R. Larry Snow
November 30, 2008
The Season of Advent, that season of preparation leading up to Christmas, comes every
year. As such it serves me as a marker, as a way for me to compare one year to the next, as a
way to track changes in my life. As I do that this year I am mindful that we are in a new place
this year, very unlike any that I’ve ever been before.
I guess that the root of the situation is financial. A couple of weeks ago it occurred to
me that I was having a “bad-news overload.” I had listened to so much bad financial news on the
radio, on television and in the papers that I was getting really depressed. So, I went to Bestbuy
and bought three CD’s of classic music that I’d been wanting and I listen to them instead. It was
really getting to me. Fortunately Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” seems to help.
Of course, if I were to get depressed, if we were to get depressed, I suppose that we
would have good reason. After all, in the last three months how much money has disappeared
out of the world economy? It hasn’t been stolen, it hasn’t been misplaced, it’s just gone and
maybe it will come back, and maybe it won’t. I recently received a letter from the Pension Fund
of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) advising me that certainly the funds invested for my
retirement have been affected by the economic downturn. I almost can’t bear to open the
statements from our financial planner – because a bunch of money that was there in the summer
isn’t there now. The advice is to “hang in there” – but that’s a hard thing to do.
That of course isn’t the worse part, for me. I wonder how many families are going to
lose their homes and be forced onto the streets. I wonder how many workers are going to lose
their jobs, how many factories are going to close. I wonder how many children are going to go
hungry. I wonder how many Americans aren’t going to be able to afford the healthcare they
need. I wonder if Joan and I will ever be able to retire. I wonder if my children will ever be able
to afford a home. I wonder about my grandchildren. I wonder what effect this economy is going
to have on this church, on our programs, on paying off our mortgage, on paying our salaries. I
just don’t know. I’m afraid.
As I write this I am aware that there is a lot of fear in the world, a lot of fear in this room.
I am aware that virtually everywhere I go that there is lots of uncertainty and lots of fear. There
are fewer people in the malls. We’re all announcing that we’re going to spend less on Christmas
presents this year. We Americans are driving less, spending less, and dialing back our dreams
for the future.
There is lots of fear and lots of anger. There are lots of people who want to find the
people responsible for our situation and hang them. These are tough days for anyone to be a
CEO. I imagine that anyone who works in Wall Street is reluctant to admit it. It’s a funny time.
Either we want to bring back public lynchings – or we want to want to go home, get in bed, and
pull the blankets over our head and just stay there.
In the face of that I want to direct you to this morning’s scripture. Talk about living in a
new world; Isaiah was living in a new world. The year is 587 B.C. and Isaiah has just seen the
Jerusalem and the Temple destroyed. Isaiah has watched as the nation’s leaders had been led off
in chains to Babylon. Isaiah is living in a new world and wondering whether even a remnant of
the old one would ever exist again. It was a terrible, frightening time. I’m pretty sure that given
the opportunity to compare his time to ours that Isaiah would tell us to stop whining. His time
was incredibly awful.
And yet, there is in this passage a ray of hope. With the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins,
Isaiah preached hope. There is in this passage a sense that God wasn’t done, that God had yet to
act, that God who is faithful, present and loving, will act in the future in bold and wonderful
Unlike Isaiah I don’t believe that our troubles are God’s judgment on our lives. If that is
true then God has managed again to punish most the people who are least responsible – the poor.
And unlike Isaiah, I’m not sure I believe that God is shaping the world economy the way that a
potter shapes clay. I don’t think that God is managing the world’s financial markets. But I do
have to tell you that I am a Christian person who is fearful and angry and at the same time
I am hopeful in the sense that I know money is not all there is to life. It was Mark Twain,
I believe, who once remarked that “Money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you a better
form of misery.” Sure money, and having money makes lots of things possible and easier, but
it’s not the most important thing in life. It just can’t be. As a Christian person I know that
what’s most important is God and God’s kingdom and that isn’t going to be effected by an
economic downturn. As a Christian person I realize that what ultimately matters is trusting in
the love of God and the presence of God. As a Christian person I realize that there have been
billions of people throughout the history of the world who lived lives of purpose, meaning and
happiness but didn’t have any money. As a Christian person I realize that Jesus, arguably the
most famous, copied, worshipped person that has ever lived, never had any money. Maybe, just
maybe, we need to be careful about the amount of power that we give money. I have hope that I
can really, deep down believe, what I’ve just said.
But it’s more than that. I recently received a report prepared by the Lake Institute on
Faith and Giving at Indiana University. The report was entitled, “Religious Giving in Uncertain
Times; Insights for Congregations and Faith-Based Nonprofits.” The report was interesting to
me in that it answered a question that I’ve had. I’ve wondered how churches typically fare in
times of economic downturn. According to this report from Indiana the answer is that generally
what happens is that churches and other faith-based organizations typically do better than the
general economy. The report does offer the caveat that this time may be different – but if history
repeats itself we may well be able to make our mortgage payments as well as pay the staff.
In fact it’s better than that, the report offers that what happens is that in times of
economic stress is that people are forced to consider what matters most, what’s worth supporting,
and the church, at least some churches, end up doing better than almost any other part of the
economy. Think about that – people thinking about what is most important. Think about that –
people thinking about the value of the church. I think that’s pretty cool. I think that’s an
opportunity for us.
Did you see the item on the evening news last Monday? It was about “Hands-On
Portland” which helps match volunteers with organizations needing volunteers. It turns out that
they’re being inundated with people wanting to volunteer somewhere. They actually have 50%
more volunteers working somewhere in Portland than they did a year ago. It turns out that while
people may have less money to give they are willing to give their time. It appears that in the
midst of the economic downturn there is a sense of the country pulling together to help each
Also last Monday, Martha Cook and I had an interesting meeting – with the people in the
Beaverton School System responsible for working with homeless students. As I told you last
week the numbers are staggering. There are lots of homeless school children in our community.
But we sat down with those ladies (which wouldn’t have happened without the recession) and we
worked out ways for us to receive food from the school system through food drives and surplus
food left over in the school cafeterias and also we worked out ways for us to give food to those
homeless students and their families. It would appear that we might begin a partnership that will
take our food pantry into a new chapter in its life.
Which is to say this. First of all understand where your anchor is. The one thing in life
that you can really depend on is God; God’s love; God’s presence; God’s power. You can’t
really depend on your retirement savings, your stockbroker, your employment or your retirement
plans. Without doing anything, those things can be gone in an instant. It is God that you can
count on. Remember where your anchor is. If you’re not on really good terms with God,
perhaps this might be a good time to work on that.
But understand that in some ways we are living in a brand new world. This wouldn’t be
a really good time to be a real estate agent. But, it may be a good time to be in the church. This
might be a really good time to be people of faith. There may be opportunities for us right now
that didn’t exist 6 months ago.
It may be that there will be more people looking for a connection with God. It may well
be that people will be looking for a hope that is more permanent than a 401K. We may begin to
see more and more people searching for a church that will help them experience the love of God.
You may more opportunities to talk about your church, to talk about your faith. We may have
more people find us on the web and show up in worship. How should we let them know we’re
here? How can we help you share your “anchor” with the people you know?
This may be an interesting time for our food pantry. We’re going to see increased
demand – it’s already started. As we become more well –known we’ll see more people “walk-
in” asking for help. We’re going to need more food, more money and most importantly, more
volunteers. The other day I heard Martha wonder if we aren’t going to have to be open a third
day during the week. Now, how are we going to do that?
My suspicion is that getting enough money and enough food will be easier than having
enough volunteers. You know that a couple of weeks ago we had to be closed on Monday night
because we couldn’t find anyone to run the place. If we really want to feed hungry people more
of us may have to step up to the plate.
But we may also have to look outside of our walls. I am mindful of the family that I
mentioned to you last Sunday – the family that lives nearby that brought in the stuff for a
Thanksgiving meal – because they had heard we were here and just wanted to help. I am
mindful that last week Pat Churchill and Martha Cook went to Southwest Hills Baptist Church
over on Brockman to pick up food they had collected for our pantry. Pat and Martha brought
back 1,200 pounds of canned goods. It may be possible for us now to invite more people from
the community to join us in sharing God’s love through the gift of food. It may be possible now
for us to build partnerships with other churches, other organizations, even the school system
whereby we work together at addressing needs. We may have opportunities that we didn’t have
6 months ago.
I could go on, but you get my drift. In lots of ways we are living in a strange new world.
My suspicion is that the world will never again be the way that it was just a year ago. What we
have known is gone. But this isn’t the first time that God’s people have found themselves in a
strange new world. And every time that it’s happened before God’s people have found that God
was there with them. God was there with love. God was there as wisdom. God was there with
hope – and that made all the difference.
But it’s more than that, in the worst of times it may well be that God helps God’s people
to see the opportunities present in the moment. It may well be that God isn’t done in the world
but is right now helping us to see the opportunities that lie around us. It may be that God is
working in our midst to show us that the world has not ended, but that the world has begun.
This is not a time to live in fear. This is not a time to go home, climb into bed and pull
the blankets over our heard. This is a time for us to live with hope and boldness. This is a time
to lift up our sails and follow the wind of the Spirit into new areas of service and yes,
opportunity. This is a time for us to remember that we are God’s people and that God is with us.
This is the time for us to be looking around and considering the new ways that God can use us –
and the new ways that we can make God’s love real to the world. In the midst of terrible
financial news there is real cause for hope. Live boldly.