Sunday, April 26, 2015

Giving joyfully

“Do not worry about tomorrow…          -- Matthew 6:34

Friends of Atonement,
          Thanks again for your faithful stewardship and generous giving.  2015’s income has allowed us to keep up with expenses while passing the 2/3 mark of our capital campaign.  The campaign has begun counting down to our goal with less than $100,000 to go by our target date at the end of February 2016.  Though giving usually goes down in these approaching summer months, the words of Jesus remind us not to worry about tomorrow. They also remind me of a story…
            A man started a fight with two other men, and the police came and took the guy to jail. The next day the man went before the judge. The judge asked the man, “Where do you work?”   The man said, “Here and there.” The judge asked, “What do you do for a living?” The man said, “This and that.”  The judge then said, “Take him away.” The man said, “Wait, judge when will I get out?” The judge said to the man, “Sooner or later.”
            We live with lots of uncertainty in life, especially when it comes to money.  We’re not sure how the economy will do in the future, how much costs will go up, or just how long we will be able to work.  Even with regular retirement income, we might worry what we’d do if something catastrophic happens.  With responsibilities to care for family members or maintain a household, the command Jesus gives us not to worry about tomorrow may seem harder than any others, including any of the 10 commandments.
            I spoke with a Roman Catholic lady last week who, in the middle of our conversation, gave a testimony about giving.  Making her offering has always been very important to her, she said, though she never knows from month to month how much she’s going to make.  She waits to see how much income the Lord gives her to work with each month.  Then at the beginning of each new month, she makes a check out to her church for 10% of what she made the month before.  
            She had two points to make about her method of giving: #1 – By basing her giving on what her income was the month before, she was always giving as God has blessed her.  #2 – By writing her check at the beginning of the month, she was putting her relationship with the Lord ahead of other bills, making it her first priority.  On rare occasions when emergencies came up and she couldn’t make the whole amount, she would make it up later.
            Everybody’s financial situation is a little bit different.  Some people might have a fairly low income, but lots of other assets.  Some people are well off, others don’t have much of anything, but everyone can give something as they are blessed by God.  Like the widow Jesus pointed to putting two coins in the Temple offering, we can each find a way to give that is a true expression of our love for our giving God.  For me that means giving a set tithe of my income to Atonement, which I do through the automatic Simply Giving program.  I then find ways to supplement that giving as opportunities arise. 
            The point is not so much what you do as how you do it.  Regular giving is a spiritual practice just as much as regular praying and regular worship.  These are all acts of faith that not only build our relationship with God, they also help us quit worrying.  Though she gave different amounts each month, the lady who gave me her giving testimony didn’t just give “this and that,” “here and there.”  She gave purposefully, as an act of devotion and love to the God who had blessed her. 
            That is my prayer for you as well - that when you give, you always give with joy and love.  And after you have given, all your worries are drowned in faith and hope.  We are resurrection people – Easter people, blessed to be a blessing with no cause to worry.  After all, if Jesus could take our sins and exchange them for new life, imagine what He can do with our good stuff?
Pastor Scott

Thursday, April 9, 2015

On the Way

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”
                                                                                                                                    -- Mark 16:2

            The green palm branches wave in the air; the bitter taste of wine lingers on our tongues.  From a raucous procession through the gates of Jerusalem to a hushed and darkened upper room, from the passionate prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to the courtyard of the religious and governing officials…from crowds hailing him as king to crowds crying, “Crucify him!” we begin April with the conclusion of Holy Week and the textures, symbols, tastes and smells that bring us into that story.  On Good Friday, the dry stiff wood of the cross reminds us of the hard truths of sin, and the penetrating nails recall the pain of Jesus’ sacrifice.
              Good Friday will be April 3 this year, and at noon that day we will be adding a new service to our worship experiences at Atonement.  The Way of the Cross is a based on the traditional Stations of the Cross, signposts of the path Jesus took to and through the crucifixion.  Around the sanctuary we will place pictures representing each of the key moments in the story of Christ’s passion.  These “stations” depict Christ’s suffering from when he was condemned to death to when he was laid in the tomb.  We will travel from one to another, following the way that Jesus took, stopping for prayer and Scripture reading at each.  You are welcome to join us Good Friday for this special service, along with our usual Good Friday service at 7pm.
            Our evening services for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday will continue the series we have experienced all through Lent centered on the parables of Jesus.  Each of these little tales that Jesus tells reveals something new about who he is and what he has done for us.  Jesus tells the story of a great banquet where all the guests skip out.  With the intended guests absent, the host has the servants go out into the streets and invite whoever they find – the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.  This “broken” banquet becomes the celebration of God’s kingdom – a parody of a fancy, 4-star, “a- list” extravaganza.  This is who we are when we come to God – broken ones who have been invited into something we were never fit for ourselves, but because of the hospitality of the host, we find ourselves welcomed and given a place.
            The parable for our Good Friday service will be the story of a landowner who leases his land out to tenants.  He had a beautiful vineyard on that land, which gave sweet and luscious fruit.  There was a fine fence and a tall watchtower, and a press for the grapes.  Things were all set up for the tenants to harvest those grapes and make fine wine – all the landowner wanted was his share of what they produced.  So the day came for the owner to collect his share, and he sent a slave to receive it.  Instead of welcoming this servant of their benefactor, instead of treating him as an ambassador of an ally or as the messenger of a friend, they beat the slave, sending him back to his master with nothing but bumps on his head and a bruised ego.  The master sent another slave, and the same thing happened – then another, and another – each and every servant was beaten and sent away, or else killed.  Finally the master makes a risky decision: “I’ll send my son!  They will respect him, I’m sure.”  But the master has made a horrible miscalculation, and the evil that his tenants began gets capped off with the murder of the landlord’s beloved son. 
            While Jesus tells these tales, he is telling his own story and ours as well. Before he went to the cross, he let us know about a God who was so in love he sent a son, who in love opened his banquet hall to all, and who in love gives life beyond life.  At our 8am service on Easter, we will hear a final parable.  This one is about a pair of men who both build houses.  They both work hard putting up their houses.  They both use the best materials they can find.  They both follow the best plans available.  Only, one man’s house is built on a rock while the other is build on sand.  Their passion and commitment and investment are identical – the only difference is where they started.  A storm came like a Florida hurricane -- with unrelenting rain beating down on the roof from above, and fierce winds battering the walls from the sides.  When morning came, the house on the rock was standing strong, but the house built on sand… As Jesus said, “Great was its fall!”  Death did its worst to defeat Jesus, to wash him away in its flood of destruction and sweep him out to sea.  But in the morning, Easter morning, it was death whose house came crashing down. 
            God has a place for us in this Easter story.  Around the table Maundy Thursday, receiving bread and wine that are more than bread and wine… at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, mourning our beloved Lord and leader, our God and friend…at the garden tomb with Mary Easter morning, gaping through the opening at the emptiness inside, wondering at what has just happened and what that means for my life from this moment on.  This is your story as you face the awesome reality of resurrection, a story of the amazing possibilities that exist for all who trust in the God who created and redeemed all things. 
            The green palm branches wave in the air; the bitter taste of wine lingers on our tongues; the raw wood of the cross reminds us of the hard truths of sin, and the penetrating nails recall the pain of Jesus’ sacrifice.  The symbols of Lent reach a minor key climax in Holy Week, only to transpose into the major crescendo of Easter.  Suddenly, everything changes.  Life is restored.  Hope returns.  The life we thought we were living all along, the one where death is the end of it all, wasn’t the true life after all.  Here is something new, and our world can never be the same.  All this time we’ve been travelling through a long dark tunnel, but now we’ve reached the tunnel’s end and have burst out into the light.  Come along for the ride.  Jesus is risen: Hallelujah!

Pastor Scott