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Micah 4.1-5 (Isaiah 2.1-4)

II Corinthians 9.6-15

It Would Have Been Enough

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

You’ve probably heard the name John Dorhauer before.  John is the author of this morning’s stewardship message on our bulletin inserts.  From 2015 until last month, John was the General Minister and President of our United Church of Christ; he stepped down in October and was succeeded by The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson.  While he was the denomination’s GMP, John traveled the world on behalf of our church.  He represented us at the World Council of Churches, the Council of Reformed Churches, visited Israel and Palestine, preached in churches large and small in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and of course visited local UCC churches across the US.    John’s was a steady and faithful hand in times of challenge and change and has shown himself time and again to be just a regular minister going about his calling.  In fact, in a recent post on his personal Facebook page John is dressed like a giant chicken preparing to hand out goodies for Hallowe’en.  Friends, could you imagine your minister dressed as a giant chicken?  Don’t even think about it.  What you may not have heard is that John recently received a promotion.  He has moved from being the chief executive of our national denomination to serving as a local church pastor.  John is the settled minister at First Congregational Church in DeKalb, Illinois.  First Church DeKalb is a medium size church, about 270 members on the rolls and roughly forty-five folks in the pews on Sunday morning.  That’s right – just about the same number as we have on Sunday mornings.  And from all appearances, he is elated to back in the local church after so many years in the church’s judicatory.

John’s stewardship reflection is titled “A Theology of Sufficiency,” and I borrowed his scripture passage for our own this morning from Micah 4.  Some of the passage is familiar; in fact we heard it just last month when I was talking about the Bibles I’ve used through the years.  “God shall judge between many peoples and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;” – shades of Israel and Gaza… “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.”  These are words that are familiar from our pulpit.  But it struck me that John decided to focus, not on turning the weapons of war into tools for production and peace, but rather on the end of the passage:  “They shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”  It is Dorhauer’s opinion that when people have enough for themselves, when they have their own vines and their own fig trees, the tools of war become unnecessary and thus disposable, indeed, they become transformative.  It is why he calls this a theology of sufficiency.  When we have enough, when we need nothing more, the conditions are ripe for justice and peace.

 Or to put it another way, when we have enough, it is possible for everyone to have enough.

So:  do we have enough?  Are our lives sufficient enough so that we are no longer adversaries but allies, so that we are free to share what we have with those who need, so that a just social equilibrium can be achieved?

I borrowed a phrase from the Passover Haggadah for my sermon title this morning: “It would have been enough.”  The Jewish litany - called the Dayenu, meaning “If only,” asserts again and again that even one of the many acts of deliverance throughout the story of the exodus would have been sufficient for the Hebrew people, God kept on doing more, going over and above what was necessary for their deliverance:  “If God had only taken us out of Egypt and not made judgments on [their oppressors], it would have been enough for us.  If God had only made judgments on [their oppressors] and had not made them on their gods, it would have been enough for us.  If God had only split the Sea for us and had not taken us through it on dry land, it would have been enough for us.  If God had only taken us through it on dry land and had not pushed down our enemies in the sea, it would have been enough for us.” And so it goes on until the crown of the ceremony, “If God had only given us the Torah and had not brought us into the land of Israel, it would have been enough for us… If God had only brought us into the land of Israel and had not built us the Chosen House [for the temple], it would have been enough for us.”  The history of Israel from the liberation from slavery to the building of the Temple in Jerusalem is described in the litany; and on each and every step of the way, God did more for the people than they could ever have hoped or expected.  This too is a theology of sufficiency, indeed, of considerable over-sufficiency.  It is also a sign of a grateful people, who would have been satisfied with far less than they had been given, which may be a reason why God kept on giving to them.  Could the Hebrews, when still enslaved, ever have allowed themselves to imagine their own homeland with their very own temple to worship God?  Unlikely.  But it is God’s abundant – more-than-abundant generosity that provided for them every step of the way into unimaginable plenty.

You don’t need me to unpack this lesson.  Because God has given us everything that we need – more than we need – then we in turn are equipped with more than what we need to supply the needs of others.  Faithful, trusting, confident stewardship in a nutshell.

You’ll remember my describing the highlights, underlines, circles and arrows I have used in my own personal Bible study through the years.  The passage I asked Diane to read this morning is a good example of one such diagram.  In fact I recreated it in the bulletin – the text you see under the sermon title – to show how this passage has spoken to me through the years.  II Corinthians chapter nine, verse eight underscores the sufficiency of God’s sufficiency, the abundance of God’s abundance.  Listen to all the words that underline this idea:  “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”  Provide - every – abundance – always – enough – everything – abundantly – every…  Can Paul be any more emphatic that God gives us enough – more than enough – to undertake God’s good work?

I like the way the idea is presented in today’s stewardship reflection.  In a small UCC church in Mayview, Missouri hangs a banner bearing the words of theologian and biblical scholar Luke Timothy Johnson.  (I’ve told you about the work I’ve done researching the historic creeds of the church; Dr Johnson’s book on the creeds was useful in my research.)  The banner at the Mayview church reads, “Whatever you possess that someone else needs already belongs to them.”  I cannot think of a more concise vision of what stewardship means for the church than this:  Whatever you possess that someone else needs already belongs to them.  It is a reflection of the practice of the earliest Christian community in the book of Acts where we read that “All who believed were together and [held] all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  It is what you and I do as people of faith.  If we have something – anything - that someone else needs, then by virtue of the Christ within us, it already belongs to them.

It would have been enough if God had given us only as much as we needed – but God gave us more and continues to give us more so that we may be abundant in our generosity, so that it is enough for everyone.

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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697

 

From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.

 

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