If We Share
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Epworth United Methodist Church
November 26, 2017
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Did you get some rest? Or is this finally a moment to rest and reflect? Maybe you’re actually weary at the end of these Thanksgiving days having cooked, cleaned and hosted, maybe even lived through a family dynamic or two. But today is Sabbath. I’m glad you are here.
Most pastors typically designate a day other than Sunday to be a day of Sabbath, a day of rest. To keep the Sabbath, to honor a day of downtime, of rest and reflection, to break the relentlessness of work, is a commandment for anyone who follows the Jewish or Christian traditions. It’s important for pastors to pay special attention to this since the big day of our work week falls on what is Sabbath for most other Christians. The day I try to take for Sabbath is Monday to spend time with family and friends, to change my rhythm and pay attention.
Sabbath is a commandment for all of us, but it can be hard to unplug. I’ve found that the act of unplugging is also an act of trust and gratitude. In order to take time to rest, we have to trust that we are not in charge, that there is a bigger, more complex, more benevolent force acting in the world than we, ourselves, can affect. And when we lean back into that trust and let go for at least a day, we are opened up to gratitude and the abundance of all that is around us.
Since the firestorm, my Monday Sabbath days have included some time at a farm near Davis shoveling horse manure. While that might sound like work, it’s actually very meditative and peaceful. My daughter, Paloma, has always loved horses. For the last few years since we gave her a pack of riding lessons for Christmas, she has grown in her ability to care for horses, earning more lessons in exchange for work and volunteering. When the fires hit, she wanted to help any animals, but especially horses, who had been affected or displaced.
So my wife, Elizabeth, began calling around looking for a place Paloma could volunteer. She called the Sonoma County SPCA, and the county fairgrounds where many animals were being sheltered. In every case, they wouldn’t accept a volunteer under 18. Then we got an email from a church looking for people to help clean and set up a corral at a farm owned by some old friends of ours. Two horses, one named Dolly and one coincidentally named Wildfire, who had been displaced were going to be living there. And so now, Paloma cares for and grooms these horses two days a week while one of her moms shovels their manure into a compost pile. It’s actually amazing how much manure two animals of that size can create.
These friends of ours used to live around the corner from us, and their daughter is the same age as our son John, so we got to know them at parks and when we’d pass on walks. When John and their daughter were about 7, they began transforming their front yard into a 1600 square foot mini-farm. With the help of about 500 different neighbors, students and community members, this front yard farm produced almost 1500 pounds of food in its first two years.
And what did they do with all of that food? They largely gave it away. You see, that was always the point. Growing food and giving it away was what they called “slow-protest,” a form of activism based on a relational economy.
A few years later after farming their front yard, they decided that 1600 square feet wasn’t enough for their vision and they bought 2.6 acres on the edge of town. This land, now known as FARM 2.6, is where the horses live, providing rich compost to help grow all the food they give away to a domestic violence shelter, a community meals program, and a low income senior community. Again, with the help of many, and on a tiny budget of just $10,000 a year, FARM 2.6 grows 5,000 pounds of organic food which is served to over 600 individuals per year.
The founder of this giving economy, Robyn Waxman, didn’t grow up farming. She grew up in Miami. She came to the Bay Area to attend graduate school at California College of the Arts. “That is where I began to consider Design as a form of cultural change,” Waxman said. She witnessed young people feeling overwhelmed and apathetic. So she started “farming” an untended plot of green between the sidewalk and the street on a side street in San Francisco. “I started to farm as an experiment.” She had no idea how to farm and says, “No plant survived my touch prior to 2009”. But young people liked watching the process happen. Plant a seed, watch it grow, give it away. “It was super tangible, with immediate results they could see,” she said. They loved the idea of growing as an alternative form of non-violent protest about things that saddened and frustrated them.”
I wonder if Jesus is calling us all to this kind of positive protest in today’s very familiar scripture from Matthew. “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’… ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
You see, this is a kind of positive action that affirms that we have enough: we have enough time, we have enough land, we have enough food, we have enough love. We have enough. And acknowledges that when some are suffering, all are suffering, but we do have enough to do something about that. When we affirm that we have enough, we can move to action on the suffering we see around us.
The larger frame of the verses for today are part of a discourse in which Jesus seems to be talking about two kinds of people, those whom he calls the sheep and those whom he calls the goats. The passage seems to be suggesting that the sheep are those who offer to those who are overlooked or ignored what they need. The sheep are promised the kin-dom of God, while the goats, who have failed to offer what is needed, will not enjoy this blessing.
While some have used the wider context of this passage to suggest that God judges harshly, I don’t see that here. I see an affirmation that the abundance that allows all to live without need has been available from the beginning. It’s our job to accept that and offer it to others in turn. In the practice of reaching out and sharing, the blessing is realized, not earned. Hear these words again:
“Enter, you who are blessed by my Abba! Take what’s coming to you in this kin-dom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”
When we act with faith to give some of what we have to those in need, we are receiving what has been ready for us since the world’s foundation. When we trust that we can share what we have because our needs will also be met, we are receiving what Jesus says is coming to us in this kin-dom. To live in a way that pays it forward, that responds to need, that shares, is to re-order our lives valuing people over things, and to affirm that giving is an act of faith.
Several years ago in 2003, I met Jim Wallis, the founder of the Sojourners community in Washington, DC. Many of you may be familiar with Sojourners. It started as an activist, intentional community of Christians, dedicated to caring for the poor and using resources collectively. In its 45 years of existence, Sojourners and its founder, Jim Wallis, have been a voice of moral authority on the issues that face us as a nation and as a community. One thing that Wallis said that day has stayed with me strongly through the last fourteen years.
We were discussing the seemingly insurmountable concerns of homelessness and poverty. Some in the group were insisting, and in my opinion misquoting scripture, that, “the poor will always be with us.” Wallis paused, looked them squarely in the eyes and said, “There is enough….if we share. If we share.” He made clear with this simple statement that of course it is true that if 1% of the people have 20% of the resources then yes, we will always have the poor with us. If we live with fear that we will not have enough if we let go of something, then we will always have those who are hungry or in need. But if we share, if we trust that indeed all that we need has already been ready for us since the world’s beginning, we will live in true abundance that grows and grows.
This invitation is a call to engage in transformational relationships as opposed to transactional relationships. This is why once each year we engage in an intentional process to make a deep commitment to give to the ministry and mission of the church, and to mark that commitment on a special Sunday, which is today.
This is an especially important re-ordering of our lives as we move into one of the holiest seasons for us, Advent. In Advent, the miracle of our relational God breaks into our lives. We have the opportunity to experience again Emmanuel, God with Us. But all around us we are pulled toward transactional relationships.
At Epworth we’ll be offering four groups beginning tomorrow that will help us pause each day to make room in our hearts and in our lives for Sabbath, for relational economies and for our relational God. We’ll offer again the annual Advent workshop next week. We’ll have weekly Taize services on Wednesday, worship that helps us unclutter and light Advent candles representing Joy, Peace, Hope and Love each week. Take time for Sabbath, take time to prepare again for the coming of the Christ child. We are assured that there is enough of all we need so that we can rest in this important and blessed time. Amen.