November 5, 2000
Psalm 105 The Rev. Ralph DiBiasio-Snyder
Introduction to the Scripture:
Carol has already reminded us of the story of the Exodus, that defining
event in the history of the Hebrew people that showed them that their God
was a God of liberation, of freedom, of power, and of grace. That story of
how they were led out of Egypt, and through the wilderness is repeated
again and again in Jewish liturgy, down to the present day. Psalm 105
uses the story of the Exodus to say that God is a promise- keeping God.
The promise made to Abraham is ultimately kept, and the only response one
can give to such grace, says the psalmist, is praise: giving thanks to God
for the abundance of blessings we have received. I invite you to listen
now for the Living Word as Paula reads for us the written Word of this
When has a creator done enough for his or her creation? When a potter begins to work with a fresh piece of clay, working it and shaping it, glazing it and firing it to then present it for all to see: when has he done enough for that creation?
When a man and a woman create a child, and bring it into the world, to nurture and care for that tiny infant, to teach and correct and guide that child into adulthood . . . to forgive that child for all the times it disappoints or even betrays its creators: when have those parents done enough for their creation to be grateful?
When a God makes a world as beautiful and complex as ours, giving us life and loves and people, food and shelter, minds and bodies and spirits . . . giving us freedom that is at the very heart of the glory of the Creator; when has that God done enough for us, enough to deserve our thanks and worship?
Dayenu says that God has done for far, far more than enough - for us: far more than all we can ask or even imagine. If all God had done for Israel had been to get them out of Egypt, just to the shores of the Red Sea, then that would have been enough for them to be thankful. But God didnt stop there. If all God had done was to part the sea, to let them fend for themselves for then on, that would have been enough for them to praise God. But God didnt stop there. If all God had done was to give them food to eat in the desert, and had left them to find water for themselves, that would have been enough for them to be grateful. And so on and so forth!
There is a deeply profound statement about faith in the verses of that simple song, Dayenu. It is that life is such a gift that life alone should be enough to cause grateful praise. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel says, Just to live is a blessing; just to be is holy. Just to be alive . . . dayenu! But we are not merely alive, are we? The blessings we enjoy - especially in this country and in these days of unprecedented prosperity for us - should be more than enough to make us grateful people. And more than simply grateful people: people who by our living and giving reflect the grace of God in our lives. The grace of God toward us is completed when we live in grace toward one another.
Billy and Cora McAffeys home back in the holler near Grundy, Virginia, was small, and dilapidated, having seen far better days when the coal mine was operating, and before Billys black lung disease set in full force. They had been born and raised in that little community, and had raised their children there too, and this was home for them. They were pleased, but a little embarrassed too, when our work crew descended on them one July morning to spend a week installing some insulation, patching their roof, and repairing their porch. Proud people, and kind, they worked as they could with us through the week.
On the last day, as lunch approached, we were deeply moved when Cora and her sister Mae who lived just down the hill produced the most amazing meal for us: chicken with dressing, potatoes and corn and green beans, homemade pies - three kinds - all carefully laid out with dinnerware that didnt quite match, but was close enough. Food they had grown, and were planning to can for themselves for the coming winter - this they shared freely with us. With tears in their eyes Billy and Cora thanked us for our work (as questionable as some of it was!). They told us how much it meant to them, and wanted to thank us with this wonderful meal. When we protested that they shouldnt have gone to such trouble and expense for us, they just smiled and said they were grateful, and wanted to do what they could.
Now the McAffeys could have just thanked us in words for our work. It would have been enough, more than we expected. But Billy and Cora had caught the Spirit of their God, and they were imitating their Creator who does far more than just enough. And what I think we need to do this morning in celebration of the grace of God seen in the McAffeys, lets say together a rousing, Dayenu!
We knew a man in Ohio with the odd but true name of Bud Garden. Bud had been very successful as a businessman, getting for himself a good bit of this worlds goods. But he had not fared so well in his personal life, and had fallen victim to the disease of alcoholism. He struggled greatly, until he had an encounter with the grace of God, and found the courage and strength in his God and in his church to overcome. And he was profoundly grateful that his life was given back to him, and he wanted to express his thanks in some way.
Now Bud could have stood up in church one morning to say how thankful he was. Or, as he had some resources, he could have written a check to the church. That would have been enough. But Bud had caught the Spirit of his God, and did something like God would do, far more than enough.
And so he gave a large tract of farmland, and on that farm was established a group home for young people having a hard time in life. The home and land that had been Buds garden was renamed Gods Garden, a place where teens could grow into joyful and responsible young adults. And in celebration of Bud Gardens grace that mirrored the grace of his God, lets offer up another hearty Dayenu!
I heard of a church once that was facing some great needs with their physical plant, needs that extended far beyond the normal budgeted maintenance of the building. The heating system had to be replaced, and the office needed renovation; windows were old and wasteful of energy; they needed a handicap accessible bathroom, and some roofing was nearing replacement time. Their sanctuary could be made brighter and more useable, a balcony and magnificent stained glass window long hidden from view reclaimed. Now this church could have said, we really can't afford all this, so lets just do the least of whats needed - only enough to get us by. Well let coming generations fend for themselves.
And that would have been enough, for now. But instead, not only did you meet the goal of addressing all the needs of the physical plant, you went beyond that. You said that giving for ourselves alone is not enough. And we have together pledged $50,000 that will go outside of these walls, to make an impact for mercy and justice and ministry in the world. We caught the Spirit of our God, this Creator who blesses the creation not just with enough but with more than enough. And so let us give ourselves a Dayenu!
In a few minutes you are going to be invited to bring forward your estimate of giving cards - the blue card in your bulletin - for the financial needs of our common ministry in this place for the coming year. Now I dont know how each of you goes about figuring out what to write on that card. One way to do it would be to figure out what your fair share is, dividing our expenses for the year by the number of families to decide what would be enough to meet the need. Or sometimes people will go by percentage of income, to see what would be enough to give - some as high as 10%, but most of us a lot lower than that. Either method would be fair, and would probably be enough . . .
But today, invoking the spirits of Billy and Cora McAffey, and Bud Garden, and First Congregational Church I challenge us to look beyond what is enough and to in our giving celebrate the extravagance of Gods love toward us.
We are celebrating the Lords Supper today. And Im glad we are, because in the end we give of our time and talents and money to the work of Gods Kingdom because we have seen and heard and tasted the grace of God - the grace that is proclaimed in the Bread and the Cup. It is not that we have to give. It is that, in joyful gratitude for Gods rich and overflowing blessings and grace, we want to respond in in grace.
That extravagance of grace - that more than enough love of God - is set before us at the Communion Table.
I will in just a moment be giving you instructions about how the cards will be brought forward. But first I invite Jim Brehm of our Finance Committee to come to tell you what will happen next.