Opening Talk – The Gathering 2016

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

      – Mother Teresa 

This week-end you are going to see our GenNext kids in their shirts that say “Give Anyway”.  It’s not just a slogan for them but a reminder for us in a time when it is tempting to become cynical and disillusioned about many things.  Every day we hear new stories of charity scams, mismanagement, corruption, trading donations for influence and outright theft of money given in trust.  Sadly, too many of our leaders are not people of basic integrity and we find ourselves with impossible choices.  How in the world did we get here?  How in the world can we make sense of this?  Is anyone minding the store?

The writer of Psalm 73 found himself in just the same place and I have been reading and re-reading that passage for the last few months.

No doubt about it! God is good—
    good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it,
    missed seeing his goodness.
I was looking the other way,
    looking up to the people
At the top,
    envying the wicked who have it made,
Who have nothing to worry about,
    not a care in the whole wide world.
 Pretentious with arrogance,
    they wear the latest fashions in violence,
Pampered and overfed,
    decked out in silk bows of silliness.
They jeer, using words to kill;
    they bully their way with words.
They’re full of hot air,
    loudmouths disturbing the peace.
People actually listen to them—can you believe it?
Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.
What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
    Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything;
    they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
    what has it gotten me?
    all I got was a splitting headache . . .
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
    Then I saw the whole picture: 

The Gathering began many years ago because we recognized the dangers of becoming either prideful and arrogant or, maybe worse, cynical and disillusioned.  That is why we wanted to create a place that was a refuge from all that was tugging us in that direction.  We wanted a safe place or, in the words of the Psalmist, a sanctuary.  In fact, we wanted a sanctuary for the very same reason.  We knew it was the one of very few places we would find understanding and perspective in this world.  That is how I want you to think of this week-end.  When you are frustrated enough to ask the questions, “Why have I played by the rules?  Is God out to lunch?” then it is good to know there is a sanctuary and a safe place you can come to get the whole picture.

This week-end we are going to be encouraged by so many people with integrity who still play by the rules, ministries focused on issues and causes that will inspire and challenge us, as well as fellowship and friends who will help keep us from both pride and cynicism.

So, let me rephrase Mother Teresa’s poem for us this evening:

Problems are often so large we cannot imagine our gift making any difference.
Give anyway.
Organizations are so numerous it is hard to know who to choose.
Give anyway.
I cannot be sure their mission is completely in line with mine.
Give anyway.
People may accuse me of being naïve and easily influenced.
Give anyway.
The situation could only get worse and not better.
Give anyway.
Anything I do will be too small to be noticed.
Give anyway.
So, whenever you see one of our kids in their shirts this week-end I want you to think back to Psalm 73 and be grateful that you are here with so many others who have come to be reminded of God’s goodness and our being here together to see the whole picture.
Give anyway 

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