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Lent 2: Our Fear of Not Making a Difference

February 24, 2013

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Second Sunday of Lent, February 24, 2013. This is part two of six on the subject of fear.

 

Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18          Luke 13: 31-35

In our text this morning, Abram is having trouble seeing God’s faithfulness. Don’t we all, sometimes?

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Abram wants something to show for his faith.  He wants to know that God will make good on God’s promise to “make of him a great nation.”

Having forsaken the gods of his ancestors, who promised prosperity and posterity, having walked out of the workshop where his father Terah forged idols, having left the land that had been in his family for generations, all in order to follow the promise of an unknown God to an undisclosed location, Abram’s fears are understandable. Was it worth it? What does he have to show for all these years of faithful following, what difference has it really made?   And what kind of legacy will he leave behind?

And God says to Abram, “Do not be afraid.”

Last week a high school friend of mine who I talk to on Facebook posted a plea: “Is all we do in vain? Is it? Please say it isn’t so.”

As we continue our Lenten sermons series on fear, this fear has come up in one form or another again and again: the fear that nothing matters or of not having made a difference. Now these are not quite the same. The fear of not mattering is, as Shakespeare put it, to be afraid that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”[1] Life itself is without meaning.

But the fear of not having made a difference, that we have not contributed and that we leave nothing behind us, is a different fear.  It is the fear that we, not life, are the walking shadows, and that, at the end of our life we will have nothing to show for our living.

And God says to us, “Do not be afraid.”

Many of you will remember Dot Mehl as a faithful member of this congregation until her death in 2009. She worshipped here with her parents, until their passing. Dot was an active elder, and loved our choir, and her friends were her family. Dot was also a regular volunteer up at the hospital. She had no children of her own, but she thought about the future. So when she died three years ago, she left her entire estate to be divided between the church and the hospital, which meant a gift to this congregation of about $900,000. That gift is going to make possible some very necessary repairs and updates to this church’s historic campus over the next couple of years so that our pledges and those of future generations, can be used primarily for ministry and mission. But there’s more.  Dot’s gift is currently generating about $35,000 a year in interest and dividends, which supports part of our budget for ministry and mission. That means that Dot Mehl is still, three years after her death, our largest contributor. Dot Mehl made a difference.

Many of you know Julian Tabb who is in fourth grade and a cub scout.  This past Thanksgiving, Julian needed to do a bit of community service under the supervision of his pastor.  So I asked him to attend the community Thanksgiving service, to collect our offering of food for the ecumenical food pantry, and to deliver it. Now, our church collects food every week for the food pantry and for decades Thor Anderson has delivered the food to the pantry.  This is something that Julian grew up watching Thor Anderson do. This month, as Thor steps down from this service, Julian and my son August have agreed to step up as our new food stewards. Twice a month, the boys will deliver the canned goods and boxes of cereal that we donate to the Slater Center. Even as Julian and August have stepped forward to ensure food will be delivered, we can use their commitment as an occasion to renew our own commitment to bring food donations to the church.  For those of you who didn’t know, while we take donations every week, we especially encourage donations on the Sundays that we share the Lord’s Supper, which, by the way, is next week. So at the end of worship today the deacons will be glad to give you a paper bag and a list of groceries.  If you bring that bag back next week filled with needed food for our neighbors, it will make a difference. You will make a difference.

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February 25th is United Nations’ Orange Day when we remember violence against women and girls around the world and pledge ourselves to eliminating it.  On the 25th of every month, people around the world are wearing orange to raise awareness and to signify their commitment to ending violence against women and girls.  Today you’ll find an orange tag in your bulletin that you can wear on Monday the 25th.  It’s an obvious, almost clunky tag quite purposefully.  We want people to ask us – why are you wearing this orange tag?  So that we can tell them!  In addition to wearing orange, some of the concrete ways our church is working to eliminate violence against women and girls is by working with My Sister’s Place here in White Plains, sharing posters with information in our building with the confidential hotline women can call.  And we are collecting travel-sized shampoos and soaps for use at the domestic violence shelter.  On Valentine’s Day, at least one person in our congregation participated in the “One Billion Rising” flash mobs that occurred not only here but around the world empowering women and drawing awareness to the violence women and girls face.  And through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness, our denomination and thousands of Presbyterians are advocating for Congress to reauthorize VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act.  Are you one of them?  Through our words and our deeds we are making a difference.

In our church’s mission statement we affirm that, “we are called to make a difference in ourselves, our church community, and those around us.”  The Lenten season is a fitting time to take inventory, not only of the ways we have fallen short, but also of the ways that we are making a difference and the ways that God is using us to make a difference.

Abram, like all great dreamers, lies down with his fear and awoke to his faith.

This Lent, may we lay down with our own fear of not making a difference and awaken to affirm that we are, like mighty athletes, fighting the good fight, running the race that is set before us, trusting in God and loving our neighbor.


[1] Macbeth Quote (Act V, Scene V).

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