"Giving: the Path to Peace"
What makes the Christmas season, and especially Christmas day, so exciting for young children? Isn't it getting all those wonderful gifts? Hopefully, as children get older, they come to appreciate the joy of giving. But until then, the joy of Christmas is 'wrapped up' (ha!) in all the getting that takes place on Christmas morning.
What's are the first questions kids ask each other in the days after Christmas? "What did you get?" or "Wanna know what I got from Santa?" Let's be honest, the whole purpose of standing in a long line in order to spend a few minutes sitting on 'ol Chris Kringle's lap is to let him know what you want for Christmas!
If Christmas morning in and of itself wasn't enough to generate excitement and mind-numbing anticipation for my brother and me when we were young, my parents actually figured out a way to increase our excitement and anticipation. On Christmas morning, the rule in our house was that we weren't allowed to go downstairs when we woke up. We had to wake Mom and Dad up, and then they'd go downstairs and check things out while sat on the top step of the stairway. At some point, we'd hear Mom or Dad loudly proclaim, "Oh, my goodness! Look what Santa brought! Honey, come take a look at this. The boys are gonna love it!" And then they'd fawn all over another gift while we sat up there losing our minds with excitement. (I'm pretty sure we could find a child psychologist who'd be willing to testify under oath that my parents' Christmas morning antics amounted to some level of child abuse!) Once they gave us the go-ahead, we practically fell over each other racing down the stairs to get to the family room where we quickly discovered all the treasures Santa left for us that night before.
Now, who do you think had the greater joy on those Christmas mornings, my brother and me in opening up all our gifts, or my parents in watching us excitedly open our gifts? As a young boy, I would have said it was my brother and me. What could be better than getting all that great stuff? But now, as a parent who's been "wearing the shoe on the other foot" for many years, I'd have to say that the joy we get from giving Rachel her Christmas gifts matches what she's feeling when she gets them. Wouldn't you agree?
Here's a question, and it's not a trick question. What event took place on the very first ever "Christmas"? (Answer: Jesus was born; God came into our world in human flesh) Concerning his birth, it's not uncommon to refer to it as a "gift." We can acknowledge the fact that Christ's coming into our world was for our human benefit. God didn't send his Son to us for his own sake, nor for Jesus' benefit. It was for our benefit, and as such his birth was a gift to us. And, more to the point, Jesus himself was the gift to us.
The answer may seem obvious to some, but what makes his birth and, ultimately, the person of Jesus a gift to us? The answer: taken together, his life, death, and resurrection were the means of healing and restoring humanity’s broken relationship with God. And it's a gift because this is something we can't make happen on our own.
The Christian faith has come to understand the story of creation and, in particular, the story of God’s people, as one of good news, bad news, and good news.
First, the good news. In the economy of God, the original outcome of creation was as described in Genesis 1 was life and whole relationships. Over and over, Genesis 1 describes each stage of creation as good and God blessed it. To use modern jargon, there was perfect harmony between all aspects of creation: between humanity and the land; between humanity and God; between animals; and so forth. In the beginning there was no death and no decay, and our relationship with God was one of wholeness and well-being. Theologians call this the Original Blessing. That was the good news.
The bad news was that the Original Blessing came to an end when sin entered the picture through the act of willful disobedience on the part of our “original parents.” This resulted in the emergence of death and decay throughout all aspects of creation, including the “death” of our good, intimate relationship with our Creator. Our good relationship with God was broken on account of sin, and the Christian witness is that every person enters this world spiritually separated from God. That’s the bad news.
But by God’s grace, the story of creation and, ultimately, the story of God’s people, doesn’t end with bad news. The good news is that despite our being separated from God, and therefore spiritually dead, and despite our inability to make it better, God took the initiative and made a way for our relationship to be healed and restored. God’s plan of redemption was to send his Son into our world and live the life we couldn’t; then bear in himself the cost of our sinfulness by going to the cross. Doing this would be the path to life again, where our relationship with God would be restored and made whole. Jesus confirmed this purpose of his when he told his followers, “I came so that [you] could have life—indeed, so that you could live life to the fullest” (John 10:10). And then the Father dealt the final blow to death by resurrecting Jesus in the flesh, after which he returned to his heavenly glory where he sits at the Father’s right hand today. That’s the second good news.
All who receive the work of Christ and are willing to apply his saving work to their own lives have passed from death to life. That’s what God’s Word tells us (see 1 Corinthians 5:3). And that’s what makes Jesus’ coming and his life a gift to us. We are the beneficiaries of his work of redemption. But not just us. When Christ returns—as Scripture attests will happen—all creation will be redeemed. All that is now subject to death and decay will be transformed, and the life and goodness and wholeness of the Original Blessing will be restored. In other words, all of creation will be restored to the glorious state of the Original Blessing. It’s a gift to the whole of creation!
Do we celebrate this gift? Is it a gift that brings us joy? Absolutely! Is it a gift for which we're thankful? You bet! But have you ever considered the idea that as much joy as we receive on account of Christ’s work of redemption, it gives the Father even greater joy to give it to us? In my 54 years of getting gifts and giving gifts, it’s been my experience that I feel greater, and certainly deeper, joy when I’m giving! How about you?
I’m not sure I can offer proof of what I’m about to say, but I believe that one important facet of the Original Blessing which wasn’t fully lost in the Fall is experiencing a greater blessing when we give than when we get. I believe that actuality is built into our spiritual DNA. I know that everyone—Christians and non-Christians alike—can and do experience this aspect of our humanity. But one of the things that people who come to faith in Christ as an adult will tell you is that their joy in giving increased with their newfound faith in Christ. In fact, that’s one of the marks of discipleship—finding increased joy in giving.
This could be the point the Apostle Paul was trying to make when he quoted Jesus’ statement, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We usually hear that statement to mean that it’s considered innately better to give than to receive; or that it's a holier thing to give; or that giving ranks as spiritually higher; or that giving makes God happier; or even that giving somehow makes us more holy in God's eyes. But maybe that's a wrong interpretation. Maybe Paul’s point was simply that we experience a greater blessing, or joy, from giving than from receiving.
Now, lest you think that I’m mostly today talking about the joy that comes from the giving away our money, let me direct your thinking elsewhere. A few moments ago Scott read aloud the first seven verses of Philippians chapter 4. It’s not evident within these particular verses, but one of the issues Paul addressed in his letter to the Christians in Philippi was the persecution they were experiencing. Going back to chapter 1, here’s what he tells them. “Above all, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ….Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (1:27-29). This reference to their ‘suffering’ was his way of naming the persecution they were experiencing on account of their faith in Jesus. And when he told them to “conduct [themselves] in a manner worthy of the Good News,” that was his way of encouraging them to face their persecutors in the same manner Jesus faced his executioners—with grace and love and forgiveness.
One of the main themes of the entire letter is joy. In fact, the word “joy” in its various forms occurs around 16 times. So, one of Paul’s main hopes in writing to them is that they might experience the deep joy that God gives his children, even when they’re experiencing hardship. That’s why he says (in the section Scott read), “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). The version Scott read says, “Be glad in the Lord.” Rejoice when? Be glad when? Always! Why? Because “the Lord is near” (v. 5). And so, in the midst of hardship, when anxieties are usually the highest, he says “bring up all your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks” (v. 6). In these few verses, Paul’s admonition to us is to express our gladness by giving our thanks to God for the joy he gives us through Jesus Christ.
To what end? V. 7: “Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep you hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”
Maybe it’s oversimplifying what Paul’s saying, but it seems to me he’s telling us that giving thanks to God produces peace of heart and mind. Giving God our thanks results in inner peace. Put another way, we receive great joy and peace when we “give away” to God our gratitude.
Let me say this as clearly as possible. In the economy of God, spiritual and emotional peace often come to us when we “give” ourselves over to God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And ultimately, that’s really the only thing God wants from us. His greatest desire is to be in a loving relationship with each one of us. And to make this possible, he gave his Son Jesus Christ for us, and invites us to give ourselves to him.
In the words of John the Evangelist, "God loved the world so much that he gave us his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not die, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Are you grateful for the life you have in Jesus Christ? Then let me encourage you to express your gratitude to God. Give thanks to God! And then let Gods peace and joy overflow into your heart and mind.
So, with that said, I will say this: this truth, that God created us in such a way that we experience the greatest blessing when we give of ourselves, is certain applicable to our financial giving. If I knew you well enough, I would have liked to have asked someone who's financial support of this church has steadily increased through the years to stand up here and share with you their personal experience of how their attitude of giving has shifted, and how their decision to increase their support over time reflects their growing faith. And that's really the heart of the messages of these stewardship sermons. Giving is a spiritual matter. Giving a spiritual practice. The manner in which we give, and to a degree, the level of our giving (money and otherwise) is a reflection of where we are spiritually. I want to be very clear that when I encourage you to give, and yes, to give generously, I do so not for my sake or the sake of meeting this church's budget. But really, for your own sake. Because in the end it's a spiritual matter. My hope is that whatever financial support you choose to make for 2021, it will reflect the gratitude you have for the gift of Jesus Christ and the life he's given you.
November 8, 2020 Bulletin
Important Note to the Congregation
Welcome back! It is good to be together again, isn’t it? While it feels good to worship alongside friends once again, it is important to remember that things will not be “normal” for quite some time. Until then, we appreciate your patience and willingness to “roll with the punches.” Because your well-being is our #1 commitment, the following COVID-19 safety protocols have been implemented for our Sunday worship.
Attendance is limited to a maximum of 50 worshipers at any given service. If we find we need to add another service, we will do so.
Worshipers are required to “Savior Seat” (save your seat) during the week leading up to the service. This can be done either online (www.phfumc.org) or by calling the church office.
Every person attending the indoors in-person worship is required to wear a face covering/mask. The church will provide a disposable facemask for anyone who does not have one.
Upon entering the building, everyone will be asked to sanitize their hands, after which they will be directed to one of the outside aisles for immediate seating.
Seating is in every third pew (2 empty pews between). Ushers will direct worshipers to their pew, beginning at the front and working their way towards the rear of sanctuary. You may or may not end up in your ‘usual’ pew😊.
Non-family members are asked to keep at least 6 feet of distance from others in the same pew.
Until group singing is considered safe, worship will not include congregational singing.
The narthex restrooms are open and may be utilized by one person at a time. The sign on the door will indicate if the restroom is available or in use.
At the close of worship, worshipers will be guided out of the sanctuary beginning in the back and working forward.
Upon dismissal, worshipers are asked to immediately exit the building. Socializing (wearing masks, of course!) is encouraged to take place in the parking lot!
*Call to Worship Scott Crawford
L: Praise God who hears our prayers and our petitions.
P: God has richly blessed us!
L: What shall we return to the Lord for all the good things he has given us?
P: We will pay our vows to the Lord in the presence of the congregation.
L: We will lift up the cup of salvation.
P: We will call on the name of the Lord and worship God.
Hymn “Rejoice, the Lord Is King” UMH 715
1. Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
mortals, give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; rejoice; again I say, rejoice.
2. Jesus the Savior reigns, the God of truth and love;
when he had purged our stains, he took his seat above.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; rejoice; again I say, rejoice.
3. His kingdom cannot fail; he rules o'er earth and heaven;
the keys of earth and hell are to our Jesus given.
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; rejoice; again I say, rejoice.
4. Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
and take his servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th'archangel's voice; the trump of God shall sound, rejoice!
Congregational Prayer of Praise
Lord, we have trusted in your faithful love and our hearts rejoice in your salvation. Today, our hearts will sing songs of praise to you because you have been good to us. Jesus, you are our Good Shepherd, and you laid down your life for us that we might live. In gratitude for your precious gift to us, we choose to 'sacrifice' something important of ourselves for the benefit of others. Bless our worship with your holy and transforming presence. Through Christ we pray. Amen.
Welcome and Announcements
Invitation to Give and Offertory “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” Steve Grattan, Tom Norager, Cathy Grattan, Pearl Swanson
Almighty God, you call us into service and equip us with strength and talent equal to our tasks. We bring to you now the results of our labors. Use these funds and our pledges of time and talent to continue your ministry in this community and in our world. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Scripture Readings Scott Crawford
1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and miss, who are my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord.
Loved ones, 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to come to an agreement in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I’m also asking you, loyal friend, to help these women who have struggled together with me in the ministry of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the scroll of life.
4 Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! 5 Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. 6 Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. 7 Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
Message “Giving: the Path to Peace”
Pastoral Prayer and Lord's Prayer
Hymn “Cry of My Heart” TFWS 2165
It is the cry of my heart to follow you. It is the cry of my heart to be close to you.
It is the cry of my heart to follow all the days of my life.
1. Teach me your holy ways, O Lord, so I can walk in your truth.
Teach me your holy ways, O Lord, and make me wholly devoted to you.
2. Open my eyes so I can see the wonderful things that you do.
Open my heart up more and more, and make me wholly devoted to you.
*Benediction “Peace Be With You” Steve Grattan, Tom Norager, Cathy Grattan, Pearl Swanson
By Mary McDonald