My Westminster

Passage: Matthew 22:15-22
Date: October 19, 2008
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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One of my favorite things about Westminster is looking out at all of you. When it comes to saying where I see God's image, it‘s there. And it truly is one of my favorite things. But today I am going to turn around as it were. I hope to consider what it would be to sit in the pews and look this way - at the Cross and the Table... One place I often sit in worship instead of leading it is at the Healing and Wholeness service.

I can remember attending the Healing and Wholeness service on a Saturday long ago before I ever imagined that I would be on staff at Westminster. Sometimes I would just show up exhausted from a long week. Other times I would drink in the music as I sang those familiar repetitive chants over and over. I had known about Taize music for a long time, and so I already knew the words when I showed up to my first one here. This was a place I could come and just be with God. I didn't have to be in charge. I didn't plan this one, I just showed up. Sometimes I would even sit in the candlelight semi-darkness and marvel at my fate. Nancy and I had recently been married, and about a year before our wedding, I had taken a Sunday off at Colonial Heights church where I was then pastor, to attend her baptism. She was baptized at that font. And I had watched. And now she was up in front as a part of the prayer team, as people came forward for prayer, she would lay her hands on their head and pray.

She and I share a deep appreciation of healing. Her work with adult cancer patients, and the time I spend with people preparing for memorial services is similar. My work on reconciliation that has led me into a doctoral program is basically about healing of another kind. And so for both of us there is something about healing that is fundamental to how we understand the message of the Gospel, and who Jesus is.

Later in our marriage, the healing ministry of Westminster would be important in a very different way. After trying to have a child, and then trying to adopt, and after having all our efforts end badly, we were traumatized. Sometimes the prayer team meets outside of the Saturday services privately with someone, and Nancy and I requested such a meeting. I remember being asked how they could pray for me. And I didn't know what t say at first. What I remember through the experience was coming up against the powerful mystery of God, and life and death. The mystery is, in part, that life is not fair, and that God is somehow present in life's pain.

For me the healing at the heart of the Gospel is also a part of Westminster's identity. There may not always be a lot of people at that service. Many people overlook it. But like the woman who brought two coins, month after month prayers for healing said in this space, express a deep longing that is at the heart of my sense of Westminster, and my sense of myself.

I'm up here today without my clerical robe. Some of you may have noticed that in the bulletin my name is listed without the prefix "the Rev." That is intentional. Laurie left it out when she prepared the Order of Worship according to our plan. And our excellent secretary, Richelle added it back in when she caught it while proof reading. I asked her to take it out again. I know that on some level it's not really possible for me to not be a minister here. And it's not about trying to trick anyone, or create a false impression. It is to say that my testimony today is personal. It's about my family. It's about me. And mostly it is about why I love this place.

I love that my niece and nephew are comfortable here and feel a part of things. I love that my wife Nancy can sit next to her sister in worship. I love that Nancy was a member here before I was a minister here. I love seeing her at the Healing and Wholeness services, and thinking about how our faith has grown since that first Saturday night service. I love the windows and the pew cushions and my amazing office with the fireplace. But that's not what makes this my Westminster.

This is my Westminster because I have experienced healing here. And it is my Westminster because in some way that healing continues even now. This is my Westminster because the world in which we live still makes me long for healing between people, and I believe that this congregation can be a part of that.

When Nancy and I were first married we talked about financial matters. Not on our first date, but before the honeymoon. There was a date early on, where I accidentally forgot my wallet. Nancy has forgiven me as far as I know. That's another story. The reason we talked about money was because it expresses a lot about our values, and because we didn't have a lot of it. And because we had a lot of debt. We had student loans. And we couldn't afford to take on a mortgage without careful planning. But we nevertheless had a vision of the kind of life we wanted. And so we planned.

One thing we agreed on early was the idea of giving. We were both committed to giving financially as an act of gratitude. Nancy has, in my estimation, an incredibly generous heart. I have a strong sense of duty and responsibility. We give for various reasons. But we agreed on giving. God has blessed us with life, and with each other, and with wonderful friends and family. And giving is a way to show gratitude!
We have each traveled to countries where the standards of living are lower. Nancy served in the Peace Corps in Jamaica for two years, and I have traveled to Nicaragua and Cuba on mission trips. We may not be wealthy by some standards that this culture holds up. But we have so much! And that is why we give.
We may not be able to do everything to help in a world in need, but Westminster does a lot. And giving is a way to be a part of that mission.
We agreed on these things.

Our goal was a tithe. By that I mean 10%. We talked about whether that was 10% of gross or of net. And we realized that all that was academic in our first year. Because we knew that we would not be able to meet it in any way the first year. So we set intermediate goals, kind of like stair steps. And what I can tell you is that when we meet our goal it feels good rather than bad. I can tell you that in those months when things look tight but we just go ahead and give, we always find a way. And so we have stopped really even considering not giving.

Having stepped our way to our giving goals, along comes another opportunity to give more, namely the capital campaign. I have to tell you that when we first thought about it we couldn't see how we could really give anything significant. Given what we already give and the clear directive from the Capital Campaign committee NOT to decrease giving to the general fund to make a Capital pledge, we just couldn't see how. Especially because we had both just enrolled in advanced degree programs and were stretched to pay tuition without taking out any more loans.

So we made a modest pledge to give during the first year of the campaign.

Then it occurred to us that we had three years!

Two years from now, we would complete school. And with school complete, and tuition payments complete, we would have a significant amount of money built into our budget that could be redirected. So we have pledged our most significant gift for the THIRD year of the campaign.

I tell you that to tell you this: simply, there is more than one way to do it. This is about setting goals and reaching for them. And there are lots of ways to reach for a goal. And goals aren't always easy, that's why they are called goals.

So what I hope my story can do is free you to think creatively about your goals in life, and your vision for your life. I hope I can free you to think about the gratitude you may feel for your blessings.

And what this all has to do with giving unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's I hope is obvious. But to state the obvious: everything is God's. In the end, we don't take it with us. And if Caesar's image is on a coin, Jesus says, let him have it. In the end it's all God's.
Look around you and think about where you see God.
I hope that like me, you see God's image on everyone in this room, and beyond.
I hope that you can see God in everything in your life.
And I hope that whether you see God in beautiful windows, or in the healing of life's pain, you will find a way to say thank you.
I give thanks to God for this beautiful life.