Monday, October 26, 2009

Take the Taste Test

Remember the A-B-C song? It goes like this: "A-B-C-D-E-F-G, H-I-J-K-L-m-n-o-P, Q-R-S, T-U-V, W-X-Y and Z. Now I said my A-B-C's. Next time won't you sing with me." Psalm 34 was written as an A-B-C song. Although it is not apparent in the English translation, the first letter of the first verse of Psalm 34 begins with the Hebrew letter A. The second line begins with the Hebrew letter B. The third line begins with the Hebrew letter C. And so on it goes with each line beginning with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. So in this way, it is a little like our American A-B-C song through which we teach our children the English alphabet.

Psalm 34 is also like a children's song in the way it intends to teach to children (v. 11) the "fear of the Lord": Proper speech, departure from evil and doing good, and the pursuit of peace. Today, this message sounds counter cultural. Our culture teaches the good life consists of driving the classiest car, being surrounded by beautiful people, carrying the proper credit card, drinking the right beverages, and generally enjoying oneself to the fullest every moment of the day and night. Millions of advertising dollars are spent ever day to try to convince us that life does consist in the abundance of possessions in direct contrast to Jesus, who said: "Life does not consist of the abundance of things." (Luke 12:15). Of course, we only hear Jesus message proclaimed once a week or so whereas we hear the culture's message proclaimed hundreds of times a day. We are trained from birth to be good consumers.

In striking contrast to our culture, Psalm 34 proclaims life begins with respect for God and God's ways. Life is a gift from God for which God makes gracious provisions (Psalm 34:8-9). Our culture fosters greed, but the psalmist fosters gratitude (Psalm 34:1-3). By permitting us only to show our happy faces in public our culture denies us the full experience of being human. Is it a crime to be sometimes sad about our human experience? The psalmist thinks not. He wants to break us out of our cultural prison and let us run free into a new life with God. The psalmist wants us to be able to withstand the onslaught of evil that is perpetrated against us and the rest of humanity. While the New Age religion says "Don't worry, be happy!" - and proclaims positive thinking as the solution to every illness, listen to the psalmist: "This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble." (Psalm 34:6)

The psalmist experiences life amid suffering, not beyond it. The psalmist's faith is the kind Jesus embodied. It's a faith that knows the paradox that to lose one's life for God's sake is truly to find it (see Mark 8:35). This is a consistent stream of thought in the Bible. The psalmist seeks to sober us up, saying, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all." (19) The psalmist suffers, Jesus suffers, and so did the Apostle Paul. We know how Jesus suffered on the cross. Paul describes his suffering like this:

Five times I have received 39 lashes. 3 times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. 3 times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)

Despite his incredible suffering, Paul still says: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39) Like Paul, the psalmist challenges us not just to take his word for it, but to take the taste test: "O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him." (34:8) The psalmist seems to say, "God delivered me from my fears. Take the taste test yourself. Seek the Lord and see if God will not deliver you from your fears."

This summer my family and I took a rafting ride down the Colorado River. Before we started one of the guides strongly encouraged to pack light for the trip. "If you don't have to have it, don't put it in the canoe," he said. At one point, the guides took all the rafters off the river. We climbed ashore and they showed us a tiny log cabin that was once used to board lodgers on the wagon trail who were waiting their turn to cross the river. That old abandoned cabin seemed to be full of old stories to share.

Lloyd C. Douglas tells the story of Thomas Hearne, who, "in his journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River, wrote that a few days after they had started on their expedition, a party of Indians stole most of their supplies. His comment on the apparent misfortune was: 'The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day's journey was more swift and pleasant.'

Hearne was in route to something very interesting and important; and the loss of a few sides of bacon and a couple of bags of flour meant nothing more than an easing of the load. Had Hearne been holed in somewhere, in a cabin, resolved to spend his last days eking out an existence, and living on capital previously collected, the loss of some of his stores by plunder would probably have worried him almost to death."

How we respond to "losing" some of our resources for God's work depends upon whether we are on the move or waiting for our last stand. (Lloyd C. Douglas, The Living Faith.)

During this stewardship season our challenge is to take the taste test with our money. Stewardship Dedication Sunday will arrive on November 8. This is a taste test in the sense that you can hear all the sermons in the world but you must take the taste test and try tithing for yourself.

Life is complicated. The righteous have plenty of troubles (15, 17). Faithfulness to God will mean anything but a carefree life! So the good news is not that if we tithe to the Lord then the Lord will spare us from pain and disappointment. Rather, the good news is that God is with "the brokenhearted" and the "crushed in spirit" (18). So, "life" will be experienced in the midst of suffering, not beyond it. Indeed, God will be experienced in the midst of suffering. Fear of God is rewarded not in a material, mechanistic sense but with nearness of God. To take refuge in God is to belong to God and that is what it means to live. To separate ourselves from God is the essence of wickedness and that is what it means to die. To be a servant of God (22) means to recognize God's sovereign claim on one's life. Thus to be a servant of God is to live in dependence on God, which is the essence of righteousness.

Tithing is not an insurance policy against going to hell after we die. Neither is tithing provide us a guarantee that we will not experience suffering in this world. Tithing is simply a spiritual discipline, a way to kneel before God and claim our dependence on God for all we have. Giving a percentage back to the Lord is a way of acknowledging that 100% of what we have comes from God and that we are continually dependent upon God's grace in order to survive.

I would like to take the psalmist challenge and make it more specific to this church at this time. I challenge you to take the taste test: Give a tithe to the Lord by pledging to support the ministry of Christ's church. If you take the taste test by tithing to the Lord, what you will perceive is that God is good. When we entrust our lives to God, we find we are, in the psalmist's language: "Radiant," "happy," and "fully provided for." (8-9)

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Psalm 34 on October 25, 2009 at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Doing What Successful Churches Do

The Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church 

on October 18, 2009; 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Sermon Text: Mark 10:35-45

During our session meeting last Thursday we talked about how our numbers seem to be down. Worship attendance membership numbers are down just a little and that is also true for other churches in our neighborhood. This downward trend is a national phenomenon. When I started in ministry in 1987 there were 3.2 million members of the PC(USA) and today there are 2.14 million members. Last year the PC(USA) recorded the steepest membership loss since reunion in 1983. Churches today feel like the man in the TV commercial who is on a ladder cleaning out the gutter on his house. We see his ladder start to slide off the house as he waves his arms in panic. We Christians are waving our arms in panic mode. We wonder what is wrong with the church? 
Your session discussed that question and here are some of our responses. Our church needs to have a unified vision. The session needs to come together as one and be leaders. This church needs to be a place that is so special to our own members that they want to invite others to come join in the movement. Each one of us needs to become a missionary in our own neighborhood, in our workplace, and with our family, friends and colleagues. Those are some of the session's responses to the question: "Why is our church declining in membership?" I wonder how Jesus would answer that question? Fortunately, in our gospel lesson Jesus does answer that question.
There we read how, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we need a favor from you." Rather than rehash the story let's put ourselves into this story. Imagine a few St. Johners and a few members of other area churches are part of Jesus crowd of disciples. There are some members of Willow Meadows Baptist, Westbury United Methodist and Salem Lutheran Church. And imagine the two St. Johners approach Jesus and say, "Teacher, we've got a favor to ask you."
Jesus responds to the two St. Johners, "What is it you want me to do for you?"
"Let St. John's Presbyterian Church be the most successful church in this community."
"Clarify what you mean by 'most successful church,'" Jesus replies.
"We mean we want our church to be the most respected church on West Bellfort. We would like to have the best kept lawn, newly remodeled buildings, a big all color LCD screen on our church sign. We'd like to see our congregation grow to 1000 members. Furthermore, we want ours to be the most powerful church in Southwest Houston. We want to have the most effective church staff, the most talented choir, the biggest youth group, the most babies, a vital Christian Education program for all ages, active young adults and generous older adults who leave lots of money to the church in their wills."
Jesus keeps staring at them blankly so the other St. Johner now pipes in, saying: "Jesus, we want our church to have the highest status of any church in the community. We'd like to add a gymnasium to our facilities so that we have the most to offer the upper middle class couples with children in Meyerland, Bellaire, and West University. We want more members than Lakewood Church and more prestige than First Presbyterian."
The other St. Johner agrees, "Yea. What he said. That's what we want from you."

Jesus looks sad and says to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink?"

The cup Jesus mentions represents his suffering and death on the cross. When he was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night when he was arrested by the Roman soldiers Jesus prayed to God that he might be spared the cup of suffering if it is was within God's will. But Jesus was not spared the cup of suffering. He had drink it all. He had to drink it all.

"Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink?"
"Sure," the St. Johners answer. "Why not?"
Jesus said, "Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink. But as to making your church the most so-called successful, that's not my business. There are other arrangements for that."
Now when some members of Willow Meadows Baptist, Westbury United Methodist and Salem Lutheran Church heard what the St. Johners had asked Jesus they lost their tempers with them. They were mad that the St. Johners had beat 'em to the punch and became loudly self-righteous in their anger. Things were getting out of hand among the members of the four churches, accusations were flying, voices were raised, things were getting ugly real fast.
So Jesus called them all together to settle things down. He scheduled a town hall meeting in the sanctuary of Temple Beth Israel – chosen by Jesus as a neutral site. When the meeting started, Jesus said: "Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. I came to serve, not be served."
We tend to think of ways the church can serve our members better. But Jesus challenges us to ask how our church can better serve people outside the church. We look around the sanctuary and think this is our mission field. But Jesus challenges us to develop an X-ray vision that see beyond the brick walls of this sanctuary into the homes of the people of this great city for Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.
There was another TV commercial this week about a place in Alabama called "Victoryland." I just caught the end of it and wasn't sure but it looked like it may be a Christian theme park. Fewer and fewer churches today are feeling like "Victoryland." Some theologians say the idea of the church triumphant no longer fits the present situation of the church in the world. Instead, we must re-imagine the church as a suffering servant in the world. Our questions must change from how can we increase our power, prestige and status -- to how can we become servants of Jesus, the suffering servant? We in the church should be asking How are we serving the unemployed? How are we serving the poor? How are we serving the hungry? That is how Jesus defines a successful church. According to Jesus way of thinking, Braes Interfaith Ministries (BIM) food pantry and consignment shop are right up there at the top of Jesus agenda. How right and fitting it is that BIM draws together the members of different congregations to serve the poor. 
Let's not fall into the trap of "My church is better than your church" with other churches in this community. Let's not strive for the most members or the biggest building of any church in town. Instead, let us be the first one to say yes to any worthy service project that is going to help someone who can never pay us back. Let us be the church that says yes to the poor. Let us be the church that says yes to whomever wants to join us in service to others. Let us drink the cup of Jesus suffering by pouring ourselves out in loving service to others.
I love to read our church newsletter, The Beacon because it tells so many stories of how St. Johners are reaching out to the community in Jesus' name. The Mustard Seed Project involved so many of us in loving service to those whom Jesus loves. Our new Advocacy Program for special needs children is taking root and bearing fruit. Here are some of the other outreach projects listed in this month's Beacon: Blood Drive; "Wonder Team" sandwich makers; Crop Walk; Prayer Groups; Mission Trips to Haiti and Uganda; Living Gift Market; addressing human trafficking; gift boxes for the Seafarers Ministry, and even a dragon boat race to fund cancer research. Of course, there are many more. We St. Johners understand what it means to be a successful church according to Jesus' definition of being successful. We will continue to measure success in terms of those whom we serve.

This week you will receive a stewardship letter from this congregation. You may read it and realize that this congregation is facing some financial challenges right now. Consider your financial giving as a spiritual discipline for that is how we Presbyterians view it. Jesus definition of success is how well we serve the people in our city – not how we serve ourselves. So give big -- not to a budget -- but to the vision of serving others in Jesus' name. As a pastor of a neighboring church said of his congregation: "We may not be gaining members but we are still providing a valid ministry to the community." With God's help we will continue to be a successful church according to Jesus definition of success which is pouring ourselves out in service to others. This congregation excels in doing that. Therefore, according to Jesus' definition of success: We are doing what successful churches do!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Faith's Rough Edges

Text: Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon 
at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston on October 11, 2009

Not to bore you Bible scholars, but for the benefit of those who missed that day in Sunday School, the book of Job comprises 42 chapters in the Old Testament. Job is presented to us as the richest man in the Middle East, deeply religious, "blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil."(Job 1:1) As the story opens, Job is the subject of a conversation between God and Satan (not the Satan of pop theology with horns, a pitchfork and a tail, but this one tantamount to a celestial prosecuting attorney). God says to Satan, "Where have you been," and Satan responds that he has been checking things out on the earth.

God asks if he had noticed Job and his unfailing faithfulness. Satan replies No WONDER - Job has it made! "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."(Job 1:10-11) So God and Satan strike this strange deal with poor Job in the middle - Satan gets to give Job the shaft just to prove the point. In six short verses, the man loses everything: Children, barns, livestock. Despite it all, Job is philosophical. "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."(Job 1:21) Cheer up, Job, things could be worse...and, sure enough, things got worse - Job is struck down by a hideous skin disease. In utter misery, Mrs. Job advises, "Curse God and die."(Job 2:9) Not Job. He kept the faith. Miserable... but faithful. "I will complain in the bitterness of my soul...I loathe my life."(Job 7:11, 16) 

Meanwhile, our hero's friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, hear about the horror story Job is living through, and, just as you and I would probably do, they come to the house to offer assistance. "Is there anything I can do? Anything at all?" 

To their credit, they did not come in with pious platitudes or explanations about how this would somehow be "all for the best." As the scripture reports it, "They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great." They just SAT with him.

But sitting in silence soon proved to be more than even the ancients could bear and the legendary "patience of Job" which has become a cliche in our culture we find is a bit overstated. Job is VERY unhappy, and he says he regrets that he was ever born. 

Have you ever felt that way? Probably. If you did, I hope you had friends who offered comfort and counsel, but I hope they did a better job than Job's pals. First, Eliphaz courteously suggests, "Job, you must have brought this on yourself." Then Bildad suggests that perhaps Job is suffering because of the sin of his children; if Job will only pray, the Almighty will intervene and make everything right. Friend Zophar finally says this misery is simply the sentence after a guilty verdict. In their own ways, each tries to explain Job's suffering on the grounds of the justice and righteousness of God and the orderliness of the universe. This could not have just "happened;" Job had to have done something or someone near and dear had to have done something for him to deserve his pain.

Cause and effect. 

We understand that thinking. Some kinds of suffering CAN be explained. Life-long smokers get lung cancer; people who drink to excess get cirrhosis of the liver; deaths on the highway are caused by drunk drivers.

But there is another side to that coin. People who have never smoked get lung cancer; people who have never touched alcohol get liver disease, drunk drivers kill the innocent along with themselves, and natural disasters take their toll on all of us. 

For his part, Job is not satisfied with his friends' explanation. At this point in the story, Job is just as much convinced of the justice of God as his friends. In his own situation, he is convinced that God has made a mistake, that's all. What he wants is his day in court. He wants to brief his case before this righteous judge and get the sentence overturned. But the problem is this: as the lectionary text has it, "if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him." God is gone - east, west, north, south, look where you want - God is gone. How can you present your case when the judge is nowhere to be found? 

When we get to the bottom of the pit we may look around in the darkness and feel as if we are the only person who has ever felt this way. We forget that God has already been in this pit. God came down, entered humanity and saw and felt it all. He was lonely, tired, hungry, besieged by demanding crowds, persecuted by powerful enemies. His friends and family questioned his sanity. Those who followed him were a motley crew of fishermen and peasants, among whom that migrant farmworker would have felt very much at home. Then at the end, the bloody death - an execution quite unlike the quick, sterile lethal injections or gas chambers we know today, one that stretched on for hours in front of a jeering crowd. family, by friends...even "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 

Without question, the cross of Jesus has become the most common image in the Christian faith. That cross is proof that God cares about our suffering and pain. Christ died of it. Today the image of that ancient executioner's rack is coated with gold and worn around the necks of beautiful girls, or is polished bright and worn on the chest of preachers, a symbol, not only of our faith, but also of how far we can stray from reality. And perhaps that is where our problem lies - we wonder where is God in our pain, but we might wonder less when we recall that, in the midst of ultimate pain, God was right there...hanging on that tree. For you. For me.

When God is gone. Yes, there are indeed times when that seems to be the case. For Job. For you and me as well. All the "Why?" questions remain. But the good news I bring to you this morning is more than, because of the cross, God knows and understands pain and suffering. The good news is that the cross is not the last word. Remember, after the cross, there is resurrection, new life. (Adapted from the sermon When God Is Gone by David E. Leininger.)

William Hinson relates the experience of seeing a baby owl in his front lawn as he went out to get the morning paper. He said he did not know what to do about it, so he called a naturalist. The naturalist said, "Don't do anything to that baby owl. If you look up, somewhere in a tall tree you will see he is not alone. His mother has told him to sit very still in order that he might not be seen by a cat or anything else. It takes about two dark nights for a baby owl to spread his wings and fly. In the meantime, if you will look up, you'll see his mother."

William Hinson said he and his wife went out into the yard and looked up into the top of an oak tree and there they saw the mother owl with dark, unblinking eyes fastened on the baby owl and everything and anything that came near him.1 When we feel alone and it seems that God has moved out and left no forwarding address, be assured that God knows where we are and God can reach us when God gets ready.

 (William Hinson, A Place to Dig In, Abingdon, 1987, pp. 27-28.)

Why should I feel discouraged, Why should the shadows come, Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home. When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me. (Charles H. Gabriel, "His Eye Is On the Sparrow," Songs of Zion, Supplemental Worship Resources 12, (Abingdon, 1981), p. 33.) 

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Gift of Generosity

Text: Genesis 2:18-24

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

October 5, 2003; World Communion Sunday: Genesis 2:18-24


In our Bible story from Genesis this morning we find that God gave a generous gift to man. God noticed that Man was alone and decided to make him a helper, a companion. So God formed from the dirt of the ground all the animals of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the Man to see what he would name them. Whatever the Man called each living creature, that was its name. The man named the cattle, named the birds of the air, named the wild animals; but didn't find a suitable companion.

God put the Man into a deep sleep. As he slept he removed one of his ribs and replaced it with flesh. God then used the rib that he had taken from the Man to make Woman and presented her to the Man.

The Man said, "Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for she was made for Man."

Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. God's generous gift reminds me of the fabled hospitality of Brigid of Ireland.

Long ago in the land of Ireland there lived a woman named Brigid. Brigid was baptized in the mid-fifth century during the lifetime of St. Patrick of Ireland. Brigid became a preacher and bishop who ruled as high abbess of an immense monastery — a foundation that admitted both men and women. The name of the monastery was Kildare which translated means "Church of the Oak."

You may learn more about Brigid in Thomas Cahill's fascinating book How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. In keeping with the man and woman theme of our scripture this morning (Gen. 2:18-24 ), let me tell you about the attempted marriage of Brigid of Kildare.

Following Brigid's conversion, her father, an extremely wealthy man, was appalled to find his beautiful daughter giving away his stores to beggars. Quite out of control, he threw Brigid into the back of his chariot, screaming: "It is neither out of kindness nor honor that I take you for a ride: I am going to sell you to the King of Leinster to grind his corn." Arriving at the king's enclosure, the father "unbuckled his sword, leaving it in the chariot beside Brigid, so that—out of respect—he could approach the king unarmed." No sooner had the father gone off than a leper appeared, begging Brigid for her help. Since the only thing handy was her father's sword, she gave it to him. Meanwhile, the father was making his offer to the king, who must have smelled something fishy, and insisted on meeting the girl before accepting. When king and father came out to the chariot, the father noticed immediately that his sword was missing and demanded to know where it was. When Brigid told him, "he flew into a wild rage" and began to beat her.

"Stop," cried the king, and called Brigid to him. "Why do you steal your father's property and give it away?"

"If I had the power," answered Brigid, "I would steal all your royal wealth, and give it to Christ's brothers and sisters." The king quickly declined the father's kind offer because "your daughter is too good for me."

It is not surprising that, after she escaped from her father and became abbess, Brigid's monastery was famous for its hospitality. I would like to share with you a table grace associated with Brigid's name. It seems an appropriate prayer for all Christians on this World Communion Sunday. Here is Brigid's prayer:

I should like a great lake of finest ale

For the King of kings.

I should like a table of the choicest food

For the family of heaven.

Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith,

And the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,

For they are God's children.

I should welcome the sick to my feast,

For they are God's joy.

Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,

And the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,

God bless the sick,

And bless our human race.

God bless our food,

God bless our drink,

All homes, O God, embrace.

(Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization:

The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, 172-174)

Some two hundred years after her death Brigid's monastery in Kildare would be laid waste by Vikings raiders. How humble we would be if we understood how brief is our time on this earth and how little impression we leave behind. How devoted to God we would be if truly we understood that this life is but a preparation for the life to come. Like a seed planed in the ground, each of us will one day return to the earth from which we came. In the meantime, let us treat one another with abundant hospitality and generosity of spirit.

Of course Brigid is not the only figure in history to display lavish generosity. The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Cooper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving." (Source unknown.)

There were once two young men working their way through Leland Stanford University. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition. The great pianist's manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. "No," replied Paderewski, "that won't do." Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: "Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest." The years rolled by--years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came, and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. Thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. "That's all right, Mr. Paderewski," was Mr. Hoover's reply. "Besides, you don't remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole."

(Edward W. Bok, Perhaps I Am.)

As we celebrate World Communion Sunday today, we recall the brief but shining life of Brigid of Kildare. We remember her total commitment to Jesus Christ. We emulate her extravagant hospitality in the name of Christ. May Brigid of Kildare call to our remembrance all the women and men who have been faithful to Christ's call down through the ages. For we gather at the table on this World Communion Sunday not only with all believers who are alive today but also with all those believers who have come before us. As the great hymn says:

For all the saints who from their labors rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Music: From the English Hymnal, 1906. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

-Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church on October 4, 2009.