Listen to the entire service online including, about 32 minutes in, Rev. Dr. John C. Lentz Jr.’s sermon Every Blessing in Abundance on 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15.
The last six weeks have been a revelation to me.
Six weeks ago, on Tuesday, Sept. 5 we welcomed Lenor Garcia into our church family. A stranger, an alien, and immigrant – we didn’t know her and she didn’t know us. And yet we opened our doors, and created a room and put in a shower and stood up to the powers that be and said: “You don’t separate a mother from her children.” Our faith won’t allow it.
And Leonor has shown herself to be brave, funny and compassionate, a hard worker who wants to make a difference – simply an amazing woman living a nightmare.
I am in awe of her.
We are the church – filled with sinners and saints, strangers who have become friends, everyone an immigrant from somewhere, the Body of Christ, the Beloved Community – where are all welcomed, loved and supported – Here comes everybody!
Reminds me of a poem by Edwin Markham “Outwitted”
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
OR with Leonor taken in!
The Love of Jesus Christ always invites in! It has always been thus when the church is being church – outwitting the wise, standing as a beacon to the world that welcome overcomes division, love overcomes hate, community overcomes isolation; all the boundaries are taken down through Jesus Christ.
And this mission: to be the beloved community of God whose identity is in Jesus Christ is different from any other organization’s mission in the world.
No other organization, or institution in America today could offer sanctuary to an undocumented immigrant and get away with it. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will enter houses. ICE will enter places of work. ICE can pretty much do anything it wants to do… but they hesitate to enter a church.
Think about that: Being church is enough to stop federal law enforcement.
Whether you agree with churches becoming sanctuaries or not, it’s remarkable. The Church – an institution that is supposedly lost its mojo, a dying, anachronistic monument to the pre-scientific era – is the one institution that can gird its loins and declare “Not here!” Or in the words of Gandalf the Wizard in The Lord of the Ring, “You shall not pass!”
A friend of mine once asked me to define what a church is. It is a great question. Although a church is categorized by the IRS as a non-profit, we aren’t really – we don’t have a single population that we support, or a single advocacy position that we push.
We aren’t really a business: we don’t produce widgets, or seek to turn a profit. Certainly we seek to be transparent, and accountable, and fair like good businesses but our bottom line is not a bottom line in a monetary sense; we change hearts for God.
A church, when we are being church, is a huge, adopted family – wonderfully messy and uncontrollable, crazy but fun. You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family – we have crazy uncles, and sweet aunts, and children who are running around, and wisdom keepers, and fools that make us laugh. And sometimes we don’t like each other but we love each other.
Our unique power comes when we are seeking to follow Jesus: imperfectly and messily taking risks, and turning over tables, and comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and hanging out with the marginalized and considering the lilies and believing that children show the kingdom of God.
Our job is to change hearts, and equip you to take your faith outside these walls; praising God and being the body of Christ.
We are not the United Way. We are not the “Make a Wish Foundation.” We are not the Sierra Club. We are not the NRA!
Our mission is to radicalize you, so that you and we will be changed from the inside out: that your heart so burns with the love of Christ, that your lives radiate a power and a peace that the world can neither give nor take away.
These very walls will shout out! And people will know that Jesus Christ is alive and God is good and all are welcome.
I am channeling my inner Paul when he apologizes to one of his communities that he was “beside himself,” out of his mind. Well, I admit, I am a little crazed this morning. I will try to keep it under control. But I really believe this. Giving my heart to Christ has made me more active, more doubtful, more fun, more inquisitive, more forgiving, a better husband and father, a lover of life. I see the world differently – through the lenses of a love so deep and wide and inclusive. It is so nuts that it makes perfect sense to me.
As J. Clif Christopher writes in his book Whose Offering Plate Is It? (the quotation is at the top of the bulletin as a ‘thought for preparation’;) “I am firmly convinced that the only institution on the face of the planet that can possibly change the world is the church. No army, no government, and no nonprofit has the power to changes hearts of people like the body of Jesus Christ, and as those hearts change then so does practice, and so does the world.”
I believe that the mission of this church is to be the beloved community, to witness from the top down and from the inside out that we are not just any institution; but we are willing to risk everything to love God; we are willing to hold God accountable to promises made, that we are willing to hold each other accountable to good sense, to the common good and a hopeful future.
And we do it by singing songs, and praising God, and welcoming you and everyone else and breaking bread, and sharing meals, and studying the Bible, and loving each other’s children, and going deep in prayer, and crying with those who mourn, and laughing with those who laugh – and being open to surprise, and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
A rag-tag bunch of folks who are out to be different!
And all of this is why Deanne and have increased our pledge for 2018 by over 10% over last year’s pledge. We made a decision several years ago to tithe on our taxable income. And now that we have increased that by over 10% – it is a little scary, but just a little – because the crazy thing is that I swear to you that it seems that we have more than ever. I don’t even have to give up Starbucks!
I want each of you to consider tithing your taxable income. Pray about that. Even if you decide that you cannot (which is ok because Paul says ‘this is not about compulsion, this is not about guilt or obligation,’ this is about cheerful giving!) But if you can, pledge! as a spiritual discipline. Being generous makes you feel better. Giving things away is good for you! And it will really help this church!
Consider tithing for three months and if there is not a blessing in your life then go back to what is more comfortable.
I want to say this very seriously. If you cannot make a pledge this year, that is all right , we have abundance, more than enough. A pledge is not a dues payment – you are welcome here and we will support you! Your spiritual development is the most important thing – no payment needed!
If you can’t pledge than pledge to worship – 99% of anything is showing up. You can give of your time and talents, you can pray, you can preach the gospel with your life and bring three new people into the church – and maybe they will pledge. Don’t be disheartened. It is not about the money – it is about living the Gospel!
I paraphrase the verse from Corinthians, which is the stewardship theme this year: “God HAS provide US with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, WE may share abundantly in every good work.”
I well know that changes being made at this church are causing tension in some of you, but I say this from the deepest part of my being and my identity as your pastor: this is the moment for Forest Hill to be church. It is our time. With Isaiah, it is not time to hold back but to press on and give more, and pray more, and study more, and worship more, and evangelize more, and risk more, and welcome more, and love more, and sing more and dance more and eat…well, less, but share meals more!
I have never been more excited about ministry in my life. I have never been more charged up about what this church can be and is called to do.
And I promise you that every dollar will be used to glorify God. Our salaries will support staff to equip you to take the mission outside these walls and connect us all – preaching, teaching, directing, coaching. Our programs are reaching out and bringing in, and showing young and old that God matters, that love wins!
We will feed the hungry and clothe the naked so when Christ comes to judge the nations and we say, “When did we see you Lord and serve you?” Jesus will say: “When you welcomed the stranger, and you fed the hungry, and you clothed the naked and you visited the prisoner!”
Every mite will be used to stand up for justice and inclusion and welcome, because that is who we are. And we will be changed from the inside out and the outside in and be radiant, beautiful and faithful.
I better sit down now… being church is getting me all excited!
Fill out that pledge card!
Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gifts!
And thank you!