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Matthew 6:24-33, from The Message
1 Timothy 6:17-19, from The Message
2 Corinthians 9:6-15, from The Message
What shall we bring?
That is the central question, isn’t it? Not only of stewardship season, not only of the church, but the key question of our lives in the world.
One of the great gifts of our lives is that we don’t have to ask—or answer—that question alone. Another great gift is the question’s presumption that we must have something to give, because we have received so much from the God who is love. Our answers flow naturally from our hearts because they are responses born of love and joy, compassion and connection, which also are gifts from God.
There are many ways to think about this question, of course. We ask it our whole lives long, sometimes in the first-person and sometimes in the second. What do you want to be when you grow up? we ask our children and youth. What do you want to do in retirement? What do you want to do with your life? These are other ways of saying, What will you bring? And what will you receive?
This time of year we ask the question of both ourselves and our community of faith. In election years, we ask it of voters, elected officials, and our very nation. The question invites us to love and to share; it seeds harvests of generosity and community; and our responses broaden the pathway to life and help create a new world.
What will you bring? What shall we bring?
What shall we, as individuals and as a church, bring to a world of hurt?
What shall we, as individuals and as a church, bring to a world on fire?
What shall we bring to a nation divided by fear and hatred, inequality and racism, mass shootings and mass denials of responsibility, border walls and birthrights, deep misunderstandings and historic disagreements over who is entitled to share in its relative safety and prosperity?
What shall we bring, if not ourselves? What shall we bring, if not every hope we’ve ever had? How shall we live in these troubled times, if not in faith, if not with love, if not in gratitude and thanksgiving, if not together?
There are so many reasons to give, not all of them honorable.
We can trace the “what shall I bring” question back to the prophet Micah, to a time when the children of Israel were living in fear of God’s judgment. And so they wondered how they could, quite literally, buy their way into God’s good graces. They ran down a list: burnt offerings, the sacrifice of young calves, the contribution of thousands of cattle or ten thousands rivers of all, or, their most desperate offer: the gift of their firstborn children to make up for all their sins. They were feeling scared and guilty, and they were looking for way to clean the slate and start over.
God’s response is both reassuring and heartrending, both much simpler and a whole lot harder than breaking the bank.
All I want is you, God says. All I want is for you to do justice, love kindness, and to trust me with your lives. All I want is for you to realize that I created you to live not for yourselves but for one another. All I want is for us to love and heal the world, together. All I want is for us to love a new creation into being.
It is our God-created human nature, when tragedy strikes, when homes are destroyed by fire or flood or earthquake, when evil gains the upper hand and the innocent and non-privileged suffer, to want to make a difference.
And so it is that people will stand in line for hours to donate blood to victims of a mass shooting. They will clean out their cupboards to help a family burned out of house and home. They—and we—will write generous checks to support the family of a dear Guatemalan man facing deportation and living in sanctuary apart from his family.
But changing gun laws to prevent mass shootings? Providing housing to people who are chronically homeless? Implementing policies and enforcing regulations to control and even reverse climate change? Helping a sanctuary church pay the salaries and bills needed to keep the lights on and its doors open? Where is the excitement, the immediate good feeling, the direct connection in doing those things, in making a long-haul commitment?
When we give our whole hearts and minds and lives to God, when we bring our offerings to the church, we are doing far more than charity. We are financing the infrastructure needed to do justice and achieve transformation. We are acting not out of obligation or guilt or fear, but from an awareness of how much we have been given. We are partnering with God in loving and repairing the world. We are preparing the way for God’s extravagant love to be made manifest. We are bringing what we have in love, with gratitude, and discovering abiding joy.
What shall we bring to love God and our neighbors? What shall we bring to strengthen the body of Christ?
What shall we not?