October 11. 2009
"To God Be the Glory" by Kate Cudlipp
We’re coming to the end of our annual season of recommitment at Seekers Church. During the seven weeks of the season we have been invited to reflect on these questions:
What am I being called to offer to God and God’s creation?
How can being a part of Seekers Church support my response to God’s call?
What do I need from and through this community in order to deepen my commitment to Christ?
I’m grateful that these questions we’re being asked are, first and foremost, about our commitment to God and God’s creation. For us humans, it’s so easy to put something else-an idol-in God’s place. We come to believe that in serving that idol, we are serving God. We come to believe the idol is serving and protecting us. We let the idol distract us from our journey into the heart of God.
There are two potential idols I want to talk about this morning-two among the countless number we are capable of erecting for ourselves. One of these we encounter in the gospel story. The second is in how we understand our commitment to Seekers Church.
Looking at the second potential idol first, I’d like to relate a conversation Peter, Brenda, and I had in a recent Servant Leadership Team meeting. We were talking about ways to for the community to recognize the work of ministry that so many members of Seekers are engaging in their everyday lives.
As we talked, I realized I was becoming increasingly uneasy. When we paused to look for the cause of my discomfort, it came to me that I felt like we were looking for ways to congratulate ourselves-Seekers Church-for the good work being done in the world and for the flowering of gifts in the lives of individual Seekers.
Brenda put words to my dis-ease when she recalled how, in the conservative church in which she had grown up, there were altar calls where individuals would give testimony about how God was at work in their lives, enabling them to change the way they lived. At the end of the testimony, someone would say, "Give God the glory!"
Wow-not my style, not the language of the Episcopal Church I grew up in, but what a way to offer praise and thanksgiving to the One to whom it belongs!
It’s not easy for me to "give God the glory," but I know I want to find ways to do that. I want to avoid giving glory to anything that is an idol, a false god, including Kate Cudlipp or Seekers Church or material resources. I want to find language and a practice that does for me what I understand Alcoholics Anonymous does for its members: keep me aware of the Holy One-the Higher Power-in whom I and all of creation live and move and have our being.
So, in this season of recommitment, my answer to the first question is: I am being called to offer my efforts to "give God the glory," including my questions, to a world that may misunderstand them or may simply dismiss them-and me.
What I need from this community is communion with others willing to engage questions about what we mean when we say "God" or "Christ," or "eternal life"-willing to talk about their faith and doubts and experiences of the Holy, all in the service of finding ways to destroy the idols and "give God the glory."
I think that’s what is at the heart of the Gospel story for today, a lesson about idols and the obstacles to "giving God the glory." Listen to the story, slightly recast:
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a woman ran up and knelt
before him, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus said to her, "You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and mother.’"
The woman said to Jesus, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth."
Jesus, looking at her, loved her and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When she heard this, she was shocked and went away grieving, for she had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
As you might have guessed, I have put myself into the story. I have many possessions-many resources. I’d like to think that they are not an impediment to my "giving God the glory," but the story tells me otherwise.
Let me take a moment to give you a brief version of my story with respect to money: I’ve always had enough. I didn’t grow up wealthy, at least not by American standards, but was solidly middle class. I never had to wonder whether we could stay in our house or had enough money for food or clothes or anything we really needed. There were always presents at Christmas and for birthdays.
Like most people in my socio-economic circumstances, I was raised to believe that my financial well-being, my security and freedom from want, depend primarily on myself and my immediate family. I’d better look out for myself and my family because that is the way of the world.
And yes, it’s important as a Christian to give to those who have less, but only after my basic needs-and important "wants"-are taken care of.
So I am the woman in the story, unwilling to let go of what I have in exchange for the promise of drawing nearer to God. I can’t see that my security really rests in God and God’s people. Rather I see my security in my material resources, which, as far as I can tell, are sufficient to sustain me through the end of my life.
As I look at what I hold onto and my inability to choose differently, change seems hopeless. Then I remember, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God, all things are possible." In the story, Jesus doesn’t banish me, he doesn’t cast me into outer darkness. He loves me, sees what I need and tells me, and then waits for his words and wisdom to penetrate my soul, freeing me to respond differently.
Christ-wisdom comes in many forms, if only I am open to receive it. It doesn’t come to me in the generic reference to "the poor" that we heard in the gospel story, but my heart is touched when I encounter real people with clear-cut, obvious needs.
My wealth blocks the Christ-wisdom because it allows me to remain disconnected from the needs and suffering that exist in so many places in the world. So if, as I said to the children this morning, I want to practice letting go of what I hold onto so resolutely, I must respond to opportunities to have my heart touched, my eyes opened. Those opportunities for Christ-wisdom are abundant.
Christ-wisdom is present in what I hear about the spiritual support groups meeting at the Festival Center and the Potter’s House, whose members-of widely disparate economic means-grapple with what it means to be in koinonia-true community-with one another despite the difference in their material resources.
It is present in what I hear from Carole’s coworker at the farm of the ongoing commitment-in spite of daunting difficulties-of several young people as they seek to find a house in DC for the Christian community they are determined to create.
An Christ’s wisdom is present in my participation in this small body we call Seekers Church. It is from my connections here that I get at least a small window on life in Winterveldt township, through Roy’s reports and photos, through the young people who come to DC each year, and through a group of five women who have come together to support a young woman who was part of the Bokamoso troupe for the past two years.
It is in this community that I see the tough choices people have made to work in demanding jobs that don’t pay all that well or to expend countless hours of unpaid work because those jobs and that work help reclaim the humanity of people on the margins of our society.
And it is here that I have seen how lives have changed and gifts have been unleashed because love, as well as material resources, were offered to folks who didn’t think they were worthy.
Back to the recommitment questions: What I am being called to offer God and God’s creation is a commitment to keep my eyes and heart open to places of need and suffering where I can offer my resources-of time as well as money-freely and with joy.
What I am being called to offer God is to look at where my financial resources are invested and to take steps to see that they are invested in places that value human and environmental well-being as much as financial returns. I have resisted taking that close, critical look and those further steps because I’d rather not know from whence my supposed security comes.
What do I need from this community to support me in my response to God’s call? I need the ongoing example and advice from those of you who are farther along this path than I. I need companions who are willing to struggle and confront the idols with me and within me.
And I need a community that will help me say more and more confidently those glorious words from Ephesians: "Glory be to the One whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine."