Oct 30, 2015

Glad and Generous Hearts: III—The Saints

Revelation’s author, known to Christian tradition as Saint John the Divine, finds himself in the heavenly throne room. To this point in the Apocalypse, John is earth-bound, but now John finds himself transported to the throne of God. John writes, “At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne” (Revelation 4:2). Our text, Revelation 7:9-17 furnishes a description of but one of the many things John sees in the throne room. Among the visions is “a great multitude.” When John suggests that these are those who “who have come out of the great ordeal,” John implies those who have been faithful to Christ’s ministry with their lives—they are martyrs. In this sense, they are the convincing stewards. These stewards have offered everything to God’s Realm.

All Saints Sunday is the day that the church celebrates those believers who have died in Christ. It is a day of remembrance. On occasion believers ask, “How does a person become a saint?” All Saints Day and Revelation bring this sort of question to mind.

Chapter seven provides strangely contrasting visions of the church militant and the church triumphant. First, there is a specifically calculated throng of 144,000 contrasted to “a great multitude that no one could count.” Second, John contrasts the twelve tribes of Israel to “a multitude from every nation.” Third, John describes the church militant as a company prepared for threatening peril and distinguishes it from the victorious and secure counted in the church triumphant. Whatever this chapter wants to impart, above all, it is John’s attempt to describe a vision of heaven.

Over the centuries the concept of heaven has fueled much speculation—regularly confused and confusing to those on this side of death. A cartoon once appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. It showed a group of heaven-bound saints lined-up just outside the heavenly gates. Peter stood at a podium; reading off the answers to the most frequently asked questions on earth, now finally and decisively answered in heaven.  Saint Peter reads the list: “# 48, true; # 49, false; # 50, William Shatner; # 51, yes; # 52, the Ponderosa; # 53, every other Tuesday . . . .” People have inquiring minds and we want to know. John’s heavenly apocalyptic vision offers us one such image.

“How does a person become a saint?” For stewards this is a controlling question, for we all believe that our response to God offers us a just “reward.” But however we conceive of heaven, John writes at least this much: heaven is the place where saints or believers—they amount to the same thing—commune with God.

Our efforts do not make us saints. Rather, we become saints when God confers on us “gifts and graces” to handle as stewards. When we use God’s resources for shaping God’s Realm, then God develops us into true saints. God bestows sainthood at the point where God’s grace encounters our stewardship. There, we find God and God’s saints.

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Oct 23, 2015

Glad and Generous Hearts: II

Adam Hamilton shares the following story in his book with the title Enough: Discovery Joy through Simplicity and Generosity:

There was a man who gave millions to establish a university in Texas. Several years later he lost nearly everything. Someone asked him if he regretted giving all he had given to the university. His response was telling. “Regret it?” he said, “Look, that school is the only lasting thing I’ve done with my money. Had I not given for the school, I would have lost that money too, and there would be nothing to show for it.”

This man knew that we were created to give, not to hoard. He knew that hoarding his money not only would have been futile; it would have been fruitless (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TX, 2009, page 77).

Over the last twelve years our FUMC of Arlington finance committee and church staff have worked vigorously to operate our church ministries by principles of good stewardship. We are a remarkably transparent church. We believe in accountability to our congregation. Those responsible to help our congregation raise our church ministry budget for 2016 have a scheduled Q&A session. The purpose is for church members who may have questions about our church budget will have an opportunity to get those questions answered. The day chosen is 1 November 2015 at 9:30 am, in the Banquet Room.

Now we ask our church members to be accountable to your own church. We ask you to pledge for a simple reason: Because we wish to prudently plan for ministry next year—2016. If you give and don’t pledge however, our finance committee cannot and will not take your gift into planning. This position diminishes our ministry. We are clearly responsible to you; all we ask in return is that you be responsible to God and our congregation.

In Acts, Luke gives us a picture of what the early church looked like. Like the Garden of Eden, this portrait offers us a glimpse of what God intended at creation—a creation that looks much like heavenly perfection. Notice Luke’s image of a group of dissimilar people who submit to God’s authority and for whom the Holy Spirit guides life:

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).

Here is a good proverb for us to all consider: “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”
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Oct 16, 2015

Glad and Generous Hearts: Abundance

For the next several weeks we as a church will discuss and reflect upon the abundance that God has blessed us with. Christians are different from many others who grab and hoard all they can. Christians understand the concept of extravagant generosity. There is a certain graciousness in being able to give with glad and generous hearts. The New Testament speaks of people like us who follow a God who is absolutely and fundamentally a God who gives us everything. Our task is to merely return a portion of that—we call 10 % a tithe. The tithe is the biblical standard of giving. As Paul himself writes: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11-12).

Abundance is having enough—even more than enough to get by and to thrive. We all live in a land of plenty. In fact, a majority of the world’s people envy people like us who live with the plenty we live with. These people who do not live with plenty are regularly the victims of unjust economic systems, war, famine caused by drought, and disease. The ironic thing about 21st century America, however, is that we live as if we dwell in a circumstance of scarcity.

I thought about this when I heard a story about one of the personalities on the local ESPN radio station described a scene in which team officials passed out the “per diems” for meals and incidental expenses to multi-million dollar athletes at the door of their bus. The radio commentator described the scene of these athletes gathering their “lunch money” as appearing like “a bunch of waifs and strays opening presents on Christmas morning at an orphanage.” Even people who have few worries about material security live as if they lived in a world of scarceness. The lesson for us concerns abundance as one of God’s many promises.

Those who understand how to share are those who understand that the fundamental attribute of a Christian is to share with others and share with glad and generous hearts. We call this gratitude!

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Oct 9, 2015

Children's Sabbath

For the United Methodist Church, our theme for Children’s Sabbath 2015 is: “How Long Must I Cry for Help.” As United Methodist Christians, our heritage resides in the care and concern for those who are more or less defenseless. This is especially true for our children, about whom we might say “are our future!!”

As many people in our congregation know, our Children’s Council has their hands full with Children’s issues from week to week right now as we search for a full-time Director of Children’s Ministry. Our interim children’s director is Jennifer Oakley. Please welcome and assist her as you can.

Yet I also want to lift up our promotion for children which our national church reminds us consists of our “aims to unite religious congregations of all faiths across the nation in shared concern for children and common commitment to improving their lives and working for justice on their behalf.”

During this important weekend as our denomination brings to light the plight of children in a “bigger, more powerful and more inspiring way than the efforts of any one congregation” or denomination can accomplish on its own. I ask you for your prayers for our children and adults who help lead them toward Christ.

Next year at this time I hope there are several ways we can celebrate the lives of children while drawing attention to their needs:

1. Plan services, educational sessions, and activities in your local church, including a sermon delivered by someone who advocates for children.
2. Join with one or more places of worship in shared services bringing congregations together.
3. Work with other congregations to sponsor an interfaith service to which the entire community is invited.
4. Invite local organizations serving children or working on their behalf to join in the celebration of these community-wide multi-faith Children’s Sabbath observations.

May we welcome our neighborhood children into our midst so they can experience the love of Christ while also learning about Jesus? May we also celebrate the wonderful children in our congregation and pray for them daily!

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Go, Serve

Oct 2, 2015

World Communion Sunday

This week we celebrate World Communion Sunday. Christians around the world remember that when we take the Lord’s Supper on this particular Sabbath day we do so as a global community of faith. Regardless of how far away or in what language we use our liturgy that Jesus spoke to those disciples on Maundy Thursday binds us together as Disciples of Christ Jesus. In honor of our ties with Christians around the world I want to share a story my friend once told me that related the wisdom of those who are of “humble means.”

A decade and a half ago an earthquake in Pakistan damaged the country’s waste water and sewage treatment plants. Pakistan engaged several international companies to repair the damage and hired a respected project supervisor to work with local people. Mammoth trucks transported the new equipment, some of which contained components larger than an average sized home. Oversized sheets of cardboard and wood protected the components during shipping.

The project supervisor hired local laborers to uncrate the huge equipment as it arrived on the jobsite. The supervisor, via an interpreter, struck a deal with the laborers. He allowed them to sell the leftover crate material to local people for temporary housing. The project supervisor had done this previously in other countries while doing similar work. Someone estimated that in about three years he profited roughly one year’s salary by selling the cardboard and crate waste.

In retrospect, the project supervisor became a good steward of material that might have otherwise been lost to “the trash heap” or burned. But because he was a good steward, he provided for people who had nothing and made a profit by helping others. As Jesus himself said to the slave who wisely invested, Jesus might have said to this project supervisor as well, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21).

As those who profess Christ I would like for us to continue to learn from others about how to celebrate and use the gifts God has given us and build a better world for our children and ourselves.

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Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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