"Our Gifts Reveal Us"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - October 19, 2003

Psalm 104:1-9, 24: Mark 10:35-45

     In previous weeks I have delivered a series of messages designed to help us take a closer look at the value we receive from being a part of St. Matthew's.  We have examined key areas of our faith community that support and encourage our spiritual growth, a growth absolutely essential if we are to evolve as beings who are learning how to create with our loving energy.   nbsp;

     When Jesus said, "Follow me," he did so knowing that his path is extremely challenging.  There are numerous opportunities for people to plateau anywhere along the way. A plateau is when we remove ourselves from the strain, stresses and pain generated by lessons we either do not recognize or ones we do not wish to learn.  A plateau can also represent a place where we have grown comfortable, and any threat of change will be greeted with resistance.  

     For example, for some people it is a challenge to develop patience while living with an emotionally controlling spouse.  The challenge is compounded when the arms of someone who appears far more empathetic and understanding await.  It is a challenge to develop and maintain a consistent presence of kindness while working in an environment where many people are posturing for superiority.   

     Developing timeless qualities are not givens in life simply because we make claims about our relationship with Jesus.  Perceiving life without love causes us to leave the path he showed us, something we all do from time to time.  Fortunately our church is here, a haven for everyone including those of us who are recovering prodigals returning from our perceived greener pastures. 

     In order to review the value of our church, we have looked at three primary areas.  We must focus our attention -- body, mind and spirit -- on our love of God (worship).  We must continue our consideration of how best to care for others (mission).  Finally, we must persevere in our learning how to fine-tune who we are becoming (education).   

     At a glace, this sounds as though everything is about us. But am I really saying, "Me, me, me!"? The question is this, If you are not responsible for every thought, word and deed that comes from you, please bring me a list of the people who are. Graduating from being a disciple of Jesus to being a teacher in every conceivable circumstance is about us.  

     When we find a school teacher, for example, whose ideas are always fresh, whose bulletin boards are different every year, who reads everything available on how students learn and who works constantly to excite students with a topic that otherwise might have no interest to them -- who is responsible for that instructor's enthusiasm for helping to fashion young minds?  The gifts we give away reveal us and no one else.  Life is all about us and our response to what comes.

     No one gave to Jesus the qualities he developed.  He had to want God in his life.  He had to want to reach out to people who were making decisions that evoked their hostile emotions and clouded their minds. He had to want the knowledge on how love communicates through human consciousness so that he could speak with authority.  Those three areas happen to be: worship, mission and education.   

     He was a carpenter who had to manage the family's cash flow while helping his mother rear a large family.  That process took 30 years to complete.  Jesus had plenty of reasons to think, "I'm over-extended.  I'm exhausted.  No, I do not believe that the Priests and Teachers of the Law are representing God's will to our people. I sure hope God sends us a Messiah soon!"  Jesus' thoughts did not take him down that road.  His calling was about him and no one else.  It is the same with us.  We define ourselves by what we give away. 

     This morning is the one Sunday in the year when I speak to you about money for the church's 2004 spending plan.  Some of us become uncomfortable with this topic.  We feel much better when the words coming from this preacher give us pause to think, or challenge behaviors that continue to emerge from our shadow side, or cause us to re-evaluate our beliefs.  Who does not enjoy receiving? We all do. What does it take for us to follow through on giving more generously?  The answer is that it requires a passion, not abundance.   

     Now and then we find teenagers who have amassed an enormous CD collection.  They are all neatly arranged in rack after rack.  Sometimes they are carefully organized into categories and sometimes they are alphabetized according to the artists, e.g., Wayne King, Guy Lombardo, Perry Como, Donny and Marie Osmond, etc. This collection represents a sizeable investment because of a passion for owning the music they enjoy.  

     Many of us have visited in homes where the size of the DVD or tape collection of movies staggers the imagination.  Disney takes up an entire carrousel rack.  Some people have an inventory that would rival a small Blockbusters store. Of course, I am not talking about any of us!   Most of us do not have this kind of spending going on in our homes, but some of our friends clearly have a passion for collecting movies. 

     One year Lois and I were in Austin, Texas to perform a wedding ceremony, and while there we visited a woman with whom I used to work.  Somehow we got into a discussion about wardrobes. She took us into the bedroom and opened her husband's closet.  He is a businessman whose matching shirts and ties were Madison Avenue's finest.  I was looking at more ties in his collection than I have worn during my entire life.  He has a passion for looking his best. 

     When we become very passionate about people, places and things, we bring a focused energy pattern that is second to none in its power to motivate us to spend our money.  

       In our Scripture lesson this morning we find an interesting story that reflects a passion of two disciples.  No doubt they wanted to increase their power and security.   James and John came to Jesus with a request. Their words were revealing. "When you sit on your throne in your glorious Kingdom," they said, "we want you to let us sit with you, one at your right and one at your left."

       When the other ten disciples heard the request of James and John, they became angry.  We need to remember that even among the twelve disciples, conflict and passions were often intertwined.  This inner tug of war was even a challenge for Jesus.  He, too, had to learn that his response to the money changers in the Temple courtyard represented a violence he did not wish to model for his followers.

       Jesus taught the disciples a better way.  He said, "If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave to everyone else. The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to help people recognize their wholeness." Giving, helping and instructing became his passion.

       Kahlil Gibran was a master of using words as vehicles for making visible many issues of the spirit.  In his book, The Prophet, he wrote how our gifts reveal the quality of our spirit.

       There are those who give little of the much which they have -- and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.  And there are those who have little and give it all.  These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.  There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.  And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. 

       And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; they give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.  Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes God smiles upon the earth. 

All you have shall some day be given; therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors. 

     How and what we give reveals who we are.  What we financially give to the church is an excellent place to examine this quality of our identity.  Will giving more to our church than we did last year put us beyond our comfort level?  If so, why? Are we afraid?  What is the place of faith when it comes to managing our finances?  We assign value to what inspires our passion for living healthy, wholesome and balanced lives.  How much do we value St. Matthew's?  There are times when what has value saves our life. 

     As some of you know, in another lifetime I indulged my appetite for mountain and ice climbing.  One year I was assembling my gear to climb Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  A small group of us were going in early February. I needed a new sleeping bag.  I was looking at two that I liked.  The problem was, that while the one bag had all the features I wanted, it was well beyond my price range.  The salesman noticed my dilemma.  

     Being a seasoned Winter climber himself, he retrieved a book about Mt. Washington.  He read two paragraphs to me about how marginal life is up there in February.  He finished reading and closed the book. He looked at me and asked, "When you are lying out there under a starless night with the wind howling around your head coupled with double digit temperatures below zero, do you honestly believe you will be thinking about the money you saved by purchasing the cheaper sleeping bag?"  He was quite a salesman who had just given me a lesson in value.  I bought the expensive sleeping bag and have never regretted it.  

     Navigating successfully in life is extremely difficult, not totally unlike the conditions on Mt. Washington in February.  The unexpected accident can snatch a loved one from our midst.  We can awaken one day and wonder how in the world we strayed so far from the wholesome path we once knew.  We can have everything going for us and be caught up in the illusion of our successes.  While we know how often pride comes before the fall, we can easily forget that tidbit of wisdom when our heads are in the clouds of prosperity.    

     St. Matthew's is not like a sleeping bag, but our church calls attention to what may save us when our experiences challenge who it is we want to be.  Our church reminds us to stay vigilant during times of feast and famine.  It reminds us to stand as a guardian that evaluates the thoughts that enter our minds.  What we do in our church has consequences that often govern who we become. 

     Early this coming week you will receive a mailing asking you to consider taking the next step in expressing your generosity to our church.  We have tried to give you everything you need to help you with your decision.  The one ingredient that is missing is something we cannot supply -- the motivation to follow through and remain faithful to your commitment.  As with all our decisions, that one is left to each of us. 

     Remember the words of Gibran.  "All you have shall some day be given; therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors." 


    Thank you, God, for bringing love, mercy and peace into our lives.  You have given us a great gift in your Son, Jesus Christ, whose teachings we have chosen to follow.  Yet we confess that there are moments when our lives remain fragmented.  We want to be generous with our money, while our fears speak to us of saving for "rainy days."  We talk of patience, yet we know of the moments when it will not come.  We replace our love of others with schedules and priorities that serve only our needs.  For our children, some of us place you in the margins, allowing sports activities to become the center of their stage.  Shake us when our spirits have grown complacent.  And allow us to make this day a new beginning.  Amen.


    Ever faithful God, when we walk into our sanctuary and take our seat in the pew, an opportunity becomes available to engage in reflective thinking.   There is so much about life that causes us to be unhappy.  So many things disappoint us, from the news of the day to the faults we identify in many of the lives that surround us. We often do not pause to be grateful for what we have.  All of us need moments like this when we can cleanse our minds of thoughts, the negativity of  which will not serve the development of friendships we desire and need. 

    Thank you for the message that Jesus refined for humankind.  Thank you for the gathered community which feeds and nurtures us, providing us guidance when there are times we honestly believe we do not need a thing. 

    We have watched the simplicity in the way you love.  We struggle in some of our relationships, and you surround everyone with opportunities to grow.  We acquire as many creature comforts as we can afford, and you send the sunshine and the rain on the suicide bomber and the skilled surgeon, the wealthy tycoon and the one who searches for food in a restaurant dumpster.  We do not understand how life works, but we do know that where we find ourselves provides the garden in which we can grow, bloom and give of our fruit.  With thankful hearts we now pray the prayer Jesus taught us to say . . .