pray for Christ’s church and its work throughout the world. Perhaps you have some fears or concerns or you’re ready to pray for Christ to guide your thoughts or even pray for strength to vote how you feel God has guided you to vote for our church’s decision next week. Pray for some point of trouble that has your life bent over.To pray about your past, your presence, your future. To pray for a child you’ve just taken off to school, or for the students and teachers heading back this week. Pray about something that has your vision or your life cloudy or even totally blocked. Perhaps there is even the possibility that you’re ready to enter the presence of Christ’s love and let your life be lived with him. There is so much where shall we begin?