Sunday, August 8, 2010

Change Your Clothes: there’s much To Do.

(Shared with the Redwood Family Church, whose pastor is Todd Lundberg, and guest speaker last week was: Jim Henderson.)

It was because of Facebook that I heard who your guest speaker was last week… Since we don't really know one another very well… let me begin by telling you – you haven't heard me on the radio; and you haven't read my book. But perhaps you've had some of my "coffee".

Join with me in reading our Gospel text this morning, found in Luke 12:32-48 (NLT) "Don't be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

 33 "Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. 34 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

 35 "Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.

 39 "Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected."

 41 Peter asked, "Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?"

 42 And the Lord replied, "A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, 'My master won't be back for a while,' and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.

 47 "And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

In the summer of 2006 my wife and I moved to Seattle to join the staff at Seattle First Church of the Nazarene. While in college God placed this crazy passion in my heart to be involved in a coffee house ministry near a University. And the church in Wallingford – just a few blocks away from the University of Washington – had a similar hope and passion. We began tearing down walls (literal and metaphorical) in the fall of '06 to create space where the kingdom of God could be displayed.

The goal was to provide a coffee house for the community, where anyone, no matter their place in life, could come in and enjoy the space. We structured Mosaic on donations without fixed prices.

When we were in the planning stages – when God first placed the vision of operating without fixed prices on our hearts – we heard of another coffee shop, out in Kirkland, doing it – without fixed prices. The interesting thing about Tera Byte was that it was for-profit – owned by a former Google exec that had extra money and was simply interested in seeing if this alternate business form would work. And once we visited Tera Byte, we knew, if they could do it, so could we.

Mosaic has stretched my understanding of grace. Mosaic has forced many of us to look at our community through new lenses. Mosaic has opened the doors of our church in ways unfamiliar. An interesting aspect of Mosaic is that often guests who come in and order a drink – receive one which a pastor has made. I've heard more than once neighbors joke about the Pastor's being behind the bar – or the seeming irony of the pastors actually being there to serve them.

In Luke's text from chapter 12 we hear Jesus give some pretty powerful statements. And three I want us to wrestle with are: give to those in need, being dressed for service, and to those whom much is given, much will be required.

The verse at the close of this passage begs the question – What are we doing? What is required of us – us who have been given and have taken so much? Are we doing what is expected?

Luke tells us: "A servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly."

I have really wrestled with this section all week. I've wondered what the flipside of this scenario would be. Jesus tells what happens to the servant who knows what the master wants and does it. That servant gets a reward. They are placed in charge of more; they are to take care of more, and to oversee more.

I wonder, what happens to those who do not know, yet do what's right? Those who do not know what our Lord, our God requires of his people, yet take upon themselves to do what is right.

Back in June the Seattle Times published a story about Bill Gates & Warren Buffett urging others to give at least half of their wealth away. The wealthiest people in the world were urging their rich colleges – to evoke social change through their giving.

I found an interesting blog on the Seattle Times website titled: "The Business of Giving." The author Kristi Heim shares how the list of billionaires pledging to give away their wealth has grown to 40. Forty billionaires have responded to the challenge evoked by Buffett and the Gates' six weeks ago to publicly pledge at least half of their wealth to philanthropy. Their combined wealth is estimated to be $250 billion.

In their letters of support, the billionaires talked about what they hoped their money could achieve. George B. Kaiser said he is concerned that America is failing its social contract as a land of equal opportunity. He says: "It is the most fundamental principle in our founding documents and it is what originally distinguished us from the old Europe. Yet, we have failed in achieving that seminal goal; in fact, we have lost ground in recent years."

His words ring true. They certainly ring true for America as a whole – and perhaps for many of us as well, who call ourselves followers of Christ!

    I love the title of the Blog – The Business of Giving. Here it is, a secular blog, a blog found on the local newspapers website, clearly promoting Christian principles. As this blog points out that the billionaires are planning to give their wealth away – how do we reconcile that many of them, if any, are not Christian. So what is drawing them to "justice for all"? What is compelling them to give to health care, to hunger, and eliminating poverty? What is compelling them to seek social change?

John Wesley, I believe, would point us to, and speak of Prevenient Grace. When we think of Prevenient Grace, we often only delve into its implications in regards to salvation; how it speaks of the ways God is at work in all of us enabling, presenting his salvific will… But, I believe, when we as God's ambassadors, his disciples, when we don't do what's asked of us, expected of us, even required of us… God will find away for his will to come through. If we don't do it, if we don't cry out for change, for justice, for love… the rocks will. If we don't cry out, Scripture tells us the rocks will!

What do we do as the church when the world is essentially "doing" the things God has called us to? It's pretty clear throughout the Old and New Testaments that we are called, expected, required to take care of the poor and care for the sick. We are to take care of the orphans and this hurting, broken earth. Yet we have become so engrossed in our lives to the point that we are more comfortable sitting in a pew than we are stepping out, picking up our cross and following Jesus.

What does following Jesus mean? He lays it out for us in Luke! We are looking at Luke chapter 12, but let's jump over a few chapters to chapter 18 where we hear a story of a man running up to Jesus, falling on his knees and asking, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus answered. "Live the commandments." The man declared, "all of them I have kept since I was a boy."

But we read in Verse 21: "Jesus looked at him and loved him and said: "One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

    How hard it is! It's hard! Why? Why is it hard? Why is it hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? Do we believe that it's hard? If so, share with me a few reasons.

    Jesus tells us three things in our passage from Luke 12, three things to ignite our faith. 1. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. 2. Be dressed for service 3. To those whom much is given, much will be required. He tells us in verse 32 that it gives our Father great happiness to give us the Kingdom. He immediately goes on to tell us: "Sell your stuff and give to those in need. And then come follow me." Following Jesus means giving up some of the luxuries our world (especially our North American twenty-first century world) affords us. We are a blessed, greedy, expectant people. And we're told to go and sell it, get rid of it, give to the poor, and then come and follow our humble King.

    I remember when Scion first was coming out – they were promoting their cars by saying all the features we want come standard. Features like Air Conditioning, Power Locks and Power Windows. I remember they said they were standard, because the cars are geared to the younger generation – and it was and is what we expect. They were right, it's what we expect. We are a blessed, greedy & expectant people. And in many ways, even within the church, we have bread this same consumeristic, egocentric mentality of the world which is, to be brutally honest, contrary to the Kingdom.

Isaiah 1:17 paints a clear picture of who we as Christians, Wesleyans, and Nazarenes are to be. We are to be people who: Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. We are to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans and fight for the rights of widows.

How do we do this? We do this by being dressed for service. In our White Collar desk job world many of us live in (me included) we pay other people to do the services needed; like changing the oil in our cars and grow our vegetables. We find ways to avoid at all costs any & all acts of service. Our society seems to look down on the service industry. In college, I went to Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, and there was a restaurant called Embers. One of my good friends worked there, and she confided in me that the staff hated working on Sundays. Why? Because it's the day all the Christians (specifically the Nazarenes) came in to eat after church. Why did they hate it when the Christians came in? Because they were terribly rude and horrible tippers.

We have a bad habit of looking down upon the service industry. Yet service is exactly what our Lord requires of us. Jesus came as a humble servant. Jesus came washing the disciples' feet. Jesus came – not on a chariot, but on a donkey – a service animal. Micah 6:8 shares with us what the Lord requires: to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

I believe the use of the word "to" is significant as it makes me think it's an on-going, progressive, always on kind of thing. And all these simple statements from Micah are action words. Act, Love, Walk. We are to be dressed for service. We are to be willing to get our hands dirty. We are to be willing to forgo our luxuries – and put on clothes which serve. Which empower! Which lift others up! Which exemplify the Love God has for the broken, the hurting, the poor.

As people concerned with Holiness – "whole-ness" we are to operate in ways contrary to the world. Holiness is not self-centered. Being like Christ is not a life of self-absorption! We say it often; the Kingdom of God is upside down. It's different. It's contrary to the ways of the world.

How is the Kingdom different? It looks out for those the world looks over; like the widow, the fatherless, the orphans, the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, the weak and the oppressed.  These are exactly the people – the community – the family – whom the Church of the Nazarene is supposed to be about. Who we, as the Church, the global Church, are supposed to be for!

Over the past few weeks I have been reading an interesting book. Rich Christians in an age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider has quickly moved to the top of my suggested reading list. As an American, a Christian, and specifically a Nazarene, his words cause me to re-evaluate my world view as he clearly writes about poverty, the poorest of the poor, justice – and how we, as followers of Christ, are called to "justice for all."

    Sider asks a question "How Generous Are We?" Do you know how much the average person in the U.S. gives to all charitable causes? 2.1 Percent. But to set your mind at ease, that's the number for the average person… the church member does better. We give 2.66 percent. Sider goes on to say that perhaps even more disturbing is that for most of the past thirty-plus years, the percentage we give kept falling even though our income kept climbing. (pg 198)

    We live in a bubble of affluence. Yet we struggle with giving. We struggle with following Jesus' example and his expectations. We have been blessed, yet are blinded by consumerism.

Are you familiar with the world Gross National Income? Economists and sociologist break it down into 4 categories, low income, lower middle, upper middle, and high income. The Low income people, they operate on $735 or less while the High income work on $9,076 or more. Perhaps to your surprise, these figures are not what people bring in a month! If they were, many of us would find ourselves right where we think, in the middle class. But these figures aren't for a month, they are for an entire year. The low income people (an estimated 2.5 billion) bring in $735 or less a year and many of them live on one dollar a day.

Isaiah tells us to: Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. And Luke reminds us – that those whom have received much, much will be required. These are heavy words. Much is required of us… and it is not going to come natural. Which is why Isaiah's call is so important, we must learn. I'll say it again, we must learn to do good! We must seek justice – justice for all.

Jesus, daily stretches our boundary as we are no longer able to simply rest on the great commandment: to Love the Lord our God with all our Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength. But we must also carry the second – which is to love our neighbors as our selves. In our ever shrinking global world – our neighbors now calculate into the billions. We have local and global neighbors, brothers and sisters, for whom we must – live a life of action; a life of motivation; a life of love.

What is God calling you to? What do the clothes of service, the ones God is asking you to put on, what do they look like? Your clothes can and should look different than mine… but we must change. We must put them on. Our suits and ties, they no longer bare the image of the humble king. Our luxuries, the Mustangs and Bentleys, they no longer speak to the love and compassion, the grace and mercy our Liberating King came riding in on.

We must do a few things. We must take back the business of giving. We must, according to scripture, according to the Gospels, according to Luke, according to our Christian ethos: we must recognize who we are in the world economy, and step up to God's expectation of what is required. We must buy and consume less, so we can generously give to the poor. We must be dressed for service and involved in action; God's loving, grace-filled, justice for all, hopeful, restoring, action of love.

As you go, put on your clothes of service, learn what is good, seek justice and be God's ambassador's to this broken world. Go and Love.

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