Sermon By Michael Usey
May 31, 2009
In the scripture reading this morning, Jesus is there among his friends and disciples—notice his mother is there too. He’s about to leave—remember that we looked at his leaving last week–when he promises them that will be his witnesses. Now the Greek word for witness is martyr. They would his witnesses first in Jerusalem, then Judea, after that Samaria, then to the ends of the world. It’s a little outline for the rest of the book of Acts. Starting with chapter 2, they receive the Spirit—there is a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire appear over their heads, people think they are a morning drunk, and they preach to people from all over the world, and these people hear it in their own language. It’s a fantastic day, the first Pentecost, and thousands are converted into being followers of Jesus. Even more remarkable is that the disciples, who so previously have been timid and not really understanding whatever it is that Jesus says, now are bold and articulate and thoughtful.
Throughout the rest of Acts, they will be his witnesses everywhere, going to all sorts of places. Acts ends with Paul imprisoned in Rome, preaching to whomever will listen, even the emperor. They were his witnesses, and they were often martyred for it.
The deacons, the finance and missions committees and I are using this day, Pentecost to announce, explain, and recruit for a new missions opportunity here at College Park. We are hoping to recruit 100 people to give one dollar a week over what they normally give to the church. 100% of this money would go to programs outside of North America. We calling the program 3 Nickels a Day, which Wendy Smithey came up noting that a dollar a week is 3 nickels daily. (40 people have already signed up, including youth and children.)
Two years ago I was talking on the phone with my boyhood friend Mark Jappe about this idea he had. Mark and I grew up together, he being a couple years older than I, and we both became pastors. Mark’s church is Gateway in El Cajon, a burb of San Diego and a split from the church in which we grew up. Mark has preached here a couple of years ago, you might remember. We talked about his idea of asking our congregations to give up a dollar a day to go to overseas mission projects. A dollar a day is essentially a soda or a small coffee, maybe a candy bar or something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Most of us spend a dollar without a thought. We both were very excited about this, and I presented to our finance committee in the fall of 2007. They liked the idea very much, but they were just about to launch a mini-capital campaign for our much needed parking lot. “We need to pay for some of your other ideas first, Michael,” they nicely said to me, and this was an inconvient truth, but true nonetheless.
You all gave generously to our new parking lot, so that more people could worship and work here at our home base for all we do to love Greensboro in Christ’s name. But when the financial crisis hit us big last fall, we could not in good conscience ask people to give up an additional $365 a year. Too many of us are either out of work, or have our salaries cut back, or frozen, or living off a fixed income that has been cut by one-fourth. It wasn’t the right moment, the chiarotic moment, which in the New Testament means the exact right time for something.
Still, I was bothered greatly, and I think (and you know I don’t throw around this language) that the spirit was tugging on my sleeve. I believe strongly that one of the most basic Christian principles is giving out of your need. This means that if you are lonely, Christ calls us to befriend someone. If are depressed, find someone to cheer up. Trouble staying sober? Sponsor another. Finding it difficult to not have someone forgive you? Forgive someone that doesn’t deserve it. Trouble with HS calculas? Start tutoring at the local elementary school. And to this the point of where we are now: needing to make more money to thrive? Then give more of it away to what God is doing in the world.
It isn’t the right time to ask for a dollar a day, but we can do something. A dollar a week is something that even our youth and older children can do. All of us here spend a dollar without so much as a thought. In the last year, I’ve seen great poverty around the world, in Palestine, Israel, and Romania. The dollar is weaker than other years, but still a dollar will buy a surprising amount, and a $1000 or 1500, more than we can imagine.
So church leadership agreed with me that it is time to do something, to give out of our need, out of our great conviction that while we are hurting financially, poor people are suffering greatly. People in Malawi need clean water to drink, something we take so for granted. Children in Romania and Pakistan need schools to learn and become the people God wants them to be. And through Heifer International, people all over the world are helping feed themselves and start small businesses. I am not saying that people in America aren’t deeply hurting financially; I know many are. I am saying that, because of this financial recession, people on the bottom of the world’s food chain are suffering greatly, even dying. It is I believe God’s good time for us to do a little something more, both to help, and as a witness to Greensboro that all of us can do a little more.
How it works is simply this: if you feel led by God, please sign up on the enclosed sheet in your bulletin, drop it into the offering plate. Georgia our office manager will bill you, or you can enclose a check for $33 dollars, which covers the rest of 2009. If you have a child or youth that wants to give a dollar a week, they can do so with an envelope and mark it 3 Nickels and their name. Wendy and the rest of the Missions committee are working on a world bank that a child could easily use.
There is no guilt if you cannot at this time, or would rather not. Money is tight for many of us, and we understand. And I know most of you support God’s work in the world wherever and whenever you can. I think for a few of you, even $52 added to your tight budget is not joyful giving.
We, the church leaders, have chosen four groups that we feel the church already supports. These groups will change from year to year, and we will be asking for your input on which groups to support. I trust you know of some agencies doing some excellent work for the world that we do not yet know about. The only rule is that it must aid people outside North America. For example, I am fascinated with the program Nothing But Net, which buys bug netting for the poor in Africa, helping provide a very low cost protection against malaria. Groups we support one year, we may not support that next, and every group we give to we will research using the American Philanthropic Institute’s website and grading system. We decided to use already existing groups rather than start our own, so as not to duplicate services and waste time & money.
The four groups for this year are list on this signature sheet. Watering Malawi was started by a Baptist woman in Birmingham, AL, to provide clean water to people in that country. $200 buys a pump; $6000 buys a deep water well drilled and a mothers’ club trained. Our youth and kids know much about this group since it’s a favorite of Passport camps. We’ll be hearing about it during June and July, and our very cool music camp is called Water U Doin?
Pennies for Peace was started by the guy who wrote Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson; you may have heard him when he was in Greensboro in April. Ann and Hannah, my wife and daughter, heard him and were very impressed. We’ve studied his book here, and he has started this incredible initiative to build schools in Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and other countries. We’ll learn about this ministry during August and September as school is starting here.
Project Ruth has long been a favorite partner in ministry for us. Started as a school for Gypsy children in Romania, Project Ruth has branched out to do so much more: elementary school, middle and high school, free clinic, summer camp, and seminary classes for Romany pastors. The missionaries with CBF from this church, Tammy and Ralph Stocks, are responsible for our involvement here. I’ve taught there 3 times, Marnie and Daniel once, and we’ve had an adult mission trip, a youth one, and another is being considered.
Lastly, in December and into the new year we’ll support Heifer International, which is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance & sustainability. You purchase goats or chickens or a water buffalo, and the animals are given to people in need around the world. Not long ago our own DiAnne and Jacob Borders when on a mission trip with Heifer, and they can both tell you much more about this wonderful group.
As I said, we will all be educated more about each of these groups. And, like our church, each one of these groups is a curative for apathy, self-involvement, and cynicism. If you want to know what God is doing in the world, these (and others like them) are on the leading edge. It’s small step, but first ones often are. And we hope to raise this sacrifice as the economy heals, one day soon, to being at least 100 people giving a dollar a day. A trickle of nickels now, by God’s grace a downpour of dollars later. By sending your dollar on mission, we are being Jesus’ witnesses all over the world.
And this $52 should be over and above what you normally give to the work at College Park. This is very important. In almost every church, there are 3 groups of people: people who give sacrificially, people who give something, and those who give nothing financially. The first group, those who give sacrficially are those responsible for the health of this church. More than a few of you give 10—20% of your income. You are the ones who keep all the creative ministries here fully funded. We all of you a huge thank you; through your generosity, we are bless by God. To those of you who give something, thank you as well. You are discovering the way in which generosity brings joy and opens you up to God in a way you may not have known before. Please continue to give as the spirit leads you.
To that final group, those of you who do not yet give to College Park, I hope that this 3 Nickels a day program will be a way into you discovering the sense of joy of giving back to God some of what God has given you. You are surrounded by people who take the claims of God seriously, so you do not have to shoulder any burden alone; however, there are not so many of us we can afford to say, “Let someone else do it.”
The truth is that for all of us, we all need to give to help our soul to grow and College Park needs your support. We are a church that is healthy financially, thanks in part to a lean budget and wise oversight. However, if our adult members each gave just 5% of their income, our budget would triple to over a million dollars. Summer has began, and Lin Bunce begins tomorrow, both of which will put new importance on meeting our budget, so it is crucial that all of us continue or begin our support of the work here at CP.
Some of you might want to do more—some of you might want to give a dollar a day now, and be able to do that. We would love that, but please make sure this is over and above what you already give to the work here.
When our oldest son Nate was born, Ann and I decided to start supporting a child internationally. We decided on CCF, Chrisitan Children’s Fund, and we given the name of a young girl in Sri Lanka who came to one of the CCF schools. The commitment is about $350 a year, $25 a month, with the same amount for birthday and Xmas. It was our spiritual discipline to say that, even as we give to our kids clothes and books and soccer teams (and let’s be real here, Ipods, Wii games, Gatorade and Reese cups), we would not forget that children around the world are incredibly poor, hungry, desparately needing clothes, water and education. We are not on our 5th girl to sponsor (when they reach 15 they age out of the program), Ingrasia De Silva Tilman. I don’t know how effectively this money is used, but the PIA gives CCF an A-.
One of my professors, Fred Craddock, use to say that sermons do one of three things: tell you something you don’t know; remind you of something you already know, or get you to do something. I don’t think he had a category of sermon as infomerical, which is sort of what this one has been. But we are inviting all of you to join with us in this small crucial thing we are doing, in giving out of our need, to address the huge need in the world, as we are God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. We will be God’s witnesses to Greensboro, to the point that God is first in our lives, by giving away the very thing that many believe we need most right now: money, starting with 3 nickels a day.