Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




 How to Love God: Our Call
“Loving God with Energy”

Sunday, November 23, 2008



Mark 12: 28-34


Rev. Dean Snyder

We are focusing on four words from our Foundry key Scripture that you will see on the front of your bulletin. The words are passion, prayer, intelligence and energy. This is Eugene Peterson translation of four Greek words that have often been translated heart, soul, mind, and strength.


Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment – what is the most important thing that we can learn from all the centuries of religious thought? – Jesus answer is that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all of our passion, prayer, intelligence and energy and to love others as ourselves.


So the question we’ve been asking is: What does it mean to love God with all of our passion? What does it mean to love God with all of our prayer? What does it mean to love God with all of our intelligence?


And this morning we want to ask what it means to love God with all of our energy.


The Greek word is ijscuvß [pronounced is-khoos' ], and it is a very interesting word. It can be translated strength as it is translated in the New Revised Standard Version, but energy is maybe a better translation. Another possible translation is capacity. Another is power. Put them together and it says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your energy, capacity and power.”


Part of the reason energy is such an interesting translation is because energy is a pretty hot topic for us these decades. We who are Americans live in an energy-driven society. We have energy crises from time to time. Energy was a big issue in this last election.


But when Jesus said to love God with all our energy, he surely didn’t mean the kind of energy produced by oil, coal, or solar panels, did he? Well, Jesus did not know about hydro-electric plants or nuclear energy plants, but he did know about oil shortages.


Jesus told a parable about an oil shortage. You remember the story? There were ten bridesmaids and they were waiting in the dark for the bridegroom to come and the bridegroom was delayed and five of the bridesmaids had not brought enough oil for their lamps, and their lamps went out. They had to go into town to try to buy more oil, and while they were gone the bridegroom came and went inside with the other bridesmaids who had done better planning. Jesus called the bridesmaids who had run out of oil foolish and he called the ones who had brought extra oil wise. When the foolish bridesmaids got back from trying to find somebody to sell them more oil in the middle of the night, they found the doors locked and were consigned to the outer darkness.


The point of the story was that you’d better have enough energy for the long haul. You’d better be sure you have enough energy for the long haul, because – with Jesus – you cannot count on quick fixes. Jesus’ fixes are sometimes slow fixes and take lots of time and lots of energy. So the point was not to burn up all of your oil without thinking about your future needs. Is that a relevant story for discussions about energy in our time?


I read this week a powerful and disturbing book about America’s political, military and spiritual history over the past several decades. It is written by a conservative Catholic historian who retired from the military as a colonel. He teaches at Boston University. He is a student of the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr. His name is Andrew Bacevich. His book is entitled The Limits of Power.


He points out that in 1947 – coincidently the year I was born – the United States was the world’s largest producer of oil. In 1947 the United States was the world’s largest producer of oil, steel, airplanes, automobiles, and electronics. The United States exported 1/3 of the world’s exports. The United States was extending credit to the rest of the world.


Now 61 years later, all this has changed. We are now importing 60 percent of the oil we use and we are consuming one out of every four barrels of the world’s oil. We import dramatically more goods than we export to the tune of $800 billion a year. In 2005 Americans hit a tipping point where collectively we owe more than our assets. Basically we have collectively become a nation of debtors.   


Bacevich says a key moment in this slide – symbolically and really – was July 15, 1979. It was during a time of high inflation, high unemployment, a very high prime lending rate. Not a good time economically. And a revolution in Iran had instigated a gasoline shortage.  


President Jimmy Carter was scheduled to give a speech on energy on July 5th, but he delayed it for ten days. He went to Camp David and he invited scholars, business and labor leaders, clergy, and all sorts of people to come to Camp David to talk with him. He called it a time to listen to America.


At the end of the 10 days on July 15, President Carter made a speech in which he said America was experiencing a crisis but it was not a crisis caused by external forces but a crisis within us.


He said the crisis was that “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity,” he said, “is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.” He suggested that we were trying “to fill the emptiness of our lives” by “piling up material goods.”


He said America had a crisis of values in which we had come to value consuming more than community, having more than loving, pleasure more than meaning – my words – but I think they capture the gist of his speech. He said the immediate test for America was whether we could learn to show self-control in our consumption of energy. He called for mandatory regulation of the consumption of oil and for all Americans to voluntarily conserve. He called on Americans to consume less and love more – my words. President Jimmy Carter July 15, 1979.


The speech was attacked mercilessly by almost everybody, including the op-ed pages of the New York Times. He was attacked by his opponent in the next election for asking Americans to make do with less. His opponent said “…‘less’ is not enough.”


Andrew Bacevich says that Jimmy Carter’s speech asking Americans to conserve energy and to live within our means is what sealed his loss of a second term, but that from the perspective of history he was absolutely right.


Bacevich says that we have been unrestrained in our consumption...that we have come to think that freedom equals the right to spend more and more, borrow more and more, and consume more and more.


Isn’t it interesting to think of what it means for Jesus to tell us is to love God with all of our energy, when we think of energy this way?  


And there really is a connection between our personal physical energy and the energy we buy and consume. Every time I go to Africa I see this. When I’ve spoken at or attended United Methodist annual conferences in Zimbabwe and Liberia, there are always pastors who have walked for days to get to there because they had no money to buy transportation...not even a bus ticket.


This coming June we here will have our annual conference in Baltimore. There are 7 or 8 persons from Foundry who are delegates. Imagine if we all had to walk from Washington to Baltimore to attend annual conference?


But I am not sure that it being easier for us to get there because we can buy gasoline for our cars…I’m not sure it makes our annual conference a better experience than the ones in Africa. What do you think, Ralph?


This is what Jimmy Carter was trying to say – that having more to consume has not made our lives richer.


It is Stewardship Sunday. Joe Belew is going to ask you to pledge to Foundry Church in just a moment. He is going to ask you to pledge so that we might continue our mission and ministry here.


Let me say something else first, not so much about Foundry’s need for money, as about your and my need to give. I want to say it especially to the younger folk in the congregation.


My generation has not done well. We have not shown much self-restraint. We have not been wise. We have pretty much spent all that we inherited and borrowed against your future. We’re spending lots of your future and the future of your children and nieces and nephews on wars that happen to be in the part of the world where there is lots of oil.  


My generation has given to charitable causes, as a percentage of our income, less that our parents did. A New York Times article said recently: “Adjusted for rising incomes and a handful of other factors, Americans' inclination to give appears to have declined sharply over the last few decades.”[i]


My generation has spent more and given less than the generations that preceded us.


Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with our energy, capacity and power, and certainly part of our energy, capacity and power is our money.


Here’s my urging – Do not spent all the money that passes through your hands on yourself. Don’t just make impulse donations. Give a significant amount of money away. Give proportionately – give a percentage of your income. Give enough that it affects how you spend the rest of your income. I encourage you, if you are just starting to give, to pick a percentage of your income to start out at – 3 percent, 5 percent. If you are now giving 5 percent of your income, stretch yourself and increase it to seven. If you are giving 10 stretch it to 11.


Giving makes us richer people. Giving sacrificially makes us richer. Giving so that there is less to spend on our own desires and wants makes us richer.


This is what Jimmy Carter was trying to say on July 15, 1979 – that, past the point of necessity, when we spend less on ourselves we actually become richer. When we give more away, we actually become richer.


Jane and I began this years ago. We started giving proportionally and increased it year by year. Our pledge is now somewhere over ten percent of our income – $340 a week. We just signed up with our bank to automatically deposit it for us. Our lives are richer for it.


I heard Bishop James K. Mathews tell this story. Bishop Mathew’s father-in-law was the great missionary to India, E. Stanley Jones. E. Stanley Jones had been invited to preach one Sunday while he was in the United States in a church near York, Pennsylvania. E. Stanley Jones was a bit compulsive so he got to the churches he preached at very early. When he got to the church near York, no one was there yet except an older man playing hymn tunes with one finger on the organ.


He introduced himself to the man. The man was the church custodian. They chatted. The older man told E. Stanley Jones that as a young man in the 1920s he had been affluent. He had donated the money to buy the organ for the church – the very one he was playing on with one finger. Then the Great Depression hit, the man said, and he lost everything. He never really was able to get into the stock market or business again. Finally, he applied for the job as the church custodian.


“I lost everything,” he told E. Stanley Jones, “…everything except this organ,” he said. “Isn’t it funny,” he said, “that all I have left is what I gave away?”


Joe Belew, chair of our Stewardship Committee, will share with us now.