Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div. - April 30, 2017
1 Peter 1:17-23close1 Peter 1:17-23 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . (ESV)
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?
1 Peter 1:17-23close1 Peter 1:17-23 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . (ESV) ; Acts 2:14, 36-41closeActs 2:14 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.” Acts 2:36-41 36 “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (ESV) ; Luke 24:25-35closeLuke 24:25-35 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34 saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (ESV)
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 6:19closeMatthew 6:19 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. . . .” (ESV) ).
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 1close1 Thessalonians 1 1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (ESV) 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.