“Sharing is Who We Are”
October 9, 2022; Second Sunday of Stewardship
Plymouth Congregational, UCC
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson
1 When you have come into the land that the [HOLY ONE] your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the [HOLY ONE] your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the [HOLY ONE] your God will choose as a dwelling for God’s holy presence.
3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the [HOLY ONE] [our]God that I have come into the land that the [HOLY ONE] swore to our ancestors to give us." 4 When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the [HOLY ONE] your God, 5 you shall make this response before the [HOLY ONE] your God: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, [a stranger,] few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. 6 When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, 7 we cried to the [HOLY ONE] the God of our ancestors; the [HOLY ONE] heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 The [HOLY ONE] brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;9 and God brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, [HOLY ONE,] have given me." You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites, [the priests] and the aliens, [the strangers,] who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the [HOLY ONE] your God has given to you and to your house.
At the time of the story we just heard, the Hebrew people had been wandering, nomadic people for at least two generations as they came out of exile in Egypt following God’s lead. They were faithful people some days and others not so much. Sound familiar? According to this ancient, remembered story they receive an inheritance of land from God, land promised to their ancestors, that they are to share with the Levites and aliens. The Levites were the tribe of priests who had no land of their own to grow crops because they attended to the people’s covenant life with God. The aliens were those not of the twelve tribes of Israel. People who had joined them in their wanderings or people of other faiths – some already living in the land - or people who were immigrants. This whole story is about remembering to remember! Remember God who liberates and sustains the people. Remember to bring the first fruits of your inherited land to God so that they can be shared with those who are in need. Why? Because this inherited land belongs to God. And you, the people, belong to God. Therefore, the first act of God’s community is sharing. These were the Hebrews, God’s people, remembering and seeking to live out the justice and compassion of the One God they followed who had called them long ago, brought them out of exile and into a good land.
In our stewardship campaign this year we are remembering who we are after the exile of pandemic lockdown. We are Plymouth! As Hal likes to say, we are an outpost community of faith on the plains of CO furthering the kingdom, the kindom of God that Jesus announced is already within and among us. We are an interdependent beloved community of folks seeking to follow the ways of God’s Love we know through Jesus. We strive for simplicity of living and working together, yet we are also a complex community of intertwined relationships, passions, and purposes. Miraculously, the Spirit of the Holy comes along to guide us when lose our way, when we struggle, when we fail, as well as when we are at our best. As our 2022 Stewardship campaign materials tell us, “we were forced into a new era, a new way for us to be church,”[i] through our last three years of exile in pandemic protocols. Like our ancient Hebrew ancestors, we must remember who we are after exile and learn to live in a new land. Like our ancestors we stand at the threshold of a new life hearing the guidance of Moses of how best to live in that new land. Remember who you are, God’s beloveds. Remember who gave you this land. Remember to share.
Our stewardship materials invite us to remember through some salient questions: “What does Plymouth mean to you? How does being part of the community express your life of faith and your identity? How does this unique expression of God’s Realm speak to your greatest need and longings?”[ii] One of the things Plymouth is to me is sharing. I have learned so much about sharing and being someone who shares during my years at Plymouth. My favorite, and most recent example, is the Student Welcome Event we had in August to welcome and equip CSU international students and those in the Lutheran Campus Ministry Housing Security program. Our fellowship hall and north patio area was hall filled to the brim with household goods to GIVE AWAY to those students. Not to sell at some low price, but to GIVE AWAY! What a picture of the wealth of America that can be shared! With those arriving in our land with just a couple of suitcases of clothes or those coming to college as first-generation students from poor families with little resources! Most of us have so much stuff, my friends! And what a joy it is share! Not to give away worn out things to ARC, but to share things in our own houses that are barely or rarely used. Or to share goods we have the money to go out a purchase. Then give away something new! I watched in wonder as that day unfolded with the magic of smiles and gratitude. A microcosm of what could be in our world if those of us with the top 10% - 20% of the wealth would share more with those in need. Gift economy.
Opportunities to share at Plymouth abound! Through faithfully giving our financial resources through our annual Stewardship campaign, through Share the Plate each month, through our four yearly UCC special offerings. Through events such as CROP Walk and the annual Youth Sleep Out for Homelessness Prevention. Through the many, many opportunities to share the privilege of our wealth through the Mission Marketplace coming up November 5 and 6. Now then think of the ways you share resources of time as volunteers with Faith Family Hospitality and the Immigration Team sponsoring our beloved Afghani family, through volunteering for Ministry Marketplace! We are like a busy, bustling community of ants! Really! Ants “tell each other where food is, not hoarding individually, but operating on a principle that the more of them who gather food, the more food they will have as a community.”[iii] The more they have to share! And our community extends beyond these walls into the world!
Think of the ways your share yourself in relationship through Christian Formation book discussions and study groups, through volunteering with our children in Godly Play Sunday school, through prayer groups and fellowship groups, through helping with memorial service receptions and in the seasonal yard clean-ups and caring for the memorial garden. I could go on and on! Think of the ways you share yourselves in relationships with Plymouth and the wider community working for justice through our new Climate Action Ministry Team and our Ending Gun Violence Ministry Team. Our new Ministry Match survey and database program is empowering our ability to share ourselves in relationship, to quickly integrate people new to our community who want to be involved. (If you haven’t taken the Ministry Match survey, please do! You can find it right here in the bulletin insert! If you are new and not yet involved, click on the ministries you were matched with in your survey results to discover who to contact so you can get involved!)
We are like ants, gathering resources to share. We are also like trees in complex and life-giving relationship with one another. Think of all the trees that grow from common root systems underground as one being reaching up in many bodies – birch, ash, aspen, mangrove. Think of how oak trees wrap their roots around each other under the earth, thus surviving even hurricane strength winds. Think of the mycelium, the threading network of fibers that communicates between trees, particularly around toxic growth, and thus protects the trees from harm.[iv] We are sharing in ever deepening and intertwined relationships with one another that give us life and that also extend beyond our doors bringing life to the wider world. As the psalmist sang, we are like a community of trees planted by streams of living water, the living water of Love. We nurture and we share.
We are Plymouth! It gives us joy to share, doesn’t it! It’s okay to feel good when we share. However, we are not invited by God to share because it makes us feel good. We are invited to share because we are made in God’s image, with the spark of God’s Love divine within us. And sharing is the essence of God’s love. The Holy ONE is always sharing. Let us remember this when it feels scary to share of our time or talents or financial resources. We are part of God, so sharing is who we are
Sharing is who we are as human beings. In the very depths of who we are as human community. “Building community is to the collective, [the whole of humanity,] like spiritual practice is to the individual.”[v] It takes generosity and vulnerability to build community. This is what Moses was trying to teach the Hebrew people. Generosity means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached.” Bringing our first fruits, not our left-overs. Vulnerability means [showing up] and showing your needs” so that even as you give, you can receive.[vi] How can we increase our sharing and strengthen the ties that gather us for new growth after exile? Through generosity and vulnerability as we gather like ants, telling others where to find bread of the earth and the bread of heaven. Through vulnerability as we are connected at the roots like trees, connected at the roots of our faith, sharing nurture, healing, and strength.
We are Plymouth. We have a God-given ability to share. We are invited, more than invited, we are guided, and directed to share. Sharing is who we are. Thanks be to God!
©The Reverend Jane Anne Ferguson, 2022 and beyond. May be reprinted only with permission.
[i] Plymouth 2022 Stewardship Matierials
[iii] adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy, Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, (AK Press, Chico, CA: 2017, 86.)
[iv] brown, 85.
[v] brown, 88.
[vi] brown, 91.