Rev. Pamela Shepherd
I’ve been thinking a lot, in my last weeks here, about the many gifts my time as your minister have given to me. You have trusted me with your stories, your joys, your fears, your children, your suffering, and your lives. What an incredible gift it is to share all that.
One of the greatest gifts of my work here has been the opportunity to sit with people who are dying. Those who have allowed me to share in their dying have taught me so much about how to live.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when people talk about their lives at the end of their journey, there are some things most people say. They often say that the most important thing they did with their lives was to raise their kids and love their families. They often say that what they’re most grateful for is their family, friends, community—the love they shared in their lives.
And when people express regrets, they often say they wish they had been more forgiving, or they wish they had lived more fearless lives.
So many stories of the early church are stories about learning to live fearlessly. The church was born in frightening times and faced terrible persecution.
Our faith ancestors had to teach each other how to trust God in the midst of economic hard times, political turmoil, oppression, subjugation, and their terror.
This story we heard about two unknown disciples on the road to Emmaus is a resurrection story about that. It is evening on the day of the resurrection. Two nameless nobody disciples we never heard of before and will never hear from again walk away from Jerusalem toward the village of Emmaus talking about what just happened to them.
A stranger joins them who is the Risen Jesus, but they don’t know its Jesus. And so, in a surreal and comic version of preaching to the choir, they tell this Risen Jesus what just happened.
When they get to the village it is dusk and the Jesus they don’t recognize seems about to leave them and walk on. It is then their self-absorption breaks, and because of their practice of hospitality and sharing, they invite the stranger to share a meal and stay with them.
And when Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. Christ shows up at the Christic table when they do. When the world is blessed, broken open, and shared, only then, for us the fearful, is God known.
We have a funny religion that teaches a funny reality. But our faith ancestors seem to say that we can taste and see it. We can experiment with our faith and notice. We don’t just blindly accept our religion.
The prophet Malachi says to his people, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse….and thus put me to the test…see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. (Malachi 3:10)
That’s quite a promise–an impossible promise. And no one else can live it true for you. Oh we can testify; we can tell our stories. But it is not true until it’s true for you.
I’m just another witness; my life is one more witness. It has been my life experience that my life has filled with amazing grace as I’ve learned abundant giving. An embarrassing amount of abundant grace has poured down to me through my giving. Everything is for giving away,” one medieval mystic said. I have come to know that is true. (William Peraldus)
Brother Paul says the same thing. He says, the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And 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. (2 Corinthians 9:6-12)
That’s quite a promise, isn’t it? There are churches around the world who have turned this teaching into something called the prosperity gospel—some version of “give your money to the church and you’ll get rich.” But Jesus, Paul, or the prophets are not talking about that. They are saying that God wants us to be generous and wants all people fed. And you can trust God with your life if you do it.
When we give away some of our money, when we choose to live generous lives and be generous people, we get to see for ourselves if these promises are true. If you want to learn if God is real then you need to live in a way that leans out on God. Start where you can, but you have to risk something; you have to risk being wrong; you have to risk being foolish. You can’t discover God by choosing self-contained. You have to get yourself out there and be less self-sufficient, if you want to know if you can trust this Mystery we call God.
Mary Martin has this wonderful saying I love. She says, if you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning. Don’t you want to know if you should live in faith or fear? Will you risk some percentage of your money to God and learn for yourself what is true?