Sunday, December 13, 2009

Spend Less

Worship was full today with our regular worship plus a temple talk on stewardship and the presentation of the budget for next year. So while some of the other text were referred to with stewardship and budgets in mind, this sermon focused mainly on the gospel text: Luke 3:7-18

So this Advent, this season of preparation before Christmas, I have been talking about Advent Conspiracy. Advent Conspiracy is a movement to have people reclaim Advent and Christmas from what it has become for many people: stress, traffic jams, to do list, shopping. Instead the goal, the hope, of Advent Conspiracy is that people can reclaim Advent and Christmas into a season of love, hope, promise and realize that Christmas can still change the world by us worshiping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all.

So let’s talk about spending less, but first lets see where were are.
• How many of you are already done with your Christmas shopping?
• How many of you have ever given a gift out of pure obligation? They gave or will you a gift so you feel you have to give them something in return?
• How many of you have the one person on your gift giving list this year that you have absolutely no clue what they might enjoy?
• How many of you will spend over $100 on Christmas presents this year? $200? $500?
• How many of you like receiving gifts?
• How many of you like giving gifts?
• How many of you can remember giving someone a gift that they really wanted or were really excited over? What was that like?

See I’m not a Scrooge, I like giving gifts. I like thinking about what someone would really enjoy and finding the perfect gift for them. And I like receiving gifts too. I like receiving gifts that I know were specifically purchased or made with me in mind. Gifts that are useful or meaningful or ones that I will treasure.

But it happens every Christmas, you open that present and you immediately put on that fake smile and as you lift your gift out of the box you exclaim or it is great, I love it. Meanwhile you are wondering what were they thinking when they bought you that? Did they buy it on the way home from church on Christmas Eve and the only place open was the gas station? Whether it is a hideous sweater, a Chia pet, a shirt two sizes too big, or a gift certificate to a place you never shop at, nor would ever shop at, you have just received a gift that was wasted. It would have been better that they wrote a thoughtful card than given you something that proves they put no thought into what you might enjoy.

And if you gave that gift, and you realize that they didn’t like it, it feels horrible. You just want to take it back and either give them the cash you spent on it or a card or something else.

And then think about this: every year Americans spend $450 billion dollars on Christmas. $450 billion! That is ten times the amount Bank of America just paid back the US government from the bailout program. That works out to be almost $1500 per person, not per family, per person, including children.

So what would happen if each year, we bough one less gift? One less gift that we give solely out of obligation. One less hideous sweater, Chia pet, shirt two sizes too big, or a gift certificate that they will never use. Think of how nice it would be to not have to buy something for the random coworker in the Secret Santa pool at work. Think of how nice it would be to not have to rack your brain to get something for that one person who you can never think of what to get them.

So if every person bought one less gift a year, say that averages out to be $20 (I’m being cheap here), that is $610 million dollars a year in savings.

So what all does this have to do with the Gospel? What does this have to do with lessons we just heard, that we just read?

Well there is John the Baptist out in the wilderness preaching to crowds telling them to prepare the way of the Lord. And how does he tell them to prepare the way? By giving away an extra coat and extra food, by doing their job well and by being satisfied with their wages. That’s it! It is simple. He didn’t tell them to go out and do great things, he didn’t tell them to go out and even do anything particularly religious – going to worship daily, reading the scriptures. No just give away your excess to those who have none, do your job well and don’t complain.

See we often feel like we have to do something big, that we have to do something worth wild in order for it to make a difference in this world. We hear about the people who gave a million dollars to a charity or a university. And maybe we wish we could be them, to get their recognition, to change the world that way. But really we don’t have to do anything big. A tree only has to bear one good fruit in order for the seed to be planted in order for another tree to grow, which will bear more good fruit and more trees.

We don’t have to do anything spectacular, we just need to do what we have been called to do, do it well, and help others in need. To do our small part, to do what God has call us to do.

Plus some of the best gifts, the best fruits we can bear, require no money at all. By giving what we already have, people can have warm clothes for winter and food on their tables. By giving the skills that we have, houses can be built, quilts can be made, children can be educated, the world can be changed. God has given us the ability to bear good fruit.

God has given us the gifts of community to support us as we bear good fruit. This church has donated over $700 for Redding Social Services this year, not including the hundreds of food items as well. We donated a pile of toys to St. Luke’s Life Work’s this year. Think of how many children will have gifts this Christmas that might otherwise have none. We have support the African Mission. We have done many, many things. God has given us this community to support us as we bear good fruit.

We bear good fruits because we have been given the gift of Christ. Christ who came to us as child born in a lowly manger, Christ who forgives our sins, Christ who died on a cross for us, Christ who will come again! Christ who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, Christ who gave us his body and blood through the bread and wine of communion. Christ who was the ultimate gift for the world. For God so loved the world, that God gave his only son to die for us so that we might receive eternal life.

We have been given the gift of Christ so that we can bear good fruit. So then what if we buy one less gift so that we can bear good fruit. What if we take that $20 that we saved from not buying that one gift and instead donated to a charity on that person’s behalf? And what if only one in every one hundred people in this country did the exact same thing? It may seem like nothing big, but that would be an additional $61 million dollars given to charity each year. Think of all the good things that charities like Lutheran World Relief, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and others could do with an extra $61 million a year. Lutheran World Relief’s total program expenses for the year are only $32 million.

It is by bearing that one good fruit, something that might seem so small at the time, by buying that one less gift, that we realize that Christmas can still change the world.

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