Pastor Vince’s sermon from Sunday October 21.
“The people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.” – 2 Chronicles 31:5
One Thanksgiving I decided I was going to make my favorite dish from scratch: green bean casserole. It was a silly idea, because green bean casserole, of all dishes, was not designed to be homemade. It’s four cans dumped into a 9x13 pan and covered with another can. But sometimes I like to do silly things.
I made a pot of Martha Stewart’s cream of mushroom soup, complete with a pound and a half of cremini mushrooms. I snapped the ends off fresh green beans and blanched them. I sliced onions as thin as my unskillful hands would let me, and painstakingly floured and fried them a few rings at a time. It was a lot of work, but I did it with joy, thinking about the people I was cooking for.
There is something beautiful about sharing our best with one another. Making a dish from scratch. Picking out a bottle that’s nicer than the occasion calls for. Letting a friend in on our secret chocolate stash. In the bible it’s called the “first fruits.” It’s the cream of the crop, the top shelf, the good stuff. And the people of Israel had the practice of giving it to God.
Our theme for this year’s pledge campaign is “Pitch In.” Like the meals that we share throughout the year, everything at Bethany is made from the gifts we give, the things we choose to share.
When we give to Bethany, we’re not handing our money over to a faceless corporation. We’re making a gift to the people in the pews beside us. We’re saying, “I’m giving this gift so you can hear beautiful music. I’m giving this gift so that your child can go to Sunday School. I’m giving this gift so that we can serve food to hungry neighbors, or teach a refugee child English, or experience a call from the Living God.”
Our pledge campaign this year is ambitious. We hope to receive pledges of $60,000. This money will go toward continuing our service and justice work with The Night Ministry, The Crib, Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches and Refugee One. It will go to an expanded children’s program including Sunday School, Parents’ Night Out, and Faith at Home Workshops. It will go to opportunities for spiritual exploration: for worship, and small groups, and retreats.
It will also honor the long-time pitching in that Dean Arnold has done as our church treasurer, as we seek to hire a part-time financial administrator who can take over some of the important work he has been doing on our behalf for many years.
So let’s give each other our best, our first fruits. As you consider making a pledge for 2019, I hope you’ll think of the others with whom you share this community. What difference could your gift make in their lives? What would you give them, if you could give them anything?
The miracle of a pitch-in, is that we each bring just one dish, but we get to share a feast! What dish will you bring this year? What first fruits can you offer to make Bethany a welcoming and vibrant spiritual home for the neighbors we already know and the ones who are coming to join us?
Sign up for online giving here.
Pastor Rebecca’s sermon from Sunday October 14th.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your God; for God makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
In my experience, there are two ways to fail at this kind of love for those who believe differently, two general categories: those who won't let the rain fall and those who won't let the sun rise.
I'm usually in the first category. My way of being around those who have different views is to just not bring up those differences. Avoid conflict. Or avoid them. Pretend that the sun is shining, or hold an umbrella over their heads so they don't feel the storm.
That's not Jesus' way of loving. He doesn't hold back from calling out injustice. He argues religious and political points vehemently. And far from avoiding his enemies, he goes out of his way to be around them.
He is most likely to step in when someone else is being harmed. When children are being shooed away or a woman is about to be stoned. He won't stay silent. But, he's also open to being changed by those he argues with, like the Canaanite woman.
Then there's the other category. Those who never let the sun rise on their enemies. Who refuse to see the humanity in them. Who don't care. Who can't forgive. Those who want to destroy their enemies.
That's not Jesus' way of loving either. He is always willing to receive someone from the opposition: a leader of the synagogue, a Pharisee, a centurion. Jesus has compassion for the rich young man even as he rejects Jesus' advice. He refuses violence in the face of arrest. He asks for forgiveness for those who kill him. He returns to the disciples who have denied and abandoned him.
How do we respond in love to those who have different views? Treat them the way we treat the people we already love. Get in fights when they do something to hurt us or when we see them hurting others. Defend our viewpoints, but also listen and be willing to change. (We might not be right as often as Jesus, either.) And also recognize our shared humanity. Have compassion. Find common ground. Forgive often.
I feel fairly confident that's the answer. It's just doing it that's so impossible.
In at least two of the gospels, Jesus goes to a place called, well, Bethany, to have a meal with some friends. The host had a skin disease, so it seemed to Jesus’ friends that he was there because there was work for him to do. They thought, “touch the man and heal him! This is exactly what you do!”
But Jesus was eating a delicious dinner and enjoying the company of his friends, skin disease and all.
Then, suddenly, a woman, one of their friends, took out a very special, very expensive sealed jar, filled to the brim with very expensive, deliciously aromatic perfume, and she broke it open, pouring every last drop on Jesus’ head.
I don’t know if any of them had ever smelled anything so good! In fact, it was so startling that one of them became angry said, “how wasteful!! How selfish! We could have sold that and given the money to somebody on the street!”
This story is the closest thing we’ve got to bath bombs, or massages, or lavish self care we’ve got in the Bible. And Jesus is accused of selfishness, of wasting resources, of taking a moment for himself — wasting time, instead of working every hour of every day, as they expect him to. And so, I think, so will we be. But, It seems that self care is part of the way of life that the gospel paves for us. And it seems that Jesus thought it was worth the risk.
Jesus responds to his friends’ accusations by reminding them of this: you have every moment in the world to work and care for the poor. And what she did was beautiful. This is what she had to offer. She has prepared me for what I am called to next in God’s purposes for the world. God uses all things, even perfume and bath bombs for the good of those who love God, for the good of God’s dream for the world.
Do you know what is next for you? Are you ready for it? It seems that someone has arrived in the world with a gift to pour out for you. Soak it in- then go.
Today I'm going to share a short answer to a question that one of our children asked. It said: “How do you get to heaven (transport)?”
I want to start with a true story. About Bucky, a black labrador. Bucky's owner, Mark, moved into a community in South Carolina, where he couldn't have a dog. So he brought Bucky to live with his father a few states away in Virginia. Almost immediately, Bucky ran away. He walked over 500 miles to get back home.
There are lots of stories like that. Dogs and cats that get lost and find their way back. Birds that fly halfway across the world and then return to the same feeder in your yard the next year. Something in them knows how to get home.
I think that's how it works with heaven.
In the bible, the disciple Thomas actually asks pretty much the same thing as our questioner. Jesus tells his friends, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” And Thomas says to Jesus, “We don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?” How can we know the way to somewhere we've never been?
And Jesus says, “I am the way. I'm going to prepare a place for you. And when it's ready I will come and get you, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
I've been in the room when humans and animals have died, and I never saw any cars, or planes, or hot air balloons taking them to heaven. So I don't really know exactly how we get there. But I believe that being with God is our true home, and that something in us – maybe the Jesus inside us – knows the way home.
That's my answer.
- Pastor Vince Amlin
Our new worship theme in August is Q&A. This is your chance to choose the theme for each week and ask about what's really on your mind. All month, Vince and Rebecca will attempt to answer your burning spiritual, biblical, theological, or ethical questions in sermon form. There will be slips of paper and a box on the coffee hour table. Write down as many questions as you want and leave them in there. You can also respond using the form below if something occurs to you in the middle of the week. Find out how we think about the questions that are important to you. Let's start the conversation!
Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here. You are welcome to come once (although: how did you end up on our newsletter list?), to hang around for years, to come and go. For those who increasingly feel like Bethany is home, there’s also the possibility of joining as a member.
Membership is a way of acknowledging the significance of the relationship you already have with this community. You already have access to what and who Bethany is. You are already invited to participate fully. You already give (of your time, energy, and/or resources). You already belong. Membership says, “I’m all in.” Membership recognizes your role as host here, inviting and welcoming others, helping to make a spiritual home here on the corner of Paulina and Cullom, for now and for the future.
If you are interested (or think you might be) let Vince or Rebecca know. They’re happy to answer any questions you have.
And if you’re already on board, join us on Sunday, August 26th after church. We’ll get to know each other a bit, get a tour of Bethany (and a sense of the ministries going on here), share some food, and talk about plans for the new members service. Then, on Sunday, September 9th we’ll officially welcome new members as part of our Homecoming service.
Please enjoy Pastor Vince Amlin's sermon from our "Hands-On Worship" with a focus on service on Sunday, June 10, 2018.