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#SharingOurFaith

Rev. Daniel A. Smith
Sun, Nov 20

Scripture: Romans 12: 1-18

Our Stewardship theme for this year is “Share.” Before I open that up a bit in light of the reading we just heard, I first want to call to your minds that little icon that is ubiquitous on our phones and screens. You know, the little arrow pointing outwards from a rectangle that represents a document, article or social media post. Consider what’s been emerging lately about the enormous role that digital news media, Facebook and Twitter postings are playing in current events, for better and for worse. Facts, lies, opinions and ensuing comments are being shared across the country and planet in ways never before seen. We’ve learned that what we share and how we share matters! Journalist are only beginning to trace the ways that so called “twitterbots” and social media algorithms and advertising are creating cycles and circles of information and misinformation sharing that influence how we think about each other and the world. Some are saying that the way things are shared online has exercised a profound influence on election results. I don’t know enough about it yet to suggest that social media and the economic interests behind it are either knowingly or unwittingly manipulating our elections. I do know that what and how we share matters, for better and for worse. Clicking on that online arrow - to share and emoji our likes and disapprovals – matters. Our shares become records and statements not only of our preferences but of who we are and who we aspire to be.

First Church is admittedly behind the times as an institution when it comes to our social media presence. We are building it. In fact, you have my permission right now to pull out your phones and like us on Facebook if you haven’t already. Or, even better, hold the phone for a minute and hear a statement or two about who we are and who we aspire to be, then see if you are willing to hit that love or like icon!

On this last Sunday of our liturgical year, on this Thanksgiving Sunday and Stewardship Sunday, I want to share the longer version of our Mission Statement that we spent months developing together over a year ago. It's a new statement that we affirmed at our Annual meeting in January. Close your eyes if you like. Hear it again or for the first time. I wonder if these words might find a new or renewed resonance given what’s been going on in our country and world since the beginning of 2016.

“First Church is called to be a community of grounding, of grace, and of courage for the common good…
 
Grounded in God, our hope and our healing -- grounded in God whom we know and experience, who draws us to wonder and awe, beauty and love, in the God who is within and between us, in the God of nature’s grandeur and creation’s splendor, in the God of all our ancestors, whom we know from generation to generation.
 
Growing in community with Jesus our center – growing in community where we honor and welcome each other’s gifts, joys, and sorrows, where we are vulnerable about our weakness and failures, where we hold each other accountable and call each other beloved, where we are challenged to love ourselves and one another across differences, where we seek to follow Jesus’ way of compassion and mercy.
 
Acting in love, made bold by the Spirit – acting together with people of all faiths and conscience, holding fast to the promise of a shared future, responding together with urgency for our beautiful yet broken world, acting as a community of love and resistance to racism, oppression, and violence, acting boldly with the Spirit as our courage and solace.”

Grounded in God, growing in community, acting in love! This is a statement of who we are and of who we aspire to be as a faith community, for such a time as this! Do you find yourself wanting to have a share in this kind of community?

Even better, let’s turn to our scripture. Honestly, I can’t get enough of these words of Paul lately. We shared them last week and we are doing so again this week. Far from articles or documents, they invite us to share our very bodies as sacrifices in spiritual worship, that is to say they coax us to put our whole selves on the line for God! Paul calls us not to be conformed but to be transformed by the renewing and refreshing of our minds whenever we turn or turn back to God, whenever we recall God’s will which is rooted in eternal love that is stronger than death. Not my will, but thy will be done! What’s more Paul’s age-old wisdom reminds us that we each have a role in the body of Christ, we each have unique gifts to bring – whether exhortation, diligence, compassion or cheerfulness! These are the gifts of the Spirit we are called to share! And then he lays out a section of the letter that in many bibles is titled “the true marks of a Christian”.

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are….

Talk about a statement of who we aspire to be! Imagine if that language lit up our twitter feeds 10 times a day. Imagine if Paul could have broadcast that clip out to the 2.2 billion Christians the world over! Or consider instead how this message actually came into our hands. It began with small communities recalling these words and the stories of Jesus’ unconditional love in house churches, in one room homes with mud floors, sometimes doing so in secret given that the early Jesus movement was seen as a threat to the Roman empire! Imagine sharing and embodying these words as a new oral tradition, and holding each other accountable to them, and listening across vast identity difference – males and females, Jews and Greeks, slaves and free – listening to one another in actual conversation. Imagine that kind of “all-in” faith community in the Book of Acts where early Christians gave alms and shared their possessions. For them, knowing God through creating small life-giving communities of resilience, relationship and resistance to the death dealing Roman empire was clearly their highest priority and their ultimate concern.

This brings me to what it means to share our faith, for such a time as this! Part of me wonders if the vision God gave us last year was preparing us, not only for the capital campaign, the projects of which we will be voting on after church, but for something even bigger and bolder. God has given us a vision, that fits and meets this moment all the more. We need that sense of grounding in God, that we are still walking on solid ground of our faith and hope, now as much as ever! We are in desperate need that sense of inclusive community, now more than ever before. We need spaces where we can acknowledge our weaknesses and failures – namely that we aren’t nearly as diverse or inclusive as we think we are… We need to be prompted now more than ever to act boldly in love, whether through our care for the earth, our interfaith organizing, our LGBTQ witness or our outreach to the homeless, poor and marginalized. These are some of the ways we can share our faith and own our share in this covenant community. God forbid we hesitate to share and wear our version of Christianity. God is calling, coaxing and demanding us now to step up and claim who we are and who we aspire to be. Friends, God is up to something good, right here and right now, this I believe. And it may well be that God is giving us and gracing us with an utterly clarifying kick in our pajama bottoms, to wake us up from our self-satisfied stupors, to kick us out of the beds of some hyper-commercialized, all-to-narrow circles of privilege, to call us to start wearing those marks of what it means to be a Christian. Forgive these metaphors, I am the father of two late-sleeping teenagers, so the idea of our growing out of an adolescent form of Christianity may well be more about me than you! Still, I believe our God is telling us even now: be not conformed by the fear and despair that sits in many our guts when we read of that latest hate group-approved political appointment. Be transformed by My enduring hope and love for you and what you can accomplish through faith in Me! Get out there and wear your faith and share your faith, not merely with a click of an arrow but with embodied engagement!

And by God, perhaps the most profound way that we can share our faith, pledge our commitment and live our values is by sharing our resources together. As we enter into Thanksgiving this week, and dodge the news stories of stampedes of shoppers pouring into stores, is it possible that we could stop looking to shop therapy and see what share therapy feels like for a change? Out of our Mission Statement, we set out a bold vision for our capital campaign, for such a time as this! Some of you have seized the opportunity to make a once in a lifetime major gift to that campaign, whether it was $100, $1,000 or a $100,000. We know this has stretched your financial reality in ways that are acts of faith, in ways that may make you ever more reliant and trusting in God. This is a good thing that enlarges our spiritual life and allows us to find genuine joy in generosity! And I cannot thank you enough. In this Stewardship season, we also ask that each of you consider maintaining, or, if possible, increasing your daily, weekly, monthly contributions to the daily, weekly and monthly ministry of this place that touches so many lives. Since we know that many of you are already stretching, this year, we are intentionally broadening our reach and trying to invite as many new pledges as possible. If you’ve never made a pledge before, even if you only come to church a few times a year, we hope you will consider pledging today, that you too may have a share in who we are and who we aspire to be, and that together we can invest in and extend our reach for the common good. The fact is we don’t have a national alumnae database, or the radio frequency reach of NPR’s fundraising drive, or Giving Tuesday emails that go to hundreds of thousands of people. Look around at our base. What we have is you and we have each other.

We are about to vote on a significant deficit budget and bold new vision for our building and ministry that includes a significant new loan, something that our finance team and executive council is willing to propose if each of us are willing to commit. Our communal needs for annual financial support are deep and real. Now is not the time to think only about family nests or nest eggs, as important as they are! Now is the time to share and commit to a portion, and even a double portion, of what it takes to build that broader nest that will be here, day in and day out, that broader nest that shares our values with future generations, that holds us in moments of illness and grief and trauma through countless hours of bedside visits, coffees shop conversations, cards and meals and rides to doctor’s visits, that broader nest that celebrates LGBTQ pride, that engages with Muslims and Jews and people of all faiths in building a stronger city, that offers ministry to refugees and immigrants, that helps us to feed hundreds if not thousands of our neighbors on the street. This is that broader nest of God’s love for one another and the world into which each our gifts are and must be woven. Consider too that those who have a fraction of the income and assets that many of us have, whether they live in Roxbury or Appalachia, are statistically far more generous in their giving to their faith communities, perhaps because they know better than we do that their gift literally offers the daily bread that loves and sustains their neighbors and community upon which their lives sometimes depend.

How and what we share matters greatly to ensure that our ministry as a community of hope and resilience, of love and resistance, flourishes. How we share is how we express our hope and faith that God’s got this and God is up to something good in these trying times! How we share is how we say we are not alone and we here for one another! Today, we invite you pledge and share whatever you can, with joy and generosity and purpose, for how we share is how we know who we are and who we aspire to be, so near as God shall give us grace! Amen.

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