Sunday, November 16, 2008

Barak to the Rescue - A Sermon

27 Pentecost 08

I hope you had a chance to listen to the Old Testament reading before assuming my sermon title was a political statement.  But, really, when I read the passage from Judges about Barak being called upon by the Judge Deborah to save Israel from the much stronger Canaanites, well, I couldn’t resist.  I bet you didn’t even know Barak was in the bible.

Everyone looked upon Barak to save the day -- and for the most part he did -- but he could not do it by himself.  He needed an army of 10,000 Israelites behind him -- and one woman, Jael, who killed the Canaanite general Sisera.  Most importantly, he knew he needed God -- which is why he refused to go into battle without Deborah as the physical sign that it was God in whom Israel should place their hope, not Barak.

Which brings us to our own Barack and our nation’s troubles. Have you noticed how a lot of people are assuming he will save the day?  Sadly, too many think one man can change everything by himself, so they have thrown the problems of our nation upon him and said “Fix it!”  He can’t.  No one can alone.  He has already warned the nation that we will have to work together.

It’s that working together that’s the hard part.  We are anxious in our time of economic crisis.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time where people are so scared and angry that they’re utterly at a loss of what to do.  Many are virtually paralyzed by fear.

And so I will tell you what the first thing to do is.  Do like Barak -- place your hope in God.  But realize that does not mean to say, “God will fix it,” and then go hide until it’s all over.  We who believe and follow Christ know that we are called upon to be partners in making the world a better place.

I admit, sometimes it’s tempting to tell yourself, “Today’s problems are too big.  I’ll just hide and let someone else take care of it.”  But think of today’s Gospel before you decide to do that.  Think about those talents.

Now, if you thought the parable of the talents proved that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, you’re wrong.  The real point of this talent is that regardless of how much you have -- whether it be 5 talents or 3 talents (by the way, a talent is said to be equivalient to about $2,000) -- if you honestly work with it, you’ll be okay.  It’s when you are paralyzed by fear that things don’t work.

Fear is the enemy of our faith -- of our lives, really.  It was not because he made no money that the servant who buried his talent in the ground was punished -- it was because he froze.  He allowed his fear to overwhelm him.

We won’t do that.  We know it is not Barak -- or Obama -- to the rescue.  It is God.  And we are part of the rescue, part of the solution to the problems before us.  Back in Barak’s day it was an invading army.  Today it is financial crisis.  Either way, Christians know that we are called to move forward in hope and trust that Christ moves with us -- no, that Christ leads us.

And so we come to that even more difficult part -- the part of the sermon that makes us all the more anxious and that we all want to avoid -- but because God leads us, we will not avoid.  

Yes, I’m talking about Stewardship.  Pledging.  I need to talk with you about pledging today because we are at a point in our church’s life where this is a crucial conversation.  But it is one we will approach with hope and trust, not fear.

As you know, we chose the theme “PLEDGE WITH HOPE” precisely because of the economic crisis.  As Russell so succinctly put it, we are asking you to pledge this year in the face of uncertainty but also in the hope that all will be well.  We are asking you to move forward both aware of how things can change but refusing to be paralyzed by our fear.

We will not say, “I can’t pledge - I don’t know if I’m even going to have a job next month.”  We will not say, “I can’t get involved in any ministries right now -- I might get transferred or have to move in search of work.”  The parable tells us that this paralysis can’t advance the Kingdom of God.  

This doesn’t mean you destroy yourself.  It doesn’t mean you pledge money you KNOW you don’t have, or burn yourself out.  There are plenty of people in this church who can pledge enough and give enough of their time to advance our mutual ministry.  

I’m not going to go over all our many ministries at St. James’ -- and I’m not going to go over the budget.  You know we do a lot and you know we are in the red.  

Yet, sometimes we look at our endowment and assume it will save us.  It won’t.  Or we looke at wealthier parishioners and assume they’ll make it better.  They won’t.  We’re already in the process of reducing some employee hours and even considering cutting positions and ministries.

Sometimes we look at the faithful 20% of the congregation who do 80% of the work and assume they will always make things happen.  They won’t.  They are burning out.  

If we assume others will take care of our budget or our ministries, then we are waiting on Barak to fix it.  Then we have become that servant who buried his talent out of fear.  I ask you to leave your fear behind.  Move forward in hope -- in trust -- in faith that it is God who leads you.  Although you may have received your pledge cards in the mail already, I’ve asked to have more printed so you can hold one in your hands right now.  

Look at it not in fear (or disgust), but consider three things:  1)  The ministries we support are valuable and worthy.  They give us meaning.  2)  Some people may not be able to financially support those ministries -- but that doesn’t mean your or I can’t.  3)  No one knows the future.  As we move forward in hope -- as we pledge in hope -- remember that things can just as easily get better as they can get worse. 

In the parable today, it didn’t really matter how much money each servant was given.  What mattered was the attitude they approached their challenge with.  Let US leave fear behind and approach our challenge with hope and trust.  Let us PLEDGE WITH HOPE.

And remember.  Barak did not save the day.  He was allowed to play a role in Israel’s rescue, but he knew -- and we know -- our hope is in the Lord.   Amen.