THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Have We Forgotten How to Dare?
People are telling me that when I retire, I have blanket permission to say, “I remember when….” Permit me a practice go at that. I remember reading a newspaper column in the 1980s called “Thanks a Million” written by a man named Percy Ross. Mr. Ross was a millionaire who decided that he wanted to give away his money to people with need and to do it while he was still alive.
Mr. Ross published a syndicated column, each one including several requests and his answers to them. At one point he was receiving over 10,000 letters a week. Here’s one he received, postmarked Newark, NJ:
“Dear Mister Percy Ross:
You are so generous to help so many people. I am poor too but I get bye. I don’t need money. I live under a bridge and it has a steam pipe under so I am warm in winter. There is a diner close bye and the dumster is always got food in that trukers don’t eat. So I got every thing and don’t need money. But I see you in the papers and I think if I was rich like you I will help people too. The other day I helped some buddy and he gave me $20. that is nice but there is some buddy that needs it more than I do I’m shure. $20 make me rich so I share and try to help you to do good. Please give this $20 to some buddy that realy need it.
Yours truly, Wilson Demarest”
[Grammar and spelling unedited] (1)
I don’t know how that letter strikes you, but I can imagine any number of emotions evoked:
Anger and outrage at a society that allows people to live such a marginal existence.
Pity for a man who has come to expect so little from life that he cannot even take advantage of good fortune when it is handed to him.
Sadness at the realization that for some people to have $20 is to be “rich,” while for others it is hardly worth noticing in their pockets.
Disgust at the continual “queue up and beg nicely” behavior that Ross’ attitude and column invited.
Delight at him getting knocked down a peg or two from his omni-economic perch by the gentle generosity of Wilson Demarest.
A strange gnawing knowledge at the corner of the conscience that I am somehow strangely jealous of this man who has nothing, wants nothing, and can peacefully part with such a “fortune.”
Analysts of charitable giving will tell you that people who don’t have a lot of money tend to give a greater percentage of what they have than people who have more money than they know what to do with. A full-time minimum wage job grosses about $15,000 annually. A ten percent tithe would be $1,500. A person making $150,000 might make the same monetary gift, but it is only one percent .
You will remember that Jesus saluted the widow who put her two pennies in the temple offering box while people much richer were putting their large gifts in. Wilson Demarest, like the widow, put his whole living in the offering.
You know how the Centers for Disease Control like to talk about second-hand smoke – what we inhale when other people smoke? I like to say that I suffer from “second-hand Depression.” I am not old enough to have lived in the 1930s. But growing up I heard so much from my parents about the Great Depression, that I thought I was living through it. We didn’t have a lot of nickels to rub together, but we weren’t poor. It just seemed that way. I still track every penny, lest they slip away.
We are always living in times of scarcity and insecurity. Remember when Johnny Carson made a joke about toilet paper and the store shelves were emptied? The weather person calls for a big storm and bread and milk disappear. We worry about a government shutdown. We worry about ethnic and religious terrorism but we are more likely to have trouble with things related to local drug dealing. If we don’t have something to worry about, we feel that there is something wrong.
The author of 1 Peter gives us a wake-up call.
“You were liberated by the precious blood of Christ . . . . This was done for you, who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God.”
Where is true security to be found? In reverence for God and in holy love for each other. Most of us are content enough to mouth “our hope is in the name of the Lord” in church on Sunday morning as long as this attitude doesn’t sneak into the rest of the week. On Monday our hope is in our physical and emotional strengths and abilities. Our weekday faith is set in the knowledge we have worked hard to master, and the niche we have carved out for our life and lifestyle. Instead of trusting in God, we tend only to trust that which we can hold in our hands or fold into our wallets. Jesus said, “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them” (Matthew 6:19closeAn error occurred.).
Our gnawing sense of insecurity is what makes Wilson Demarest’s generosity and simplicity stir such a chord within us. There is no romanticizing poverty. The living conditions Demarest describes are deplorable and no human being should be reduced to such a meager existence when others have so much. Nonetheless, Demarest’s spiritual satisfaction must be taken seriously. He has a personal sense of trust and faith that overrides all the frightening uncertainties that buffet his life. Wilson Demarest’s soul knows deprivation. But it also knows contentment. That simple fact exposes the sand-filled foundations of our fragile hopes.
The 1closeAn error occurred. Peter letter writer knew that for the Christians spread out through Asia Minor, there would be no escape from the storms of persecution. What the writer could assert with joy, however, was that Christians can fully trust that the God who ransomed them through the blood of Christ is and will be standing beside them, no matter how violent the storms are.
What would it mean if the Christian church of Chicago, or Los Angeles, or southern Ohio took 1 Peter’s counsel just as seriously as did those first century believers in Northern Asia Minor? The church has learned too well from the corporate world how to plan its way forward to the next quarterly report, instead of prophesying its way into the future God has prepared for it. What if the church placed its trust not in their programs, money, numbers, facilities, or pastors, but in the Lord?
If God could raise Jesus from the dead, isn’t it just possible that God could be trusted to raise the church from its nearly moribund state? The trouble with trusting God is that we have to dare through our skepticism, our disbelief, our insecurity, our fear. Because we are liberated by the precious blood of Christ, we are called to live. Our motto could be, “Go on or Else!” God calls Christians to actively witness to this world, not sit in th bleachers and wait for someone else to do Christ’s work, all the while wringing our hands.
The church of Christ is called to dare and do. If it fails, try something else. If it succeeds, keep at it until it fails and then try something else. Failures don’t mean that the church has “failed” to be a witness to Christ’s presence here on earth for all people. The church only fails to do that when it puts its faith and hope and trust in the policies of people instead of the power of God.
The church that has forgotten how to dare is a dying church. The church that has forgotten how to dare has forgotten who its Lord is. The church that has forgotten how to dare has put its light under a basket.
This is the table of action. Jesus and the disciples didn’t sit around the table in the upper room and swap stories into the wee hours of the morning. Christ broke the bread and they ate. Christ shared the cup and they drank. Then they went out to meet head-on the events that would ultimately result in an empty tomb and a risen savior revealing himself in bread and cup. This is the table of daring, for Christ calls us to go out from here to be the church in the world.
As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you dare to proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again. Alleluia! Thanks be to God.