A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sermon (October 15) by Rev. Robert McDowell "Living Generously: Trust Issues"

     Last Sunday, we handed out a plastic spoon to each person who was here in church. Those plastic spoons were to remind us to serve in three different ways this past week.
     After leaving church last Sunday, I remember feeling excited but I also felt a little nervous about what serving opportunities the Holy Spirit might open up for me during the week.
      Here are a couple of ways that the Lord led me to reach out to bless others.
       The first way was through an idea that some of our staff had to surprise the Presbyterian Church office staff across the street from us with some coffee from Donkey coffee. That was a lot of fun!
     Another way was by joining our Kappa Phi group in helping to paint the 2nd floor lounge where they meet each week.

     Here’s a picture of me with them. OK. Actually, I didn’t do any painting at all. This was purely a photo op where I held up one of the brushes. But I did get to tell them what a great job they were doing.

     But my favorite way of serving this week was when Penny and I took our two dogs to visit one of our church members, Anne Stempel who has been at the Kimes Nursing Center the past several months. Anne had always told me that she wanted to meet our dogs, so the white spoon reminded us to follow through with that visit.

     We had a really nice visit together and when we got home, Lulu and Blu got to eat peanut butter off the white plastic spoon as a treat for going with us.

     It’s been a fun week of serving others so let’s keep finding even more ways to be a blessing to the people we meet on a daily basis. Living Generously is really a way of life.

     This morning, we continue our “Living Generously” church-wide focus by focusing on trust issues. Do you have trust issues? I think we all have trust issues to varying degrees.
     Proverbs is considered one of the Wisdom books in the Old Testament. In our Proverbs reading for this morning, it tells us that “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”
     In the ancient world, a strong tower was a central place located in a particular territory or city where people could go if they felt threatened. It was a defensible place of protection and security.
     We’ve probably experienced those times when there was a tornado warning and everybody huddled in the safest place you could find.
     Penny and I lived in Xenia for eight years. Xenia is known as tornado alley primarily because of the ‘74 tornado that destroyed much of the town and over thirty people were killed. In addition to that tornado, they’ve had several others come through that town.
     One hit Xenia in the fall of 2000, destroying about a third of my church that I served as pastor. The congregation had to worship at the High School during the long rebuilding process.
     The people who live in Xenia are always nervous about approaching storms because of their history with tornados. People would nervously look into the sky at approaching dark clouds.
     Legend has it that long ago, Native Americans left the Xenia area because of what they referred to as “the devil winds.”  I guess the white settlers who came after them didn’t believe them.
     I remember the first time there was a tornado warning when we lived there. We didn’t mess around. Our house didn’t have a basement and the four of us, along with our dogs huddled in our small guest bathroom. People in Xenia know what it means to find shelter from a storm.
     Where do you go when you feel threatened by the storms of life? That’s a really good question because all of us experience challenging times from time to time.
     Over the past few weeks, we have been watching a video series revolving around Frank Donovan and his family. In the episode that we are about to watch, Frank’s sense of security is challenged.
     Even though Frank is extremely wealthy and has more resources than many of us combined, in today’s episode, he comes face to face with a challenge that is beyond what he can control. He is in need of a strong tower of protection in his life. Let’s watch and see how Frank responds.

[Due to copyright issues, we are not permitted to post the video.]

     Can you relate to Frank? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt helpless and without any hope? While it was good that Frank wanted to take care of his family financially, he had forgotten the most important source of his protection. That source is God.
     In his book, “Half Time,” Bob Buford shares about a tragic event that happened in his life. Bob had made a fortune in the TV cable business.  One January evening in 1987, his brother called him to let him know that Bob’s son, Ross, along with two of Ross’s friends had attempted to swim the Rio Grande River.
     “I think we have serious trouble,” his brother told him. “Ross is missing in the Rio Grande.” He told him that the Texas Rangers were coordinating the search for Ross.
     And so Bob flew down to the Rio Grande Valley to join in the search, arriving by daybreak the next morning. Because of his substantial wealth, Bob was able to hire and pay for extra airplanes, helicopters, boats, trackers with dogs, anything money could buy.
     By three o’clock in the afternoon, Bob looked into the eyes of one of the trackers and knew that he would never see his son, Ross again. He remembers walking along a limestone bluff perhaps two hundred feet above the muddy and treacherous river, as frightened as he had ever felt.
     He thought to himself, “Here’s something you can’t dream your way out of. Here’s something you can’t think your way out of, buy your way out of, or work your way out of. This is,” he thought “something you can only trust your way out of.”
     And then he prayed, “Dear God, somehow, give me the ability to accept and absorb whatever grace people might bring to me at this terrible time.”
     As the search for Ross continued, God’s grace surrounded Bob. The search team ended up finding his son four months later about ten miles down the river.
     As horrifying and sad as this experience was, Bob also experienced the gift of God’s grace and in ways that he had never experienced. Close and silent embraces from friends, letters and phone calls of concern and empathy, and gifts of meals prepared and brought to his home were much needed signs of God’s love.
     In that moment when Bob was at a loss for what do do, God became a strong tower for him during the most difficult time of his life. Even with all of his wealth and fortune, that was nothing in comparison to the sure foundation of God that was provided Bob and his family in their darkest hour.

     In our movie, Frank Donovan was faced with a challenging time as he waited to hear the news about his wife who was in a coma. Re helped Frank to see that even though Frank was feeling helpless in that moment, that God was there for him. God was his strong tower in that time of great need.
     I think that Re provided Frank with three important things in his time of great need.
     The first thing that Re showed Frank is to trust that the Lord is our strong tower. Today’s story began with Frank being frustrated in his work on trying to develop a trust fund. Re points out that Frank doesn’t just have issues with his trusts. He also has issues with trust.
     Re shared about the time when his wife had cancer and how that led him to allow the Lord to be his strong tower. That’s what we can do for each other. We can share with each other how God has been a tower of strength in our lives during times of adversity.
     Our Proverbs reading tells us that the Lord is our strong tower. That’s the first important point.
     The second thing that Re helped Frank to see is to trust in God’s perspective. When Re went to the top floor of the hospital to look out over the city, it helped put Frank’s work and focus on money in perspective. Sometimes, we need that bigger perspective to remember that God is so much bigger than the things that we face in our everyday lives.
     The tower that we read about in the Book of Proverbs doesn’t just provide something to hide behind. It also provides a perspective to help us see the bigger picture. What bigger picture is God helping us to see during our five-week focus on what it means to live generously?
     And here’s this third thing that Re helped Frank to see from today’s episode. Re helped Frank to trust that God can help something good come out of a bad situation.
     God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God does provide good to come out of the bad things that happen. We might not see it right away, but this is part of our faith. In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
     In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is preparing his disciples for when he would be leaving them. He comforts them with these words. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
     This scripture is often read at funerals to help family members know that God is offering his peace as they go through that difficult time. God’s peace is a gift that is always available to us.
     This week, I invite us to think about the walls that we create to provide us with protection and security. Instead of focusing on creating more walls to protect what we have, let’s think more about placing our trust in the Lord who is our strong tower.
     Many of us will be receiving a mailing in the next day or two that will include a financial estimate of giving card for us to complete and bring with us to church next Sunday. This estimate of giving card is one of those ways that we can put our focus on the Lord as our strong tower rather than on the walls that we create to protect what we have.
       As we consider our financial gift to God and our church for our upcoming year, I leave us with something that Re said to Frank in today’s video. Frank asked Re a really important question while they were together overlooking the city. Frank asked how he will be able to tell the difference between building imaginary walls and being smart with his money. Re gave him this answer. “Maybe when you stop thinking of it as your money.”
     I think that’s the whole point of our five-week focus. If we truly want to live generously, then we need to remember that everything we have belongs to God anyway.

     If God is truly our strong tower, than we can certainly trust him by being generous in our giving.

Living Generously: A Strong Tower
Discussion Questions
Proverbs 18:1-12 & John 14:23-31a
October 15, 2017

Last week, we handed out a plastic spoon to each person as a symbol of serving others. We were encouraged this past week to serve others in three different ways. 

Share one of the ways that you served others this past week. What was that experience like?

For this Sunday, we continue to follow the story of Frank Donovan and his family as they are growing in their understanding of what it means to be generous. In this episode, the stock market plummets and Frank's wife ends up in the hospital. Re, the family's gardener comforts Frank by telling him about his faith story and that the Lord is our strong tower in times of difficulty. He offers him this verse from Proverbs 18:10 - "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.

Share a time in your life when you were in need of a strong tower to protect you. How is God like a strong tower for us, especially in times of need?

Re shared three important things with Frank to help him during his time of need. 1) Trust the Lord as our strong tower. 2) Trust God's perspective. 3) Trust that God can bring good out of bad situations. Please note that this does not mean that God causes bad things to happen in our lives so that we trust God more. It means that when we face challenges in life, the Lord is right there with us even when we don't have all the answers. 

Who are the "Re's" in your life who are willing to pray for and with you when you go through difficult times? How are you like Re for others?

This week, members of our church will receive an estimate of giving card as we spiritually and financially prepare to for a new year of ministry. We are invited to prayerfully complete this card and bring it to worship with us for a special time of dedication. The theme next week will be "sowing seeds" in building God's kingdom by living generously. At the end of today's video, Re responded to Frank's question about how to know the difference between building imaginary walls vs. being smart with how he uses his money by saying to him, "Maybe when you stop thinking of it as your money."

To help us prepare for this special dedication next week, pray this prayer to help us see that all we have been given ( our time, gifts, money, relationships, health, food etc.) is from God. 

"Lord, thank you that you are our strong tower. You see us through the storms of life. As we prayerfully consider our estimate of giving to Christ and the church for this coming year, help us to remember that all we have been given are gifts from you. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen."

No comments: