We live in a give and take world. The question is which of those is true in your heart and mind. Is this a world that gives? Or a world that takes? As you reflect on the closest relationships in your life, do those relationships give to you or take from you? The church that we are a part of… Is Wapping Community Church a place where you feel inspired and uplifted? Or is it a place where you sometimes feel like you put in more than you receive back?
How about God? If you had to put a label on it, do you think God is a giving God or a taking God? Or is God both? And what if you are truly honest with yourself? If all of us closed our eyes and searched our own souls for a few moments, I suspect most of us feel as though we give an awful lot. Mainly because we care an awful lot. We nurture our children and grandchildren. We care for aging parents. We nurse spouses through healing and recovery. We reach out to friends who are lost and grieving. We love our pets unconditionally. We act as responsible caretakers for our homes. And maybe, after all that, we find ways to take care of ourselves…
Today is the day we dedicate our pledges to Wapping Community Church for the upcoming year. Which means it’s a good day for us to reflect on how much we give to this church community and how much we take from this church community. Not because we expect those two things to balance out. There are times when we give more to the church. And times when the church gives more to us. But today is an opportunity for us to simply weigh, examine, account for our God given responsibilities to ourselves, to one another, and to the world in which we live.
In order for us to examine giving and taking, Christians start with the premise that God doesn’t bless us abundantly and give us riches beyond measure so we can horde them for our own benefit. When we are rich in material wealth and resources, God asks us to turn our eyes towards those who live in poverty and insecurity. When we enjoy the stability of a loving family and relationships with friends that give us support and strength, we open ourselves to those who are lonely and neglected and rejected. When we draw hope from faith that guides us and sustains us and comforts us, we take a look around and consider those who need reassurance in our scary world. Christianity is fundamentally about give and take.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” I don’t know about you, but how many times have I longed to hear that kind of soaring rhetoric over the course of our current presidential campaign? Words that resonate beyond our narrow self-interests, appealing to our faith and our higher angels. Giving and taking.
Human beings were created to give generously and to take care of this world and each other. If our hearts are in it, what God asks of humanity is straightforward. God requires us to act justly, to practice mercy and to walk humbly with God. It’s not about going to church every Sunday or reciting the words to a particular prayer on a daily basis or never uttering a profane, four letter word in the privacy of our own homes. Or out in public.
Rather God wants all of us to embrace the role of interim pastors. Taking responsibility for what God has given us as well as we are able for as long as we are able. Remembering that God made the world and God is the one ultimately in charge. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that the lilies of the field do not worry about what they will wear for they are crowned in beauty. Meanwhile, God provides the birds of the air all they need to thrive. We give what we can and we give over to God the rest. We take what we need and we let God take on the rest…
It’s been a long and eventful week for me and for many here at Wapping Community Church. To have one funeral in any given week for a loyal, longtime church member is a lot. To have three such funerals in a week is unlike anything I can remember in my time at Wapping. Shirley Schmidt, Bill Pallait, and Jean Wetherell…the first funeral on Monday, the second on Friday, and the third yesterday. It hardly seems a coincidence that their funerals stretched over this past week when All Saints Day fell on Tuesday.
Over the course of the week I listened with deep gratitude as family members and loved ones told stories of all the things Shirley and Bill and Jean accomplished in their lifetimes. All the lives they touched down through the years. And all the good deeds they have accomplished here in town and here at Wapping Community Church. Although I haven’t done the math, I suspect together the three of them represent around a hundred and fifty years of membership here in this congregation.
The old family photographs and various mementos displayed at Shirley, Bill, and Jean’s funerals told a story of the town of South Windsor that was very different fifty and sixty and seventy years ago than it is now. A town that was simpler and quieter and more wide open.
And the same thing is true for this church. Back in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, Wapping Community Church was a different place as well. This church and many churches a few decades was at or near the center of many people’s lives…the focal point for couples and families when it came to friendships and volunteering and social activities. Many in this congregation remember those days well. The good old days when giving time and energy and money to the church was simply assumed.
In today’s world, people are pulled in many different directions. Sometimes simultaneously. And expectations and pressures are different, both in and outside the church.
People in my generation and younger generations here at Wapping Community Church think differently about giving and taking than the generation before. Many of us have walked the tightrope between paychecks, trying not to use the credit card and trying not to overdraft the bank account. But rarely being able to set aside the money we’re supposed to in any kind of savings account.
Some of us know all too well what it’s like to wait for months just to find a mediocre job that is not exactly in our field, even though we owe tens of thousands of dollars in student loan monies spent earning a specific degree. Some of have been rejected for a personal loan, we’ve been declined at the cash register, we’ve had to go back to our parents with our proverbial tails between our legs to ask for enough to get over the hump.
Sometimes we are able to give. And sometimes we desperately need to take. To be sure, the same holds true in any generation. But I think people are especially vulnerable in this generation.
So what does all of it mean, I’ve wondered this week? How does all of it fit together? What is there to say at the end of a week when celebrated the lives of three important pillars of the church and the church calendar told us to remember the saints who have lived among us and we come to church this morning dedicating our pledges in support of the church for the upcoming year? What is it that God might be trying to say…?
Maybe God is saying the very thing God said through the Prophet Micah. The same thing God asked of Shirley Schmidt and Bill Pallait and Jean Wetherell and all the saints of Wapping Community Church in their lifetimes God asks of each one of us. Act justly. Love mercy. And walk humbly with God wherever we are and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
And maybe God is saying the very thing God said through Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew. Don’t worry. Strive for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Dedicate your life to doing what you can do as a follower of Jesus Christ and let me take care of the rest.
So on this Dedication Sunday, we take time to remember who and what was. We commit to take care of what have right here and now. And we declare our willingness to embrace what is still to come. Giving and taking with gratitude in God’s holy name. Amen.