Sunday, October 28, 2018

Celebrating the Gifts of God

Mark 10:46-52


        Throughout the month we have heard a Minute for Stewardship from various Mission Teams.  Ann and Ken were great. I personally can’t wait for next week. Ron Culberson has agreed to speak and I know it will be the highlight of our stewardship campaign.  The Session always expects me to preach a Stewardship Sermon for reasons I can’t quite figure out. I tried to look back on some of my past efforts but fell asleep before reaching the fourth page.  My memories of efforts by other preachers are just as dreadful. Some tell pithy stories. Some use guilt. None are really all that impressive. Other than TV evangelist, ministers aren’t all that good at asking for money. So I was really excited this week when Presbytery sent out an e-mail suggesting every minister read a book titled, Not Your Parents Offering Plate, a New Vision for Financial Stewardship by J. Clif Christopher.  It had some interesting suggestions.  Did you know that in America today there are over 1.8 million nonprofit organizations, trying to solicit your dollars?  In 1985 religious groups received 55% of all charitable donations.  Last year that number was down to 28%.  Part of the reason is the number of nonprofits since 1985 has risen by 600,000.  There are a lot of folks out there doing some really good stuff asking for your money knowing people want to give to something that changes lives.  I could not agree more.

        Mr. Christopher gives three reasons why folks give.  Number one is folks have a belief in the mission of the organization. WHAT IS OUR MISSION AT ROCKFISH PRESBYTERIAN?  I believe it is to transform lives.  Let’s take a quick look at who we are and how we are known. Our motto declares that Rockfish is to be a Light in the Valley.  What perfect words for this congregation.  I don’t believe any other church does more for the folks of Nelson County than Rockfish.  No church has a more diverse congregation.  No church has a better music program.  Certainly we have room to improve but when Deb and I arrived eight years ago we were overwhelmed by the caring, nurturing, generosity that defines Rockfish as a church.  You are known throughout the Presbytery.   When I tell folks in Richmond I am the minister at Rockfish, the immediate response is always, “What a blessing it must be to be there. I hear nothing but good things about your congregation.” 

        Christopher says a second reason people give is because they have a high regard for the leadership.  I have been here eight years. You know my strengths and my weaknesses. But this church has never been defined by its minister. Preachers come and go. You are the backbone of this congregation. Let’s start with your session. What an honorable group of people.  Look at your bulletin and marvel at the folks you have chosen to lead this congregation.  But you are more than just 12 people. Consider the folks who lead our worship’s amazing music.   Go to Sunday School or small groups and encounter an hour of both intellectual and spiritual growth. Go to Senior Citizen lunches, Habitat, the Food Pantry, BRIM meetings, CASA meetings, Wood Ministry, or so many other activities serving the folks in Nelson County and you will see your fellow church members.  Who is the leadership of this county?  You are!  Who is the leadership of this church?  You are.  As one just riding on your coattails, let me say you are doing a mighty fine job.

        Finally Christopher says people don’t give to sinking ships.  For eight years I have watched how you care for each other. For eight years I have marveled at your ability to defuse difficult situations with laughter. You are Yankee and Southerner, Republican and Democrat, Straight and Gay, Old and Older and you love to be in the same room with each other. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? It is simple. You are a vibrant, faithful people, who serve God as a light to this valley.

        I appreciate these insights made by Christopher.  They are excellent points but I have to say Christopher is suggesting nothing new.  I have graduated from one college and three graduate schools.  This is the time of the year each of them solicit me for money. They begin by informing me of their mission, their leadership and their success.  I fully expect United Way, the Cancer Society, the Heart Fund and a slew of other organizations who send request for money.  They too will brag about their mission, their leadership and their success.  The formula suggested by Christopher has a good track record in the private sector.  It works for organizations because most folks want to place their money where they know it will be used well. I say AMEN to that.  But the church is and has always been more than an organization.  In fact I might be so bold to say when the church only views itself as an organization it takes a mighty big risk of losing its heart and soul.

        Please pay special attention to this week’s text from the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus and the disciples were walking up the road from Jericho.  They were surrounded by a large crowd of people, all trying to figure out who this Jesus of Nazareth might be.  On the side of the road was a beggar named Bartimaeus.  When he heard that Jesus was passing by he exclaimed, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  Folks sternly ordered him to simmer down but he kept crying out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”  Jesus stopped turned to the blind man and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus replied, “Teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus said to him, “Your faith has made you well.”  Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight.

        There are plenty of miracle stories in the gospels but I think this is my favorite.  Thousands of folks with great eyesight flocked to Jesus every day.  Yet only this man, this blind man, recognized who Jesus was and what Jesus could do.  Too often the work of the church revolves around programs, monthly bills, and buildings to maintain.  Being an institution, those things are important.   But Blind Bartimaeus wasn’t interested in any of that stuff.  He believed in a power that transcended slogans, leadership, and good track records.  He wanted, he needed a miracle, and the only person capable of giving him sight was standing right in front of him.  Bartimaeus recognized God in Christ.  He knew, he believed, something was about to happen that was beyond the scope of his human imagination.

        What would happen during the stewardship season if we chose not to emphasize our dynamic preaching, or our wonderful music, or our love of the community, or even our spiritual piety, but rather exclaimed, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us”?   What would happen if we are primarily here to proclaim the mercy and grace God and then act accordingly?

        I believe that trust in God has made us who we are.  We believe God has plans for us because we know what God has done in our past.  You know our history; Ray Koon tells it every chance he gets. You’ve seen the garden, the wood pile, and the smiles of Head Start kids. You’ve witnessed the growth of our building, a gift not for us but to our community. You have experienced the joy of being here, not just on Sunday morning, but every day of the week. Our doors and our hearts, our hands, our imagination and our generosity never close. Jesus has showered mercy upon us. Let us respond with a grateful heart.

                                                        To God be the glory.  Amen.

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