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Ongoing Resurrection

Sermon - 4/30/06
John Moore
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Matthew 5:7-16

I'm going to read the text from Matthew, chapter 5, beginning with verse 7.  I realize I'm cutting the beatitudes in half, but the points I want to make are in the back parts.  Here we go:

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

May God bless our understanding of this reading of his holy word.

I meant to make double sure you filled out one of the attendance slips, later hand that into the service, because you'll also find one of these in the bulletin [a stewardship flyer], and we were going to send these out first-class postage, but since it's a stewardship bulletin, we thought it's better stewardship if we just hand them out and save the postage.  I am going to refer to it a little later in the service, briefly.

George Chamberlain, and his brother-in-law, Mr. Owen, they built the grocery store and a sizeable house right next door in 1916.  They did it in 6 months time.  As a little boy, I got to stay in that house sometimes, a week or two a year, because George Chamberlain was my grandfather.  And today, Chamberlain House, as it's called, is a bed-and-breakfast, run by my cousin.  A month ago, Cheryl and I went up and stayed in Chamberlain House, and for me, it was the first time I'd been in there in I guess 50 years.  And it was a daunting experience to stand inside those old and familiar walls.  And the stories from childhood seemed to come through the cracks.  I remembered so much more just standing on the premises.  Haven't you had those kind of experiences?  Yogi Berra called them "Deja vu all over again".

One experience that came through vividly, and I talked to my cousin about it, was a fishing trip that my two older brothers and an older cousin and I got to go on.  At that time there were commercial fisherman on that part of Columbia River, they docked pretty near where Rooster Rock is, if you're familiar with the area.  Clifford Reed and his father Louis Reed, invited us boys to go along and do a drift-fish with them.  The way they worked that, they had 1/4-mile long gill-net, a lamp on the end of it.  They would set the net, and drift away from it in the boat, put out a 1/4-mile long net, and simply float down the river.  For hours and hours.  And they did it in the evening, that was part of the excitement for us -- it turned dark right after we got there.  And we weren't going to get home until about midnight, that's pretty exciting when you're 8 years old, as this was 60 years ago (I know you can't believe it, but it's possible J).

As we were drifting, Louis, who was quite a storyteller, pointed toward an island and said 'there was a whirlpool developed near that island, a boat with 4 fisherman in it went under, and they never found any of those fishermen'.  He began to tell stories of catastrophes that had happened.  Two of the Applegate children drown, you might recall from Oregon history, when they went down on the Oregon trail and then got on rafts, and two children didn't make it.  Louis knew all those stories.  And he would point to places where drownings took place.  Well, the effect it had on me as an 8 year-old boy was like ghost stories, and I was becoming terrified.  And I soon lost interest in the fishing trip and it seemed like it lasted forever.  And it got dark, and the stories kept coming.  I think Louis was having fun scaring us boys, but finally we made it back to shore, Louis was happy because he caught a 40-pound carp (which was a huge goldfish).  That meant $40 cash for him at that time, 60 years ago, because he could sell it to the Jewish faith folk for a ceremonial fish, they would pay that good money for a big carp like that.  He was happy, but I was just glad to be back on land.  Even though it was pitch black and we had to walk 3 miles up the Columbia River gorge to get back to Grandpa's house.

I recall a feeling of exhilaration walking in the dark with my older brothers, knowing we'd made it.  I really felt like we'd had a near-death experience!  But I suppose that was the first time that something like resurrection was real for me.  We made it. 

Malvina Reynolds has written this poem about resurrection:

God bless the grass, that grows through the crack
They roll the concrete it over and try to keep it back
But the pavement gets tired of what it has to do
And it breaks and it buckles and the grass grows through
And God bless the grass 

God bless the truth of what Christ has done
They rolled a stone closed and thought he was done
But the grave got tired of what it had to do
And it opened at dawn and light breaks through
And God bless the truth

God bless the grass that breaks through cement
It's green and it's tender and it's easily bent
But after awhile it lifts up its head
For the grass is living, and the stone is dead
And God bless the grass


Our text today isn't normally considered a resurrection passage.  But it ought to be.  The resurrection faith -- blessed are the merciful, blessed are the peacemakers, you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.  I told the early service -- that should be on banners, and somebody pointed out to me it is on this one [hanging in the church]!

But any one of those statements, those are Jesus' direct teachings from the sermon on the mount, and it ignited that crowd.  And it needs to ignite us as we realize that all of us who follow Christ are really resurrection stewards.  Our stewardship is post-Easter.  We realize we follow a risen Christ.  And that puts new value on our status and on the status of those people we come in contact with.

Resurrection is ongoing.  It needs to be lived out.  A couple of weeks ago, several of our youth (I think it was 8), joined others from Oregon and made a trip to Mexico.  While they were there, they built 4 houses.  That's simply a marvelous act of stewardship.  They did what they could do, and when they left there were 4 families whose world changed because they had a place to live in.  And they'll never be the same.  And I know our youth that went will never be the same.  Because they got to practice this ongoing resurrection kind of stewardship by building those houses, and getting their hands on it, and getting sweaty and dirty and becoming part of a life-giving project.

You see, we're used to seeing stewardship in too narrow a light.  Ordinarily, the only time we talk about it is in the Fall when we're trying to raise our annual budget.  And while I have a sermon or two on stewardship, unfortunately, people tend to take the narrow view that stewardship is just about money at a certain time of year.  And it's about goals, and about pressure to make a certain pledge, and then we're done with it and we're kind of glad.  But stewardship is much broader than that.

It's time to pick up your pamphlet (don't worry, I'm not going to read the whole thing).  Turn to page 2, if you would please, and just the red lettering:  "Make stewardship your way of life.  God has given us all we have.  Jesus invites us to be disciples".  And disciples are stewards.  And that's all I'm going to read -- there's 15 pages that really develop the theme of stewardship.  We ask you to keep these and when you get a chance, read it.  It will give you a good insight into stewardship.  And it will please the Resource Ministry because we were the ones that said it's too bad we only talk about stewardship in the Fall.

It needs to have a close connection to the resurrection -- the joy of this time of year, when things are breaking loose in life.  It needs to be lived out as a lifestyle.

Jesus spoke the words of our text, 'you are salt, and you are light', and he didn't say you'll be salt if you try hard, or you'll be light if you put extra effort into it.  He said you are salt, the salt of the earth.  You are the light of the world.  And when he said that, he was paying a high compliment.  Because we can see ourselves in partnership with the creator, for his creation.  Co-life-givers, we're challenged to be.  And that's what it means to be a steward -- to feel responsible for the earth we live on, and for the people that we share the earth with, and all the creatures.  And to try give what we can to encourage life.  That's our broader stewardship.

Some of you are gifted with music, some with brains.  But you're all gifted stewards, you all have your unique gifts.

Years ago, a seminarian from Lexington Theological Seminary in Lexington Kentucky, had a student church.  And he married a young girl that was a student at Transylvania University near Lexington.  She didn't have a church background, but now she's a preacher's wife, just like that.  They no more than got into their student church when they were going to have vacation bible school, and she was asked to be a teacher.  Well, she hadn't been a teacher, but they didn't have enough to do it if she wouldn't help, so they twisted her arm and talked her into it.  She was terrified by this assignment, it was just so foreign to her.  They gave her some curriculum and said to read it, get familiar with it.  One thing she did remember from her childhood was that little ditty we learned as kids:  "This is the church, this is the steeple, open the doors, and see all the people".  Remember that one?  Well, she did too.  And so she did that with the kids, and they really loved it, they were that age.  It was just a lot of fun to try and make those fingers work that way and make that church and steeple.  She found out that when things began to roll the wrong way, she could bring them back with that -- they'd all make their churches, and she used it as sort of a call to order.  

Well, she made it through the week, there was only about 15 minutes left, and she thought she was home free.  She had the kids sitting in a semi-circle, there was only 7 or 8 of them, and then the back door opened.  And this little boy, Jimmy, came in.  Jimmy only had 1 arm.  All the kids knew Jimmy, it was a small town, but she didn't know Jimmy, and she was sort of taken aback.  Just the fact that he had only 1 arm, and she was afraid the kids might say something that might embarrass him.  It just made her nervous, so just to get things back to order, she said "OK boys and girls, let us make our church".  And of course Jimmy sat there and couldn't do it.  But just then, Lucy, sitting right next to Jimmy, said 'Here Jimmy, lets make a church together'.  

And that was stewardship.  And that was ongoing resurrection.  Because that's the way it works.  Somehow, Christ's love works through us.

Sometimes resurrection bids us go where we're not familiar.  And it can be a bit of a challenge.  But how did we get the idea that we can follow the risen Jesus and remain on familiar footing?   The faith he gives us is one that should make us feel at home wherever we are on this planet earth.  And so we have the challenge of accepting the love God gives us, and feeling secure enough in it that we can give and be stewards wherever we are and in whatever situation.

It's a challenge, to be life-givers with the love of God.  And we don't always get to see the results of what we try to accomplish.  Salt, light, peace, and justice.  We touch life.  One of our text's meanings is for this perseverance and faith to be part of the gift that Jesus has for us.  Verse 11 says 'blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.  For in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you'.

Being consistent even when there's resistance (any time we press against the status quo, there will be resistance), but we've been given the faith to love in the midst of struggle.  The midst of tough times.  It's a tough faith that we've been called to take on. 

There's a story of a Buddhist monk who was walking on a roadway over a creek, a little bridge across the creek, and he noticed down on the edge of the bank there was a tree root, and a scorpion was entangled in the roots.  And he just lifted his robes and made his way down the bank and reached in because the scorpion was about to drown, it was dipping under the water every once in awhile.  And he reached in and grabbed hold of the scorpion and the scorpion stung him.  He pulled his hand back, but then he reached in again and he worked and worked and finally untangled the scorpion and set it free on dry land.  But it had stung him several times.  By then a small crowd had begun to gather, and when he was making his way back up the bank, somebody made the comment 'You know that was really foolish of you to allow that kind of beating just for a scorpion'.  And the monk said "Just because it's the will and nature of the scorpion to sting, does that take away my need to be a life-giver?  That is my will, to be a life-giver".

We're called on to have thick skin, because we follow Jesus Christ.  The challenge goes on before us, because Christ goes on before us.  

Two Catholic nuns were delivering medical supplies when they ran out of gas.  Fortunately, they were near a service-station at an intersection.  They looked through the van to see if they could find a can that would hold gas, and they couldn't find anything but a bedpan.  They took the bedpan and walked over to the service-station, and they filled it with high-octane gas, and they carefully walked it back over to the van, trying to keep as much gas as they could from spilling all over.  As they were in the process of trying to coax it into the tank, a truck driver pulled up at the intersection, and he saw them pouring gas with a bedpan into the van.  He just watched them for awhile, intrigued.  Finally he rolled down his window and said:  "Ladies, I'm not a religious man, but I admire what you're doing!'.

Well, you know, that's good stewardship -- do the best you can with what you've got.  

We don't all have the gifts that we'd like to have, or a lot of things in life, but we're gifted.  And there's things we can give that would enrich life, that will help others on their walk through life.  And we need to find ways to channel the gifts God has placed within us.

And the last point I want to make is that stewardship for we Americans needs a little discipline.  We're great consumers -- I guess we're the greatest consumers in the world just about.  But sometimes we get confused between what we need and what we want.  And stewardship challenges us to look again.  To re-inventory our own lives and lighten our lives by getting rid of some things we don't need.  So that we'll have more left over to give to those who do have needs.

In the mid 80s when I was pastor of this church, Sister Jose came to Eugene.  She taught a group of ministers for an hour on the topic of spirituality.  We just met in a restaurant, probably a dozen of us, and she was a perfectly intriguing lady.  She was 1/2 Seneca Indian, from Texas, and a Franciscan Sister.  And she told us that she was raised in her Indian culture, she had the medicine bag that had part of an umbilical cord in it to represent the symbolic being in touch with all people.  She had a feather in her medicine bag, being in touch with God's heaven.  She had dirt, being in touch with God's earth.  And then there was something she didn't know what it was, and this was the way it is -- there's always a mysterious thing, because life is full of mystery, and that was put in the bag.  And then her sister had safe-keeping of the bag, but the idea was that when she dies, it was to be buried with her.  It's an old custom, she was raised that way.  But then she went on to explain to us that her family also had a teaching on materialism that was meant to help.  She was only allowed to have 6 toys.  If a seventh toy came along, she had to make a decision, which one of her 6 toys she was going to get rid of, because she could never have more than 6 toys.

She told us that when she decided to become a Franciscan Sister, the vow of poverty came easy to her.  Because she was raised that way.  I'm not suggesting we take a vow of poverty, or to enter an order.  But I'm just saying as Christian stewards, with the ongoing resurrection, something we get to celebrate and live out, it wouldn't hurt us to look again at our pile of stuff, and the way we spend our time.

Together, blending salt and light, peace and mercy, it may be a small way, but we'll change our world.  I'm so very proud of the outreach ministries of First Christian Church.  Made me feel proud to hear Judy make the announcement about a way we can serve the needs of Darfur.  There's some things that we can just do better [together] than doing them by ourselves.  It was Margaret Mead who said:  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has".

So the challenge is before us.  The truth is, you are the salt of the earth.  The truth is, you are the light of the world.  And you are needed.  For the love of God, and the love of life, spread yourself around.


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