Monday, 08 June 2009 17:03

June 7, 2009 Sermon

“What are your Priorities?”
II Corinthians 4:1-12
A Sermon Preached by
The Rev. Douglas M. Donley
June 7, 2009
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

    Here we are making ourselves ready for a big day.  We have our annual meeting, followed by another in a string of graduation parties.  Then we have our cabaret fundraiser this evening.  Preacher, keep the sermon short.  I will, but I need to say this.  We make choices each day that reflect our priorities.  We choose to spend time with people, we choose to come here in the rain.  We choose to give our time and energy to this community of people, this expression of God.  Why do we do this?  In part, we do it because we are drawn to the light.  The truth is that we do some things not because we are drawn to the light, but because we have obligations or guilt or responsibility.  
But the things that sustain us are things that bring light to our lives.  It’s what the church ought to be about.
    When powers and principalities are conspiring against us, we can cling to the light to show us the way, or at least to give us some direction.
    The scriptures tell us that Jesus Christ shines his light to show us the way out of the doldrums of our lives;
    Out of our propensity towards violence of the tongue, the fist or the heart;
    Out of addiction to things or thoughts that are harmful to ourselves and others;
    Out of the bindings of pessimism;
    Out of the death-grip of judgementalism;
    Out of the constant confusion of misdirection;
    Out of the short-sightedness of selfishness;
    Out of the wheel-spinning of bitterness and strife.
    We need a light to shine in order to get us out of these places where we too often stub our toes, awakening the entire household because of our temporary blindness.
    We need a light to shine and to bring us toward the light of love;
    Toward the light of understanding;
    Toward the light of justice;
    Toward the light of trust;    
    Toward the light of repentance;
    Toward the light of forgiveness;    
    Toward the light of mercy;
    Toward the light of life.
    This is our calling: We are to be bearers of light in a world which is bent upon darkness.
    Now, while the Apostle Paul saw himself on a mission of bringing light to those in darkness, he did not have an easy time with it.  He founded churches all across the area of Asia Minor.  The most difficult church with which he had to deal was the church in Corinth.  It was not difficult because of its size or its stature or anything like that.  It was difficult because of its diversity.
    Corinth was a town on a tiny isthmus.  It had been around about a hundred years or so when the church was formed.  The people were transient.  There were merchant and tradespeople from all over the world who put in to port in Corinth, with all of their different beliefs and customs and religious backgrounds.  Trying to come to an understanding with people from all these different backgrounds was at tall order.  Paul wrote First Corinthians in order to settle disputes and help people to focus upon what united them instead of what divided them.  He and Timothy wrote second Corinthians to try to clarify and to put out some of the fires which he started in his first letter.  I’m so glad people don’t hold onto some letter I have written.
    Paul wanted people to focus on what’s the most important.  Petty disputes are not the most important things.  Light, and love and commitment to being the beloved children of God is the most important thing.  It’s easy to lose sight of what’s most important.   And yet we make decisions based upon our priorities.  Sometimes these decisions happen below our consciousness.  Sometimes we make decisions out of habit or obligation.  What if we made our decisions based upon what might bring the most light to our corner of the world?  
    That’s what we try to do at UBC.  Our church budget, which we will vote on in about an hour reflects our priorities tempered by the reality of our size and limited resources.  I find it downright inspiring that even in a down economy, most of us maintained or increased our giving to UBC.  What a tribute to what’s important.  The UBC Council held another one of their marathon sessions and proposed a budget that is faithful to our community, retains streamlined programs and supports all returning staff members.  We have no plans to un-allot anything, so far.  We come to and support UBC because this community brings us life and hope and lets us celebrate a bit of beauty now and then.  
    This past weekend I was in Cleveland celebrating my mom’s birthday.  My younger sister Trish conspired to have all four siblings travel from the Twin Cities and Flagstaff to Cleveland to surprise our mother.  It worked real well.  My older sister who lives in Cleveland invited our mom out to dinner.  My other two siblings and I had already arrived at the restaurant were seated at the table.  My mom came in, looked straight at us and then to the other tables.  She was looking for a table for two.  She was confused until my younger sister could contain it no longer and said “hi Mom”.  We laughed throughout the weekend and lifted her spirits.  It lifted our spirits too.  For all the talk about how great it was to be together to celebrate her birthday, the four siblings realized that it had been ten years since we had all been together.  Sure, there’s busyness and different priorities and schedules and the fact that we live so far apart, but you’d think there would be another opportunity for us to be together.  But there would only be that chance if we made it a priority.  It likely would not happen by chance.  It requires intentionality.  Sometimes that intentionality is a tragedy.  This time it was joy.  We’re already trying to find the next opportunity.  
    When we get our priorities in line, the picture of our life becomes clearer.  We move forward with hopeful intentionality.  And if we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we realize that we can creatively address even the most difficult of circumstances.  
    Paul affirms in the beginning of today’s scripture that he does not lose heart, because his ministry is from God and with God by our side, we can do anything.
    Paul was tempted to lose heart.  He was tempted to throw in the towel.  He was tempted to say, “These people will not listen to me, I may as well give up.”  And yet in the first and sixteenth verses of today’s chapter Paul says “We do not lose heart.”
    Remember that your heart is where Christ dwells as that light that shines through the darkness.    We must not lose heart.  Though powers and principalities work against us; we must not lose heart.
    Though we might not be able to find a decent job or a decent place to live,
           We must not lose heart.
    Though we may be falsely accused and confused;
           we must not lose heart.
    Though our families may not understand us or might reject us;
           we must not lose heart.
    Though we may be tempted to give up on ourselves;
           we must not lose heart.
    Though we may be beaten down by racism, sexism and homophobia;
           we must not lose heart.
    Though addiction may cloud the very best of our selves and our loved ones;
           We must not lose heart.
    Though we may feel that no one loves us even when we know that God loves us;     
           we must not lose heart.
    When we hear people say, “We don’t have the money, the faith, the wisdom, the size, the guts”;
           we must not lose heart.
    We will not lose heart because we follow Christ who has overcome the world.
    We will not lose heart because we have that light which will shine in our hearts.
    The Apostle Paul and Timothy say in verse 8, 9 and 10:
            We will not lose heart:
    We are afflicted in every way, but we are not crushed
    Perplexed, but not driven to despair
    Persecuted, but not forsaken
    Struck down, but not destroyed,
    Always carrying in the body, the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies.  
    We need to let that light shine.
    We need to not lose heart.
    You see, it is our heart that it the most important thing.
    It is in our heart that our souls dwell.
    It is in our heart that our Spirit dwells.
It is in our heart that compassion wells up for others and we are challenged to do amazing things on God’s behalf.
    It is in our hearts that our joy and pain are carried.
    It is in our hearts that we must look if we are to see a way to the new tomorrow.
    It is in our hearts that Christ dwells.   And when we connect with another’s heart, we see yet another blessed aspect of the incarnation of God.
    Sisters and brothers, enter this summer season and the long evenings that accompany it and reassess your priorities.  
Are you spending the time and energy on what feeds you and your community?
Are you renewing your hope?  
Are you connecting with those most important to you?  
Are you letting your light shine?  
Is there someone somewhere who might need their heart lifted?
And most important, is your life and are your commitments in line with your priorities?  The church, at our best, helps shine the light on the priority that God gives to each of us.  In turn, we give thanks to God and try to live lives inspired by God and inspiring to one another.  May that be our priority now and always.