Saturday, October 25, 2008

Blessings of God

Luke 1:39-46

If case you hadn’t noticed, the world is in a deep financial crisis. The politicians and the pundits keep telling us that this is the worst it’s been since 1932. I wasn’t around back then, but from what I’ve heard, it was pretty bad. So, Just like it was back then, the stock market is crashing, banks are closing, jobs are being lost, and credit lines are frozen, and, people are both scared and angry. At least that’s what I’ve heard on the news!

With all of this bad financial news swirling around us, maybe this isn’t the best time to launch our annual stewardship campaign. No matter how you sugar coat it, asking for money when the economy is in the tank is dangerous! Despite my reticence, and maybe my better judgment, the Stewardship Committee wants to press on anyway! Apparently they have to plan a budget, and to do this they need to know how much you’re going to give.

Despite all this bad economic news, or maybe because of it, this just might be a good time to talk about money. After all, money is on our minds. Like the pundit said: “It’s the economy stupid!”

Like most pastors I’d just as soon not talk about money. For one thing, I know that your offerings pay my salary. I also understand that money, like sex, politics and religion, is a personal, even private thing. Now, when it comes to religion, I don’t have any choice. It’s my job to talk religion. But, talking about money, like talking about sex, seems just a bit meddlesome. And yet, money plays such an important role in our lives, we can’t avoid talking about it.

I’ve heard it said that the Bible talks a lot about money. And if you read the Scriptures, you’ll discover that it does have a lot to say about money. But I warn you, you might not like everything you read! Some parts might even sound un-American. So, as we begin this annual consideration of our call to stewardship, the question that stands before us is this: What would God have us, as followers of Jesus, do?

As we seek to answer that question, we turn to a familiar text, but it’s one that seems oddly out of place. This is an Advent text, something I might preach on in about a month from now. But if we listen for God’s voice in this text, then perhaps we’ll hear something about what God is up to in the world. Maybe we’ll find some guidance in the way that Mary responded to God’s activities in the world. And finally, perhaps we’ll discover what Jesus would have us do.

1. What is God up to?

When times get tough, we often ask: Where is God? It’s a question that we don’t ask quite as often when things are going well, but it’s an important question nonetheless. In this conversation between two pregnant women we hear a witness to God’s presence in the world. Elizabeth tells Mary, a young woman who is pregnant and yet unmarried: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). Why? Because Mary was an agent of transformation. God was at work in the world, and she would be a partner with God. Therefore, she was blessed.

What is God up to? Listen to Mary as she sings God’s praises. God will bring down the rich, the powerful, the proud, and the satisfied. And, God will lift up the poor, the powerless, the hungry, and the humble. In other words, God is turning the world upside down. No longer would conventional wisdom hold true. While there might not be a “biblical economic system” that we can or should implement, it does seem, from this text, that God has certain priorities, and those priorities might differ from the world’s vision. But, it is in this work of God, that we will find blessing.

2. Mary’s Response to God’s Blessings

This morning we sang Andrae Crouch’s song: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.” This is a powerful statement of faith. God has done great things and so we come to bless the name of the Lord. This morning, the person who leads us in this song of praise is Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a young woman, probably no more than 13 or 14. She came from peasant stock and lived in the backwater Galilean village of Nazareth. She was pregnant but not married. She was neither rich nor powerful. And yet, God had chosen her to be an agent of transformation. In response to this blessing, Mary sings out a song of praise and thanksgiving.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor
on the lowliness of his servant. (Luke 1:46b-48a).

Mary sang out with a loud voice, giving praise to God, because God had blessed her. God blessed her, because she offered herself up for God’s use in the world.

This morning we come to consider what God would have us do with our lives, including our finances. Perhaps we can find some guidance in Mary’s response to God. First of all, she responded to God’s call with deep humility. She gives thanks that God had looked upon her and considered her worthy to be used by God. Everything about her suggested that she wasn’t a candidate for God’s work of transformation. She was young, pregnant, unmarried, poor. But she made herself available to God. Doesn’t this very fact say to us: God can use you – Your gifts, your abilities, your resources, to fulfill God’s purposes in the world. Yes, what you already possess is sufficient for God’s purposes. All that you need, you already have.

Sometimes we don’t think we have much to bring to the table. And yet we may have much more than we think. Because of that, God is, I believe, calling us to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given by God. Mary may not have had much in the way of financial resources, but she did have her life to give for God. And she made herself available – body, soul, and spirit.

3. What Would Jesus Have Us Do?

Mary responded to God’s call by giving her entire being to God. Her story has many echoes in the gospels: Some are positive and others not so positive. We see a widow who gave her last penny to the Temple. It wasn’t much, and yet it was more than the rich man gave, because it was all she had. On there other hand, there’s the young man, whom Jesus told, if you love God, then sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, and come and follow me. Unfortunately, he could not follow Jesus. Of course, would we have followed him? And then there’s the message found in Matthew 25: What you do to the least of these, you do to me.

A few years back, we heard the question posed: “What Would Jesus Do?” Peter Gomes, writing in his book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, suggests a different question. Rather than ask what Jesus would do, perhaps we should ask what Jesus would have us do? Because our lives and situations are different, might it not be better to ask: What would Jesus have me do in this moment in time?

The Bible says that there are two primary commandments – love God with your entire being, and then love your neighbor as you love yourself. Mary seems to have understood this premise, and so she gave herself completely to God’s service out of love for God and love of neighbor.

In the coming weeks we will be asked to make a financial pledge to the ministries of this church. You will hear testimonies and read some others. This invitation focuses on our financial contributions. This is important, especially in this time of economic upheaval. Our decisions will be an expression of our faith in God. As we consider what to pledge we will be asked to think through how we approach money. As Jesus said, where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also (Luke 12:24). But it’s not just about money. We’ve been asked to be good stewards of all that God has blessed us with, our money, our time, our abilities. And so, as we prayerfully consider God’s call on our lives, we will be seeking to invest these gifts of God in the ministries of the church. As we do this, we will be guided by our calling to be a missional church, a church that looks outward and asks of God: What would you have us do as you work to transform our world? And as we ask these questions, we will get to share in the blessings of God, even as Mary did, so many generations ago! And when we share in them, then we can also magnify the Lord and rejoice in God’s blessings.

Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
October 26, 2008

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