October 2018

 

October 29: Who and Whose We Are
 

Growing up I learned there were three things you didn’t talk about with people: religion, politics, and money. The challenge for Christians is that Jesus talked about these three things more than anything else, and talked about money the most. Perhaps it's because money has so much power. It can consume us, define us, it can even control us, and Jesus challenged anything with that kind of power, including sin and death.
 
Jesus talked about money all the time, pretty much more than anything else, and the whole of scripture references money more than 800 times. 
 
The reformer Martin Luther once stated that humans need to experience three conversions in order to fully live our faith and respond to God’s grace: a conversion of our heart, a conversion of our mind, and a conversion of our purse.
 
I think the first two are easier than the third. I’ve known people who were quick to proclaim to me that they’ve given Jesus their heart, but they just couldn’t give Jesus their wallet. Even the rich young ruler who wanted eternal life and was willing to follow Jesus couldn’t leave his possessions. It’s an old problem.
 
Why does God have to ask for our money anyway? Isn’t our heart enough? By the way, in Jesus’ culture the heart wasn’t thought of as the seat of emotions, but the seat of reason. When you read heart in the Old Testament, or the Gospels, it can be helpful to insert in the word mind. Jesus wants our mind: not just how we feel, but how we think, how we make decisions, the very center of who we are.
 
Jesus once said that where your treasure is, there your heart/mind will be also. We can’t help thinking about what we value most. You cannot serve two masters: God and money.
 
This is why we have to talk about money in church.
 
Giving reshapes our relationships with one another, with our communities, and with God. It opens up our imaginations as to how we see the world. We need to regularly give some of what has been given to us so we can regularly remember in whose imagevwe are made–God’s, not Caesar’s—and to whom we belong.
 
I remember John and Helen Lewis talking about giving to the church. These old Illinois farmers said that every month the first check they wrote was to the church, even during those lean times. It wasn’t just to fulfill a pledge, it was an act of reminding them of their priorities. 
 
It was their way of regularly resisting the temptation to let the power of money tell them who they were, instead of remembering that God had already told them who they were. 
 
It was an act of reminding themselves to whom they belonged: not to the farm, or to the bank, or to their bills, or their indulgences….. but to God.
 
As you make out your pledge for 2019, I invite you to reimagine stewardship as an act of resistance.  Reimagine generosity is an act of taking a stand against anything or anyone other than the Holy One telling you who and whose you are.
 
In common calling,
 
Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker
 
 

October 22: Giving is Living
 

I have been fortunate in my life to know many generous people. Some of them, incidentally, were also wealthy. One thing that I have found to be a common denominator among those who are generous is that people who are generous enjoy what they have.
 
“Those of you who are rich,” write Paul to Timothy, “should be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, thus storing up for yourself the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
 
Paul urges Timothy and the good folks in Timothy’s church, and us as well, to enjoy and appreciate and share that which is truly life. That’s why we give—because giving is living.
 
We were created by a generous God to be generous. We aren’t really living if we aren’t really giving.
 
One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. 
 
There’s a scene in which Andy Dufrain, a former banker falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife, risks his own neck to offer one of the guards some financial and tax advice to save him money. He offers to do this financial work for a few beers apiece for his fellow inmates who were tarring a roof in the summer sun.
 
Red, played by Morgan Freeman, narrates the day of the beers:
 
And that's how it came to pass, that on the second-to-last day of the job, the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of '49 wound up sitting in a row at ten o'clock in the morning, drinking icy cold Bohemia-style beer, courtesy of the hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank State Prison…. We sat and drank with the sun on our shoulders and felt like free men. Hell, we could have been tarring the roof of one of our own houses. We were the Lords of all Creation. As for Andy, he spent that break hunkered in the shade, a strange little smile on his face, watching us drink his beer...You could argue he'd done it to curry favor with the guards, or maybe make a few friends among us cons. Me? I think he did it just to feel normal again, if only for a short while.
 
Andy wanted to feel normal again, alive again, to take hold of that which is truly life... so he gave. 
 
When God showed God’s love for the world, God chose to show it by giving. God gave us God’s son. God is the great giver of every good and perfect gift. God is a giver and we are made in the image of God. This is why we give… because we’re made for it. 
 
That’s what life really is… and we’re called to live.  We’re not living if we’re not giving. 
 
This is why we give.
 
In common calling,
 
Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker
 

 

October 15: By Your Gifts Combined
 

As I think back on my childhood, I realize a lot of my favorite shows built on a theme of individuals possessing special gifts. On their own they were good, beautiful, helpful, and powerful, but when they could be combined—that’s when the real magic happens.
 
Perhaps you remember the cartoon show about teenagers who combined their powers of wind, water, earth, fire, and heart to form Captain Planet. Or there’s Voltron in which a giant super robot was created by combining a team’s individual robot vehicles.
 
When gifts are combined, that’s when the magic happens. That’s how Paul describes the church in 1 Corinthians 12. God gives us each gifts: some are the same, some overlap, but everyone’s combinations of gifts are different.
 
Throughout our lives we are called to cultivate those gifts, understand them, grow them, and use them. On our own we can do great things with these gifts. Someone with the gift of healing can help many individuals. Someone with the gift of leadership can lead organizations or companies. Someone with the gift of listening can make many individuals feel loved and heard through the course of their lives. 
 
You can do great things over the course of your lives with your gifts, and you have many gifts. I have seen them, experienced them in action, and benefitted from them. But when you combine your gifts, when you bring them together, offering them back to the one who gave them to you -- that’s when the magic happens -- that’s when the Body of Christ is alive and active in this world. That’s church.
 
We become a church, the body of Christ, when we join our gifts together like power rangers, or Planeteers. Paul describes the church as a body with Christ as the Head. Christ is God’s gift to the world. And then your gifts of love, leadership, financial knowledge, counseling, teaching, hospitality, creativity, music, speaking, wisdom, listening, technology, and so much more—start putting bones and flesh together to go with the head. Then Christ adds his gift of the Holy Spirit: that’s the heart of the church. 
 
The church needs each of your gifts to make it whole and complete, just like a body needs every organ and appendage to be complete. But we also need the head, Christ, and the Heart, the Holy Spirit. Derry is the living body of Christ comprised of God’s gifts. Derry is literally a gift—a gift to each other and a gift to the community. Derry exists because you have brought your gifts. You’ve made something special with the recipe and ingredients God has given you.
 
The recipe for the church is always different but always the same. The recipe calls for people to bring their gifts and combine them with the gift and gifts of Christ. It will always be different: in every time, in every place, even from year to year in the same community, but it will always be just what is needed…. and it will be good.
 
In common calling,
 
Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker
 

 

October 8: Only Human
 

At the beginning of the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Genesis describes humanity as made in the “image” and “likeness” of God. This is a fundamental truth in our biblical inheritance. Everything else that is said about us in the scriptures needs to be read in the light of this starting point. 
 
Psalm 8 reminds us of this starting point; we are made in God’s own image. An interesting side note: as far as we know, Psalm 8 is the first Biblical text to ever reach the moon. The Apollo 11 mission left a silicon disk containing messages from 73 nations, including the Vatican, which sent Psalm 8 to the moon. 
 
Why? 
 
Possibly because there is nothing in the Bible that would explain better to extraterrestrial life who we are, what we are created to be, and how we are to live. 
 
The image of God is at the core of our being. It may have been covered over or lost sight of, but it is at the beginning of who we are. Alexander Scott, a 19th century teacher in the Celtic world, used the analogy of royal garments. In his day, royal garments were woven through with a costly thread of gold. If somehow the golden thread was taken out of the garment, the whole garment would unravel.  
 
So it is with the image of God woven into the fabric of our being. If it is taken out of us, we would unravel. We would cease to be.  
 
The psalmist writes that God has made each of usjust a little less than God, crowned us with glory and majesty, and is mindful of us. 
 
Imagine the God of the universe, the creating yet uncreated one is mindful of YOU. In all the universe and in all of time, God Almighty is mindful of you, and yet, too often we discount our goodness saying stuff like, “We’re only human” when we make a mistake. “He’s only human” when he shows his fallibility. 
 
I don’t want to hear “Well, she’s only human,” in the wake of failure and disappointment anymore. When the soloist sings a beautiful song that brings tears to your eyes that’s when you say, “Well she is human after all, what do you expect?”  
 
When the child shows compassion and generosity beyond her years, that’s when you say, “We shouldn’t be surprised, she is human after all!”  
 
When the man creates a beautiful piece of art that speaks to your soul in ways words never could you say, “He is human, I should have known it could be done.”
 
The Psalmist asks, “Who are we that you, O God, are mindful of us?” 
 
And the response is, “A little less than God, that is who you are.” 
 
Not because of anything we have done but because of who God created us to be. 
 
Paul puts it something like, “You are created in God’s image. You are recreated in Christ Jesus through baptism. You are God’s masterpiece.”
 
Only human? No. Graciously, wonderfully, fully human.
 
In common calling,
 
Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker
 
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