Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Conspiracy Week 3 Message: Give More

Below is the text from today's Advent Conspiracy message for the third week of Advent.  The text was Matthew 2:1-12.  

Giving more is about a different kind of giving and a different kind of gift.  It is about relational giving.  It is about giving the gift of presence.
I want to share a few snapshots with you to illustrate what I thinking ‘Giving More’ and ‘Giving Presence’ is really all about.  The first snapshot is from the world of science, one is from my life, and a few are from our Scripture for today.
The first snapshot is from a book entitled ‘Leadership and the New Science’ by Margaret Wheatley.  The book, subtitled ‘discovering order in a chaotic world’, is an attempt to do just that.  The idea being that a new or at least modified paradigm is needed to begin to understand the world we live in.  Wheatley covers a wide variety of disciplines within the various sciences and makes several interesting and enlightening statements – about a number of things. 
But what I wanted to share, what is relevant to us this morning as we think about giving more is the idea of how we are connected to each other.  In her chapter on Quantum Physics she says: "In the quantum world, relationships is the key determiner of everything. Subatomic particles come into form and are observed only as they are in relationship to something else. They do not exist as independent things."
This concept is so interesting to me, to think that at the very core level of the universe meaning and form in derived from relationship to one another.  It is true at the subatomic level and it is true for us as well.  We often talk about independence, our own personal independence, and we lift it up as the highest value. We do this in our personal lives, in business or school.
But according to Wheatley, we are not created to live that way - neither is the universe. In fact, this research makes it clear that we need each other in ways not previously known.  Wheatley goes on to say that the fabric that holds the universe together are "unseen connections between what were previously thought to be separate entities - these are the fundamental ingredients of all creation."
Think about that, this universe was created to be held together – literally – by the relationships we have with those around us.  God created this universe and he choose to build it on relationships.
That means that those things we choose to be in relationship with are critically important.  And it means that there may be no more important or valuable gift that we can give then our presence with someone – giving of our time and ourselves to build those universe connecting relationships. 
We have opportunities to build and create relationships every day.  Sometimes those are long term relationships, sometimes they are relationships that seem fleeting.
Most of you know that we ran the Philadelphia Marathon a couple of weeks ago.  Most of probably don’t know that I – kind of – ran a marathon before.  Traci and I entered and ran in the Charlotte Marathon almost exactly two years ago today.  I don’t really talk about that marathon very often, for a couple of reasons, but basically I didn’t train properly and then picked up a knee injury a couple of weeks before the marathon.
Those things combined to mean that I really struggled through the race in fairly embarrassing fashion.  In fact from about mile 15 on, I really didn’t believe that I was going to make it.
But then, around mile 18, something unexpected happened.  As I was struggling along, I met a man in his 60s named Paul, who was also running the marathon that day.  He caught up to me  (not very hard) could tell I was struggling and asked if he could run with me a while.  I managed to say ‘I guess’.
As we jogged along together I found out that this was not his first marathon, but it was his 932.  And he was going to be running his 933 the next day. 
This amazing man had been running about 100 marathons (or more) a year for the last 6+ years.  I found out that Paul’s goal was to reach 1000 marathons by the end of 2009.  That is pretty amazing stuff, and that kind of accomplishment requires an almost surreal level of discipline and focus on the goal. 
But the really amazing thing is that this amazing man with a ridiculous goal took the time from his efforts to jog alongside of me as I was just trying to finish.  He shared with me that he was inspired by how the solitary act of running could bring people together and he said that helping someone along their way was a ‘pure’ act of love and friendship
In all the time he took to run with me, talk to me and  encourage me I lost track of where we where and how much farther we had to go.  By the time we parted ways, as he ran ahead – (he had a plane to catch to make it to his next marathon) – I was at mile 23 and for the first time in hours finishing seemed like a realistic possibility
Paul had given me a pretty amazing gift.  Paul gave me the gift of a relationship that carried me through a difficult challenge.
There are two kinds of gifts in our scripture passage today.  First are the gifts the wise men bring
The gifts the wise men bring are Rare, expensive, exciting.
Lets give a little background to these gifts; These gifts, which are strange and unusual to us are actually all ordinary gifts for a king — myrrh being commonly used as an anointing oil, frankincense as a perfume, and gold as a valuable. 
The gifts are also prophetic — gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of priesthood, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.   Sometimes the symbolism behind these gifts are generally described as gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense symbolizing prayer, and myrrh symbolizing suffering. 
So, these gifts did have meaning and in a way were a prophecy – but they are never mentioned again – what use would Jesus and his family have for these gifts and what happened to the wise men after they gave them?
Then there is yet another gift from scripture: The gift of God’s advent – or coming – to dwell among us – to actually live and breath, walk, talk and eat with us.
This is a much different kind of gift.  It is a relational gift – it is about Jesus presence, quite literally, with us – God’s presence with us.
God comes to us in the form of a relational gift because God – our God (just think about that statement – it certainly implies a relationship) is a relational God.  Remember this is the God who created the universe on a microscopic level to be defined by relationships!
At this point, I think it is helpful to picture the Eastern Orthodox image of the Trinity (three people reclining at a triangular dinner table, sharing a meal, all connected – one ending where the other begins, but all distinct as well).  All of this points to the truth that God is at his very nature relational!
So what kind of gift do you think God wants from us?
More than an hour a week
More than a little bit of whatever thought or attention you have each day ( a quick thought in the morning, before a meal or right before bed)
More than some of what is leftover in our wallets and pocketbooks after we have paid for all that we ‘need’ or even want
God came and dwelt among us.  In Christ’s coming God drew near to us, seeking to be in relationship with us.
God asks us to make a relationship with him a priority everyday of our lives
God asks us to share him with others in relational ways – God wants to shine his light through us in every relationship that we have
In the relationships with those closest to, shine God’s light by giving presence.
In the relationships with those you barely even know or might never see again, share the love of God by giving presence and representing Jesus Christ to a world desperately in need of that saving relationship. 
In the miracle of God’s economy when we give fully of ourselves.  When we seek to give all that we have to others in relationship with them: our time, our talents and our presence that adds up to immeasurable blessing for us  in relationship with Jesus Christ.

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