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Faith United Methodist Church
May 4, 2014
Stewardship Campaign:  The Heart of Giving
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood

Scripture:  Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 13:34-35

Prayer of Illumination:

Loving and gracious God, we turn to you in our need.  Help us be a community that looks to you for guidance.  Help us be a people that turns to you for the tasks you would have us do.  Help us be a church that looks to you for understanding and wisdom, a church moved by the power and prompting of your Holy Spirit in our lives.  Amen.

Sermon:  Who Do You Love?

Yesterday Gary and I got back from a week-long vacation to Arizona.  We traveled with my mom, stepdad Larry, and two other relatives, Dot and Jim.  We made the most of our time ~ traveling from Phoenix to Williams to Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon back to Flagstaff to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert back to Flagstaff on to Sedona and Jerome and back to Phoenix.   We saw amazing things ~ God’s magnificent creation ~ visited many gift shops, and spent countless hours in the minivan that became our home away from home.

It’s fun traveling in a group, but some disagreements inevitably arise.  This was our third trip together, so luckily we are familiar with each other’s quirks and were able to negotiate the disagreements with grace.  The sticky-wicket, though, was music.  For six people ~ from several different generations ~ to agree on traveling tunes is quite a feat.

Now, I don’t want to offend any country music fans, so I’ll just say that what we could agree on was that country music was not an option for our trip.  Musically that was about all we were able to agree on.  In the end we decided not to listen to music, but talk and rest along the way.

Personally, I find country music a little depressing.  You’ve probably heard the joke that if you play a country song backwards you get back your truck, your dog, your job, and your spouse.  Lyrics typically associated with country western music are popular because they acknowledge our difficulties ~ universal difficulties ~ of loss and disappointment.  Yet, these lyrics can also cause us to become cynical.  We look only at what we have lost or what we don’t have.  Sometimes even the church gets caught in that cycle of cynicism and negativities.  That’s why we began a journey last week to consider matters of the heart.

This week you should have received a letter with a heart card that asked you to express who you love in the church and why.  Instead of looking at what we don’t have, we will focus this week on celebrating those we love and their positive influence on our lives.  As we’ll be discussing in our Confirmation Class later today, “When we declare that we will be faithful by our gifts, we offer ourselves.  This encompasses our financial gifts to help the church grow and serve, of course.  And it also means that we explore our own spiritual gifts and discern those that God has given us to offer back to the world.”  (Credo Confirmation)  From the teaching of the Torah in Deuteronomy to the teaching to Jesus found in John 13, this focus on loving, giving relationships is at the root of the scriptural values of our faith.

In the Christian faith, we understand the teaching of the Old Testament in the context of the teaching of Jesus.  One of the ways we express our love for God is through our love for one another.  This is a clear expectation of our faith.  Is it sometimes difficult to love one another?  Heck, Yeah!  Yet Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything he is not willing to do.  Jesus loved even those who he knew would betray him.  “Love each other just as I have loved you.”

It helps me to remember that love is an art, not a science.  The six of us on our trip were able to have fun together despite our differences because we were able to be giving and forgiving with each other.  Artists don’t know how their art will affect other people, yet they still share it with the world.  It is similar with our love.  Even though we don’t know how it will ultimately be received, we must share our love with the world.  As one writer explained, “There is no arrogance in realizing that we possess talents and personality traits that can be of service to the church.”   It is only arrogance when we are unwilling to share.

Robert Schnase illustrated this in his devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity, when we wrote:

Every sanctuary and chapel in which we have worshipped, every church organ that has lifted our spirits, every pew (or chair) where we have sat, every Communion rail where we have knelt, every hymnal from which we have sung, every praise band that has touched our hearts, every church classroom where we have gathered with our friends, every church kitchen that has prepared our meals, every church van that has taken us to camp, every church camp cabin where we have slept ~ all are the fruit of someone’s Extravagant Generosity.

We have been recipients of grace upon grace.  We are the heirs, the beneficiaries of those who came before us who were touched by the generosity of Christ enough to give graciously so that we could experience the truth of Christ for ourselves.  We owe the same to generations to come.  We have worshipped in sanctuaries that we did not build, so to us falls the privilege of building sanctuaries where we shall never worship.

As Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  So, who do we love?  As pledges are made, commitment cards gathered and offerings taken some of our money will go to those we will never meet, those in need around the world.  Some of our money will ensure that we can reach out to those in our own community who do not know Jesus.  Some of our money will help secure what God has given us for future generations.  Who do we love?  We love all these people.  We love each other gathered in this sanctuary.  We love those we will never meet, those in our community beyond our doors, and those who are yet to be born.  We love them all.

A new commandment I give to you, to love God and each other as I love you.  In the coming week you will receive a letter asking you to consider what you would most like to see happen on our church in the coming year.  I look forward to seeing your thoughts posted on your heart cards.  Whatever they are, our visions and hopes grow out of a generous love rooted in our commitment to give our best selves and resources to God and the work of God through this church.   In doing so, we live the art of love keeping God’s word and Jesus’ command in our hearts. Amen.