"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
David preached this morning at Holy Communion on the Gospel reading from Luke 11:
"He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’ 5And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” 7And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
In the Gospel, Jesus talks of the friend who will not get up (but eventually does) as the image of God -- and then goes on to talk about how we should ask God for what we need because God will provide.
It's always struck me as a weird image of God -- God as someone who would just as soon tell us to go away, except that we are so annoying that God eventually responds.
As David was preaching, he twisted it and cast us in the position of the householder ... which I feel is much more accurate.
The "Mine!" at the top is, as some of you might have guessed, a quote from "Finding Nemo." A group of characters in that film are seagulls who only say one word over and over again as they are looking for food:
Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.
It's funny in the movie, and my children have picked up on it. "Mine" is an early favorite word of most children. The time that many of them become verbal is also the time that many of them become differentiated enough to be possessive and jealous!
There's poetry to the fact that "mine" is a four-letter word. It's perhaps one of the most dangerous words to a Christian -- because if we really look at what we do in baptism, it is a word that should never, ever be used by us or apply to us.
That's because as a Christian, nothing is mine. I own nothing. I possess nothing. Everything in my life, including my life itself, is a gift from God. Beverly Van Horne reminded me today what Terry Parsons (stewardship officer at the National Church Center) defines stewardship as -- using the gifts God has given us to do the work God has given us to do.
That's what we are supposed to be all about. Everything that we "have" has been given to us by God for one purpose -- to do the work God has given us to do. It's all on loan. And when we say "mine" ... we are missing the point altogether. It's all God's.
This sounds nice and it looks good on a stewardship brochure ... but the implications of it are liberating and terrifying. Not only does it mean that all of "my possessions" ... including this nifty computer I'm writing on ... are not really mine but only here for me to use to do the work God has given me. It also means that my very life is not my own. Even further, my children are not really "mine" -- I am to love them and care for them and raise them because God has in mind for me to do that as ministry. That means I have to be willing to let go ... of everything.
What it comes down to is trust. That's what the "give us this day our daily bread" is about. It's about letting go of everything and trusting that God will provide each moment what we need. It's about practicing non-possession of everything ... even our own lives, even the lives of those who mean the most to us.
Two examples of this ... from people who I'm sure would consider themselves very imperfect practitioners of this art ... stand out as inspiration for me.
The first is James. As I lived with James in Ghana, I became aware of two things. First, that he and CENCOSAD were perpetually in financial crisis. Second, that people were continually coming to him in real need asking for his help. If there was ever someone who could have circled the wagons and said no to them, it was James ... after all, he's living without insurance or a pension plan and has sunk his whole financial and physical life into keeping this NGO afloat so that it can benefit others. But he doesn't. Whenver someone comes, he gives all he has ... because he knows whatever it is is not his, but God's ... and who is he to block God's generosity.
I used to think I was a generous and giving person until I lived with James ... and then I realized how completely tight-fisted I really am!
The second is Leine and Tom McNeely. When their daughter and my student Julia died, I could not understand how they could be so calm and unshaken even as they were in the midst of deep grief. In my conversations with Leine, she continually talked (without using these exact words, but this was the sense) about how Julia was never really theirs but God's, and just as God saw fit to bless their lives with her, God saw fit to move her on.
There were ways I fought with Leine on this point. I couldn't understand what I on the surface took as such a passive attitude of acceptance -- at the same time I knew they were deeply grieving. I see now that they were right ... and even beyond that. The purest form of love is non-possessive love. Loving without holding on too tightly (is that what Jesus meant in the garden on Easter when he told Mary not to hold tightly to him?). When we love non-possessively, we love in ways that can be purely altruistic and purely without concern for ourselves.
When we commit to the baptismal covenant we claim Christ as our savior and say that we put our whole trust in his grace and love. That means complete non-possession. Complete trust that God will provide, that God will care for those whom we care for with all our heart. That, in the words of Luke's Gospel, if we "know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
I have plenty of excuses not to give. Plenty of excuses to say "mine!" I worked hard for it. I have to take care of it for my families sake. Whatever "it" is, I can build up wonderful rational frameworks that justify saying "mine" and even convince myself it is the purest, most loving thing.
Only the truth is, it's not. "Mine" is a dangerous word. "Mine" is a four-letter word. It has the power to divide us from each other and to separate us from the God who is yearning for us.
We believe we have a God who provides for us. What we need to recognize is that we also have a God who uses us as partners in that process. And if we don't live up to our part of the partnership ... if we say "mine" with tightly clenched fists instead of "God's" with open hands ... then we prevent the work of love God is about from being done.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."