By Dr. Heather Entrekin
Last week, I had an unusual experience at the car wash. I dashed over, with Poke, got the car in the queue, went into the waiting room and everything stopped. Looked like a few of the car washers hadn’t shown up for duty so they had way more cars than car cleaners. We got to sit in the waiting room quite a long time. Most of the crowd waited outside, but a very nice man, probably in his late 30s, early 40s, was waiting inside with us. He talked on his cell phone a little while. He talked to Poke a little while. And then he said to me, “How long have you been married?” I told him, “Eighteen years.” And then I thought, well, I should reciprocate so I said, “How long have you been married?” He said, “Twenty-two years.”
Usually the right response would be, “Congratulations!” but it didn’t seem like the right response so I said, “How come you asked me that?” And he said, “I want to know the secret.” So we talked about marriage and the struggle of it but after a while the kid drying my car waved his rag and I had to go. But before I left I invited the man with the broken marriage to church — this church, or some church, because church, when it is really church, is a place where broken people come to be made whole, the empty come to be filled. This is where you learn the secret.
I invited him to church because I believe the story that John tells about the wedding feast in Cana is true, and that party is going on here. And there’s a place at the party for the ones who come broken.
Did you notice that the story begins with, “On the third day?” This is no accident. When early Christians heard those words they remembered another story that began, “On thethird day” — a resurrection story. On the third day, the women went to the tomb, full of death and despair and found life instead! John begins his story of Jesus with the same kind of miracle at party as if to say — here’s what’s coming. When you think you’ve run out, when all is lost, look again. Jesus is here. The cup is not half empty. It is not even just half full. The cup Jesus offers is filled to the brim and overflowing and he wants to give it to you. (Psalm 23: You prepare a table before me. My cup overflows.)
But like even Mary, we miss the abundance of God. Mary sees is what is lacking. Jesus’ question, “What concern is that to you and me?” says he sees the world with different eyes. She is concerned about earthly matters, measures by human economy, but Jesus sees and acts from God’s generous heart. This extravagance, abundance are signs of salvation, according to John. When you see it you know that God is there.
So I invited a man with a broken marriage to church because I see God’s abundance here and a person, a marriage can be healed in a place like this. Where are signs of God overflowing? In many healthy marriages, including some that have lasted or approach 60 years! Not every marriage perfect — God’s grace in small groups and friendships and staff where there is help and loving care and accountability.
A most obvious sign of God’s generosity is our generosity when we give. Next week on Consecration Sunday, we will make known our giving intentions for the coming year – our giving will be
our thank you to God for abundant blessings
our way of welcoming, helping broken ones
our way of becoming more fully human, God’s people.
A Consecration Committee, a 7 person team, has been working toward this day for months, including weekly meetings recently. It includes Jonathan Stepp, a high school student who spoke this morning. You might think a Consecration Committee sounds dull but it is not. It overflows with creativity and laughter and hope that our church will grow in our giving as never before. We had phone calls to make last week. For each name our chair, Bruce Morgan, called out, 2 or 3 people volunteered to call. “I’ll do it.” “No, let me!” Prayer surrounds each meeting.
If you think that giving is not related to spiritual growth, note that the word believe appears in the Bible 273 times, pray 371 times and love 714 times, but the word give appears 2,172 times. Jesus’ teaching about money and possessions is second only in number to his teaching about the kingdom of God.
But a church that wants to thrive doesn’t just talk about the secret of abundant life, we live it. Giving helps us grow more fully into the way and the will of God.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Keep up the good work. I use your material weekly. Last Sunday I completely drew a blank (a first for me). I used your sermon with some additions to make it relevant to my congregation. A young man (mid- twenties?) who was visiting told me that it was exactly what he needed to hear. So, on his behalf, thank you!”
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So, each of us asks the question, “What is God calling me to give as a percentage of my income?” This is a personal, spiritual question and it has different answers for all of us.
Some answer by saying, “I think God is calling me to give 10 percent of my income. I’ve been thinking about tithing for several years and I’m ready to start this year.” A few years ago, Peter and I were in that place.
Some may say, “Eventually I want to begin tithing, but I am not ready this year. I feel that God is calling me to start somewhere – to drive my tent pegs in the ground at 5% or 6% or 4%. I pray and hope that God will bless and grow my giving over the years.”
A third kind of person has been tithing for years. Income has grown enough that 10% is no longer a sacrifice for them. Forbes magazine tells about Hugh and Nancy McFarland, Jr., who have been giving away 70 percent of their income for 18 years, since Hugh was 39 (December 15, 1977). Should their pastor say a tithe is 10% and that’s it? Probably not.
Last year, an elementary student pledged $40. He does not have a job. His gift came from gifts given to him through the year, well over 10%.
And some of us may say, “I am empty today,” and receive the generosity of God through the gifts of others. – And know that one’s worth and welcome and belonging in this congregation are never measured in dollars.
All together, our generosity can overflow this place — a sure sign for every broken heart and every thankful, hopeful one. The party is here. God is in this place. Come.