This sermon was preached by Rev. Jill Sander-Chali on June 1, 2014, at University United Methodist Church.
O God, in the stillness, come meet us. Amen.
“Those who are generous are blessed for they share their bread with the poor.” This is the reading from Proverbs 22:9. Simple, short, sweet. Not so easy to understand!
I have to confess this morning that at some point in my seminary career, it really started bothering me that Christian mission and service was being defined as serving the poor. At first it sounded attractive, almost sexy, like something every good Christian should be doing. It started bothering me when I realized that it makes it sound like you must be rich—wealthy with stuff—in order to be a good Christian.
There are two assumptions revealed by this proverb that bother me. One is that it is only the people in the middle to upper-class church who are truly the church because of the things and money they give to “the poor.” The flip-side of that same assumption is that if you are poor financially, you don’t have anything to give and therefore, you are in need of my goodhearted Christian benevolence.
During seminary, I volunteered and worshiped with a Spanish-speaking church in west Dallas. The church serves those who society would likely deem “poor.” Wait, let me correct that. The church is made up of, composed of, the congregation is filled with those who society would likely deem “poor.”
I was attracted to that congregation in part because I wanted to serve the poor. And I did use my gifts for ministry there. The congregation and pastor were generous enough to let me practice my Spanish and preach occasionally, I led children’s Sunday School, and the recreation time during their afterschool program.
But I was not the only person there who gave, who shared, who served others. I could tell you about Maria who volunteered to run the afterschool program, purchased and prepared snacks, organized all the tutors and volunteers, and enrolled all the children. I could tell you about Sylvia who as an elementary student, learned to play the keyboard for the praise band. I could tell you about Rosanna who volunteered to clean the space the church used every week. I could tell you about Jose who volunteered to coach youth soccer and how it ended up they had so many kids who signed up they needed to make more teams and find more coaches.
I never cooked a meal for any of the church members and never invited them to my home; yet dozens of them welcomed me into their living rooms, kitchens, and backyards with chiles rellenos, fried napalitos, homemade tortillas, and more. They invited me for birthday parties, quincineras, and barbecues.
I might have started out with an intention to “share my bread with the poor” but in actuality, we all shared bread with one another. In fact, they literally shared more bread with me than I did with them!
Proverbs is known to be a book of wisdom. And it is. In many ways wisdom transcends cultural bias. However, Proverbs was also written in a specific cultural context and time period. At this time, the worldview of author of Proverbs divides everyone into categories of rich and poor. Being rich was seen as a sign of divine favor from God. Being poor was seen as a punishment from God.
Time and experience tell me that this is simply not true.
There are other passages in scripture that imply that being rich will prevent you from entering the kingdom of God because it belongs to those who are poor.
Time and experience tell me that is not true either.
The United Methodist Church has a new initiative called “Ministry With*” It’s not a perfect initiative, but it challenges us as a corporate church to move away from understanding mission as something that people with stuff do to or for people without stuff. It challenges us to see people as people, no matter how many material possessions or financial wealth one possesses. It reminds us that it is unlikely that anyone considers themselves “the poor.” It also challenges us to see God’s mission as something that we all participate in together. (Read more about their mission and see a great video on who it is we serve at the Ministry With* website!)
Being generous is what blesses you. Period. Being with others is what blesses you.
I think that underneath the layers of cultural bias, that is the timeless and eternal message of the proverb.
Being generous is what blesses you. Being with others is what blesses you.
And we can all be generous. We can all be with others.
Generosity is a gift and a blessing even for those who share with those who are rich. You see, giving is not reserved for those who have a lot. There are many ways that we give. There are people who don’t have money or stuff, but give their time to be with those who have money but are lonely.
Could we come up with our own ways to complete this sentence?
Those who are generous are blessed for they…
· Share their bread with the rich!
· Share the gift of presence.
· Show Christ’s love by volunteering.
· Trim other people’s bushes.
· Pull weeds at a neighbor’s house.
· Give money for scholarships.
· Make tortillas for young seminary students.
· Are good stewards of God’s resources.
· Understand the importance of sharing.
· Take care of others and not just themselves.
How would you finish that sentence?
Take a few moments to pray and consider that question and then write it down on your bulletin.
This morning is the culmination of our first ever spring stewardship focus. We have been talking about our vision and listening to the reflections of our members about how we can live into our vision and make it a reality.
Our vision is to grow as a church where people of all cultures, all nations, and all ages can come together to love and serve God and neighbor.
Two of the most important words in that vision statement for me are “come together.” We are not trying to create a church that is full of all the fortunate people who then go out to serve the less fortunate ones. We are trying to create a church where all of us come together to love and serve God and neighbor.
Your gifts support the missions and ministries that make the vision come to life. We could not be a church that comes together to then go out and serve others without you!
Today, you are invited to make a pledge of a financial gift to support UUMC in the coming fiscal year that begins on September 1. I encourage you to think about that as a spiritual discipline that cultivates generosity in your life. Give intentionally. Think about your financial resources and how you use them. What percentage of your income can you give to the church for God’s work in the world? How does that translate into a number that can be useful to the finance team when they are crafting a budget for income and expenses for next fiscal year?
This season of stewardship is a reminder, not only about generosity, but also about how we are to approach God. It’s not about the shows we put on; it’s not about bringing the most stuff to the altar; it’s about the attitude with which we approach God and live life. It’s about sharing.
With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8)
To achieve our vision, to be the church, we must embrace the gift of sharing and humbly acknowledge that we are different, yet also embrace the opportunity for us to unite through the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is this Spirit that helps us work for justice and practice peace in our community, throughout the world, and for all creation. It is this Spirit that enables us to form relationships that transform us from the inside out! It is this Spirit that unites us and makes us one body, one people, one church!
Copyright 2014 by Rev. Jill Sander-Chali