Sometimes you don’t need to theologize or intellectualize what you read in the Bible. Sometimes you need to let the words resonate in you and trust them. Let them ground your life. This is what Romans 5: 1-5 does to me: it resonates. It stays with me like a chord in the air after the guitarist is finished strumming.
Paul tells us that nothing in life is ever wasted, so hang in there. Even suffering produces endurance. Those who endure are usually people of great character. And those of great character are often the most hopeful of people because they have been through it, and have come out the other side with wisdom.
What comes to mind are people who suffered under Jim Crow and endured and because of their character they transformed America. Folks who look at the world through the lenses of hope are not disappointed. People of hope see beyond the present and can touch the future of God’s righteousness!
I want to be one of those people who look at the world hopefully and is filled with the love of God, don’t you?
Verses 15-21 may not be easy to understand in the first, second, or even third reading. But what Rabbi Paul is proclaiming to you and to me is this: God’s love is universal – no one is left out. And as a first century rabbi he offers this comparison: Listen: “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”
Rabbi Clover taught us last week that “righteousness” is best understood as being a “friend of God.” No judgment, no condemnation. You are beloved child of God. You are a friend of God.
So how are you going to live? What does it mean to be a friend of God?
A friend of God is a friend to others. You are hospitable and inclusive. A beloved child of God is passionate for justice. We are on fire for fairness and equal access. A righteous life is a life of joy and risk and inquisitiveness. God does not do BORING!
A godly life is a life of generosity. Today this is my bridge to talk unabashedly and boldly about money, and stewardship, and what you and I are asked to do.
You and I are invited to live and give in abundance in response to God’s radical abundant mercy that has been poured into your heart.
Now as I make my way down from the pulpit, I want to remind you that one of the reasons Paul wrote to the Roman community was to raise money. He writes:
At present, I am going to Jerusalem, for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things.” (15:25-26)
If Paul can talk about money – so will I.
[John walks down to the communion table where ten apples stand in a row.]
So look here. There are ten apples – 9 red ones and 1 yellow one. These represent your resources. For some these 10 apples might represent $1,000,000 and to others they might represent $10,000. To a high school student they might represent $1,000, and to a child who pools her allowance, they might represent $50. But in Christ, the amount doesn’t matter as much as the spirit of generosity. We never forget the widow who gave her “mite” and Jesus said: “Now there is generosity!”
In the Bible the word “tithe” comes up. It means “a tenth of your resources” to be given away for the work of God. We live in the 21st century, not the 1st and not in the 9th C. B.C.E. I hold a loose definition of a tithe: I don’t care if you define “tithe” as 10% of your gross income, or your net income – before or after taxes. If you define “tithe” as a “proportion of your wealth” fine – I don’t have time to waste on this detail.
For part of your income goes to taxes and part of your taxes are used to create a safety net for the poor and I think this is a holy use.
Some of us have tuitions to pay. That is a holy investment in the future of our world.
Some of you are supporting parents and children in other ways – that is godly work.
Most of you give generously to non-profits and benevolent causes above and beyond what you contribute to the church – and that is good and holy too.
Deanne and I are not there yet, but we strive to give 10% away and save 10% of our income.
So, here are the ten apples. Perhaps these two are for rent or mortgage, this one for tuitions and paying off debt, perhaps this one is for the car payment, perhaps these two are for clothes and other stuff for the family, these two for food, this one for entertainment.
And the golden one represents your gift or pledge to this church for its work, for its upkeep, for its staff, for its benevolences, for its programs. Its overall mission: to equip the Saints for ministry.
It is a good spiritual discipline is to make sure that your first check of the week or the month is to the church… to make it holy and uncompromised. This is why directing your bank to make a monthly deposit to Forest Hill is a good way to help your discipline.
So here’s my golden apple, the money I want to gift to the church. But, I see that IPhone 5! God really wants me to have that so I will take a little slice. [takes a bite of the apple]
And then there is complete works of James Bond Golden Anniversary edition that is on sale this week [takes another bite of the apple]
And of course, I need my relaxation! [takes another bite]
And uh-oh, my Starbucks card got turned down, what is $50 to reload? If God didn’t want me to drink Starbucks, he wouldn’t have invented coffee! [takes another bite]
And before I know it what I’m offering to God is, well….[holds up a half-eaten apple]
No condemnation, just a call to be thoughtful and disciplined. Whatever you pledge or give to this church for the next year – think about the golden apple and give it whole, whatever the amount. Give it first, give it cheerfully. St. Paul writes this in another letter, which is the scripture theme of this year’s Stewardship campaign: the one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully, will reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Cor. 9:6-7)
[Adds four new golden apples to the table.]
Now these four apples represent how Forest Church uses your gifts and pledges.
This one is for Staff – salaries, benefits. It is the biggest apple! It is me, Clover, Anne, Liz, Kristen, Lynda, Becky, Stavros, Michael, Anthony.
This one is for Building – for the lights, and heat, and maintenance. How we take care of the walls, reflects the spirit of what we do within the walls, and how we proclaim the word outside the walls.
This one represents our benevolences – what we give away to social services, to advocacy and action, to programs locally, nationally and internationally which help us impact the lives of those in need.
This one – by far the smallest apple – is for programming the ministries.
One is not more important than the other – ALL these represent our mission to proclaim God’s word, to equip you for living powerful, joyful lives, to be in relationship with those who have a particular place in God’s heart: the poor, the homeless, those imprisoned, those turned away.
Yes, we could cut a staff person to give more to benevolence. We could let the building go (again) in order to give more to programs.
But I believe that if we are offering our best, and living generously, and seeing our pledge as a central spiritual discipline of joy and hope – those choices won’t need to be made – because there will be an abundance of apples, an abundance of resources.
And to bring it back to today’s text – “grace will abound!” More will know the friendship of God, the righteousness of God, and our gift will be like God’s gift – abundant, and , and good, and will help people through their suffering, because we don’t need to endure alone, and character is best shared and hope which lights up a community is a powerful thing.
Thanks be to God who provides everything we need, if we share and offer our lives – our time, our talents and our treasures – to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the host of the kingdom feast that we can live now – a kingdom feast of more than enough for all!
An abundance of apples!