Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Report: Give More


First Presbyterian in Lafayette, Louisiana

December 12, 2010 – Advent A 3

Isaiah 35:1-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11


Once again I come before you with the need to report on the activities of the Advent Conspiracy that is going on in this congregation and in others throughout the world.  By now you have probably figured out that there is nothing particularly new about the idea that Advent can be a subversive force of change in the world.  I have to admit that, for most of you, I don’t know if that is a new thought to you.  I don’t know if it bothers you.  I don’t know to what extent you have decided to join this conspiracy, or even if you believe that the church should be an instrument of social change.

It’s not because of anything you have or have not done.  It is because I simply have not asked.  That is, I have not asked until now.  I have not asked because I have been too busy with the “busy-ness” of the church.  I have not asked because I am not sure that I want to know.  I don’t want the discomfort of hearing that you disagree or just don’t understand.  I don’t want to deal with the difficult side of relationships.

None of us really do.  Sure, some of us try to “call it like we see it” and be known as a “straight shooter.”  I have found that even that can be a way in which I can keep from getting into the nitty gritty of compromise and the vulnerability that comes with it.  That’s the heart of the idea of giving more this Advent, as I see it.

I imagine many of you look at that title and say, “Give more?  Good luck with that!  I’m spent.  I’m tired of every non-prophet and commercial enterprise in the free market trying to woo me, or guilt me, into debt.  I barely have time for myself anymore.  Give more?  I have nothing left, and if I did I would need it to survive!”  Of course there are others that would say, “I would love to give more.  I just can’t.  I can’t do the things I used to do, and I can barely take care of myself.”  And still there are others who find themselves trapped by busy schedules, and commitments that just can’t be avoided.

Enter into the wasteland of postmodern life, the prophet Isaiah, James the martyr, and Jesus as remembered by Mathew.  Isaiah reminds us that freedom is coming, and that the promise of redemption is worthy of hope. 
James, I feel, always offers practical suggestions.  He’s the one who often speaks to me the way I do to my children. “Calm down.  Take a deep breath.  Let’s focus on the important things here.”  The Lord is near.  Follow the example of the prophets.

Hmmm… things didn’t always end well for the prophets.  In fact, Jesus is sending word to John, calling him a prophet, but John is in prison!  If we look to Luke’s gospel we find that prison did not go well for him, either.  Yet we are being called to look toward the prophets for our source of joy today.  We are even directed toward the anticipation of John the Baptist in prison.

Jesus responds to John’s anticipation in two ways: first he confirms the truth about him; then he confirms the truth about John.  Jesus is the presence of God’s activity and John is the evidence.  John calls Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one, and it is interesting because he is the one who anointed Jesus!  Well, at least from a human perspective.  John did baptize Jesus.  So he wants to know, “Did I get it right?  Is it true?  Was my work worth it?”  And Jesus answers him, “The lame walk, the blind see, lepers are healed, and the poor have good news.”  The proof is in the pudding. 

Jesus goes on to talk about the significance of John, even calling him Elijah!  John, so it seems, offered more than prophecy.  He was more than a truth teller.  John’s proclamation became the new reality that made the experience of God incarnate a possibility.  John gave more.

Those words drop like a gauntlet placed in our path.  John gave more.  Resistance screams into our conscious.  John gave more.  Before guilt creeps in, I want to add the phrase, “and so do we.”  I’m not talking about what we used to do, could do, or should do.  I’m talking about our character as a congregation.

Demographically, I think there are some similarities to our congregation and John – waiting in prison.  We feel that our freedom and ability has been taken away by our size and activity level, and we look toward the past and say, “Was it worth it?”  Without question, the risen Christ points to our successes and says, “Yes! In those times and places where you have allowed me to bring hope and healing, I have done it.”  The obvious question is, “Could Jesus have done those things without us?”  The obvious answer is, “Yes.  Just as God could have done it without John the Baptist, God could enter in without us.”

So, instead of getting hung up on what God can or cannot do, I think we need to celebrate our giving.  I’m not talking about money here.  I’m talking about relationships.  I think we need to name our giving habits and claim them in a way that allows the Kingdom of God to enter in.  Not because God needs us to, but because we do.  You see, I know someone who, after attending worship here, began visiting strangers in the hospital.  I know members who take meals to others and treat them as God’s own children, holy and beloved.  I know about members here who pay light bills for neighbors, drive out of their way to get a coat for a stranger who is cold, and members who spend countless, thankless ours in more than one community outreach.

Even so, giving more is not about putting on capes and pretending to be super Christians who save the world.  Giving more is about living in a way that alters your vision and makes your hands follow so that you can participate in God’s action of saving the world.  There’s a song that’s been out on the Christian radio stations for a while now by Brandon Heath.  He sings about a city street.
All those people going somewhere
            Why have I never cared?
            Give me your eyes for just one second
            Give me your eyes so I can see
            Everything that I keep missing
            Give me your love for humanity
            Give me your arms for the broken hearted
            The ones that are far beyond my reach
            Give me your heart for the one's forgotten
            Give me your eyes so I can see

So often we are blinded by our defenses, our expectations, and our experiences.  Yet Jesus sneaks in.  He snuck in yesterday when a family that came to receive became personal shoppers, giving to others through CUPS.  He snuck in last week when two homeless men asked a member to help someone else.  He sneaks in and says, “By the way, when is the last time you invited someone to church?”  He sneaks in and says, “You are blessed if you are not offended by my presence, by my offer to heal and restore, and by my insistence that you give more.”

Giving more is not about money.  In fact it is the opposite, for there are times when we give money because we do not know what else to do.  There are people who have used guilt to manipulate us, and our money has only helped maintain dependency. 

Today let us hear clearly Christ’s call to give more in ways that make it possible for him to enter in and become the source of blessing for others.  Let us hear clearly the call to look toward our relationships and casual acquaintances as a chance to offer the most precious gift there is, and that is the very presence of God, through Jesus, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ! 

We have something amazing to offer this world as a community of the faithful, God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.  Let’s celebrate the gifts we have been given, and let us give more!  And to God be the glory, both now and always.  Amen.

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