Friday, October 23, 2009

Sermon Prayers and Thoughts: "How are your investments doing?"

I cherish my time off from preaching. I believe it was Luther who said preaching was "wrestling with the Devil." Though I am honored to share the Word of God and explore it with the congregation and enjoy the process--it's never easy and sometimes painful. The constancy of considering the Word, praying on it, and developing a message and delivering that message puts my mind and body on constant alert. I think it even affects my sleep. Part of the sermon crafting task is trust that God is present and that the Holy Spirit leads--therefore peace is also a portion of the full-body alert.

Matthew 6: 19-23 (From the Jesus' Sermon On The Mount)

19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

A lot of public discourse breath, voice and noise is devoted to investments. Investments represent a blizzard of human activity every day. Invest in gold or precious metals, invest in a 401k or 403b, invest through a pension or whole/universal life insurance, invest in commodities, put your money in a CD, bonds, a money market account or a savings account. Invest in a start up company. Play the stock market, play the lottery--just DO SOMETHING with the money that you earn.  

Matt Skinner writes about the powerful dialectical relationship between our hearts and our money. Sometimes we think of money as the means to an end. We invest in something with a combination of numbers and letters for something that we can have in the end. We might be saving for a college education, a car, a vacation, or a retirement where we can spend special time with our loved ones and families and possibly see more of the country and the world. We might use a credit card (its own combination of numbers and letters) to pay for groceries, gas for our cars, or splurge a little bit on a new plasma television or to do something basic for a home improvement. In this way we see money as the means to an end. Often times the money itself doesn't mean that much to us along the way. Money has no value in and of itself--it's only ink and paper. So--how are these investments in your life doing? Sometimes our investments do quite well--they provide basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. Sometimes the product of our investments provide understanding, learning, enjoyment and entertainment. Sometimes these investments break down. These investments can also clog our closets and garages--they need way more maintenance and money than we ever anticipated. Regardless of our level of scope with investments--what we see as common investments are volatile.

Jesus says that "where our treasure is, there our heart will be also." Jesus says something different about money/treasure. Where we place that money also has power in directing our hearts, our passions, our thoughts, our prayers, our energy. Our treasure is not only a means to an end, but it also can direct our hearts. If we invest in something, that recipient of that investment continues to draw our energy, passions, resources, thoughts and prayers.

Investing in the work of God through First Lutheran Community Church is an investment in people and relationships. The investments in the work of God in the ministries at FLCC reach people's lives. God's love and the power of the Holy Spirit bring peace, joy and help to people all over the world. Your giving to God's work at First Lutheran Church is building up treasures in heaven, because people know God in a real way through the work of the FLCC. I believe the stories of people just like you reveal something about the relationship between our treasure and our hearts of which Jesus speaks.

I hope you've begun to think about your giving to God's work through the ministries of FLCC. As you reflect on your own stories about how God has touched your life and your investments of time, talent and treasure: how are your investments doing? Which investments carry more meaning? Which investments are "treasures in heaven?"

Confirmation is an interesting subject in Lutheran congregations. For some it represents a rite of passage. For some it represents the last time a parent forces a kid to do anything in church. I believe Luther didn't like the concept of Confirmation because he believed that Baptism did not need to be "confirmed" by anything or anyone. Baptism and the relationship between God and us cannot be confirmed--it is already set (in water, blood and promises). There was a move about 40 years ago to change the language to "Affirmation of Baptism" that never really stuck, probably because parents want their children to endure some of the same religious torture that they experienced. Confirmation in practice is really about an investment report on the promises that were made on the behalf of (usually) a child before their memories were formed. Promises of God were articulated. Promises were made by parents, sponsors and the congregation to raise a child in the faith in and of Jesus Christ. In preparation for this rite of passage, I learn more about the faith of these kids who have received the promises of God. For most of their childhood, they have been taught what to believe. Part of preparing for this rite is that young people begin to take the Bible stories of the youth and the heritage of their faith, and begin to formulate their own thoughts about how they will live out the gift of faith that has been given to them. This is another example of investment in treasures in heaven.

How are your investments doing?

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