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Power To Become
Second In The Series: Tell Them About Jesus
November 22, 1998


What a Sunday! This is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of the new year, the first Sunday in Advent. Today is also Thanksgiving Sunday when we bring our Thank Offerings. It is also Presentation Sunday en we joyfully and humbly present our estimates of giving for 1999. And, today we honor a real-life saint, one in our midst who models the Jesus-life: Mary Fran Rowe.

We roll all these events together into one bold proclamation: TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS.

Controversial Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong in his excellent book, This Hebrew Lord, gives us a succinct picture of Jesus, p. 183,

Nearly two thousand years ago a man was born in an obscure village in a conquered, downtrodden country of the Roman Empire. He grew to maturity without every leaving the land of his birth, a nation about the size of the state of Massachusetts. He was not learned by our standards; he spoke none of the great languages of the day, only Aramaic. He earned his living as a carpenter. His close associates were social outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen. He established a reputation as a teacher. Stories of strange power grew up around him. Finally, he involved himself in tense conflict with the religious hierarchy. They had him arrested, tried, sentenced, tortured, and executed. They thought they had finished with him. But from that life there emanated power, love, and life such as the world has never known.

And this Jesus, Colossians 1:13, "rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom," where Jesus, John 1:12, gives us the power to become!

Anyone here this morning interested in becoming rich? I'm going to tell how to become rich. Becoming rich begins with security. You must have a strong, firm, solid base. When I look at Jesus, I see one who was completely secure. Jesus knew who he was, he was very comfortable with himself, and was secure--secure in himself, secure in God, secure in his destiny. The Bible portrays Jesus as being possessed by a purpose that directed him, compelled, propelled, even consumed him. His purpose was to usher in the kingdom of God, to proclaim and show the love and salvation of God. For this was he born.

Security is when you know who you are, know why you are here, and receive the power to live it out. Such people walk confidently toward their Jerusalem, as did Jesus. They, like Jesus, "set their faces." They are steadfast, secure, not upset or distracted by what other people think, or by derision or criticism. They know how to make a decision and stick to it, without that nagging guilt that plagues some with doubt and indecision. They dream, they plan, they choose, they pursue their dream, confident in God's call, powered by the Holy Spirit, following Jesus.

From the moment of birth to the moment of death, life is expanding, ever-widening, or should be, if one is receiving the power of God. If not, there is stagnation, decline, and spiritual death. Our first experience of life is to be shoved forcibly from the warm security of our mother's womb into the unknown future. No wonder new-born babies cry!

Later, we are shoved out of the warmth and security of the family into the neighborhood and school, where we may find a place to belong, or we may be teased, laughed at, or even ostracized. Next, off to college or out to work, leaving mother and the security of the "home place". Next, for some, into marriage, which is a whole new life; and into parenthood, where most of us feel insecure!

Hopefully, in each new situation we build a security system. We make friends, design networks, find support groups; or we keep returning home to the family nest. My mother's family gathered together not only on holidays, but most Sunday afternoons, back home where it was safe. But, the family nest will not always be there. The matriarch will die; the patriarch will die. Nor is the family nest always adequate. We need to grow, and find new places and new relationships of security.

Now, the danger inherent in all the changes that occur in our lives and in our relationships is that when we don't feel secure in our mission, or secure in our trust in Jesus, we feel threatened by the changes. Such people dig in their heels, stagnate, and close their eyes and ears. They won't budge, and they become fanatics.

Religious fanatics, racial bigots, male chauvinists, homophobics, so-called Christian white supremacists, all have their roots in insecurity--fear of the different, fear of the new, resistant to anything challenging. Consequently, they are unwilling to become, to grow, to expand, to follow Jesus into new, uncharted territory.

Becoming rich begins with security. Listen to this story from a woman recalling her childhood.

I'll never forget Easter 1946. I was 14, my little sister Ocy was 12, and my older sister Darlene 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things.

A month before Easter the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially.

When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering. Then we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn't listen to the radio, we'd save money on that month's electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us baby sat for everyone we could. For 15 cents we bought enough cotton loops to make three pot holders to sell for $1. We made $20 on pot holders. That month was one of the best of our lives.

The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change . That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn't care that we had no new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering.

When the offering was taken, Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of kids put in a $20, a total of $70 (which was a lot of money in 1946).

As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes!

Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn't say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 and seventeen $1 bills. ($87; of which $70 had been given by them)!

Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn't talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor trash. We kids had a happy life. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the spoon or the fork. We had two knives that we passed around to whoever needed them. I knew we didn't have a lot of things that other people had, but I'd never thought we were poor. The minister brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn't like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed, I didn't even want to go back to church.

We didn't want to go on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun dried bricks, but they needed money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, "Can't we all sacrifice to help these poor people?"

We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn't expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, "You must have some rich people in this church." Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that "little over $100."

We were the rich family in the church! Hadn't the missionary said so? From that day on I've never been poor again. I've always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus!

They discovered they were rich, not by what they had, but by what they gave. Recently a single mother in our congregation found a job. She is so elated and grateful, she gave her first paycheck to do God's work through our church. Her fear of economic insecurity is overshadowed by her gratitude and faith. Her security is not in things or in money, but in Jesus; and, in Jesus she is rich, not in terms of what she has, but by what she gives.

Are you rich this morning? Are you rich in Jesus? Rich is determined not by how much you have, but by how much you give. Are you secure enough in Jesus to become rich?

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris