I remember hearing a story back when I was at the Vancouver School of Theology – the details are a little fuzzy because it was 25 years ago, but the story was about a church that realized its money was running out and attendance was quite low. They had tried all sorts of stewardship campaigns and attendance boosting ideas, but they weren’t working. The remaining people decided that instead of just coasting until the money ran out, they were going to be intentional for a year, being generous with their money and then close their doors once the year was up and the money was gone. They decided to give it away to groups in the community who needed funds. Well wouldn’t you know it, these acts of generosity brought new life into the church – the members of the congregation had a renewed enthusiasm for their church and sense of mission beyond their church, and word got out in the community that something wonderful was happening there. Their congregation grew, they didn’t run out of money when the year was over, and their ministry continued for many years after that.
I thought of that story when I read the scripture for today – the part when Jesus tells the disciples to not be afraid, for it is God’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom. If this is true, then disciples can, indeed, resist the seduction of material things, not fall prey to anxiety about worldly needs, share what they have with others, and wait expectantly, even eagerly, for the coming of the Son of Man.
This community of faith in the story was not afraid of the situation they were in – they embraced it and gave everything away, wanting to do something significant in their ending, which in turn both showed them where their heart was but also showed them God’s generosity and abundance.
I didn’t need to look beyond our very own Thrift Shop for an example of receiving much more treasure than we bargained for when we gave something away. In fact, this happens here every week.
I just love having the opportunity to get to know the volunteers and customers in the shop each week. Wonderful stories of generosity, support and community happen every week at the thrift shop that I wish I could share with you all.
I think I have told you this story before, but I was reminded of it again this week. One day a regular customer brought a child’s ride-on toy into the shop to donate– a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe, you know the red and yellow one that a child can sit in, and use their legs to make the car go – like Fred Flintstone’s car.
Rather than just donate the toy, leaving it in the drop off shed, this customer found our Manager Alexis, and also told her the story of this car, and gave her a letter to share. She had bought this little car at the Thrift Shop a while back for $5 for her granddaughter. Her granddaughter LOVED it. She got a lot of enjoyment from this little car, and finally decided it was time to donate it back to the shop again because she is now 7 and can’t fit her long legs in the car anymore. So she wrote this beautiful letter to the shop – which Alexis posted for the volunteers to read – and the letter told about her granddaughter’s enjoyment of the toy and how she hoped that another child would be able to now enjoy it as her granddaughter had. And then she ended with a thank you for all that we do.
Later on that Thursday, I was outside the shop, chatting with a woman who has been coming to the shop for about 10 years. Anyway – her niece was playing with this toy car, and the woman and I were talking about how the shop is such a great place to get toys for kids and how it has been so helpful for her family over the years… anyway – that little girl is the new proud owner of the $5 Cozy Coupe, and was really happy to “drive it off the lot.” When I saw her aunt the next week, she told me that her niece has barely stopped playing with it since she took it home. So the Crazy Coupe was indeed providing fun for another child. When I told the previous owner that it has found a new happy home, she was thrilled. Donating that car back to the shop again, not only brought joy to another little girl, but in sharing the story and the note with the shop, it also warmed the hearts of the volunteers and reminded them of the difference that they make in the lives of so many people.
Jesus spoke about preparations in today’s Gospel reading. When he spoke of preparation, he caught the attention of the people by speaking about the end times. “Be prepared!” Jesus says, “the Master of the house might return anytime!!!” Meaning, of course, that God might return to the earth at any time – and life as we know it would be changed forever.
People have been talking about the end of the world since the beginning of the world – or so it seems. This was certainly the case in Jesus’ day.
Around the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the people were tired of being ruled by the Roman empire and they longed for God to come and rescue them by bringing an end to the world as they knew it. There were many sacred texts that are from these early years, describing the end of the world in detail. They are books that never were accepted into our Bible, but they certainly show the mood and expectations of the people at the time of Jesus.
When Jesus talks about preparing for God, Jesus isn’t talking about beliefs that we might have in our head – Jesus is talking about our faith as a treasure which we experience in our hearts. Faith isn’t something we figure out (and record in a textbook). Faith is something we live.
So how shall we live? How do we live this faith – this treasure which Jesus tells us about. We live our faith by living in preparation for God. Jesus says, “Blessed are those whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will have them sit down and he will come and serve them”.
Another thing Jesus mentions in his list is giving alms, involves giving to others as an act of virtue, and the point of almsgiving, I think, is not to elevate poverty, but to practise generosity as a mark of the Christian life. Almsgiving involves more than charity in a condescending or transactional way. Almsgiving is an expression of true solidarity with others. This is a solidarity that refuses to let inequalities stand. Jesus is not interested in correcting abuses or disadvantages that tend to pop up in the current world order. His vision is much more radical than that. In Jesus’ reality, there is a destruction of old categories and demarcations. Almsgiving isn’t about offerings that help those with less money; it must be about sharing power and advantage.
The watchfulness that Jesus demands is not an anxious anticipation of the end of the world but instead is an eager expectation of God’s people living in God’s way. What Jesus is commending is faith – faith that frees us to be generous; faith that enables us to leave anxiety behind; faith that creates in us confidence about a future secured not by human endeavor or achievement but by God’s promise to us.
Preparation for God does not mean shaping up by making a list of “Shoulds” or “To Dos” for our lives – things that we think we ought to be doing in order to be worthy of God’s love. We don’t need to earn it. God’s love is for all of us. In Jesus story, the people don’t clean up the house in preparation of the Master’s return. Rather, they simply wait by the door. They pay attention – listening for the Master’s footsteps so they can greet him.
In our lives, preparation for God is as simple. All we need to do is wait – listen for God’s footsteps. Try to hear God in the small ways that God may be present in our lives.
For example: When we benefit from the kindness of a friend, do we just carry on with our lives, or do we stop for a while and wonder how God might be present in that act of kindness.
When we enjoy the company of loved ones, do we carry on unaware, or do we wonder to ourselves how God is present in that companionship.
When we have a moment of insight, bringing clarity a part of our lives that we didn’t have before – do we take it for granted, or do we marvel at the work of God’s Spirit, bringing guidance and wisdom.
In the small and large things that happen in our day to day lives, do we practice preparation for seeing a glimpse of God. Do we pay attention to the moments we treasure – for where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. And where our hearts are, is a good place to look for God’s presence. The more we do this – the more we prepare ourselves to see God, the better we get at noticing God. The more we notice God, the better we will know in our hearts that God is already here.
In the story I told at the beginning about the church that was dying, they prepared for their end by giving away all that they had, and in turn they received much more than they could have imagined. They had renewed faith, renewed mission and experienced new life and resurrection at what they thought was their death. What they thought would be the end of their story, became a new beginning.
Jesus tells us to prepare – yet it is this very preparation that does the work for us. By preparing for God by getting better and better at looking for God’s presence in our lives, we begin to notice God more and more. The more we practice this awareness the more aware we become of God already being in our midst – working through all kinds of people and situations to bring opportunities for healing and meaning in our lives.
Thanks be to God for each opportunity to treasure God’s presence in our heart. Amen.