In fact, every friend that everyone of us have were strangers at one time. Everyone that we know we had to take the time to get to know. For every person that we have come to care about, there was a time when we didn’t care about them at all. All of the friends we have were strangers and they would have remained that way if we didn’t take the chance and share conversations and spend time together. Many strangers have become friends. But even though that’s the case, we still treat strangers as strange.
You’ll remember that our theme for this year is “Living Faith Fully.” We’ve talked about how faith is this combination of belief and trust; believing that Jesus is God’s Son and trusting all of God’s promises in him. We’re spending the next few weeks exploring those ways that we can be filled with faith. We’re looking at those ways of life that helps us know what we believe and grow in our trust. Compassion is one of those ways. Compassion literally means “suffering with.” Compassion means walking with someone else while they struggle and struggling alongside them. You feel it in the pit of your stomach and it gets you all twisted up inside, but it’s more than just a feeling. Compassion means taking on some of the risk, taking on some of the suffering. Compassion means shouldering some of the burden and letting someone else’s life have an impact on your own. Compassion is what we find Jesus living in the gospel story we heard this morning.
Robbery takes away your freedom because you feel like you have to be extra careful with your possessions. You never feel free to leave anything open or out. And, robbery creates these feelings of frustration and anger, of “that’s mine and you have no right to take it.” Unfortunately, many of us have experienced that before. So, when God says, “You are robbing me!” Maybe we can relate to how God feels.
Tithing can feel merely institutional, like a financial obligation, like just another check to write. And that’s sad because it’s supposed to be so much more than that. There’s supposed to be more power in it and there’s supposed to be great grace in it. Like Ameena, we are called to be interrupters. So, our tithes are meant to interrupt those cycles of sin and suffering out there and set people on the path of salvation in here. Like Barnabbas, God has called us to encourage. Our tithes are meant break our addiction to our wants and draw our attention to other’s needs. Our tithes are meant to bring hope to history. Our tithes, whether big or small, whether $1 or a thousand, are meant to be part of a tidal wave of justice rising up to reshape the world. Our tithes are part of the great sea change of God’s Spirit, rushing like rapids through these city streets.
“In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine and your oil as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock.” You shall eat it. You shall eat your own tithe. Have you ever heard that before? You will take 10% of all of your harvest and yield for the year and you will eat it in the presence of the Lord. You’ll have this big, abundant, over-indulgent feast, you and your household. This is how we’re going to learn the fear of the Lord? By eating? By eating our own tithe?
The mistake the Christians make is that they come to church only so that they are ensured of eternal life. But they forget that there is an abundant life available today. They come to church so that they can be with God in the next life, but forget that God is already with them in this life. They forget that God hasn’t just addressed the death that is at the end of this life, but also done something about the dark and dreary and depressing parts of this life as well. Just about everything we long for when we long for eternal life, God is making abundantly possible in this life.
The headline might read, “Steve Jobs Saved My Life.” It might read that if the story ever made it into the newspaper, but I don’t think that it ever did. The story is about Joe. In elementary school, Joe was not like most kids. Instead of sports, Joe liked music. Instead of TV, Joe like art. Instead of video games, Joe liked fantasy games. In a lot of ways, Joe and his friends were different. His differences were fine for a while, but you know how kids can be. After a while, differences mean dumb. Joe would be ridiculed for the different things that he liked. He would be picked on for being different.
Riley Waggaman grew up hearing about the benefits of a good, liberal arts education. Riley grew up in the northeast, but if he had grown up hear, he would have heard about the benefits of a Hope College or a Calvin College. Riley believed this message. So, when he graduated from high school, he went off to get a good, liberal arts education. He believed that he would graduate from college well-rounded, ready to take on the world. He believed that he would be able to change the world. When he graduated we found a job at a newspaper. It didn’t matter that he was $120,000 in debt. Riley was a journalist ready to take on the world and change it.
First there was Forrest. Then there was Eddie. Now there’s Paul. Paul is a guard on death row and in charge of overseeing the prisoners there. His block is called the green mile. The mile is green because that’s the color of the tiles on the floor outside of the cells. It’s not really a mile long, but I imagine it’s called that because it feels like the longest walk anyone has to take. By now you may know that I’m talking about the movie of the same name. Tom Hanks plays Paul in the film The Green Mile.
Last week we began with a movie character named Forrest Gump. This week we’ll begin with a movie character named Eddie. I don’t know his last name. To see Eddie is to see knotted, snarly hair and poorly fitted clothing. To smell Eddie is to smell stale odor and cigarette smoke. Visiting Eddie is to visit a small apartment with dishes stacked up, clothes thrown all over the place and furniture tossed about. Visiting Eddie, you would think he’s just been robbed. Just smelling and looking at Eddie, you would never know that he has a book contract. Yes, Eddie is a starving writer.