While our Pastor, Kathleen, was attending the Georgia Annual Conference to help celebrate her mother’s retirement from ministry with the United Methodist Church, I had the great honor, once again, to preach.
My dad is a financial planner, so I was taught from a young age the importance of “investing wisely.” When I was 13 I got my first job as a babysitter, watching twin 3 years and their 2 year old brother. At the end of the evening, when their dad drove me home, he paid me $15. My first pay check.
The next morning in the car, on our way to church, my parents asked what I was planning to do with my new found wealth. Now, I don’t remember my exact answer, or their exact response – probably something along the lines of “CANDY!….um, NO!” – but what I do remember is that from that day forward, I’ve always thought about money. How to earn it, how to spend it, how to invest it.
By the time I was 16, I had a hopping babysitting business. I also had a goal. A really big goal. Africa. My church was going on a 3 week mission trip to Uganda, and I so desperately wanted to go. I begged and begged my parents to let me go. My mother was, obviously, dead set against it. My dad came up what he thought was a fool proof plan. “If you can raise the money, you can go.” My mother seemed relieved. How on earth would a 16 year old girl raise $3,000 in one year?!
Never, ever underestimate the determination of a teenage girl trying to prove her parents wrong.
I babysat every holiday, weekend and early school night my parents would allow. I saved my lunch money for months, eating nothing but Doritos and ham sandwiches for half a school year. I participated in fundraiser after fundraiser. I was determined.
And on July 28, 1998, I boarded a plane headed for Entebbe, Uganda. My poor mother. I’m not sure she has yet forgiven my father.
The lessons my father taught me so many years ago have stuck with me. Invest what you have, and invest it well. You can’t go wrong.
Now, this isn’t a sermon about money. I’ll save that for our finanical team during the next Stewardship Campaign.
What I want to talk about is investing yourself – your time, your talents, your gifts and your service – as the Methodist creed says – and investing it well.
In the story from John that Roland read for us this morning, Jesus has found himself with quite the crowd of groupies – as one is want to do when you’re performing miracles, healing the sick and just generally loving people well. Jesus asked his disciples where they can buy bread to feed the people. I can imagine that this was a “wink, wink” moment for Jesus, because he knew what was coming next. Philip balks, “But that would take a fortune that we don’t have!” Then Andrew found a young boy with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish – probably his family’s take-out order for dinner that night. The boy wanted to help, but Andrew looked at the meager proportions and said, “What good is that?”
“What good is that?” Has anyone ever said that to you? Have you ever said that to yourself? My guess would be that at some point in your life, every one in this room could say yes. At some point, we’ve all felt that we’ve nothing of value to give, that we just weren’t good enough.
When I finally made it to Uganda, when we arrived after more than 30 hours of traveling at the orphanage we would live and serve at for the next weeks weeks, I had a moment of panic. What was I doing here? What on earth did I have to give to these children? Our team had spent months preparing – learning about local cultural traditions, memorizing a few key phrases in Swahili, praying for our journey and time there, and learning how to make balloon animals – because what child doesn’t love balloon animals? But that first morning, standing in front of over 200 children at their morning assembly, I thought, “I don’t have what it takes. What can I do that can make a difference?”
Every day at Mary’s Place we start our morning with a Community meeting. Its a time for us to start our day together – to talk about what’s going on in our world, and in our own lives. One popular topic is dismantling the lies we’ve been told or have told ourselves. “I’m not good enough. I’m not worth it. No one needs what I have to give – so why bother? I’m just not worthy.” What’s really interesting to me is those words cross all economic, racial, gender and age levels.
Last year Mary’s Place took a small group to Kings High School to speak at an all-girls chapel. The ladies from Mary’s Place shared their deepest fears – of not being good enough, of having nothing of worth to give. And the students echoed back those same fears. And I think what everyone walked away with that day, students and grown-ups alike, was the realization that these phrases can haunt anyone.
But there is hope. Because quite frankly, the idea that what you have to give isn’t enough, is a lie.
When Andrew asked Jesus, “But what good is that?” Jesus said, “Tell everyone to sit down.” And they all ate until they were full. Jesus didn’t chastize them or give a 5 point argument about why they were wrong. He simply took what the young boy had to offer, and made it enough.
People of Trinity – there is your hope. No matter what you bring to the table, if you bring it with the expectation of being used for good, it will be enough!
We have volunteers that contact us at Mary’s Place all the time, with a desire to help. But so often we hear the phrase, “but I don’t really have anything to give.” And our response is always, “if you can sit and have a cup of coffee and converstation with someone, you have given the greatest gift of all – the gift of your time and presence.”
Sometimes we look at problems in our world like homelessness, poverty, hunger, climate change, sex trafficking, and we think, “the problem is just too big, and I am just too small. What I will do will never make enough difference to affect real change.” We are like Philip in the story from John, “but it would take a small fortune to feed all these people.” Often, the greatest issues in our world don’t need money to fix them. They need people. Homelessness won’t go away just by builidng enough homes. I saw a statstic from Amnesty International the other day that read, “There are five times as many vacant homes in America than there are homeless people.” So while affordable housing is one piece piece of the solution, it is obviously not the only piece. Homelessness doesn’t end just when you give someone a key. Homelessness is often about dealing with the root issues that lead a person there to begin with, the broken relationships, the grief, the trauma, the shame. And you can’t do that alone. Its about relationship and about community. I know for many of the women and families that have come through Mary’s Place, getting their housing was about the hard work they put in. Keeping their home was about the hard work of the community supporting one another.
Romans 12 reminds us that we each have our own gifts and we ought to use them well! “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually, we are members of one another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.”
Making a difference in your community, in your church, in your job or in your family, isn’t about having the most money, the greatest singing voice, the best schedule or all the right answers. It is about showing up, and giving of what you have. Do what you do, and do it well. Can you sing? Then join the choir! Can you cook? Then make a meal for Julia’s Place! Can you listen? Then visit with others and help remind them that they are loved! Can you understand the latest tax code? Then by God, help someone else! What can you do? Because whatever it is that you can do, I guarentee you that someone can use that gift.
We need to stop spending time comparing ourselves to others. Because no one is asking you to be the best someone else. When we do that, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. We weren’t made to be someone else, and we aren’t being asked to give more than we have. Romans 12 doesn’t tell us, “If you want to be a preacher, then be sure to be the best singer you can!” or “In order to be a leader, you have to be a teacher first.” And in the story from John today, Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to become a good chef so as to feed the crowd. Throughout Scripture, we are are told, God will use what you have, and make it enough. To use a sort of morbid example, look at the story of David and Goliath. David used what he had, and did what he could, and saved a nation. Now, I’m not advocating going out and slaying a giant, just because you can. But what I am saying is, don’t doubt your worth. Don’t doubt your ability. Have faith in yourself, and in your Creator, who can most certainly use any gift you bring.
There is a lady at Mary’s Place that I’ll call “Red” that was praying after one of our daily groups. Her prayer has stuck with me for years, and I believe is a good word for all of us today. Her prayer goes a little something like this:
“Lord, I invest all of me, knowing that IS a good investment.”
Whatever your gifts, whatever your talents, use them well. Invest your time in things that matter to your family and your community – coaching Little League, volunteering at the Soup Kitchen, working in the garden. Invest your words wisely – seasoned with grace and love and compassion. Invest your resources with the expectation that it IS enough. YOU are enough. And when you find yourself about to complain, “But helping would cost a fortune!” Remember the words of Jesus, “Sit down.” Then watch what happens with what you can give.
Jesus didn’t ask for something the young boy couldn’t give. He asked only for what he was able to give – five loaves, two fish. Red didn’t pray to invest more than she could offer – all she had was herself. Give of yourself, and rest in the truth that you are a good investment.