The Caress Of God
Anyone listening to me now who has a connection to the city of Chicago will know the name of Marshall Field, the department store magnate whose business and generosity exercised such a shaping influence on that great city. Some years ago now Marshall Field’s mother donated one million dollars to the University of Chicago. When the Board of Directors at nearby Northwestern University heard about her generous gift, they wondered why a similar grant had not been made to Northwestern. A representative was sent to investigate. Mrs. Field’s answer was simple, candid, and to the point. She said: “Northwestern never asked me!”
Well, believe me, we are not going to make “the Northwestern mistake” here at First Presbyterian Orlando. I’m asking you! I’m asking you to remember the sacred promise we made to God when we joined the church that we would support the work and worship of the church with our gifts. Today we begin a season of commitment in our church- a time when we are asking all of our people to “Share Our Blessings-Our time, our talent, our treasure” in order to expand and to extend the Lord’s work in this place and around the world. Why are we asking? Let me give you an idea…
ITEM: As we prepare to occupy a new building late in 1994, we will be developing new ministries which will flow out of that building and which will have a dramatic impact upon people of all ages in our church and in our city.
ITEM: From 1991 to now- in this the decade of the 90’s- in the decade of downsizing and economic uncertainty- our congregation’s giving to mission work, to helping the poor, and to meeting human need has risen by a whopping 140%- and next year our giving to such causes will approach two million dollars! Incredible!
ITEM: Like flipping through photos in a snapshot album, let me give you a quick sampling of some of the things your gifts will make possible in 1994. This church will take 110 abandoned children off the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, saving them from being gunned down by death squads; protecting them, getting them off drugs, introducing them to Jesus Christ, and beginning to educate them. 110 children you will save, literally. This church will be building a seminary in Hangzhou, China to train Chinese evangelists and church planters. And we will be training church planters in Russia as well. We will be enhancing the medical equipment used at the Good Shepherd Hospital in Zaire, where conditions are so horrible now because of the hideous excesses of the dictator Mobutu. We are going to be making substantial gifts to two Presbyterian seminaries and to two Presbyterian Colleges as they train future leaders for the kingdom enterprise. And right here in Orlando we will dramatically increase our giving to community agencies engaged in meeting human need. We will be developing a housing rehab program to assist people as they move from being homeless, to being employed, productive citizens. We will be creating an innovative child-care program in the primarily Hispanic Englewood Community. And on and on the list could go.
The fact is that 1994 will enable us to better care for and equip our own people while at the same time, moving us to ministry beyond ourselves to an extent unprecedented in all the great history of this church. That’s why I’m asking us all to share our blessings; to support the work of the Lord here with our gifts.
But I’m also asking us to support the church with our prayers. Please pray for this church every single day. Pray for the ministers and the staff. Pray for the church’s lay leaders. Pray for the church’s programs. And pray for those who are a part of this great family of faith- the little children, the young people, the grown-ups. Pray especially for those who are hurting. There are so many of them. They need the Lord, and they need us. Most of all, pray that our church may be ever faithful in carrying out the preaching, teaching, healing, caring ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, I am asking you to pray.
Do you recall how important prayer was in the experience of Jesus? It was the way He re-charged his spiritual batteries. It was the way He kept His priorities in proper order. It was the way He worked through the tough decisions He had to make. It was the way He kept closely tuned to the will of His heavenly Father. Think about it. He prayed at His baptism. He prayed in the wilderness to understand the direction His ministry should take. He prayed on the mountain before choosing His disciples. He prayed in the Upper Room. He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross! The prayer life of Jesus was as much a part of Him as breathing. It was as natural as the beating of His heart. And if prayer was so important and essential to Jesus, how much more so ought it be to us.
As I thought this past week about how I might bring together this emphasis on our promise to support the church with our prayers and our gifts as part of our celebrating the Sacrament of Communion, I suddenly remembered something very special about Communion. As you may know, one of the words the Church has used for Communion across the ages is “Eucharist.” Normally, we translate that word to mean “thanksgiving”. But do you know what the word means literally? It means “good caress” or “God’s caress.” Isn’t that a beautiful thought? Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is the caress of God. It is here at this table and in this sacrament that we receive the loving touch of God upon our lives. And when God touches our lives with love, then we are able to touch other people’s lives with His same love.
True story. It happened in Memphis, Tennessee. A man had been found unconscious out in the downtown street gutter. He was dirty, disheveled, and drunk. The police took him to the Baptist Hospital in Memphis. The nurses at the hospital worked with him tenderly, but when he came to, he made life miserable for them. He was angry, hostile, irritable, ungrateful and profane. He was full of hate and bitterness, and he took it out on those nurses, cursing at them, yelling at them, calling them names- even throwing things at them. Finally, all of the nurses pulled back and steered clear of him and his tantrums-all except one. She took the abuse and kept right on caring for him, graciously and tenderly. He treated her horribly, but she would not leave him. The days passed, and on Friday evening, she came to his room and said: “The doctor is releasing you from the hospital tomorrow. Because I am leaving on a weekend church retreat, I just wanted to stop in and say goodbye and wish you well.” The man said: “Wait a minute. I want to ask you something. Why? I’ve treated you badly, and you’ve kept on being kind to me. Why? I want to know why.” With a warm smile, she patted his hand and said: “Because I believe that God loves you, and I just happen to think that he wanted to love you through me.”
There it is! That’s why I am asking you to support this church with your gifts and your prayers. You see, there is a whole world of people out there whom God loves, and I just happen to think that He wants to love them through us. So come to this table to experience God’s loving touch upon your life. For here you will receive the Eucharist- the caress of God upon your life.