Tuesday, August 28, 2012

give more, live more



“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood,” Jesus said, “abide in me, and I in them.”

Well, good morning. My name’s John Newton and I serve as Bishop Doyle’s Canon for Lifelong Christian formation and so a big part of my job is to be present with our parishes and to talk about what it means to risk finding our life, not in this world, but as we consume more of Jesus. And I’m really excited to be here this morning, but, I’m not going to sugar coat it. My theme is stewardship in general, but money in particular.

That being said, I’m present to the fact that already you may not like me. I’ve already counted four frowns. You see money makes us anxious because it’s our safety net, and I get that. When I was a kid I’ll never forget saving my first $100. Any guesses on the first thing I purchased? A $30 safe to secure my $70 fortune. Right? Because – money’s like a high wall around us making us feel safe, which is why the thought of losing it makes us anxious.

And there’s a really good reason for that: we live in a world that says freedom and peace and life are purchased and that money is the key. There’s an old joke about a Sunday school that asks her kids, “Do you know where little boys go if they don’t put their money in the collection plate?” “Yes ma’am,” a boy blurted out. “They go to the movies.” And doesn’t that just sum it up? We’ve been trained to believe that if give more we’ll live less – that upping our pledge or giving more of our self will cost us freedom and peace and life.

You see there are only two views of what it means to experience abundance of life. There’s the view we inherit from our culture, which says abundance of life is about consuming stuff and living a life of ease and convenience. And so naturally, in this view, money is important. It’s our purchasing power – the way we satiate our appetites.

But then there’s Jesus’ view, which says abundance of life is experienced to the extent that we participate in God’s mission, losing our life to advance God’s Kingdom. In other words, Jesus’ view is the exact opposite of what our world would have us believe, for He says that when we give more we live more.

And so I want to be clear. We don’t give more money to make God proud of us. We don’t give to keep the doors open and the lights on. We don’t give to feel better about ourselves. No, we give as an expression of our faith that by taking a risk and partnering with God in His mission we will experience the abundant life Jesus said he came to give us.

Because – you and I are consumers. Not one of us generates life from within, which means we have to take something in if we are to live. And so the question is not, “will we consume.” The question is always, what must we consume to have life in abundance?

And in today’s Gospel Jesus answers that question. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood,” he said, “abide in me, and I in them.” In other words, those who consume me, who digest me, who take Me into the very center of their soul, will experience the abundance of life that I came to give. St. Paul speaks of this in Galatians when he says, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul had digested Jesus fully. He experienced shipwreck and stoning and hunger and yet could still say, “I have learned the secret of being content in all circumstances” – words he wrote, by the way, from a jail cell. And so the question is never “will we consume,” but, “What must we consume to truly live?”
And for the Christian the answer is not a bigger house, or a nicer suit or a faster car but the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only when we eat Him and drink Him that we live.

Now, you may be wondering that this has to do with money. Money is not evil. But as Jesus himself once noted, we cannot serve God and money. In other words, we have to choose – every day of our lives – what we will consume in the hope that it will generate life for us? In other words, does giving more mean living less? Or, was Jesus right? Is giving more something we must do to become more fully alive? And to be a person of faith is to take our stand with Jesus and to risk losing our life in order to find it.

And so what I’d like to do now is give you three practical things you can do to risk stepping a bit more into the abundance of life Jesus offers, and that’s – give more, consume more, and be encouraged.

First, give more. And I mean that in two senses. First, give more of your money. If you don’t currently tithe I encourage you to make that a goal and to begin taking steps to move in that direction. You see we don’t give because someone else needs us to give. We give more because we need to give. Again, what’s at stake is abundance of life, and in the Kingdom of God giving more always means living more. But second, give of yourself to the mission of this church! You see the question is never does the church have a mission, the question is always does God’s mission have a church! God is at work – right now! – drawing people’s heart to know and love His Son. He’s at work feeding the poor and clothing the naked. But how will Hope Episcopal be present in that mission? And that’s a question you must give more of yourself to answer faithfully.

Second, consume more. Consume more Jesus. Study scripture, pray, worship, build authentic relationships marked by love, vulnerability and gratitude. Only those who eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His blood will live and as Christians there are certain ways we do that. And consuming Jesus isn’t a hobby or a morning quiet time. It’s a life. And what I am coming to learn is that there is always more of Jesus we can take in. And so consume more of Him.

And then third, be encouraged! In today’s Gospel Jesus says that no one can come to Him unless it is granted by the Father. In other words, you’re not here this morning because your parents were Episcopalian, or because you’re just really spiritual. No, you’re here because God, through His Spirit, has brought you here. And He who began a good work in you, Paul says, will bring it to completion. Our job is to partner with God in completing what He’s already begun and giving more – more of our money, and more of our self – to God’s work should always encourage us. Because – God does not give up on his projects.

And so I want to end this morning by telling a parable that may bring to light some of what I’ve been trying to say.

A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with very high walls around it. Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. But one day a very wise philosopher goose came among them and so every week they listened quietly and attentively to what he had to say. “My fellow geese,” he would say, “can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence?”

“No, for I tell you, there is a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded, content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.”

Now these geese thought this was very fine lecturing. “How poetical,” they thought. “How profoundly existential.” And so often the philosopher spoke of the advantage of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings and, “What were wings for, but to fly with?”

And week after week the geese were uplifted, inspired, and moved by the philosopher’s message. They even hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thorough analysis of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did.

They did not fly. For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure.

I know in my own life how tempting it is to stay in the barnyard. But I also know that God created us to fly – here and now as we participate in His mission – and that freedom and peace and above all else life are found in taking a risk and giving more to live more. Because – it is true that freedom and peace and life are purchased, but not by us and not with money. No, Jesus purchased these things for us with his blood on the cross. And the same Lord invites us to take up our cross, and to experience freedom, life and peace as we consume him, digest him, and Him into the very center of our soul trusting that as we give more, we live more.
Only God knows what we can and cannot give, and no matter what God doesn’t condemn us. There is nothing we can do to make God more proud of us than He already is. But God does want us to experience life more abundantly. And He wants us to take responsibility for what we will consume to do so. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me,” Jesus said, “and I in them.” AMEN.