Rev. Martha Jacobs
An Abundance of Blessings – Helping to Build God’s Kingdom
Psalm 98, Isaiah 65:17-25
Sunday, November 13, 2016
When I was a child, I received an allowance. It was ostensibly for doing certain chores around the house. If I did them and didn’t make my parents remind me too many times to do them, I was rewarded. At about age 4, I got 50 cents – which was given to me in dimes – 5 dimes, which my dad would count into my outstretched hand. This was done at the kitchen table and I can remember the 4 of us lining up, each getting varying amounts, depending on our age and whether or not we had completed our chores in an appropriate manner. My brother almost always argued with my dad as to whether or not he had done his chores properly, and my dad seemed to be fair about it. But, there was always the chance that we messed up.
When I got my 5 dimes, I knew that I would not be keeping one of them. One would go into a blue metal box that was on the table. Every week, one dime and, as I got a little older, one quarter, would go into that box. And, so I learned the concept of Tzedakah. A Tzedakah box is a receptacle for collecting money that is designated for charity. The Hebrew word Tzedakah comes from the root tzedek, meaning justice. I was taught at a very early age that giving money and resources to those in need was understood to be an act of justice. And, as I got older, it was expected that 10% of whatever I earned, whether it be from babysitting or from my allowance, was to be set aside for someone who had less than I had. And, while my parents were not well off, looking back, I felt like we had an abundance of blessings in our home. I think that was because, even at that early age, I knew I was making a difference. I was helping someone else.
This past week has been a difficult one – for our country and for many of us, who have been trying to understand how someone with such hateful rhetoric could up-end our country, which has prided itself on welcoming all and treating our neighbor with respect, if not with love. The letter from the UCC leadership that is included in your bulletin today, helped me a great deal to put into perspective what we need to do in order to continue to be the hands and feet of God in times of change and in times of fear and in times of disquietude.
On a personal note, I have been deeply touched by those who have reached out to me to let me know of your concern for how the actions of the new administration might affect Pat and me. It remains to be seen, but I strongly believe in God and know that with God, all things are possible, even the seemingly impossible – even if I don’t know or can’t see what might be ahead. And so, I remain ever hopeful.
The people to whom Isaiah was prophesizing were not hopeful. They lived lives far different from ours. And yet, perhaps they were not so different. They had just returned from exile. They were a divided group and somewhat cynical about their prospects, which some of us can relate to right now. There is hardship in the land all around them and their lives are difficult. And, similar to us, they are trying to pursue new venues of comfort and help. Isaiah is bringing them hope, helping to keep their hope alive as he tells them that God is doing a new thing. It is a vision about the possibilities of the present as well as being about the hopes for the future. We too are in need of that vision.
It is remarkable that part of this reading includes these words: “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Isaiah was telling the people that they would need to return to God because in exile, they had turned their backs to God and followed in their own way. If they were to start anew, then they would need to put aside their prior ways. And, as one theologian noted, “as the new reality breaks in, it will turn the world and all of its known dynamics upside down.”
Well, if Isaiah is speaking to us today through this phrase, then we need to try to start anew with our country’s new administration, a hard as that might be to consider right now. We too need to return to God anew, knowing that God’s promises are not empty nor idle. They are real and as shown through the work of Jesus, they can and do make a difference.
For us, Jesus embodies hope. His life provided a whole new framework for understanding Isaiah’s prophesy. His radical inclusiveness, his model for claiming power through non-violent action and his ministry of presence reveal a love from God that was needed then and is needed now. Isaiah describes a radical transformation of living conditions in the New Jerusalem, including low infant mortality, housing and food for all citizens, and long-term employment, which were of primary importance to his hearers.
While we may not be able to understand how God will make all of this happen, even in our own time, what we can do is follow the pattern that Jesus set, by helping one person at a time: providing a food card for a first grader and his family, a tank of gas for someone else, baby clothing and other items for a pregnant woman, a copay for medication for someone who can’t afford it otherwise, a safe space for someone in need. These are things that are of primary importance to hearers of Isaiah’s words today.
These are our responses to God’s grace and love for us. Despite what we might do that is not in our own best interests or in the interests of those most in need, God still loves us and knows that we are doing the best that we can to help build God’s Kingdom here on earth. That is the Kingdom about which Isaiah wrote – one where children will not go hungry. One where peace prevails and one where we reach out to help each other, as I watch members of our congregation do all the time. I am so inspired by each one of you as you deal not only with whatever befalls you in your own life, but you also have a generosity of spirit that I see reflecting the face of God in each of you. God continues to do new things through our collaborations! And our gratitude flows from the recognition that what we are and what we have are gifts to be received and then shared with those who are in need and are the least of these.
Dear ones, even a seemingly small act of generosity can grow into something far beyond what we could ever ask or imagine. We are a community of love, and wherever love grows, it is stronger than death, as we have been told in 1 Corinthians. So, when we give ourselves to planting and nurturing love here on earth, our efforts will reach out beyond our own chronological existence. Indeed, if we raise funds for the ongoing work of this community of love, we are helping to build the kingdom. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing as Christians. Our community is one of the greatest things we have to offer. We offer friendship, prayer, peace, love, affection, ministry with those in need. Friends these are things that are priceless, as I wrote in my last Carillon article. And we offer them freely here.
As I said last Sunday, I am so awed by each one of you. You are the reason that I am here serving with you. You are the reason that, when someone asks me how I have the energy to do what I do, I can honestly say, “I am just fine” because I know that we are in this together. Together we can and do affect the lives of people. That dime that I put in the Tzedakah box every week, taught me that, what matters more is that we do justice, that we help others. That is what love in this community embodies – helping each other and those in need both near and far.
I so truly believe with all my heart in the vision of this church and in our work together to build God’s Kingdom here on earth. We provide that safe space, that sanctuary, where, amazingly, people have found us, even though we are off the beaten path. Those who have needs and those who have the ability to help those in need find their way to this beacon on the hill. This place where God calls us to give of our time, our talents and our resources. Where we provide hope to those who feel forgotten, left out, unaccepted by others – we welcome them to our table with open arms and open hearts.
Last Sunday, we talked about how meaning is more important than being happy, in terms of how we value our lives. We are the “Givers” – as we reach out to those who are in need and we give from our hearts as best we are able. And one by one, we are making that difference, we are building God’s Kingdom here on earth out of our abundance of blessings.
Today, I pray that you will be able to offer to our church as much of your resources as you are able, so that we can continue to do what we have been doing – no, not continue to do what we are doing, but do more than we are doing. The needs of those who are the least of these will continue and are likely to increase over the next several years. And, we here at FCC will continue to strive to build God’s kingdom because we have an abundance of blessings and we know what it feels like to be able to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, helping those who are the least of these and welcoming all to our table, where blessings abound.
Parts of this sermon were inspired by: Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).