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Sermon for October 14, 2007 - -Stewardship Sunday

Why Are You Afraid?
Matthew 8:23-27

Nine hundred miles out to sea a sail was sighted on the horizon. As the ocean liner drew closer, the passengers saw that a boat. A small sloop flying a Turkish flag had run up a distress signal and other flags asking for its position at sea. Through a faulty chronometer, the small vessel had become lost. For nearly an hour, the liner circled the little boat, giving its crew correct latitude and longitude. Naturally, there was a great deal of interest in all the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. A boy of about 12 standing on the deck and watching all that was taking place, remarked “It’s a big ocean to be lost in.” He’s right. It is a big universe to be lost in, too. And we do get lost - we get mixed up and turned around. That’s why ships and boats are ancient symbols of the church. It’s carries us across storm-tossed seas, finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of humanity.

The Church is a boat. But what kind of boat do you think we are?

Some may say we are a cruise boat. It is fun. It’s entertaining. It takes you to interesting places. The crew is paid to keep the passengers comfortable and entertained.

Others may say the church is a battleship. A battleship is full of people who are committed to a task and highly trained to do their part in its accomplishment. Crew members give up comfort and security for the privilege of serving the commander-in-chief. They may complain about not enough sleep, lousy food, and close quarters, but they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. They follow their captain wherever they are led, even to death, if that is what it takes to accomplish the mission.

I know people who might say the church is a Submarine. Church members submerge six days a week and resurface on Sunday.

Still others think of the church as a trawler, navigating the waters as we fish for human souls, praying for a good catch.

I often think of the church as a Lifeboat. Like Noah’s Ark, the church is full of rescued victims – people who know that they need God in their lives our they will perish.

No matter how you view this church ship, the fact is that it serves a purpose in your life. The common denominator is that we want to keep it buoyant. We want our ship to sail.

In today’s reading, the disciples set sail with Jesus. As Jesus takes a nap, a storm comes and threatens everyone’s safety. The disciples are not alone, but they act as if they were. The world around them suddenly becomes an enormous storm of wind, waves, and rising water. Jesus still sleeps in the back of the boat, a picture of quiet confidence in the power of the God who made both land and sea. The disciples wake Jesus up and criticize him: “Don’t you care about us?” Jesus hands it right back saying, “Why are you afraid?” So he stills both the storm and the fears of the Twelve.

That’s what I want in a church – a place where I can go and find some safety in the storms of life – a place where I can hear a word of peace -- a place where my family and I can find a calm center -- a place where my fears are defied. How many of us came here with fears this morning? Fear of failure, fear of losing a job, fear of illness, of responsibility, of losing a loved one, of being left alone on the shelf, of growing old, of death. A woman recently said to me, “I really don’t know what I’m afraid of. I have this nameless, shapeless anxiety that hovers over everything I do and say. It is robbing me of my energy. I feel helpless and hopeless.”

At the core of our being, I think we are afraid to die. We live in a culture that tells us that we can avoid death if we have enough money or power or control. Consider what we spend on products that help us look good, bring us comfort and help us avoid pain: Americans spend $22 billion on cosmetic products; $3 billion on cigarettes, $17 billion on movies and video rentals, 100 billion in alcohol with many a hangover afterwards; $33 billion in weight loss products and services; $100 billion on consumer electronics, $68 billion on gambling, hoping to catch that lucky break. And since it’s October, Americans spend 1.9 billion on Halloween candy. These alone equal $343 billion

Guess how much Americans give annually to churches and other charities? It’s a lot of money, but far below what we spend on other $260.3 billion -- about $.86 per American. I am not saying we should totally refrain from luxuries. But here’s what gets me riled up. Afraid of sinking into the turbulent waters around us, we desperately cling to anything that will help us feel secure. Awash in anxiety, we turn to products that, we are told, will guarantee health and happiness. And if the stuff we but doesn’t help us live longer, then at least we will be comfortable.

Then we come to church. Some people won’t think twice about buying a $100 Ab Lounge or the Yoga Booty Ballet videos for $52.95. Then they complain about giving more to support their church where they worship every week, where they baptized their children and brought them to church school, where their families got married and where loved ones were taken care of during funerals. I make no apologies for asking for financial support for the church. The Church has a just claim on your active, practical, and financial support if for no other reason than that your home is better, your community is better, and your nation is better because of the existence of the Church. With all of its faults--and it certainly has them--the Church is a strong resource to help you live life at its best.

Places like TCC are ships in the storm. We are responsible for one task above all others--to be a container of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything else must come second. This is a place where we try to think, speak, and act in God’s way, not in the way of the fear-filled world. This is a place for love, a safe place for brothers and sisters to dwell in unity, to rest and be healed, to let go of their defenses and to be free – free from worries, free from tensions, free to laugh, free to cry.

It takes about $250,000 to keep our ship afloat. As you prayerfully consider this, make your financial commitment--not to me, not to the officers, not even to the Church, but to GOD. Make it so that you would be unashamed to stand in God’s presence and present it to God personally.

I’m asking us not only to give money, but also our time. Our church needs everything from regular attendance to letting people you meet know how deeply you feel about this congregation. We need willing people to come and sing, and teach, and rake leaves, and serve on committees, and support the Past and Presents Shop and then to give the Power of God’s Spirit a chance to change your life and make you what you have never dreamed you could be. The church took us in as babies, before it knew who we were, what we might be, what we might have. It called us children of God and received us into its arms; it walked besides us in good times and in bad times. It prays for us when we go astray. It welcomes us back as a loving mother when we need embrace. It is with us in sickness, sorrow, and death. Every other organization we join first asks us who we are, what we have, what our social standing is -- if we will 'fit in', what we have to offer, etc. We are different. We say, “I don’t care who you are, what your background is, what you have. You are a child of God and I welcome you without reservation.”

We like to think we have something special to offer you, your family and our community. Don’t ever take it for granted. We keep on sailing with your support. Pray for TCC. Work for TCC. Give to TCC.

Sources

"The Things That are God's," by Martin Luther King, Jr., http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/publications/papers/vol4/571106-000-The_Things_that_are_God's,_Article_in_the_Dexter_Echo.htm

"Faithful Fears" by Eugene Winkler, http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/winkler_4404.htm

Credo by William Sloan Coffin

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