Sunday, July 25, 2010

Be Not Afraid! October 11, 2009.

Be Not Afraid!
October 11, 2009 St. James, Fremont
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
On this day, one week from in-gathering Sunday, I would like to say a bit about this church and all churches and what we are about. We are about something very specific. We are named after the anointed one- the Christ- that’s why they call us Christians.
We are named after the anointed one whose very anointing goes to the heart of what we are about. Jesus was anointed, not by a person of power, but by a woman that most of us would probably not invite to dinner. A woman who poured an incredibly precious treasure of perfume on Jesus’ head to anoint him for his work on earth. Jesus’ life and teachings reflect that kind of radical giving.
Now in terms of the teachings of Jesus, people think that Jesus said all sorts of things. Some people think he said a lot of things about family. Some people think he said a lot of things about marriage. Some people think he said a lot about who we should or should not associate with. But the subject that Jesus spoke about the more than anything else was money. Rich people and poor people and riches and poverty. And he spoke a lot about giving.
The word “believe” appears in the Bible 273 times, the word “pray” 371 times, the word love appears 714 times. But the word “give” appears 2,172 times.
Now that may be a frightening thought, the idea that the whole of the bible just urges us to give, give, give, because the thought of giving may be frightening. I understand that fear, because the first time it occurred to me that I should tithe, I was positively terrified. But amazingly, once I did it the fear disappeared. So BE NOT AFRAID
So I want to tell you that the phrase “Do not be afraid”, said mostly by angels or Jesus, appears 365 in the bible.!
One time for every day of the year. This makes me think that we are called every single day of the year, every single day of our lives, to be not afraid to do what God is calling us to do. What is God calling us to do? Luckily we have not only an advocate with the Father, but a specific road map in the life and works of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, as leaders and fellow children of God, you are called to do some calling of your own. And I urge you to hear these words in your heart and in your souls and in your ears before you make those calls:
BE NOT AFRAID! You are doing the work of the Kingdom, the work of God. You are helping those you call to BE NOT AFRAID. You are asking them to prayerfully consider what percentage of their income God is calling them to give. Urge them to joyfully join you next Sunday, whether or not they are ready to pledge. If they hesitate to come because they are not ready to pledge, and they don’t want to sit conspicuously in their seat while others walk up with their pledge card, remind them that they may mark in the box on their pledge card that they are not yet ready to pledge, and they can bring that forward with the rest, because whether or not they pledge, we are all one body. We are the Body of Christ, even if we are feeling a little wounded, as we all so sometimes. Christ was wounded too.
Some people in this church may be ready to tithe. Some may be ready to do more than tithe, and they may find joy in this. But even those who feel called to be radically generous may feel afraid to do so
To those people I say BE NOT AFRAID. Remember the exquisite story of the anointing woman. To those who objected because of the cost, Jesus defended the woman extravagantly, and said that she would always be remembered for what she did on that day.
She got called to do something a little outrageous, totally extravagant, utterly loving.
Maybe we might be called to do something similar. Maybe we might be called to ignore the carping of our minds, like the carping of the disapproving disciples.
Maybe we can spring ourselves from the awful reality of this culture of ours that makes a God of money. Some would say it takes a miracle for us to be released from it’s pull. Luckily we have a miracle. We have the miraculous life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and we have our calling as Christians.
And we have the knowledge, deep within us, if we can admit it, that it is not money that brings us joy. It is love, service, and community that brings us joy.
A word that we hear frequently in the New Testament is repentance. But repentance is a bad translation of the word metanoia, which means transformation. It is transformation, and not comfort that Jesus offers us. We can transform from people whose first concern is comfort and caution to people who’s first priority is the bringing of the Kingdom of God. This is the miracle we can effect in our own lives.
There is one biblical text that I never connected with transformation until I heard my daughter’s interpretation: The rich young man comes and asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says to keep the commandments and the young man says that he has always kept them. Jesus looks at him with love, probably smiles, maybe even laughs, and says, “One thing more- sell what you own and give the money to the poor. Then come and follow me. The text goes on to say that the young man went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Jesus then turns to his disciples and gets off the one-liner about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.
But then he says, “With God, all things are possible.”
My daughter, who was ten at the time, and identified as Jewish, like her dad, had a good midrash for this story. She thought it was obvious that the young man went away sad, gave his possessions away, became joyful and came back to follow Jesus!
Jesus gives us a forge for our transformation, which is our faith, our membership in the body of Christ. The amount we give does not matter. It is the completeness of the transformation, the great growing up of the mustard seed, the rising of the bread. It is our own personal miracle-
Praying to hear God’s call and then acting on the answer to the question: What is God calling me to do?