Message by Pastor Pokora – Nov. 8 – 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give alms.” We might respond, we are levelheaded American and pragmatic, when it comes to money. So, if you tell us to sell our possessions and give money away, it should be worth it. Show us what we receive for our gifts.

The months of October and November are typically a time for a stewardship emphasis in the Lutheran Church and so it is here at All Saints Lutheran Church in Davenport. It’s a time we reflect on what we shall offer in terms of both our time and contributions to support the mission and ministry of this congregation and the broader church work.

Once I attended a fund-raising dinner for a congregation that helped teenage girls who had little in terms of job skills or education. The speaker gave a talk on the program’s financial numbers and program goals. After the presentation, a man sitting in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “This is good information, but you’ve got to paint a picture; tell us a story. We need to about a young woman whose life has been transformed by your work. We need to see the human face of the problem before we give anything. We want to know what our money will accomplish.

When we contribute money to a worthwhile cause, we want to be sure the money counts. We’re careful. We may even research how much money goes to the organizations overhead, how much goes to the fund-raising consultant and how much actually helps someone. The project must have merit.

Most of us are pragmatist. If we decide to sell and give, as Jesus asks us to do, we want to be good stewards. We want to make sure we build God’s kingdom here on earth.

Jesus probably disappoints the pragmatists in his midst. His vision has no obvious end. He doesn’t give us a slick brochure to show what will be accomplished by our contribution. Giving almost seems to have no discernable project to support.

The words of Jesus in our Gospel are part of a passage that encourages us to be watchful and ready for the Son of Man’s unpredictable return. They provide a conclusion to Jesus’ well known words about being free from worry, where he says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or your body, or what you will hear. He reminds us of the ravens and the lilies and the grass, by saying, “If all these are under God’s care so are you. Stop striving and anxiously seeking things. Seek God’s kingdom and the rest will come. Finally, he concludes, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good please to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms.”

Jesus calls us to seek God’s kingdom and receive it. God wants to give us his kingdom God will give us a kingdom no money can buy or build.  Our response is to offer what we have.

Let me tell you a story. In her book, Traveling Mercies, the author Anne Lamont, who is white, tells about a time she attended an African American Presbyterian church in Marin County, California. She was broke, an alcoholic, single and pregnant. “When I was at the end of my rope,” she wrote, the people of St. Andrew tied a knot for me and helped me hold on.” When she announced she was pregnant, the congregation her on; and immediately began giving her things. Food, clothing and most assuredly the baby was going to be part of their church family.

They also began to slip her money. She wrote how many older women, who lived on small social security checks, would sidle up next to her and stuff dollar bills in her pocket. “It was always done so stealthily, she wrote, that you have thought they were slipping me drugs.” One woman in her mid-eighties, donated regularly and gave her baggies full of dimes.

Lamott needed the money. She eventually got over her embarrassment at receiving and learned to say thank you. What she found remarkable, many years later, is that, despite the fact her financial situation changed, Mary Williams still brought her baggies of dimes, slipping them discreetly into her pockets, even though she didn’t need the money anymore and even though Mary Williams could use the money herself. Anne Lamott often now gives money away or leaves the bags around her house to remind her of what giving really looks like in a church motivated by love of others.

This story reminds us giving has no end. We sell our possessions and give alms, as Jesus asks. We are not fulfilling a vision, build a kingdom, saving a soul. We act in respond to God’s gracious gifts to each of us. It’s God’s way of life. We reflect God’s grace.

This life Jesus tells us not to worry about is the same one he tells us we need to let loose to discover real life. We let go of the lives we fearfully protect and hold onto to receive the abundant, deep life that is life in God. The life that is God’s good pleasure to give s. It’s hard to imagine letting go of ourselves, when we cling anxiously to our things and money. Letting go has a more profound end. We loosen our grip on possessions and life itself to receive the gift of God’s real life. We are after all children of the resurrection and that resurrection power envelopes us both now and in the future. Transforming us into God’s children.

I have a picture of St. Francis of Assisi in my office. St Francis was praying once in church when he received a vision from Jesus. Jesus said in the vision, “Francis, do you see my house is in ruins. Go and restore it for me. Francis took these words literally. Francis took these words literally, stole bolts of cloth from his father, who was a wealthy fabric merchant, sold the cloth and used the proceeds to repair the church building. His father was not at all happy about what Francis did. The local bishop instructed Francis to repay his father. Francis restored to his father not only the money, but even gave his father back the clothes he wore.

He gave up his possessions, He gave his money away. But he gave more than that. He gave his life but gained something far greater in return. He gained true life; the life God offered. Stewardship, therefore, concerns more than money. It is our response to God’s gracious gifts. We give because God gives much to us. We receive God’s transforming grace thru which we are changed and become his good stewards in this world, serving his greater purpose. Amen

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.