The Launch Pad

4th in the series “Defying Gravity”

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In 1974, farmers digging a well near a rural village in China uncovered artifacts that eventually led to the discovery of the tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and a collection of sculptures known as the Terracotta Army.  Qin came to power at age 13 and ruled at a time when China’s provinces were at war with each other.  He conquered the provinces one-by-one and created the Qin dynasty, for which China is probably named today.  During his reign, he undertook massive public works projects including a new road system and combining individual state walls into what we know today as the Great Wall of China.

One of his main concerns throughout life was his death. He sent out expeditions to find an elixir of immortality, which he never found. Finally accepting that he would one day die, he build a mausoleum the size of a city for himself. The Terracotta Army was created by workers to guard his burial place. The army took many years to create.

By the time Qin died in 210 B.C., his mausoleum was surrounded by more than 8,000 soldiers, along with chariots and horses. It’s amazing to think about how Qin focused so much of his resources to prepare for his afterlife.

Two centuries later and about 4,000 miles away, a Jewish rabbi named Jesus began teaching people about a different kingdom, the kingdom of God.  He invited people into a kingdom that would extend over every national boundary and unite people throughout time.

But instead of teaching people to create vast fortunes in this life or a false sense of security in the afterlife, Jesus taught his followers to be generous with their mercy, grace and love.  He warned them about the gravitational pull of wealth and possessions away from God’s kingdom.

Once, Jesus told the story about a man who had a record-breaking harvest too big to fit in his barns.  He could have kept what he needed to live and given the rest to benefit others, but he didn’t.  Instead, he decided to tear down his existing barns and build even bigger barns.  Then he would sit back and relax, and then eat, drink and be merry.  Jesus ended his story with these words:

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST')

Qin and Jesus both had something to say about the afterlife.  One built the bigger barn in the form of a huge mausoleum guarded by a Terracotta Army to protect him in eternity – but all that was covered over with dirt and damaged over time.  Jesus offered a different way of being rich toward God.  As we heard in last week’s scripture reading from Matthew 6closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST', Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST')

In today’s scripture, Jesus makes the point differently.  It might sound like Jesus is offering a prosperity gospel teaching, like some of the popular figures in Christian media.  It might seem like he means that if you manage a little money well, which includes sending in money to the media figures’ ministries, then God will give you lots more money.  But that understanding is only possible if we rip Jesus’ words out of context.

Instead, Jesus is calling his followers to be faithful with whatever they have, including their possessions and their whole lives – all of which belong to God – then they will experience the full joy of the kingdom of God now and for eternity.

Jesus offered this wisdom because he wants the best for our lives.  He wants us to live and finish life knowing we are part of God’s Kingdom. He talked about a kingdom that is not some faraway land where “when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.”  The Kingdom of God, also known as the Kingdom of Heaven, is a present reality whenever and wherever followers of Jesus align their lives with God’s purposes and do God’s will.  We have no need to fear death, because Jesus offers us salvation and eternal life, that we experience now as a gift and places us in the life and care of God.  Jesus calls his followers to be generous in every way as an expression of that confidence that because we are in God’s care now and forever, we live life with a sense of goodness and meaning here and now.

A second reason Jesus calls his followers to live generously is to bless others.  Last month, we were reminded by our District Superintendent that we have been blessed to be a blessing.  So we don’t hoard our resources of time, talent and treasure to ourselves; rather we give them to be a launch pad for others.

Take a look at this video from one summer camp.  [Roll video – talking continues as video rolls]  This inflated raft is called “the blob.”  One person sits at the end of the blob in the middle of the pool, which is not much fun until a second person jumps off from above. When the second person lands on the blob, the first person is catapulted forward.  Look at the faces – everyone is enjoying launching another and being launched.

Now here is one youth we’ll call Tony. He gets the concept, but he is not crazy about heights. He hesitates to jump. He understands the idea, but he’s not willing to take the risk.  He’s like a lot of people in terms of generosity.  Like Tony, we question if we can really make it if we take a risk and be generous.  We wonder if Jesus is right, that it’s not how much we pull together but about what we give away when we become rich toward God?

He watches other people jumping and launching others.  Soon they get launched themselves.  But he’s just not sure. He’s pondering, “What would happen if I lived this way?”  Then finally, reluctantly, Tony takes the risk. He lands on the blob and launches someone else. Then he gets to the place where he can be launched and someone else launches him.

What if your life were a launch pad for others?  What if you launched someone else into a deeper relationship with Jesus?  Would you like to lift someone up? When we are generous for God through St. Andrew’s, we bless people. We launch people. That’s what we are trying to do.

The generosity of givers in our congregation launches people on deeper faith journeys through Bible studies and classes.  Just this week, 14 adults joined Pastor Becky for a study called “The Journey” that will prepare them to celebrate Advent.   More than 100 people every Sunday, from children to youth and adults grow in faith through Sunday School classes. Other groups meet throughout the month for study and prayer.  Generosity makes this possible by providing the place, the resources and equipment, and the staff to offer these opportunities.

Generosity blesses others through the work of our Outreach Ministries. They recently sent our flood buckets and hygiene kits off to help people dealing with disasters.  The Soup and Bread offered last Sunday by Outreach gave more than $700 to bless veterans this Christmas. Throughout the year, Outreach gives financially to support a variety of area missions and ministries to bless others.  They also offer us hands-on projects, such as the recent Habitat for Humanity Apostle Build, to bless people who serve and those who receive.  Right now, they are inviting us to Adopt a Hope House Family for Christmas. Please see Denise Rowles after worship at the Crawford St. entrance to sign up to be blessed as you bless another family. Our ASP mission teams bless people.

Our music and radio ministries bless others thanks to generous giving. Our Community Dinner, which is today, offers us opportunities to donate or to serve and build relationships as a blessing to our guests.  Our pastoral care and visitation ministries bless those who are sick, hospitalized, homebound or shut-in.  The list could go on.

All those served by the ministries of St. Andrew’s are the reason Jesus calls us to be generous, blessing others.  These blessings are the true riches of life. Far too often, people settle for collecting terracotta warriors. We talk about being generous in church because our human tendency is to accumulate things for ourselves when we should be sharing with others. Jesus warned us about the financial gravity of money, wealth and possessions when he said, “No one can serve two masters; for they will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST'closeERROR: The IP key is no longer supported. Please use your access key, the testing key 'TEST').

Jesus calls us to turn to God by repenting of our selfishness and sin and that means we serve God with all our lives, including our calendars and our wallets.

Today we invite you take the risk and practice generosity, particularly through the life of St. Andrew’s Church.  You should have received an Estimate of Giving card by mail. If you forgot it or did not receive one and want one, please raise a hand and an usher will bring it to you now.  We’d like each family to have one of these.  (Continue with Estimate of Giving process)

 

Let us pray:

Lord God, we have received from you abundant blessings and grace.  All we have and all we are is already yours.  So now, in response to your gracious gifts of life, breath and salvation through your Son Jesus, we consecrate ourselves, our time, our gifts, our giving, our lives to you and join with you through the ministry of this congregation that we may be an abundant blessing of grace to you and to others.  Through Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen.

 

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