A Stewardship Sermon

Back when my hair was dark and my skin was dewy, a reporter from the local paper approached me just outside the grocery store. “I have a weekly column where people answer simple questions,” he said. “Would you mind participating?” How could I not, I thought to myself as I quickly pushed my cart to the side.

Notepad at the ready, the reporter invited me to complete this sentence: “Instead of what I’m doing now, I would rather be…” Did he mean grocery shopping or what I was doing in general? He didn’t say. And it didn’t matter because my answer fell off my lips before I even knew what was happening.

Now before I tell you what I said that day, how would you fill in that blank? If you could be doing something else—either right now or in general—what would that be? (Let folks respond.)

Here’s how I responded that sunny Saturday in Fresno, California. I would rather be working for social justice. The reporter and I were both so surprised by my remark that we wound up talking about it at length.

“I’d rather be working for social justice.” Where in the world did that answer come from?

It came from church. It came from growing up in a new church start very much like this one, a faith community that understood, just as we do, that we humans are not here to earn a seat in the good place or to keep ourselves out of the bad place.

Rather, you and I have been set down on this good earth to join God in ushering in the heavenly kingdom that Jesus assured us is ever close at hand. It’s a realm where all God’s children are free and fed, a world where our only intolerance is for whatever impedes or prevents God’s love and justice from flourishing.

Clearly, the world is still short on love and justice. Daily we are made aware of the death-dealing dynamics that tear at the fabric of our shared lives. And because of this, there is work to be done.

The Jewish tradition has long called this “tikkun olam,” repair of the world. Repair of the world not simply as we ourselves have known it or might wish it could be but as God imagines it right now.

I want to emphasize this distinction between our vision and God’s because it is often tempting for us humans to try to rebuild or repair what was never God’s dream in the first place. A vivid example of this comes from the familiar campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Make America Great Again—for whom, though?

Members of the African-American community have no desire to make America great again by seeing segregation reinstituted. Our indigenous siblings will never be convinced that greatness would be ours again if only we resumed the boarding school system. Similarly, women have no desire to again be ineligible to vote. America might have thought itself great back when there were no child labor laws, but no one I know thinks that returning to those days would ever justify calling our nation great.

The sacred repair, the holy rebuilding we are called to do, is laced with love and strives for justice. The more God’s love and justice prevail, the more the degrading, oppressive forces of hatred, indifference, oppression, violence, and lack will weaken and perish.

During this season of stewardship, our overarching theme has been the abundant life Jesus promises. Anything that contributes to the common good, anything that supports health and wholeness, anything that nurtures unity and peace, falls under the glorious umbrella of “abundant life.”

We began our stewardship journey by thinking together about how we experience Jesus’ abundant life through our belonging to Community Spirit, and how this is not ours alone to savor but rather is meant to spill into the lives of those outside our virtual and physical doors.

Then last Sunday we focused on compassion, Jesus’ compass and ours. Where compassion is present, Christ is present. Where compassion is plentiful, life is decidedly abundant, even as it is sometimes challenging.

Today we are thinking together about the third way abundant life is found and shared. It’s when love for God and one another calls us into tikkun olam, into holy repair of life’s intricately woven fabric. In this sacred work, we use love and justice in the same way we use needle and thread on our tattered clothing or shingles and nails on our wind-whipped roofs.

Community and compassion have the power to foster truly abundant life for some. But for abundant life to bless all God’s children, changes that serve everyone equally are in order.

Even as we understand this intellectually, you and I can easily be left feeling powerless in the face of the monoliths of oppression and injustice. And these very real feelings might tempt us to look away or throw up our hands in despair.

Is this not the case for so many right now as the world watches Israel and Hamas violently destroy a region we often call “The Holy Land?”

Doing nothing is not an option when we are rooted in life abundant. Even when the odds do not seem to be in love’s favor, even when injustice seems to have an intractable hold on the human family, there is always something we can do to mend a bit of the world we inhabit.

Here are three ways to do this. We can flood our elected officials with calls and emails. We can choose to stop buying products made by corporations whose practices are unjust. We can divest ourselves of investments in companies that hurt or harm the human family and our home, the earth.

Let’s think about the very real impact that Community Spirit’s repair work has had.

This summer, we participated in a postcard campaign sponsored by the United Church of Christ, imploring our government to take decisive action around the climate change crisis. Our voices alone would not inspire action, but when they merged with thousands of others, this effort made a difference. And it will again.

During the spring, members and friends of Community Spirit showed up and spoke out when some in our area wanted the Montrose Regional Library to cater to their religious beliefs by banning certain books and halting specific activities. Along with others with shared concerns, our presence made a significant and lasting difference.

During the pandemic, at Xavi Saenz’s urgent request, we traveled to Delta to stand up and stand out for age-appropriate, well-curated human sexuality education. We did this because we know that when adopted, this kind of curriculum doesn’t just change lives but quite literally saves them.

As a church, we have also partnered with the Uncompaghre Valley Alliance in two significant community organizing efforts: one related to homelessness and one that concerned itself with the lack of safe, affordable childcare in our region, both of which daily affect the degree to which others experience abundant life. Access to housing and childcare are not just nice to have; they are evidence that God’s justice is at work.

Community and compassion bring us to the very edge of human need. But the bridge that carries us over into the expansive, inclusive abundant life Jesus promises us often requires us to make manifest God’s love and justice. Together we effect change for the common good.

We can be proud of the justice work we have done as a church. Without even knowing it, we have lived into the wisdom found in Galatians 6:9, which says we should never grow weary of doing good in the world. We have also stumbled onto the wise counsel of writer and change agent Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who says: Mend the part of the world that is in your reach.

What is within our reach? Standing up for the library’s charge to serve everyone equally in our community has been within our reach. Advocating for life-saving, age-appropriate human sexuality education in Delta has been within our reach. Collaborating on efforts to address homelessness and inadequate childcare in our area has been within our reach. Speaking up on Earth’s behalf with churches across the country is within our reach.

What else is within our reach? Where else are God’s love and justice in short supply? Who else is waiting for us to help change our world for good?

Just as we spent a little time last week speaking to one another in small groups, we will do something similar now.

What other efforts of love and justice are within our reach? Where else are God’s love and justice in short supply? Who else is waiting for us to help change our world for good?

Take a few minutes to reflect and then share your thoughts with your small group. Be sure when you gather that everyone has a chance to speak.

I’ll send you off now, and when we regather, we will close with prayer. (Allow 7-8 minutes.)

Let us pray together:

God of abundant life, thank you for blessing us with life-giving community and compassion. Bless us also in our earnest efforts to nurture love and justice, both near and far. Use our gifts and our very lives to change the world for good. Ever may your justice roll down like waters and your righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amen.