Sermon 11.14.2021

Date: Nov. 14, 2021
Scripture Lesson: 2 Timothy 1:5-7, 14
Sermon: Receive the Gift!
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Thanks to the wonderful recommendations of good reads in the LUCC monthly Book Talk, I have recently read The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline. If you want to know more, you can ask Kay about it. In the book, which takes place in the mid 1800’s, one character, Mathinna, is a native person from an island near Australia. Her people are being forcibly removed and relocated and their land seized by the British. That should sound familiar. Mathinna is taken on by the wife of the governor as an experiment in trying to civilize a native.

When the girl arrives at the governor’s house, she is wearing beads that were strung for her by her mother who is now dead. Her father is dead as well. So is her sister. And she has been taken from her step father, from her home, from her land, her people and her culture. All she has left of her life, her self, her past, her heritage is wrapped up in her beads. A gift from her beloved mother. Three strands strung from vivid green mariner shells the size of baby’s teeth. When her mother gave her the beads, she told Mathinna, “Every person you’ve ever cared about, and every place you’ve ever loved, is one of these shells. You’re the thread that ties them together. You carry the people and places you cherish with you. Remember that and you will never be lonely, child.” [pp. 81 82]

When Mathinna gets to the governor’s home, she is relieved of her native possessions. The beads are put into a curio case with other objects collected by the governor’s wife including the skulls of native people. Her mother? Her father? Her sister? Mathinna is taught to read and write. She is fluent in English and French. She is capable in mathematics.

Later in the story, Mathinna is dismissed from the governor’s household, the experiment abandoned. Hazel, a maid on work release from the prison, knows some of Mathinna’s story. Hazel has taken the beads out of the curio cabinet, while dusting perhaps, and she puts them in Mathinna’s pocket as Mathinna is sent away from the governor’s compound. Later in the book, the maid, Hazel, and Mathinna meet at the market. Hazel has her daughter, Ruby, with her. And Mathinna gives one string of the beads to Ruby, telling her, “I watched my mother make this. She used a wallaby tooth to prick these tiny holes, then rubbed the shells with muttonbird oil to make them shiny. . . Just imagine you’re the thread, and the people you love are these shells. And then they’ll always be with you.” [p. 321]

These precious beads are threaded through the book. A gift. Of belonging. Of identity. Of dignity. Of connection. Of beauty. Of love. Something that isn’t recognized by the so-called civilized people in the story but can be seen by the natives, the convicts, the servants. The beads are a gift of significant meaning to be worn, regarded, remembered, honored, cherished, enjoyed. Threaded with love from shells carefully attached and woven together. Like the relationships of meaning in our lives.

So this is the time of year that we reflect, give thanks, remember, in different ways in different settings of our lives including the church. In the church, it’s also stewardship season, a time to think about what the church has meant in our lives and how the church has been a gift to us.

We’ve heard some wonderful testimony about how the church has been a gift. One person credits the church with helping her to clarify her thinking. With all the inputs we get these days and with so much media access, think of how important that is. The church helps to clarify our thinking.

One family in the church explains how it was through the church that they got their family, their friends, and their house. What a gift this faith community has been in their lives!

One member of the church who made a career change from the business world to social service attributes the decision to the church.

I know for many of you this church was an anchor during the last presidential administration, a time when many were reeling and in despair. It was a haven of sanity and hope.

The church has been a source of solace to church members who are dying and those who are grieving giving peace and assurance.

Recently, people have commented about how the church has helped them to get through the covid pandemic. It has been a lifeline of support and connection.

There are so many ways that this church is a gift in our lives.

People in the congregation were given the opportunity to share how the
church has been a gift in their lives. . .

I have been reflecting on this idea – how has LUCC been a gift in my life. I could go on for days about it, but to be brief – I am continually inspired by the people who are part of this faith community. You. By your outlook, strength, commitment to justice, grace in aging, the forgiveness, the life experiences shared. The generosity, the caring, the compassion, the love. The diverse interests. The honesty. And so much more. But I find myself continually inspired by the people of this church family. What a gift!!

I also feel that we receive the gift of theological freedom at this church. Many clergy feel hemmed in by what they can and can’t say to their congregations – maybe because of social norms, or theological assumptions, or political affiliations, or tradition. I do not feel that restriction here and that is a true gift. I don’t have to hem in what I say about the values and witness of the ministry of Jesus and how it relates to the situation we are in today. In many churches, in fact, I would say, in most churches, that is not the case.

Recently I heard about a church in which two retired doctors run a clinic offering medical care to those who don’t have money to pay for healthcare. It is wonderful that there is concern for those who don’t have healthcare. But does the church challenge members to support efforts to change the healthcare system so that everyone has access to care? And what about questioning an economic system, a healthcare system, a political system, a value system, that creates millionaire doctors while many people do not have access to needed healthcare? Oh no. That kind of observation is not welcome in most churches even though it is completely in the spirit of the teachings of Jesus. Here at LUCC, I feel like we can ask those questions. We can challenge those systems.

This relates to another gift of this church – the commitment to justice, to the unconditional worth of each and every person and of the Earth. You don’t find that kind of commitment in many circles, but it is certainly here and it is a gift.

So for me, the gifts I am most appreciative of at LUCC are the people, the intellectual and theological freedom, and the commitment to justice. I feel like LUCC is a growing medium, like soil, in which we can grow and thrive and bear fruit. We are being cultivated to live out the love, justice and compassion that we find in the ministry of Jesus. In this community, in the the rituals and the theology, we find spiritual support for life’s journey as we seek to do good in the world.

In the verses we heard from Timothy, this church leader is being given encouragement because it is needed. He, too, is in a setting in which gospel values are not dominant, not readily accepted. In fact, the wider culture can even be seen as hostile to the way of Jesus. We know what that is like. And it takes its toll. It is easy to lose heart. But the writer reminds Timothy, that faith has been given to him as a gift by those who have come before him. And he is to fan the flame of that gift, keep it lively and strong. We, too, need support to maintain our faith. To stay strong in the way of Jesus. Especially given the world around us.

To follow Jesus, to be a person of faith, means living in a reality that is fundamentally different from the world around us. We live in a society that is hostile to the values of justice, equity, compassion, and care for the Earth. All of that takes a backseat to market driven capitalism which is based on ownership of private property, consumption, the monetization of labor, and the extractive economy. Capitalism prioritizes individual rights to wealth over community needs.

This is in drastic contrast to the reality of Christianity which begins with the concept of gift. Creation – a gift. Life – a gift. Loving relationships – a gift. Skills and talents -gifts. Jesus – a gift. Divine Love – a gift. OUR reality starts with what we are given. And we go on to what we do with those gifts. But we start with what we are given.

The society around us starts with what you own, what you have, what you have earned, or made, or done. From that comes what is deserved. What one is entitled to. The value of a person is based on what they have acquired. It’s all dependent, supposedly, on the individual.

This is fundamentally different from starting with what one has been given. With faith, it all starts with the generosity of God and what we have been given, entrusted with. And then cultivating generosity and community based on what has been given. Sharing the gifts. Distributing the gifts. This is the way of Jesus.

The church reminds us of the gifts that we are receiving – the gifts of faith, of life, of access to resources, of relationships, of love. And then encourages us to find life and joy in sharing and living with generosity. The church has been given to us, thanks to those who have gone before us – our mothers and grandmothers, our forbears, Timothy, Jesus, and the ancestors of the Jewish faith. All of it given to us to enrich our lives, to make us whole, to heal the world.

Now, what do we do with a gift? Well, if it is a white elephant from some kind of crazy gift exchange, it might sit on the back of a shelf in a dark closet. Ignored. Neglected. Until it is donated to a thrift store. Or recycled. Or pitched. We can all probably think of things like that. If it’s something really monetarily valuable that we don’t want, well, that’s more complicated.

In contrast, think of a gift that we cherish. Like Mathinna’s beads. Something important to us because of the giver, of the meaning of the gift, or the importance of the thing itself to us. If it is a significant gift in some way, then, we wear it, we use it, we care for it, we maintain it, we tend to it, we share it, we enjoy it, we put it in a place of honor. With a gift that is cherished, that is meaningful to us, we take care of it.

Can you think of a gift like that? Something really significant to you?

Well, we are here because Lakewood United Church of Christ is a gift in our lives. It has been given to us. The church undergirds our reality. Grounds us in love not consumption or ownership or greed. It fosters the importance of service, compassion, and generosity for our well being and for the good of the world. It extricates us from the glorification of wealth and the monetizing of the value of a human being that imbues the society around us. In this church we find reverence for creation and appreciation for the gift of nature. Here we find friends, community, social and spiritual support. In so many ways, this church is a gift. It has been provided for us by those who have gone before us. Thanks to their faithfulness and generosity, this faith community is here for us. And, as with a precious gift, it is now for us to express our gratitude by being guardians of this congregation so that it can be a gift to generations to come. We are the guardians of this “rich deposit of faith” as Timothy puts it. We are entrusted with sustaining the church through our involvement, through relationships, through participation and service, and with our financial contributions. You may even find that the church has far more value and meaning to you as you increase your connectedness to the church.

Like the beads so precious to Mathinna, the church is a gift in our lives reminding us that we are loved, that we belong, that we are connected, that we are part of a community of caring and meaning.

The church is truly a gift in our lives that helps us not only to see the many other gifts of our lives, but that offers us a reality based in gift and gratitude and generosity. As Timothy puts it this gift we are given not a gift characterized by timidity. No. It is a gift of power, of love, and of self discipline. A rich deposit of faith given to us. May we receive and cherish the gift. And may we reflect the generosity of the Giver. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

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