July 1, 2018

2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

“Canada: Blessed to Bless”

When I began to reflect on the Scripture readings for today, the first thing that caught my attention was in the passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It was the part about finishing up what we start, completing our work. I immediately thought about my unfinished doctoral degree.

As you may know, I started working on a Doctor of Ministry degree several years ago. It’s one of those degrees designed for people in full-time ministry, so you take courses and do the work while continuing in your congregational role, and reflecting on your ministry as you do your research and writing. And it’s a fair amount of work.

I finished the coursework and the comprehensive paper, and started working on my thesis proposal while I was still in Saskatoon. Then, last September I decided to take a 1 year leave from the program. I wanted to concentrate on getting settled into this new ministry in Regina, and I was allowed to pause for a year without penalty.

But the year has sped by, and soon it will be time to pick up that work again, and try to get it completed. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began… not only to do something but even to desire to do something – now finish it according to your means.”

Of course, I have a certain amount of trepidation about it. The coursework was very manageable, but can I create a thesis proposal and design a research project that will be acceptable? Can I pull together all the pieces to complete the thesis? Do I have what it takes to finish it?

But here’s what Paul says about it: “If the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have.” That’s encouraging for me… the idea that God is ready to accept and use whatever efforts and abilities I have to offer, so I don’t need to be anxious about whether or not it will be enough.

I wonder if you’re thinking about a project, a task, or a ministry that you have so far left unfinished. Is there some good thing that you started doing and then gave up, or put on hold? Is there some ministry you wanted to get involved in, but never found the time or worked up the courage to volunteer?

If you’re like me, you can think back through months or years and remember… Oh yeah, I thought about joining that community organization… I wanted to sign up to volunteer for that ministry… I planned to read that book and get engaged in that work… And, together as a church family, we’ve probably come up with lots of ideas for mission and service that we never put into action either.

Now please, do not hear this morning’s message as a guilt-producing scolding for not doing what you said you would do, or as a desperate plea for you to do more. After all, it was just two weeks ago that I preached about SLEEP and encouraged us all to take time for rest, trusting that once we have planted the seeds that God will produce the growth.

As always, we can look to Jesus for inspiration and guidance in the ways we live and serve and use our gifts day by day. And today’s Gospel reading gives us a glimpse of the full and fruitful ministry that Jesus had in the world.

It’s a particularly interesting passage because it includes two separate incidents in Jesus’ ministry in which he performs a healing miracle, and the two stories are woven together. Yes, this passage shows Jesus “multi-tasking”!

First, he gets a request from one of the leaders of the synagogue. Jairus has a daughter who is sick and close to death, and he begs Jesus to come and lay hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live. Immediately, Jesus goes with Jairus to tend to his daughter. But along the way, something else happens.

It reminds me of Sunday mornings at church… when someone asks for something and I start heading off to my office or to the kitchen or to the sanctuary to respond to that need. And as I am going, someone else flags me down for another request that either stops me in my tracks or sends me off in another direction.

If you work in a busy office, or you’re a parent or a teacher, I expect you recognize that experience. You might add in the distractions of phones ringing, texts messages beeping, and other ways that we are called to respond to the needs around us.

As Jesus starts out towards Jairus’ house, a crowd follows him, including a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. Her medical condition was serious, ongoing, and getting worse, and she also hoped that Jesus could help her. So he did.

Actually, it was her own faith that made her well, the Gospel tells us. But it was power that came out of Jesus that completed the healing.

At that point, some people show up from Jairus’ house to tell him that his daughter is dead. Jesus may have wanted to help. And Jesus may have had the power to help. But he took too long in coming. He did some other ministry along the way. And now it’s too late.

Of course, it’s not too late, really. Jesus goes, and he raises her up, and she lives, and the people are amazed.

So, if the message this morning is not about guilt and the things we haven’t completed… maybe the message is to tell us that “it’s not too late.” Some of those things that you planned to do, that you desired to do, that you started doing but never completed? It’s not too late to finish them.

But there’s also some discernment to be done in terms of what God may be calling us to do and to share from the resources that we have today. That’s discernment that we need to do as individuals, as families, and as congregations.

We consider the things with which we have been blessed by God… gifts of time, talent, skills, energy, physical resources, and financial gifts… and we make decisions about how to share these things with others.

I love the way that Paul describes the abundant gifts of the Corinthian Christians. He says they “excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in” the love Paul and the other Christian leaders have for them. He reminds them that they have SO MUCH! They have been abundantly blessed by God, and so they are called to be a blessing to others. He concludes: “so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

It reminds me of how our National Church invites contributions to the mission and ministry fund of our denomination from all the congregations. We are not taxed an amount for Presbyterians Sharing. After all, that wouldn’t feel like sharing, would it? We are given an “expected allocation” that is calculated based on our congregation’s actual resources – what we spent on our own ministry in the previous year.

And then, just as Paul does not command the Corinthians to give, neither the PCC nor the presbytery demands that we give a certain amount to Presbyterians Sharing. They make a suggestion, and hold up an expectation. They invite congregations to consider what they have and offer a portion… maybe 10% or perhaps a little more if they are able… and to share from what they have, not from what they do not have. So that the abundance of some may fulfill the need of others, in order that there may be a fair balance.

And then, once we have accepted an allocation for Presbyterians Sharing, we receive little reminders from the National Office and from the Presbytery. Like little letters from the Apostle Paul. Remember what you started doing, remember what you wanted to do, don’t give up now, but strive to complete it so that the ministry of the whole church may be successful.

Reflecting on this text on Canada Day prompted me to start thinking about the abundance that we have in this country. Compared to other parts of the world, we have great wealth, massive amounts of fresh water and other natural resources, education, health care, infrastructure, social services, technology, stable government, and much more.

The accident of our being born in this country, or the good fortune of being able to move here has put us in a privileged position in the world. And on Canada Day, we may find ourselves reflecting on these blessings and giving thanks.

And our image of ourselves as a country is that we are a kind, generous, and helpful country within the world community. Certainly, we are seen as being polite, perhaps meek and mild. And that’s why there has been so much surprise recently as Trudeau has been standing up to Trump and pushing back with regard to trade issues between our countries.

But we don’t only see ourselves as polite, but as compassionate, peaceful, and good. We don’t want to go to war with anyone. We want to get along with our neighbours and help others who are in trouble. We want to welcome refugees who need a safe place to make their homes. We want to provide aide when people are starving or impacted by war or natural disaster.

And to some degree, Canada does well at that stuff. We make significant contributions around the world. For example, as Presbyterians when we give to our development agency, Presbyterian World Service & Development to assist people in various parts of the world, very often the Government of Canada matches or even quadruples our gifts.

But in other regards, we are falling back as a country, and not doing as much as perhaps we could be doing. Paul would encourage us as a country to consider our abundance and give from what we have. He would encourage us to remember the good things we started doing, the things we wanted to do, and to finish them up, to complete the work… to live into the image we have of ourselves as a country as peaceful, kind, compassionate, and generous.

Last month at the meeting of the General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church in Canada, numerous recommendations were passed that related to encouraging our Canadian government to become more and more like that image we have of ourselves.

We called on the Canadian government to increase refugee settlement targets and to fulfill those targets by following through on approving government-sponsored refugees.

We called on the Canadian government to increase International Development Assistance which has been declining since 2011.

We called on the Canadian government to complete the Poverty Reduction Strategy that it planned to create, and to include specific targets, measures, and reporting timelines to reduce the levels of poverty in Canada and especially among specific groups that are at greater risk of poverty.

We called on Provincial governments to improve access to and funding for addiction treatment services.

We called on the Canadian government to adopt and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Paul would encourage us… “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need.”

And I haven’t even said anything about the imbalance we continue to have in our country between the resources and opportunities afforded to non-Indigenous people compared to Indigenous people, especially those living on reserves. We have a long way to go to move towards a fair balance, towards a situation in which abundance is shared in such a way that no one is in need.

May God give us the wisdom, the courage, and the generosity we need… as individuals, families, churches, and as a country… to give according to what we have, to share from our abundance and complete what we started, what we wanted to do… for the good of all and the glory of God. Amen.