Turning Toward the Promise
Genesis 17;1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38
March 4th, 2012
Eliza was a little girl who loved the water. She loved watching the little waves lap up on the shore. She loved the coolness on her toes on a hot summer day. When she was very young, she waded in up to her knees, and then up to her belly button. She splashed and played and laughed, and everyone thought she would be a great swimmer when the time came for her to learn. But Eliza really liked the feeling of the sandy bottom under her two firmly planted feet. “To learn to swim,” her parents said, “You’ve got to let go, lean back, and let the water hold you up.” Eliza would have none of it. Once in a while she would pick up one foot, just to see what it felt like. But she always put it back down again. Better to be safely on the ground. Eliza went through life loving the water, but she never learned to swim.
Mickey was a young man with a million friends. Everyone liked him, and he could always be counted on to tell a joke or to get a party going. When he was headed off for college, a coach he admired took him aside for a talk. “Michael,” the teacher said, “I think you have some real leadership abilities. How about using them to make the world a better place? With your personality, you could get people working together to address some of the worst problems we face: racism, or poverty or violence. Search your soul, Michael, and find a cause you can fight for.
The young man thought about it….. “If I took on any of those big problems, I’d make enemies. I might pour out my heart and soul for years, and fail in the end. Life might not be so much fun.” He took a big breath, imagining all the choices ahead of him. Then he smiled, “Look, Coach, I’m Mickey, not Michael. Let’s keep it chill—nothing too serious.” What’s your reaction when God offers you a covenant? Some of us worry that when God calls, it means sacrificing all the fun in life. We’re afraid we’ll turn into one of those sappy, overly-earnest Christians, like the next door neighbor Ned Flanders on the Simpsons.
But just as many of us are afraid of our own spiritual depths. Like Eliza, we hesitate to lean back and let go, and let the waters of our baptism hold us. We realize that we can't really say “yes” to God, without it changing who we are, maybe even changing our names.
Biblical promises are big and broad, and sometimes they seem too good to be true. God says, in many different ways to many different people: “Follow me, and I will give you a place in posterity. Walk with me, and I will always be there beside you. Let go, and I promise to hold you up. Venture beyond your GPS, and I will guide you.” Each of God’s promises involve an element of risk for those who respond. We don’t have to do anything in order to be loved by God. But the covenant is a two-way street, and the promises of God have strings attached. Follow Jesus, and the next thing you know, your money and your time are no longer your own. Plus, you are expected to love all kinds of people—including, but not limited to, the annoying people in your own church!
Look at what happened to Abraham when he accepted God’s proposed covenant. From that day on, God expected him to be blameless! Who can possibly live up to that expectation?
Well, actually, God said that because of the covenant, he would count Abraham as blameless. In other words--- wouldn’t hold his mistakes against him, wouldn’t keep track of them, and punish him for everything he did wrong. God offered Abraham descendants (as many as the stars!) He promised him a place in history, a legacy of divine blessing. And he gave him a new name.
And what did God ask for in return? Not perfection, not blamelessness—but relationship. If the promises of God do have strings attached, they are the cords of relationship—God wants us to share the highs and lows of our lives. They are strings that vibrate with joy when we are baptized or confirmed, or married, or even when we eat a meal together. Over time, this relationship with God changes us. We grow into new names, new wisdom, strength, and resiliency.
How many people can you recall in the Bible who got new names? There’s Saul becoming Paul, Simon becoming Peter… and a few others. In the Hebrew Bible, this tradition all starts with Abram and Sarai. Abram means “father” but Abraham means “father of a multitude”. Sarai, meanwhile, goes from having a name that means “quarrelsome” to a name that means “lady”. The name changes signal their new potential, the new family into which they now belong, and the new challenges that will call them into the future.
Turning toward the promises of God always brings change and challenge. Jesus’ disciples kind-of knew this, when they began hanging around with him, but on another level, they didn't really want to know. They wanted to keep it light, not make enemies. And so they were uncomfortable when Jesus began speaking to them about suffering and death. Their instinct was to turn away, rather than towards the promises of God. But Jesus said, “You have to be willing to risk drowning, before you will learn how to swim. You have to face suffering and injustice, before you can understand the wideness of God's mercy. You need to know what it is to be utterly powerless and friendless, before you will know the extent of God's great love.
And the disciples, like many of us, stood in shallow water, having the hardest time picking up their feet, and leaning back into the arms of God. The resurrection sounded like a good idea, but the cross stood in the way. Over the last 2000 years, the shock value of this story has diminished, but we still shrink from the basic truth of it.
Jesus said “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it. Eugene Petersen paraphrased Jesus’ words in our modern idiom:
Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving your true self. What good would it do you to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? When hard times come, when we face life’s defeats, it is good to know that God knows our names, and counts us as blameless. It is good to be part of the family of Abraham and the family of Jesus. As for the cross, let us pray for the strength to pick it up and carry it beside him, even if it is just a few steps along the way.
Faith changes us, as we turn toward the promise. Amen.
What’s it all about? Awe, Ethics, and Love
Psalm 19:1-3, Exodus 20:1-17, I Corinthians 1:18-25,
In the movie “The Tree of Life”, scenes of family life in the 1950s are interspersed with images of the birth of the universe. Galaxies spiral out, planets form and cool, volcanoes erupt and lava flows in stark beauty. Meanwhile, three boys grow up with a loving but controlling father, and a playful but constricted mother. There is little dialogue in the film, and most of it echoes scripture, either quoted directly or paraphrased. “Where are you, God?” “Why?” “Forgive us.” The movie’s questions are the ones that sooner or later rise up out of every human soul. Can meaning emerge out of the joy and the pain of life? How do we heal from the hurts inflicted on us by the ones we love? Does the impersonal beauty of the universe mock us, or does it give us solace?
Each of us, in our own way, seeks a path through this world, a strategy to deal with the random events that come our way. Each of us is trying to find a link to God, a thread we can follow. Some days we let go of that search and settle for routines that fill our days and keep us from thinking too much. But we are people of faith, in part, because faith promises us a framework to address these questions. Faith offers us the possibility that the universe operates according to deep wisdom that we can tap into and follow.
Today’s scripture readings offer three glimpses into the logic of God; three different answers to these existential questions. To me, they represent three ways of relating to God: through awe, ethics, and love.
The Psalmist’s song of praise evokes the vastness of the cosmos.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, their voice is not heard, yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the earth. ”
Here days and nights speak, and the sky itself praises God, while human voices are dumb. The only possible response is awe. You have felt it, perhaps when you looked up at a sky full of stars, and contemplated distances in terms of light years. You have felt it, when you pondered the time frame of the universe—all those billions of years before life evolved, and the entire span of the human race measured as a tiny fraction of the total; your own life, a mere speck in the grand scheme of it. There are two possible reactions to this scale of space and time. One is to conclude that life is an accident, mere random combinations of atoms. The other is to take a deep breath and to praise the Creator for the complexity of this world, so far beyond our human comprehension or control. Science can probe its mysteries, yet every answer leads to more questions. Scientists and mystics approach the universe from different angles, but they have in common wonder and awe. The Psalms offer an answer to the question, “What is life all about?”
“It’s not all about you. It’s about something so much greater than you, that even to see a tiny piece of it will take your breath away.” When Job challenges God after his profound suffering, God answers: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” And Job responds, like the Psalmist, with humility and wonder. Wisdom here consists of the realization that the world so much bigger and grander than we can control or even comprehend. Faith is rooted in awe.
But awe can only carry us so far. Human life is lived in families, in villages, in tribes and nations. And those settings give rise to slightly different questions. How can we live together? How do we handle conflict? How can we build a society blessed with peace and harmony? The Ten Commandments are a condensed version of the Hebrew Torah, the Law that was delivered as a gift from God through Moses to the Hebrew People. The Law is another way of answering life’s big questions. Where do we find meaning? Meaning comes from knowing who we are in relation to God, and from knowing how to live in relation to the earth and to one another. The Ten Commandments tell us that human happiness is built on practical routines and daily commitments: A day of rest for the whole community; respect for one’s parents, for one’s spouse, and for other people’s property, avoiding violence, and telling the truth.
Here then, is a second answer to the basic question: What’s it all about? The Torah suggests that God’s universe is a moral one, and the choices we make in our everyday lives matter: to us, to our community, and to God. The Commandments control our selfish and violent instincts. This ancient framework of ethics supports harmonious and fruitful human communities.
Yet rules and laws have their limits. Bad things happen to good people, even when they follow all the rules. And we human beings wound one another, despite our best intentions.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection offer a third way to apprehend God and the universe. Jesus’ self-sacrifice points towards love as God's defining characteristic. When rules fail, love wins. When human sin ruptures the bonds of family and community life, forgiveness is the only route to reconciliation. The Apostle Paul, in some of the earliest surviving writings of the New Testament, explores this theme. Against the backdrop of the Roman Empire, where power was everything, where truth was determined by who had the largest army, Paul offers a counter-intuitive idea.
What’s it all about? According to Paul, it’s not about eloquence; it’s not about military might; it’s not about sophisticated philosophy. It’s about self-emptying love and forgiveness, in the face of unimaginable brutality. It’s a totally new expression of power, one that makes no sense unless you change your whole way of thinking. Paul wrote:
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For since, in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. God’s foolishness consists of the idea that one man’s refusal to hate his torturers changed the course of history. Against the backdrop of a vast and complex universe, God is foolish enough to call each one of us by name and cherish us in our individuality. God's foolishness proclaims that the strongest force in the universe is not atoms or gravity or tectonic plates heaving. It is not bombs or armies, or even the logic of laws, rules, rewards and punishments. The strongest force in the universe is love, expressed in acts of compassion and mercy. The wisdom of God comes into sharpest focus in Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
As we ask ourselves what life is all about, we can answer with any combination of these three. Awe. Ethics, Love. We can widen our gaze and contemplate God's eternal time frame and infinite space. We can situate ourselves within the matrix of human community, seeking to follow the Ten Commandments and building communities based on age-old values and precepts. And we can stand at the foot of the cross, and immerse ourselves in the wisdom that seems like foolishness.
Awe. Ethics. Love. You may experience God most fully through one of these, more than the others. But the sweep of the Bible’s themes reminds us that we come to know God through each of them, and through other pathways as well. When words fail, we can apprehend God through the silent wonder of the physical world. When we learn and share and grow together in human community, our focus shifts from the universal to the practical. We draw on the truths of God expressed in the life-giving Law. And when we encounter our own failures and sinfulness, when we walk with Jesus to the cross, the focus becomes even more particular. Then we experience God as a suffering servant and as our only hope for personal redemption. And in Jesus, we see both the most particular expression of divine love and a widening view of cosmic principles. Existing with God before the world began, according to the gospel of John, Jesus links the awe of creation, the ethics of the law, and the gift of self-emptying love.
What’s it all about? It’s about beauty, truth, and forgiveness. It’s about awe, ethics, and love. Amen.
Believing Means Life
John 3:14-21, Ephesians 2:1-10
March 18th, 2012
Martin Luther called it “ the gospel in miniature”. “For God so loved the world
that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:16, is painted on signs at football games, and it’s probably the best-known single verse in the whole Bible. We could spend the whole season of Lent on this verse without exhausting its possibilities. But today I want to focus on two parts of it in particular: what is means to believe, and what might be meant by eternal life.
Let’s leave the religious sphere behind, for a few moments, and consider the ways in which beliefs shape people’s lives. If a child comes to believe that he is stupid, he may drop out of school. If a teenage girl believes that Prince Charming is going to find her, sweep her off her feet, and take care of her for the rest of her life, she may not take much interest in planning her career choices. If you believe that the earth is doomed, because of global warming, or the evil conspiracies of world leaders, then you will not see the point of being politically active, and exercising your civic responsibilities. Conversely, if you believe in the impact of (in Margaret Mead’s words) “a small group of people having the potential to change the world”, you will be more likely to lend your strength to the causes that concern you. If you believe that family relationships can succeed, long-term, you will weather the rough spots and not bail when life stops being fun. Our beliefs affect our decisions and life choices every day!
Of course, sometimes people get in trouble when they believe things that are not true. They dress up in white robes and climb a mountain to wait for The Rapture. They keep on dieting or getting plastic surgery, in the hopes they can fool death, or at least ward off aging. But truth has a way of exposing false beliefs. When we stake our lives on false beliefs, it takes more and more effort to prop up the rickety structure upon which our lives are balanced. Sooner or later, it all comes crashing down.
John 3:16 seems to say that believing in Jesus makes the difference between life and death. John was compiled late in the first century, about 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. This latest Gospel reflects the emerging faith of the early church. In John, Jesus himself speaks what the church has come to believe about him. Here, he says that believing in him is the path to eternal life.
On the surface, it seems like a straightforward statement, but for me, it is not so clear. What exactly does it mean to “believe” in Jesus? Does it require affirming a certain set of creeds about him? Does it require a particular moment of conversion when I give my life to him, as modern evangelicals teach? Is it an intellectual assertion, or more of an emotional commitment? And is eternal life the motivation for my “believing” in Jesus? Or is eternal life the happy bonus? As with any verse that is so central to our faith, many different interpretations are out there.
Perhaps we can glean some insight from the verses that surround this one. Typically for John, there is talk of darkness and light, condemnation and salvation. Remember that in John’s time, there was a painful rupture between the Jewish Christian and the Jewish synagogue. John is very much aware that not everyone who hears about Jesus will come to love him and accept him as the Messiah. So he is struggling with who is in the church and who, by their own choice, is out of it.
So Jesus speaks: Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
Here is what I notice in these verses. First of all, it is God's intention to embrace the world, not to judge it. Jesus is God’s extravagant gesture of reconciliation with all of humankind. But John’s gospel has to somehow deal with the reality that not all of humankind has embraced this invitation from God. Some people are indifferent to Jesus, some are actively hostile to him. So the John tries to work out whether is it God who condemns them, or whether they are, by their own choices, condemning themselves. There is deep theology hidden in these verses. For if God compelled us to love Jesus, if God took away our free will, then our faith would be meaningless. There has to be a component of choice, of freedom, in our response to God. Therefore, if we are separated from the love of Jesus, it must be by our own choice.
But why would anyone in their right mind choose to reject Jesus, Light of the World, Love Incarnate? The gospel writer goes on to ponder this question. Maybe, it is because Jesus reveals too much of us. In the bright light of his presence, we can see all our faults, all the ways in which we have been selfish, cruel, greedy, and everyone else can see them too! Maybe Jesus’ requirements, that we love our enemies and share our food, and do justice, are too much for some of us. So we opt out. We choose to go our own way. We choose the illusion of independence and self-sufficiency. There are a hundred good reasons why someone might choose not to follow Jesus. Darkness covers a lot of sinful, slothful, little habits that we have grown quite happy with.
To come into Christ’s bright beam of love may be painful at first, as we are forced to reveal our warts and our weaknesses. But that same light awakens us to our best selves, shows us pathways of joyful service, and leads us to lives of purpose, (what the Gospel calls “deeds of light, done in God.”)
This discussion about light and darkness, and people being judged by their deeds, informs out understanding of what it means to believe. The early church fathers, and the Reformation saints after them, were adamant that we are not saved by our “works” or “deeds”, but rather by believing or trusting in Jesus—by “faith alone” according to Paul and Luther. But here we can see that faith is always linked with deeds. Faith, “believing” that is, if it is genuine, leads to transformed lives, and to spontaneous deeds that reveal the love of Jesus at work in us.
Believing has never been just about an intellectual assent to a set of propositions about the nature of God and the exact formula for Jesus dual nature. The Greek root of the word believe cor-do, from which we gat the word “credo” or “creed” means “I give my heart.”
John’s Gospel asks, in vs. 3:16 “To what do you give your heart?” You will show to whom you belong-- the forces of darkness or the forces of light-- to Jesus or not, by your choice. “To whom do you give your heart?”
Some people believe that the most important choice we make in life is whether to follow Jesus. They will tell you that this choice will determine whether you go to heaven and live in peace with all your loved ones for all eternity, or whether you burn in the flames of hell. They will tell you that believing in Jesus is like a “Get out of Jail Free Card”. Once you carry one of these cards, you are set for life. No, you’re set for eternity!
I can't quite imagine God that way, deciding the fate of the whole human race, according to whether people have said the right words and prayed the right prayer. I can't believe in a faith that recruits people primarily through the motivation of fear.
My Jesus beckons through love. My Jesus says, “This journey may be hard. It will test you. You will falter along the way. But if you trust in me, you will know joy beyond measure. You will be part of a community that stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve, and ahead into eternity.”
For me, eternal life is not the prize I get, when I die, for getting the right answer on the multiple choice test. Maybe eternal life begins here and now, when you and I step into the light, knowing we are loved and forgiven, and learning how to love one another and care for the world God so loved.
Believing is a way of being, a way of staking it all on love. Another gospel verse says “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. The world can see, by your deeds, by your relationships, what you value, what you believe, what you give your heart to. You are writing a credo every day by your commitments and your lifestyle. The world sees what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, what you are willing to sacrifice for. You may not always be sure about the articles of faith and what you think about each of them. But Jesus invites you to believe, which means to trust him. Jesus invites you to believe, which means to walk with him. Jesus invites you to believe, which means to step into the light of eternity with him. Jesus says, “Give me your heart, and I will give you life, abundant and real, starting today.” Amen.
John 15:8-12, 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
Where in the Bible does it say, “Charity beings at home”? How about “God helps those who help themselves”? (Nowhere!) But that is not to say that this basic instinct of human nature was not present during Bible times. Read between the lines of Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. Why do you suppose he was so emphatic and so enthusiastic in asking them to send an offering to the church in Jerusalem? Could it be because they were gentile Christians, who felt little connection with the Jewish followers of Jesus back in Jerusalem? Could some of them have been saying, “I support my own church, and look after my own family, Let the Jerusalem church take care of itself.” I bet they were….. and I bet that is why Paul makes such a strong argument, that giving to people we have never met is necessary to our full development as people of faith. From Paul’s time until our own, Christians have been discovering this truth. Our One Great Hour of Sharing offering, received today, allows us once again to explore the joy of giving. Listen to the story of Melissa Crutchfield, who works for the United Methodist Committee On Relief: While most of my friends and family were enjoying hotdogs and fireworks this 4th of July, I was helping to pass out school kits to more than 400 children in the rural Mutumbami area of eastern Zimbabwe. I had already been in the country about a week to follow up on a variety of UMCOR relief activities, and finally had the opportunity to accompany a pastor from the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe to distribute the UMCOR school kits to children who lacked these necessary supplies. Driving several hours outside of Mutare along dirt roads, passing a few baboons and countless small villages along the way, we bumped along in a pickup truck carrying dozens of boxes of the highly prized school kits. Zimbabwe was going through one of the worst times in its history, and resources had become scarce and expensive, particularly for those in remote areas. This left many of the most vulnerable communities without access to basic necessities such as food or clean water, much less the “luxury” of such items as paper or a ruler. Often seen as a privilege, access to education and educational materials is much appreciated by all, providing a foundation of hope for the future. When we finally arrived, we found several communities already waiting for the exciting distribution event. My Zimbabwean friend began to describe the contents of the school kits to the crowd: Notebooks (smiles, clapping), scissors (smiles, clapping), an eraser, a ruler, crayons (more smiles and clapping), pencils (LOUD CHEERS!!!!!!!), and a pencil sharpener (back to smiles and clapping). Never have I seen so much excitement about six pencils!! In that moment, I suddenly and humbly realized that something most Americans consider so common was really valued in this place… It actually brought tears to my eyes to know that I am part of an organization that is responsible for bringing so much joy and hope into people’s lives.While part of me may have missed eating hotdogs or seeing fireworks, I can’t say I was sorry to be away from home… because I got to spend America’s birthday by giving the gift of hope. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. When you are in need, and you receive help from a neighbor or a relative, you are grateful, of course. But how much more grateful would you be, if the gift came from far away, from someone who did not even know you? Then the gratitude overflows, moving in the direction of the giver of all good things: God After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the United Church of Christ opened a Disaster Recovery Office there. Since 2005, over 7,000 UCC volunteers, representing 572 different disaster recovery teams, journeyed to New Orleans They helped rebuild homes, churches, and school. They participated in 113 projects overall, donating 175,875 hours of labor, valued at $3,738,505. But these numbers will never convey the individual stories of lives changed, hope reborn, and the personal transformations that took place in volunteers and homeowners alike. While the hurricane overflowed the levees, this work overflowed in many thanksgivings to God. One Great Hour of Sharing paid for the office that coordinated the UCC’s work, until, with a great celebration of prayer and rejoicing, it completed its mission on Nov. 2011. Many of us have been thinking about gardens, with this unseasonably warm weather. The more organized among us have started seeds. And while we are mostly removed from a subsistence economy, in which we have to grow all our own food, we nevertheless understand the basic math of farming. In general, you reap what you sow. If you plant abundantly, and take care of your plants, you generally have a fine harvest. If you plant a meager amount of last year’s seeds, past their expiration date, and forget to water the seedlings, or pull out the weeds, you may not have a garden to be proud of…. Paul tells the Corinthians that sharing and giving are like gardening. The more we offer of ourselves, the more we get in return. The more generous we are, the more it seems like God showers us with “enough,” and “more than enough” for our needs. The math may not make sense, but the human psychology does. One of the best ways to feel rich is to share with someone who has a real need, and to know that you can help to meet it. Here is another story from One Great Hour of Sharing: Mama Alda is a 42-year old wife and mother of 7 children. Her husband works far away in South Africa. He can only return to their home in Mozambique one month a year, so Alda functions of the head of their household. She makes her living raising cattle. They provide the family with security during drought or flooding. The cattle supply milk year-round for the children to drink, and can be sold for cash to buy food or other needed items. In 2003 Alda was introduced to the Food Resource Bank Project (a project supported by OGHS) which gave her 4 heifers and a bull. By the fall of 2010, after paying back 5 cattle, she had 19 cows. Today Alda uses her cattle and 2 pair of oxen to plow her fields for planting season. She also hires out the oxen to other farmers, earning about $1600 a year. The vegetables she grows feed her family with some left over to sell. Mama Alda and her children thrive because you, or someone like you, put 10 or 50 or 100 dollars in a One Great Hour of Sharing offering envelope 10 years ago. The money you put in that envelope today will likewise wing its way to some place where refugees sleep in tents, where water is scarce, where school supplies elicit loud cheers. How cool is that! In the coming decades, it has been suggested that water will be the new oil—that precious resource that will determine people’s prosperity or poverty. In many parts of the world, children have to walk for miles a day to carry clean water for their families. Many girls cannot attend school, and are vulnerable to crime and sexual abuse as they make their long daily journeys. One Great Hour of Sharing offers the simplest of life-changing technology by drilling village wells. Paul wrote “God who supplies seed to the sower and bread to the eater will supply and multiply the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your generosity.” When we give, we are enriched by the feeling of connection with people in need all over the world. We are enriched by the sense of our own participation in the healing work of God. We give because giving makes us happy, and God loves cheerful givers. And sometimes, as in the last year, One Great hour of Sharing money comes back to our region. After Hurricane Irene washed out roads and destroyed homes in Vermont, several grants from One Great Hour of Sharing came back to Vermont to help rebuild and restore communities. We are not alone. Our families are linked to others in our neighborhood, in our community. When we help one another, we all thrive. Our church is not alone; we do not exist just to serve our members and our town. We are linked with churches of every denomination all over America, churches that are pausing in the season of Lent to share their abundance with others. We are linked to Mama Alda in Mozambique, and to that child in Zimbabwe, sharpening her new pencil, and to that family who have water ten feet from their door, instead of two miles away, and to the elderly couple in New Orleans who has a new flood-proof house.. We are linked by our prayers and by our gifts, and by our bountiful sowing of seeds of kindness. The rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints, but it also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. What was true in Paul’s day is true for us as well. Rejoice in your ability to sow bountifully today. Amen.