Summer 2015: Senior High youth will be serving at Bridgewater Home on the second Sunday of each summer month wheeling residents to and from their chapel service.
A note about one of my illustrations: I was heavily influenced by Rob Bell’s book, Velvet Elvis and drew heavily upon his chapter on the dust of the Rabbi as one of my illustrations. I will italicize that section.
Many of you now that I recently returned from a two-week vacation and I want to tell you this morning that I went away feeling a little tired and burnt out. I went away telling God that I really needed to hear from him and that I needed guidance and direction for our church. So a week goes by and I hear nothing… and in fact I was getting a little discouraged… maybe even a little agitated with God for not speaking to me. But then, two days into the second week, while I was sleeping, God woke me up in the early morning with a whisper. It was poignantly audible; something that does not happen to me everyday, but I definitely recognized that it was from God. And he said one word: Discipleship. Needless to say, I woke up and went into the other room so I wouldn’t wake up Harry and I began to pray and reflect about this one word. And in that moment, our last year together as a church seeking to become more Jesus filled, the many conversations I have been having with you about education, programming, sermon series, all the amazing kids we have here, and all the amazing youth we have here came into focus. And I realized that God was calling us to not only become better disciples, but to also zealously make disciples right here in our church and in our community.
It’s a long story to say that I tossed out the window all of my plans of preaching this Lent and went with what God was putting on my heart: discipleship. So for the rest of the Lenten and Easter Season, we will be focusing on the Gospel of Mark with the goal of unpacking this word and call to discipleship… and what better way to do that than begin this morning with the calling of the disciples.
Turn with me in your Bibles to Mark 1 14. After Jesus was baptized and filled with the spirit earlier in the chapter, and after he had fasted and prayed 40 days in the wilderness and faced temptation, he goes into Galilee and begins preaching this important message: “The time has come,” he said, “the kingdom is near. Repent and believe the good news!” What does it mean that the kingdom is near? What does it mean to repent? And what is the good news? Well, Mark seems to be answering this with the story of the calling of the first disciples. Read more
Greetings as Dan Ulrich said, I am Beth Jarrett and I am currently serving as the Pastor of First Church of the Brethren in Harrisonburg Virginia. Dan said I had 5 minutes to share my faith background and my perspective on this passage so I think the most efficient thing to say is that I am a southern Presbaptiscopalmennothren. Let’s just say I have a very broad faith experience but I found my spiritual home in the Anabaptist tradition as a young adult.
When I pondered this letter to the church in Philippi, it immediately touched my church planting/missionary heart. Having served as a church planter in Sicily for 10 years, I am keenly aware of some of the anxiety that Paul is grappling with.
I remember what it is like to have invested years into building a small community of believers only to come back from our furlough to find them divided, angry and the center of the town’s gossip vine. And Paul wasn’t even on a furlough!
Believe me, when two Sicilian women fight it involves everyone! It can divide a church right down the middle. Each woman aligning their entire household against another… and believe me that’s a BIG household. If they see each other walking down the street, they will literally change their path to avoid having to see one another.
Paul is speaking to a very similar issue in this letter as two strong women, Euodeia and Syntyche are fighting and causing a division in the little church that is struggling to survive without adequate leadership, in the midst of cultural and ethnic diversity, persecution, and surrounding pagan traditions.
If we are honest with each other, we face similar struggles in our churches today as some of us experience great diversity in our theological perspectives and worship styles while at the same time we see decreased attendance, lower giving, and I am sure you can name a few others. And yet we are still faced with the challenge to shine like stars as we extend the good news of the Gospel in the midst of massive technological, social and economic change.
Paul desperately wants the church to understand that how we work out our salvation together matters.
I recently had the benefit of hearing Juana Bordas a vibrant Latino leader and author of salsa soul and leadership share how she successfully transitioned the Girls Scouts of America from a dying all white organization to a vibrant flourishing multi-cultural and ethnically diverse organization. She believes that the viability of the church and church related agencies over the next 50 years depends on how well we do the work of becoming culturally and ethnically diverse without damaging one another or the church’s witness. If ever there was a time to accept Paul’s challenge to do everything without complaining and arguing… this is the time. We need all of our creative energy focused on this business of working out our salvation in our own generation.
How do we do that in practice? According to Philippians 2: 13, we must trust that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us to will and to act according to his good purpose. We need to take seriously what it means for us both individually and corporately to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. It is a call to courageous discipleship. We must figure out what it means to live out the deep claims of the Gospel in our lives with an attitude of humility and respect while at the same time navigating through an age of technological, environmental, and social change.
But with such diversity among us, how do we do that? Paul encourages us earlier in chapter 2, to let our experience of Christ’s mercy, love and compassion be the glue that holds us together. Not our like theologies, not our correct Biblical interpretation, not even our worship styles and practices. Instead, it should be our encounter with Jesus and all of the grace we have experienced in that encounter that holds us together and invites others to join us.
When our church began a sermon series a few Sundays ago, I shared about the significant correlation between a church’s spiritual health and the health of a church’s giving by using the example of giving as a spiritual thermometer. Our giving says something about our faith and our relationship with God. The story of the widow’s mite is about just that. In it, we are able to observe several types of giving: offerings, sacrifices and the more elusive tithe that is not mentioned directly but implied in the context. All three are different ways of giving and have different meanings and purposes in the life of the church.
We find Jesus in Luke chapter 21 teaching in the temple where we have this small but significant scene play out. Before the story begins, he is addressing hypocrisy among the teachers of the law. He accuses them of taking advantage of the widows’ finances while at the same time praying lengthy prayers that were designed to impress people who were desperately seeking God. He is teaching the disciples in the temple courts where all of this is playing out. In fact, there is a collection box within earshot of where they are gathered. As each person drops their offering into the box, the amount is likely announced out loud and recorded in the temple books.
As this happens, a widow, one of the ones who had been taken advantage of by the corrupt teachers of the law, walks up and drops her two coins into the box and they hear the announcement: 2 mites. That would be the smallest amount possible. It would be as if we put all of our offerings up on the projection screen for everyone to see and by our name would be 2 pennies while everyone else was giving an impressive amount. In some ways, it was demeaning for this widow as her offering was less impressive than that of the rich teachers of the law. But Jesus looks deep into her heart and recognizes that it was a sacrifice. She had given everything she had.
In the story, persons were lined up giving their offerings publicly. It is likely that the offerings were going to the poor. Though we don’t know their hearts, it seems that Jesus thought that the teachers of the law and pharisees might have been giving for show given the context and Jesus’ response to it. It is important to note that An offering is different from a tithe in that it is given over and above the tithe. That is why we use the word offering. There are many reasons to give offerings in the Old Testament but sometimes it is given just because. Not out of obedience, not out of a sense of call, but usually out of thanksgiving or abundance. It is what we call, free will.
Now you would think that Jesus would have been thrilled. Right? But he is not. There is an underlying issue that has plagued the children of God since their formation in Exodus. They have neglected to give their tithe and have lived off the obedience of the poor who were faithful in tithing. You might remember that they were sent into exile and punished. Well, this is one of the reasons; equal to idolatry. You can see that very clearly in the book of Jeremiah.
The most famous text we have about tithing is found in Malachi 3:
Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.
Tithing was a part of the law that had been established since the formation of Israel. It was required of them to give a tenth part. That is where the word tithe comes from. It was a tenth of everything they had. And that was to be the first tenth not what was left over. God blessed them with everything they had, money, shelter, land, gifts and talents etc. God has given us everything in the earth and asked us to be stewards of that gift. The one thing God asks in return is that we give the first tenth back to him. And that wasn’t just money. It was everything, land, produce, lambs, cows, time, children etc.
Leviticus 27:30-33 says this:
“‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’”
Now the tithe was used mainly for three purposes: temple upkeep, supporting the Levites who were the priestly line that ran the temple, and feeding the poor who were among them.
Over time, the wealthy persons, teachers of the law and Pharisees began to withhold the tithe and pretend as if they were giving the whole thing. That just seems kind of silly doesn’t it? As if we can hide from God? But then again, we have been hiding from God since the beginning of time. That’s why God says in Malachi that they were robbing him. They were not giving back to God what belonged to God.
One thing I think we misunderstand about the tithe is that God intended tithing to be an instrument of grace and trust in our lives. Not a penalty or interest we have to repay. It was part of the covenant God made with his children to love and provide for them.
In his article that appeared in Leadership Journal, John Ortberg says this about tithing:
Tithing is a vehicle of Grace
Tithing is God’s way of creating generous people
Tithing points to our faith that everything comes from God
Tithing is like training wheels- meant to give you a good start but not intended for the tour de france.
Tithing is not the last word in generosity – it’s the first word.
For these reasons God says in Malachi chapter 3:10
“Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.
In other words, God wants us to trust him; trust that he is able to provide us with what we need for each day. Tithing is a matter of trust, faith and obedience
Getting back to the parable, Jesus seizes the opportunity to speak to this problem of neglecting the tithe by honoring the two coins of the widow. You see, the public offering given by the rich for show was actually an abomination to God because they were robbing God of his tithe and dropping money into this collection so they appeared to be in good standing with God in public.
The widow, by contrast gave over and above the tithe, and above an offering, she gave a sacrifice; everything she had.
A sacrifice is something very different. It is a response to a call God is placing in our lives to give sacrificially to a cause for the kingdom. Again, it’s not just money. It can be our time, talents, homes, gifts, and any thing else you can think of. It is called a sacrifice because it costs us something.
You may recall the radical giving in the 2 chapter of Acts when the people were selling their land and giving everything they had. This was a sacrifice… not a tithe and not an offering. They were doing this because the Holy Spirit was leading them to sacrifice everything they had to get the resurrection message of Jesus Christ out. They assumed he was coming back soon, but it would take many, many years. Their sacrifices are why we are here today. They were called to a great task of sharing the good news in a radical way and God blessed them and us because of it.
The widow was moved by the spirit to give everything she had. This is the highest from of giving because it demonstrates obedience, faith, trust, and a profound love for God. It is not something that happens everyday, but it should happen at some point in our lives.
Jesus wants to teach his disciples that this kind of giving is not about the amount, but about the heart. Little did they know that Jesus would soon show them what true sacrifice looked like: he would give his life for the salvation of all humankind: out of obedience, faith, trust and a profound love for the Father.
As followers of Christ, we are called to give in all of these ways: tithes, offerings, and sacrifices because at the heart of our faith is the greatest gift of all.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
May we be moved by the spirit of such a generous God.
Ways to practice:
1. Pick one of these scriptures and read it at the beginning and ending of each day. In what ways do the words challenge you to live differently?
Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
2 Corinthians 9:7 – “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
2. Take a brief survey of your life… notice the times you have given in these 3 ways: tithes, offerings, sacrifices. How was your life impacted or enriched? Share your story with someone else as a testimony of God’s faithfulness.
3. Prayerfully ask God to show you if he is calling you to step out in faith in one of these areas of giving? Try responding to what the Holy Spirit shows you. Keep a journal of what happens when you give. Keep it for years to come so that you can return to it for encouragement.
It is said that giving is the spiritual thermometer of the church. A healthy congregation will experience healthy giving because it is tied directly to our understanding of God and our relationship to him. And yet, it seems to be a difficult topic for us to talk about.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Walter Brueggemann share on the topic of money and giving. I was profoundly impacted by his words and have continued to mull over the implications of all that I learned. At the core of his teaching was a powerful truth from Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” Take a few moments to ponder that statement of faith. It is truly a powerful confession of faith. Let it sink in. Now, ponder this question… who do you think the world belongs to? Is this confession your confession? Because if it is, I want to challenge you to think abut some of the implications:.
As Christians, we believe that the earth is the God’s creation. Everything in it is a gift to us from God… even life itself. I like to think of it in this way: Our days and the things we fill our days with are on loan from God. He is the landlord and we are the tenants of this beautiful world we live in.
Genesis chapter 1:27-30 says this: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”
This is where the term stewardship comes from. God’s intention and purpose in creating us was to be stewards to the earth with all its blessings that has been given to us. The word literally means “An official person who has been appointed to look over someone else’s property. We are God’s stewards. “Stewarship is God’s way of raising people, not man’s way of raising money.”(Willmer Smith)
We are called to live as people of the Doxology… you know, the song we sing after every offering? Praise God from whom all blessings flow. What we have and what we have earned is a blessing from God… he has given us the resources, talents, gifts, and tools we need to thrive on this earth. This is our worshipful response to the many blessings God has given us: that we live our lives in a way that point to the God who is the giver of blessing.
Maybe you are struggling to feel like you are experiencing any type of blessing in your life. That’s ok. We all struggle with feeling like that at different times in our lives. Too often we have a distorted view of what blessing is. But the biblical definition of blessing is the divine gift of provision for and support of life. Most of us can say that we are blessed.
I have had the privilege of worshipping in many countries in my life time and this seems to be a difficult one for us Americans. It is always a humbling experience to worship with persons in a less privileged culture and watch their joy and zeal as they dance to the offering plate and give whatever they might have that day be it a fish they caught, a chicken, a couple of coins or whatever else they could give. They were grateful to be alive and excited to express that gratitude to God.
We worship the Lord of the Sabbath. You may remember the story of the Exodus? When the children roamed around in the wilderness for 40 years? Those 40 years were not years we not a waste of time. God’s sole purpose of the perfect number of years was to form a Sabbath people.
Early on in the process, the children of Israel began to grumble about not having enough, in particular not having enough to eat. And so God sends manna from heaven and quail for the children of Israel. But there were important instructions that went alone with it. They were only to gather what they needed for that day. Of course there were some that we enterprising who decided to go ahead and get extra so they wouldn’t have to work so hard the next day or maybe fear that there wouldn’t be enough. The next day, they awoke to find that it was rotten. God wanted this people he was forming to know… to know… that He alone was their provider.
However, on the sixth day before the Sabbath, they could gather what they needed for that day of worship and rest. Miraculously it did not rot and they had enough; more than enough. The Sabbath was created to remind the children of Israel that they had more than enough. They could depend on God to provide everything they needed each day. God was forming his people to be a people of abundance and not a people of scarcity.
Perhaps you know someone that lived through the depression? It was really hard for people to change from a life of scarcity to a life of abundance. For years, my grandmother saved odd little things because she was living out of that story, a story of need and scarcity. It is not easily done. But that is what God was working at with the children of Israel. That is the story that God intends for us: to live of a life of abundance because we have a God that creates, provides and sustains.
Don’t get me wrong here… this is not about the prosperity Gospel or anything like that. This is about the Creator who gives life itself and offers us the sustenance both spiritual and physical. With that comes the call to be careful stewards of the wondrous creation. (That would require another series of blogs to talk about)
So when we exercise the spiritual discipline of giving we are exercising some core beliefs about God’s identity and our identity.
When we give we are essentially growing in these important areas of our faith:
- We are reaffirming our belief that God is the creator and giver of life.
- We acknowledge our dependence on God as provider above and beyond all other means of provision on this earth.
- We open ourselves to experience and excercise the freedom God as given us from the slavery of money and scarcity.
Here are some ways you can practice these powerful truths:
- Try keeping a gratitude journal each day. Simply jot down the little blessings in your or day that might go unnoticed. At the end of the day take time to thank God for each thing on your list… it doesn’t need to be complicated and simple thanks to God will work!
- Try helping a stranger this week… by opening a door, smiling, being polite, paying a compliment. Notice how that makes you feel… how it shapes you… how it empowers you to be a giver instead of a taker. That is living out of a place of abundance. Share what you learn about your experience with a friend or family member.
In the midst of teetering economies, droughts in Africa, and the grief stricken city of Oslo, we may wonder how we as Christians can contribute anything of significance in God’s cosmic plans for the earth. How can Pastor Harry’s suggestion of focusing 400 hours even begin to make a dent? And yet, I am reminded time and time again through scripture that this great God we serve, the very God who stretched the stars across the heavens, chooses to include us in his plans and purposes. Nestled in the opening verses of John 1, in tandem with the creation account and the coming of the Messiah, we find a poignant example of this powerful truth.
Based on outward appearances, he doesn’t seem like a voice that anyone would listen to… this John, with camel skins on… preaching alone in some remote Judean wilderness. Yet, somehow, he has tuned in on the movement of God in his day, and by the prompting of the Spirit has begun pointing others toward the coming of the long awaited Messiah. There are others as well, such as Rahab, who in spite of being a prostitute and a pagan, was able to hone in on the Spirit of God at work in the spies that came to her village. Or, Queen Esther, who through the prompting of her uncle, recognized that God had placed her in that very place to intervene on God’s behalf and save an entire people. Come to think of it, the great players in the Biblical story were all asking how their seemingly insignificant lives could intersect and contribute to the unfolding cosmic plans of God in their times.
I wonder how many of God’s people are asking the questions of how their unique lives could intersect with God’s cosmic purposes? I fear that most of our North American Christianity asks different kinds of questions; questions of personal growth, self – fulfillment, spiritual satisfaction, etc. Our defining question is focused more on how we can get ahead spiritually… a fusion of our North American culture and religious expression. Our worship services are riddled with how our spiritual needs and preferences will be met and our Christian book stores chocked full of self-help books.
I long to be involved with the movement of God in my time… I long for my life to intersect with God’s plan of bringing healing and hope to the world. I believe the world is tired of hearing our religious arguments… I believe that the church is still divided by dissentions and factions that render us ineffective and drain us of our creative energy and potential that God wants to use. The world is literally starving for the people of God to rise up from the ashes and demonstrate that the power, love and healing of God is still at work even in the most difficult times and the most remote places.
It begins with us selflessly asking God how we can intersect with what HE IS DOING and joining… even if it seems insignificant. Eugene Peterson in his devotional book, “A Year with Jesus” invites us to pray in this way:
“By your Word, God, the heavens were created; and by that same word I am addressed. What is going on in the heavens and in my home are equally your interest. Make the connection in my faith between your grand purposes and your specific involvement in my life. Amen.”
Recently, I took the time to reread the Easter texts and allow them to sink in more deeply. During Holy week, I often enter the story from a worship planning perspective thinking about how I might aid the congregation in entering the story.
That day, as many pastors often do the week after Easter, I was feeling tired and worn out… I recognized that I, too, needed to personally enter into the resurrection story. So, I reread the text in Matthew 28.
I wasn’t aware that I was practicing Lectio Divina at the time, but as I read through the resurrection account about the women going to the tomb to find it empty and hearing the news from the angels that Jesus was not there, but had risen… a verse began to shimmer. “So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”
I immediately recognized the shimmer… God’s spirit highlighting something important for me… “Afraid yet filled with joy”. Wow… that was exactly what my heart was feeling… God was more aware of my internal state than I was.
God has been at work in me for a while freeing me from some painful memories and experiences that bind me and inviting me into a new reality, a new freedom and a new way of being. Sometimes these changes can be very scary… even when we know God is leading us toward resurrection.
As I read the scripture and prayerfully listened to God, I became aware that I was afraid to leave behind what was familiar even though it was keeping me in pain and bondage. I was afraid and yet filled with joy as I began to run toward the resurrection experience to which God was inviting me.
As I write this morning… I am aware that many of us share this experience. What freedom to name and sit with our fears and our hopefulness before our God. How comforting to know that our God is present enough in our lives to know the inward journey that needs to be tended to before we are even aware of it ourselves.
I think that we as Christians skip over the immense pain and suffering that Jesus experienced the week leading up to his death. Though there are many stories in between, we tend to move from the shouting Hosannas in church on Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, many of us do have a Maundy Thursday meal and even a Good Friday service… but we rarely live with the Gethsemane experience for any length of time.
Immediately following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and blessing him, Jesus enters into a very dark week. He goes into the temple only to be heart broken and angered by the disrespect and corruption of his father’s house… it should be a place of prayer but instead, it had become a place of deceit, bribery and corruption. Humanity truly needed a savior and he was fully aware of what the price would be.
The following day he was harassed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. They questioned his motives behind his actions. They wondered who gave Jesus the authority to behave the way he did. They threatened him and ridiculed him with poignant hatred, “Who do you think you are?”
The next day, one of his closest friends agreed to betray him and hand him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver… the common price of a slave. Perhaps Jesus could have anticipated this from someone else, but one of his own?
The heaviness of what was to come must have been heavy on his heart as he celebrated his last passover meal with the persons he had lived with, taught and loved intensely for the past several years, his disciples.
It was in this immense, dark place that Jesus found himself struggling to pursue God in the garden.
We may never have a week like that of Jesus, but many of us do enter into dark and difficult times. We all experience deep disappointment, despair, loneliness, dread, heart brokenness, depression, anxiety… you can fill in the blanks. The question is, what will we do in that dark place?
Jesus pursues God even when he doesn’t want to do what is being asked of him. He surrounds himself with persons who will help him, he prays and waits for God’s assistance, and he relinquishes his desire and control over the situation.
When we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights. We can share our struggle with one or two close friends, we can sit and pray our laments honestly in God’s presence, and we can relinquish our brokenness and darkness before God knowing that only God can deliver us.
It is comforting to know from the Gospel of Luke that angels of light came to Jesus’ after he prayed. God didn’t take the cup away from Jesus. He would still drink from the cup of death and suffering, but God did come to his aid in the dark night.
What then are we to do? Try to muster up enough strength to take a few baby steps toward others and God and then wait for him to find us.
There are moments in our lives when God uses people to inspire us and till up some of the hard soil in order to prepare us for the new growth that he is bringing about. I will never forget attending a recent homecoming event at Eastern Mennonite University and hearing the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award tell her story.
Nadine Brunk, after the prodding of doctors and friends, took an unexpected medical mission trip to Haiti. While there, the suffering of Haitian women during childbirth moved her deeply. Nadine shared a pretty staggering description of truck loads of newborns and mothers that die each week due lack of resources such as prenatal vitamins, medication for worms, antibiotics and training; specifically the training that she had. She was deeply moved with compassion for her Haitian sisters and instead of returning back to the states and settling back into her routine, she dared to ask God the question, what is you invitation to me with the unique gifts that you have given me in this oppressive situation?
She continued to sit with the enormity of the problem, the intense pain and suffering of the women and their unborn babies. She allowed the unsettledness she experienced to open her more deeply to what God might be calling her to.
Sunday Morning Worship
Wednesday Night Out Meal
5:30 PM to 6:30 PM
First Church of the Brethren
315 South Dogwood Drive
Harrisonburg, VA 22801