Monday, May 19, 2008

A Generous Lion

How did my Sunday message about humility turn into a lesson about giving? I didn’t really plan it that way. But somehow I ended giving the two dozen people gathered for the first service at the little country Church a talk about the uncomfortable topic of money.
I’d planned to do something light and “motherhood-like”. Psalm 131 talks about feeling satisfied in God’s bounty – like a well-fed baby in its mother’s arms. The end of the first letter of Peter instructs the followers of Jesus to maintain just such a satisfied humility.

God has had it with the proud,
But takes delight in just plain people.

Peter, or an author who puts his words into Peter’s “pen”, instructs the congregants to be “content” and keep the place of honour for God. Country people in a country church. What could be more humble? When I first read the passage I thought my message would simply be a congratulatory pat on the back. A feel-good love-in was my goal for this opening service of our little summer church. And I started that way – telling the folks that I had held them up as an example to another little church I had been working with.

But then there’s this great image…
“Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil
prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (Ist Peter 5:8)

I immediately related this image to myself and my own great growling hungers. How often I feel like a lion prowling around looking for the next kill that will satisfy my hunger.
Peter is talking mostly to converted Pagans, not converted Jews. (or so my “Coles-notes” say). Pagans, in my mind, go to the gods based on a “what can I get out this?” relationship. Their offerings are in hope of a greater crop, greater prosperity, and greater personal status.

Now Pagans are enjoying a new popularity today. Their positive connections to the earth and the lack of any current corrupt organized religious baggage makes earth-worshipping attractive. Modern Christians on the other hand, especially North American Christians, could often be characterized as followers of a “prosperity gospel”.

Whether we pursue the gods of “649” with regular offerings of hope for the big win, or, we pray to Jesus for wealth and good fortune, (then we could really give big) - we confuse what Jesus was about.

God has had it with the proud,
But takes delight in just plain people.

It seems that life is about caring for the weak and the least among us. If our orientation is towards the bottom rungs and not about how to get up another rung, then, for me, it’s gotta take a discipline of humility.

I spent last weekend with a bunch of Pagans. My old high-school buddies love to drink and laugh and enjoy life to its fullest. They love their families and work hard and I judge them better friends than I deserve. We sat around a fire and spoke of cottages and boats and cars. I live in cottage country and have a choice of lakes and ways to get about on them at my fingertips – so that didn’t push any jealousy buttons for me. But then they guys started talking chicken. As they compared notes on how to best bar-b-que a chicken, the lion in me woke up.

Ever since that weekend I’ve been fantasizing about a shiny new bar-b-que. The fact that there’s nothing wrong with my old bar-b-que doesn’t matter much. I’ve replaced the burners in it at least 3 or 4 times. The handles fell off years ago but I’ve fashioned a new one out of a block of wood and it works just fine. (pardon my self-righteousness about this one area of my consumer-driven existence) But my Bar-B-Que doesn’t have a rotisserie option on it like the ones I was checking out at the Canadian Tire yesterday as the lion roared in my ears.
I suggested to the worshippers that we might pass the offering plate a second time and take a special offering for the Preacher’s Bar-B- Que fund.

I know that if I buy a new Bar-B-Que I’ll have satisfied my hunger for another week or two. And then, it’ll be something else. The lion’s always on the prowl.

The only anti-dote I know is a discipline of humility. The discipline of going to church reminds me constantly of those around me – near and far – in desperate need. Like an alcoholic attending an AA meeting I need to be with people who want off the drug of More-and-More. To put God first means to put God’s will first. God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Tithing - I dared to offer my advice to the congregation - is a discipline that makes me deal first with God’s priorities. I like the pre-authorized option that takes the cash out of my bank account right at the beginning of the month so that I’m not tempted to spend the money on my current hungers. It helps to curb my hunger. It puts me on a diet. It is a daily discipline; a daily struggle – sometimes harder, sometimes easier.

I feed my hunger with fresh vegetables. Healthy options like… What more can I give to God? What more can I do to bring about justice and peace and enough for all? Instead of thinking about my next kill, I plant seeds in God’s garden.

The people seemed to swallow what I had to say. Or, what Peter had to say. Or, as the
anonymous author of the letter would say “If Peter were here – this is what he’d say…” Or, as I might say, the humble, patient, lives looking back at me from the pews today echo these words of scripture and make them come alive for me.

3"His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. 5For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2nd Peter 1)

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