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By The Spirit Given

Sermon - 5/07/06
John Moore
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

1 John 3:16

I'm going to read the text, beginning with verse 16 in chapter 3, 1 John:

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Of course I lifted the title of this sermon from that last verse -- By the Spirit Given.

To really share the story of stewardship, last week we had these little inserts in the bulletin.  It's hard to teach about stewardship.  I really appreciate Alan's courage to come up and share from his own experience.  One reason it's hard is that everybody -- on T.V., everything -- they're all out with these commercials wanting your money.  And so it causes us to pause before we want to talk about it in church, but we've got to do it, it's too much a part of the message.

A young boy approached his father and asked that most difficult question:  "Dad, where did I come from?".  Well, Dad squirmed a bit with panic, but then he looked his son over and decided he was of the right age to talk to him about the facts of life.  So Dad told his son how the expression of love resulted in the beginning of life, how life was developed in the womb, and finally how a child is born.  As Dad told the story, his son's eyes grew wider and wider.  And when Dad finished, his son said "Wow, that's really neat.  That sure beats what Randy told me -- he said he came from Philadelphia!".

Well, in stewardship, to get grounded, we have to see first of all where we come from.  That is the beginning of the story.  And in faith we believe we're here because (as it says in the very first verse of the Bible) in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and we're part of that creation.  We're here because God has given us life.  And we know that all life ultimately belongs to God.  That God has done us a high honor -- he wants to keep giving to us, to bring it to a greater fruition.  And he's invited his people to join him on his life-giving mission.  It's quite an honor really.

The first verse in this chapter 3 says "See what wealth the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God".  That's where it starts.  We have an identity.  An identity that gives us a new value, and hopefully will fill our hearts with thanksgiving and gratitude that God includes us.  Not just in his love, but in his mission, in his will.

Verse 16 goes on to say 'We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for one another'.  Now we know that Jesus made the supreme sacrifice when he laid down his life for us.  But John didn't have that in mind when he challenged us to lay down our lives for others.  Because he goes on in verse 17 and he says 'How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?'  We lay down our lives by channeling the love of God through goods and services or through meeting the needs of those among us.

We keep that love alive.  And we call it stewardship.

When we lived in New Mexico, we were there for 10 years and I developed a hobby -- gold mining.  That's just a great hobby -- you get out there in the hills, nobody bothers you, nobody's crazy enough to get out there in those desert hills.  You get in those draws out there, you work, and sweat, and you'll find a little bit of gold.  After seven years of that, I found enough for wedding bands for our kids, and a ring for Cheryl.  And that about cleaned me out.

But I was intrigued when I came across this story that was found on a scrap of paper mounted behind a glass in a desert store in Southern California.  It was written with a stub of a pencil and a piece of wrapping paper, which was originally found folded in a soda can and wired to a pump out on an old desert trail.  The message went like this:

"This pump is alright as of June 1932.  I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last 5 years.  But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed.  Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up.  There's enough water in it to prime this pump, but not if you drink some first.  Pour in about 1/4 and let her soak to wet the leather.  Then pour in the rest, medium-fast, and pump like hell.  You'll get water.  The well never has run dry.  Have faith -- when you get watered up, fill the bottle, put it back like you found it for the next feller.  P.S.  Don't go drinking the water first -- prime the pump with it and you'll get all you can hold.  And next time you pray, remember that God is like this pump -- he has to be primed.  I'll give my last dime away a dozen times to prime the pump, but my prayer -- and I've sent my last beans to a stranger while saying Amen -- it never failed yet to give me an answer.  You've got to get your heart fixed, to give, before you can be gived to.  Signed, Desert Pete".

I like him -- he's a good steward.  And that's what Jesus tried to with his disciples, and still does, works with our hearts first.  Before we can really launch into stewardship, we really are way ahead if we know who we are.  If we know of this love.  This is the desire to give.  Because, as we read in scripture, we are created in the image of God.  And God loves and God gives.  And we creatures who are created in his image are invited to love and to give.  And to reflect the image of the One who gives us life.

Now it goes on, our text does, and John begins that next verse by saying -- 'Little children' (I hope that doesn't put you off):  "Little children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action".  He wasn't talking 'down'.  John was undoubtedly a venerated elder in the church, well respected.  And he mentions in verse 1 that we're all children of God.  He was using a term of endearment -- just showing his love to those who he was writing to.  

Little children.  Children are honest, and pliable.  Teachable.  And he's encouraging us not to be childlike, but to be childish, in order to hear the invitation.  To get more involved with the gift God has given us in our stewardship.  

I had to smile, sometime back, about an E-mail -- we get those too, sometimes bothersome, but this one had children's prayer.  Some Sunday-school teacher had decided to teach her children to pray, so she wrote on a sheet "Dear God", and left it blank for the children to complete a prayer.  They really had suggestions for God more than prayer:

"Thank you for my baby brother, dear God, but what I prayed for was a puppy.  Joyce".

"Dear God:  maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms.  It worked with my brother Larry".

And here's one that we can understand:  "Dear God:  instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don't you just keep the ones you have now?  Jane".

Children are young and they're pliable.  But we're told to be like children, aren't we?  Before God, we're always going to be babes with a lot to learn, and a long way to go.  So don't be put off when John says "Little children".

But then he steeps it up with some pretty good challenges:  'Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.  And by this we will know that we are from the truth, and will reassure our hearts before him".  Talk can be cheap, we know that don't we?  It's hard not to be cynical, when something like Katrina happens, lots of promises but just no help coming along soon enough.  The news people keep panning over those same old roofs that have been there now 8 months.  It's disheartening.  Talk can be cheap, but there's a problem in the timing.  As I read John's text, it makes it look like we're to be equipped with a lifestyle that just helps us to make decisions as we meet life head-on.  Not with a lot of planning sometimes -- things just happen, and we respond.

I read about a missionary lady who was sitting on a second-floor window when a letter came.  She opened it while she was sitting there on the window sill.  Out of the letter popped a nice, shiny $10-dollar bill, which pleased her very much as this was a number of years ago when that represented a pretty good sum of money.  But as she looked out the window, she noticed a shabbily-dressed man down there, who she knew could use that money a lot more than she needed it.  And he looked so discouraged to her.  And so she put it in an envelop and sealed it, and on the outside she just wrote "Don't despair".  She flipped it out the window and it fell right at his feet.  He picked it up, and looked up at her, and opened it, and smiled at her.  Tipped his hat and walked off.  And she felt good about this responding to an immediate need.  And that took some faith.

The next day when she was ready to leave, here was this shabbily-dressed man right at her front door.  And he handed her $60!  And he said:  "Don't Despair took the 6th race, 6 to 1!".  

Well, I don't know if that's a true story, but it's a good parable.  Sometimes we just have to respond with what we know at the time.  But then there's other times when we have to plan our stewardship.  And this is particularly true when it comes to the church.  I'm like Alan in one sense -- I was trained in stewardship as a young boy.  I remember distinctly my father giving us a silver dollar, each of us -- I had 6 brothers, so that was a lot of money.  Gave us each a silver dollar once a week.  But he gave the teaching right with the coin:  10 cents has to go back to the church, to the Lord's work.  Well, you know, that went over with me.  I loved my Dad, and I thought that must be the way it was supposed to be.  But it was probably more legalistic than loving, quite frankly, but you know, that stayed with me.

And if our situation is such that a tithe is simply not workable, then we plan what is workable.  There's a place for spontaneous unplanned giving and meeting life as it hits us, and giving love in the moment, but then there's the planned giving, the stewardship giving which the church quite frankly requires.  Because our great missions that we accomplish through First Christian Church and other churches needs steady, on-going support.  Every one of us pulling together.  And that's a challenge, it will always be a challenge for us to under-gird the ministry of the church.

Some years back in Portland I heard Mark Marty, who is a well-known editor and theologian, he made the statement that Oregon is a heathen state.  And he gave us some raw statistics (I thought they were a little high) -- he said 31% attend church at any time during the year.  And then he went on to say that 'in your state, 7 out of 10 times when the hungry are fed, the old are cared for, the addict treated, it's the church at work'.  And it's still that way.  The church is the most reliable servant in the community for dealing with deep human needs.  And so our planned stewardship is really important.

In the 1920s, there were two boys from Southern Illinois, and one of them was telling the story (he was up in years when I heard him tell this, he was one of the boys), said they were excited because there village had been challenged with paving main street.  If they would pave main street, the circus would come to town.  That's all the incentive -- the community got behind hit.  First they put in the curbs, and these two boys were sitting in the shade of a big tree on the curb.  And here came this fresh cement out there in the road.  You know what little boys do when there's fresh cement (these kids were normal boys), they waited until nobody was looking, and they reached their bare toe out and they carved their initials in that fresh cement.  Well, a week later they were going by there, and yep, they're still there.  Their initials.  Two weeks after that, the circus came to town and these boys came and sat on that same place on the curb.  And those big circus wagons were being pulled down main street full of lions and tigers, monkeys, and all those animals.  Those are huge, heavy wagons, steel wheels around wood, and they were making a big grating noise as they were pulled down main street.  And these kids were amazed.  After those wagons had gone by, they didn't leave any impression at all.  But there were their initials right in front of them, impressions they made that are going to be there for a long time.  And it's all in the timing.

And the time when we can make an impression -- our time is right now.  While we're living and kicking and breathing, it's our time to serve as stewards.

By the spirit given, our time to love, to live it up.  Our time to allow the resurrection background music to play on through us.  Our time to live and love and give the life.  Our time.  By the spirit given.  Let's live it up.  Amen.


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