Scarcity and Abundance

I know reading a sermon is the very last thing most of you want to do, but my mom requested it, so here it is.   I preached this sermon on February 7.  It was a very full and exciting Sunday with the reception of new members, youth liturgists, communion, and the Souper Bowl of Caring offering.

The scripture (Luke 5:1-11) was read and acted out by the confirmation class.  I couldn’t see them because I was narrating from the pulpit, but the congregation kept laughing so apparently they made the story  of the call of Simon Peter into a comedy.

And now the original text of the sermon:

Step with me a moment into Simon Peter’s shoes.   You’ve been working tirelessly all day and you’re discouraged because somehow despite all of your hard work, you didn’t get anything accomplished.  For Simon, it was not catching any fish.   I bet he was tired and down just ready to get home, have dinner, go to bed so that the day would be over and he could start again tomorrow.  Have you ever had a day like that?

But then as you were finishing up and getting ready to go home, someone asks you to get back in the boat and get back out onto the water.  But Simon knew who this man Jesus was.   He waited patiently while Jesus taught the crowds from the boat.  But THEN Jesus tells him to put out his nets again – the nets that he had just cleaned after working all day and catching no fish.   So he protests at first – saying, but Master, we’ve been working all day and caught nothing.   I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action, expecting a different result, so you could even say that putting out the nets again would be insane.

BUT because it is Jesus who is asking, he puts out those nets again.   And then something miraculous happens.  Despite Simon’s initial doubts and the lack of fish earlier in the day, he catches so many fish that his nets begin to break and he needs to call in the other boat to help him haul in the catch.    And then both boats begin to sink from the weight of the huge catch of fish.

Before Jesus came into the picture, there were no fish.   But Jesus comes in and there are more fish than two boats can handle.  And what is Simon’s reaction?  I would expect him to be jumping up and down with excitement and preparing to tell all of his family and friends about his giant catch – I’ve heard how people who fish can be with their fish stories.  If it happened today, I could see Peter getting his picture taken with the massive amounts of fish to hang on his wall at home.  Or perhaps I would expect Simon to be silent in pure disbelief.   Or maybe I would even expect some sense of relief because he would be able to sell the fish and earn a living.

But instead of excitement or relief or disbelief or bragging, Simon’s first reaction is repentance.    He falls to his knees and says to Jesus, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.  Now I am not sure what his sins are, but from the passage, I would guess that he is repenting from his doubt.  He did not want to let down his freshly cleaned nets because he had been working all day and hadn’t caught anything.  He thought, why would this time be any different?  He doubted God’s power and Jesus’ word.

This is interesting because as we follow Simon Peter throughout the gospels, he is one who really gets who Jesus is as Lord and Savior – he is the one whom Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and responds “the Messiah”.  He is the one that Jesus calls Peter because the name means rock and Jesus says that he will be the foundation on which he will build his church.  But Peter is also the one who sees Jesus walking on water and steps out of the boat to walk to him only to sink because he doubted.  He is also the one who even denies Jesus three times after Jesus’ arrest.

But this man, Simon Peter, despite his doubts, his sinfulness – is called by Jesus to be a disciple.  And I think that’s comforting.  Peter was far from perfect.  He was not the most religious.  He did not have the most faith.  He was not a known leader.  He was not even the best fisherman.  But Jesus saw something in him.  I say this is comforting because it means that we don’t have to be the best or most anything for God to use us or call us to be disciples.

But this story does tell us some of what it does take to be a disciple. What did Jesus see in Simon Peter?   Perhaps in his willingness to serve – he did not hesitate to give Jesus his boat to teach from.   Perhaps Jesus saw something in how Peter let his faith overrule his doubt in letting down the nets despite his better judgment.    And after Peter witnesses the miracle, he realizes the sinfulness of his doubt…really the absurdity of his doubt.   Because Simon Peter had recently witnessed Jesus healing his mother-in-law[1].   Before coming to this lakeside, Jesus had just healed a possessed man in Capernaum.

With all of this evidence that Jesus is worthy of complete faith and trust, Simon Peter is still hesitant.  But I understand that, especially when his livelihood is at stake.  It might make more sense to play it safe and not rock the boat…to save your net and your energy when tomorrow might be a different, better day.  But if he had listened only on his rational side and played it safe, Simon Peter would have missed out on witnessing another miracle and being called by Jesus to be a fisher of people.   He would have gone on with his life, expecting scarcity.  But he didn’t, he listened to Jesus’ word and trusted him despite that twinge of doubt.  And his life was forever changed.

I have seen this expectation of scarcity and miracle of abundance many times in the church.   Just this month, we all heard the stories of the horrible earthquake in Haiti and how poor the country was even before the quake.   There was nothing, but panic and tragedy and loss and heartache.  BUT THEN people have proved that abundance is there….just here in this church, we have raised over $3200 for Haiti….so far.  Just here in this presbytery we have raised about $21,000.  I heard that the Hope For Haiti Now concert and telethon raised $66 million.  And that’s not including the many other  fundraising efforts by past presidents and the Red Cross and countless other organizations.

And today we have the opportunity to give again to Haiti through the youth’s Souper Bowl of Caring.  You may think that you’ve already given for Haiti, that you don’t have any more to give, but we can’t stop now…because the need is still growing.  And today’s mission is meeting the needs of Haitians and rescuers right now.  I was talking with RH this morning who just returned from spending two weeks in Haiti in his role as pharmacist.  He said that whenever people ask him what we can do to help, he says that they need food and money and medical care, what they need most is water…they don’t even have clean water.  On the poster for the Souper Bowl of Caring in the narthex, you can see a picture of people lined up waiting for water at a Water Missions International station – they are on the ground trying their best to meet the needs, but they need our help.  We may think that we don’t have any more to give – that the resources are scarce.  But we have clean water and homes, and our brothers and sisters in Haiti do not.  We live in abundance.  Last week DK talked about how the difference between a hope and wish was that when you hope you have real expectations.  So I hope that there will be another miracle of abundance today after worship and that we will continue to give sacrificially to our neighbors in Haiti.

But I wonder why was Haiti suffering before with poverty (why are any of God’s children suffering in poverty) if this amount of abundance is available?  Why does it take a tragedy to pull out the wallets and make a big difference?   We know the money is there….the money is here.   We live in a culture of excess, even in the midst of our so-called recession, there are shows on TV called “Platinum weddings” or even “platinum babies”  Seriously, I got drawn into one of those episodes last week where a expectant mother spent $35,000 on the baby’s nursery.   Some of our members were recently at a car show and told me how there were people there buying multiple cars for over $100,000 each.

But yet, when you turn on the news, we hear about foreclosures and bankruptcies and bailouts and unemployment.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those things don’t exist.  I’m not denying that many people are struggling who weren’t before.  But I do have to wonder how extreme excess and extreme poverty coexist.

At our own church, the session worries about money every year and has to put limits on their dreams based on the realities of the income and budget.  We fall victim of the myth of scarcity.   We can’t do this because we don’t have the money. But the scarcity is just that: a myth.  You may have heard the rather cheesy pastor joke about a minister who stands in the pulpit and talks with excitement about an upcoming project and how much money it will cost and she says, and the good news is that we already have all of the money we need…she pauses, then says…it’s just still in your pockets.   So yes, it is cheesy, but it spot on.  We are not a poor congregation.  We shouldn’t be limiting our dreams because we can’t afford it.

Scripture gives us so many passages about money.  How we are supposed to tithe (to give 10% of our income), how we are supposed to give God our first fruits before we buy anything else, how we are supposed to give cheerfully, how we are supposed to share all of what we have with the community so that everyone has what they need, how we are supposed to put our trust in God, not in our wealth.   I could go on and on.  Scripture commands us to give abundantly.   But we continue to say: we don’t have enough, we can’t afford it, we didn’t bring in any fish today – it’s time to give up and go home.

But where’s the faith in that?  Anytime we say we can’t, we’re not trusting that God can.  We doubt because our rational side wants to take over; we want to play it safe and not rock the boat.  But what we learn from Simon Peter is that when we do truly trust in God, our boats will sink from the outpouring of God’s mercies.  And I don’t mean that God’s mercies come in the form of money of fish.  Simon Peter, who had probably just brought in the biggest catch of his career which could have made him wealthy, left it all behind to follow Jesus and be a fisher of people.

Following Jesus is not easy.   Discipleship calls for obedience to and recognition of a divine power and source of authority beyond human strength, knowledge, and will.[2] In our text for today, these men who were called to be disciples faced a hard decision beyond human reason and made a sacrifice.  Because Simon Peter knew that life is not about being successful in business or storing up wealth, but about serving God and following Jesus….even when it’s hard…even when you doubt…even when you don’t feel worthy…even when it means sacrifice.   Because Simon Peter knew that when you follow Jesus, you are blessed abundantly in so many unexpected wonderful ways.   Discipleship is risky business with great rewards.[3]

Thanks be to God.


[1] Mark 1:29-32

[2] Byron, Gay L.  Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, page 335

[3] Byron, Gay L.  Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1, page 335.

Prayer for the World on Fire

Perhaps I was too hard on the church in Monday’s  post.   I was letting a few criticisms cloud the overall success of Youth Sunday.  I am still bubbling over with pride for the youth for the job they did and the congregation for how open they were.  Last year, we had a time in the service in which people wrote down their dreams for the church.  The youth loved reading through the dreams of their church.  Ironically their favorites were what they called “nasty grams” which were notes criticizing the service. 

This year, they planned another opportunity for people to reflect in written form by writing prayer requests and putting them in the offering plate.  The youth gathered around after the service to read the prayers, and to their disappointed and my delight – they found no “nasty grams”.  I was truly inspired by these prayers.

I was reading through these prayers again this morning, and thought I would share some of them.  I am moved.  If you are a praying person, please join me in prayer.

  • I pray that God gives all of us the strength to take action and give back to the world for everything he has blessed us with.
  • I pray for those who have lost their jobs and face poverty and for the homeless people all around us.
  • I pray for peace in Iraq
  • I pray for the men and women in service that fight for our country everyday.
  • I pray for the child soldiers, those in poverty, people in Darfur.  I pray for the stregth to save the world.
  • Give me strength to go and help people without fear.  Help to make me a better person.
  • Pray for the children living right ere in our community that are homeless, hungry, or in need of a loving family.
  • Feed the children of the world.   Move the economy to create jobs – too much unemployment.  Help the suffering of the world.  Remove the threat of nuclear weapons.
  • Teachers and schools.  Mentally and physically challendged.  Churches
  • Help me and other teachers to reach and give hope to many of our students who have given up and are hopeless, who are bitter and hard, and who are in need of God’s great love.
  • Families in crisis.
  • I pray that our leaders will become inspired by God to do his will rather than doing whatever it takes to be re-elected.
  • (in a new writer’s script) Everyone needs to stop littering and everyday recycle cans, bottles, and paper. Stop cutting down trees.
  • Please heal our country.  Help us to see the difference in law and justice.  May justice prevail and laws change accordingly.
  • Pray for our church as we search for a new minister.
  • Pray for all abused children: educationally, physically, and emotionally.
  • Thornwell Children
  • Pray for the president of our country.
  • May your spirit surround all of us.  May you comfort all who are alone.  May you fan our fire!
  • Bless the youth, give them strength energy, and persistance to set the world on fire.  Bless our parents and grandparents that gave us our life skills that we might set the world on fire – though at a slower pace.  Bless each of us to do even the smallest thins that can make any difference for others.
  • For animals that aren’t loved and taken care of the right way.
  • Pray for a good representation of our congregation sign-up for our day to go into the community and help others.
  • Kindness and consideration for one another.
  • The growth of the church.  Less anxiety about trivial issues.
  • I pray that God shows our church how to focus our time and resources to make our world a better place.  Today’s service started us…
  • Pray for all those that are suffering – so that their suffering may end.

Amen.

World on Fire

Yesterday was Youth Sunday, and I really love the way this church does it.  The group that goes to Montreat plans the service using that year’s theme.  It makes the planning process so much easier, plus the youth are really pumped about sharing their passion and energy from Montreat with the congregation.

The youth were near perfect this year – I am amazed at how much they’ve grown in the past three years.   And we heard so many comments after about how inspired people were to set the World on Fire.   And it was actually tangible in the sign-ups for our first congregation-wide Serves Day coming up in October – we are already up to 60 people signed up, and it’s still over a month away (our goal is 100).

BUT BUT BUT

As much as the service was great.  People are still finding things to complain about.  We didn’t have bulletins, and this just weirded people out.   Granted there are some logistical problems with our sanctuary layout, so next year we will probably suck it up and use bulletins.  There were complaints about the music, saying it was distracting – when 98% of the people loved it – there was clapping….and even a little swaying…in a presbyterian church.

Why do people complain about this one chance the youth have to share their passion with the congregation…to plan worship that is meaningful to them? 

I feel like it all boils down to fear.  Some people are so afraid of change and that the younger generation is going to steal their church and completely take away everything they’ve known for the past 50 years.  But they won’t – these young people are incredibly insightful and sensitive and appreciative.  We even sang two hymns from our hymnal (granted the words were on the screen and there were guitars playing the music), the gloria, and the doxology – because they mean something to the youth as well.  They don’t want to burn the church down and start over – they want to use the strengths of what we have and build on them, recognizing that sometimes the way we’ve always done things doesn’t make the most sense anymore.

I was reading our tech savvy moderator’s blog this morning in which he was defending the use of social media in the church and addressing the fears that many have of this form of ministry.  And his arguments fit here as well…when we plan our worship and our programs and do the same old thing, “who are we defending and protecting?” and “who are we leaving behind?”

Granted I cringe whenever people start talking about having a “contemporary” service to attract young people.  (I’m just a big contradiction aren’t I?)  I think that just splits the church and doesn’t get at the real problem of the absence of young people in our churches.   There are many in our generation who do like organ music AND guitars…and our church is so blessed to have many musicians and many flexible folks, and we use it all.   It doesn’t have to be either/or.

But for now, the youth will continue to ask questions, to make people a little uncomfortable, to push people out of the box, to inspire, to be inspired, and to search for a way where we can all be the church together.  And I feel privileged to accompany them on this journey.

MedSchoolMonday: Religion and Health

I’ve been pretty hard on the church lately and the church deserves it. It’s kind of like any relationship important to you with someone you love—they can bring out the extremes of your emotions. But this weekend was a good one. Dorothy’s aforementioned documents of our travels I agree with; piglet was a trooper and it was good to see family and church friends, old and new, old and young, from around the state. But all that’s boring to talk about, and my posts are usually way too long. I’m doing a lot of reading this summer on different perspectives on the relationship between health and religion, and there are tons of perspectives. There are a lot of folks that make a strong case that religion has an impact on health. We’re even taught in med school to ask about a person’s life of faith in our standard interview. Here are a couple of questions I’d like some responses to:

  1. In what ways have you ever had a medical provider bring up the subject of religion, if at all?
  2. Are you comfortable with a medical provider bringing the subject up? Why or why not?