Saturday, October 17, 2009

Today's Sermon: Mark 10: 35-45 “Return on Investment”

One of the things I did when PH and I moved into seminary housing three years ago was to plant some bulbs by the front door. Daffodils, tulips, crocus…we knew it would feel a little more like home if we had those beautiful flowers coming up in the spring. We knew, too, that the bulbs would naturalize – they would continue to multiply and send up more flowers each spring, a welcome reminder of the season of rebirth and renewal. We didn’t know how many bulbs would survive the squirrels, we didn’t know if they would bloom, we didn’t know if the variety of the bulbs pictured on the front of the bag were what would actually come up, but we had hope, and we planted with the knowledge that there was a reasonable possibility that come March, purple crocus would peep up and, come April, yellow and white daffodils would wave in the breeze. And it was equally possible that two years or five years hence, even more flowers would come up in the spring. We didn’t know for certain, but we had hope.

It was a marker of hope, that planting, one that we knew might live on beyond our time in that little seminary townhouse.

In a similar way, when we saw the dilapidated condition of the so-called finished basement in the townhouse, we decided that we would refinish it. Nothing fancy: pulling off the mildewing, buckling fake paneling, painting the cinderblock walls, putting in a dropped ceiling and decent lights to replace the single lonely light bulb hanging from a fraying wire in the center of the ceiling. Why did we do that? Part of it was self-interest. We wanted a functional basement that we could use for watching TV and putting up the kids when they came to visit. But this was rental housing. Why not just put up with the yucky basement – the rest of the place was fine – since we were only going to be there three years? Well, in a way it was not just for us, but was a legacy for the next seminarian family that would live there. It was our gift, not to the rental company, but to the future seminarians who might live there, because we hoped that there would be others to follow us into that townhouse, to study and grow and be nurtured at the seminary and in that home like the bulbs we planted outside the front door.

Hope is a very specific thing. As a monk told me on retreat earlier this week, we don’t hope for the things we know are impossible, nor do we hope for the things that we can easily obtain. No, hope lives in that in-between place of possibility and expectant desire.

The apostles James and John – the Zebedee brothers – had what they thought was a hope – they wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left hands when he came into glory. And as they asked for this privilege, the other apostles got jealous…who wouldn’t want a bit of that glory? But hope is only fully itself when we can describe the possible, and they didn’t have a clue what they were hoping for. They had picked up enough of Jesus’ teachings about what was to come to know that Jesus was saying that at a future time, he would sit in glory, but they missed the part about how hard it would be to get to that point. Their hope was only for the glory part. But Jesus taught that it took time and suffering to get there. It would not be a triumphal ride to earthly power…it would be a walk to death before the resurrection. And those who wanted to see a powerful leadership overcoming the evil forces fo the world might not get to see it in their lifetimes.

There might be glory, but it would be deferred glory.

Today we are beginning our stewardship campaign, and I’d like you to consider the hope of deferred glory as part of who we are as Christians. Michael and the rest of the Stewardship team will give you an insight into all the ways St. Middle School enriches our lives and helps us to live deeper into our relationship with Christ. You might consider that the “return on investment” model of asking for your generosity. But I’d like you to also consider a different model: think long-term. Yes, we need your help to keep the lights on, the auditorium rented, a vicar hired. But Christ needs your help to introduce him to those who have not yet heard the Good News.

The work of this place may not always be immediately obvious. Some of the results of our faithful weekly worship, our Christian formation programs, our times of fellowship and caring, may not come to fruition immediately. Someone may come once, and not come again for another six months, like a tulip bulb underneath the earth. Some child may recall a lesson she learned in Godly Play five years earlier, and it may cause her to act differently to a classmate. The first plans for a building maybe drawn up, and the building may not be completed for several years, or, like the National Cathedral, for a century!

We do these things – we support these things – not only because we ourselves benefit from them. We do them because there is someone who needs this place and hasn’t found it yet, because there is someone who is hungering for spiritual food and will eventually sit beside us, because there are opportunities to serve Christ that we haven’t even thought of yet.

So we are people of hope, and we express that hope not in half-measures, but with joyful and generous thanks for the glimpses of the possibilities yet to come, our expectant desires blooming, planted on a cool October morning, blooming in the clear April sunlight.


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