Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stewardship Sermon for the Feast of All Saints

Bearing in mind that a sermon is an oral event (not what is written on the preacher's paper), and that we preachers trust Holy Spirit to act as a divine filter between our mouths and the congregation's ears, here is the manuscript for the sermon I preached this morning.

Grace mercy and peace to all the saints
from God, and from our savior Jesus Christ. Amen

these aren’t the familiar beatitudes
the ones we’re used to, from Matthew’s gospel
“blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful
the pure in heart, the peacemakers”
they sound nicer than these
and by contrast with what we’re used to,
these blesseds and woes from Luke draw our attention

Here (and throughout) Luke’s gospel, the world Jesus points us to doesn’t look like the world we live in
where, we wonder, do we fit in this scheme?
we want to be blessed, but the blessings don’t look pleasant
we don’t want to be woe-d, to be cursed or judged
but those are more in sync with the way we usually move through the world
at any rate, what he’s saying has probably made us listen
Jesus likely has our attention

and then verse 27 ~ “But I say to you who listen” and we who are paying attention
find ourselves convicted
love your enemies
do good to those who hate you
bless those who curse you
pray for your persecutors
of course we all wish that politicians would heed these words

but they don’t, and neither do we
because to do so would be to turn the world upside down
to do so would be to call all of the values of our society
all the values of our world
into question

I’m supposed to preach about stewardship today
it’s a part of the consecration sunday stewardship program
that the week before consecration sunday,
the pastor preaches about stewardship

I’d like to stand up here and say that it’s important for us to recognize God’s hand in the world
it’s important for us to respond to all of God’s amazing and generous gifts to us
the gift of life, the gift of mercy and forgiveness and grace
I’d like to stand up here and say all that
and then you’d naturally recognize the importance of stewardship
the importance of giving your time and your energy
of contributing your gifts and your expertise
to the work of the church

I’d like to do that, because it would be easier
if I could talk about stewardship without actually talking about money
maybe we wouldn’t be uncomfortable

but whenever we talk about time and talents and treasures
we tend to skirt the treasures part of the equation
and whenever we talk directly and specifically about treasures,
people tend to say that’s all the church ever does is ask for money
and talking about money in church makes us uncomfortable

however, if Christ is talking about turning the values of this world upside down
we cannot ignore money
because money is how society communicates value

so we need to talk about money
but God doesn’t need your money
God is the ruler of everything ~ God doesn’t need you to give money
and the church doesn’t need your money
the church is the people of God gathered together
and despite the current manifestations of mainline congregations
with mortgages and lawns and salaries and computers
despite all that, the church does not need your money
the church, the people of God, can gather together without finances

so if the church doesn’t need my money, and God doesn’t need my money
why do we need to talk about money?
because you and I need to give.

here’s what we’ve discovered years ago in my household
every year, we would have a conversation about how much we’d be able to give
we’d take a look at the budget
factor in housing and food and recreation and travel
then would work really hard to rearrange the numbers so that we could give more
one day, a friend of my wife’s said,
just decide how much to give, and give that much
the rest will work itself out
so we did. we started with how much we’d give ~ and gave it away
then, instead of working through
if we give 6% instead of 4,
then we have 94% instead of 96 to spend on the rest
now, we decide what to give away, give it away
then we have 100% to spend on everything else
because the first part is gone from the very beginning
and what we’ve discovered is that now we’re free of that money,
and that it was never ours to start out with anyway
and since it’s gone, we’ve discovered that the rest really is enough

and so we backed ourselves into discovering the theology of abundance

see, we in our world usually live with a theology of scarcity
which, from a survival perspective, served us very well
“make sure you save enough for us to eat tomorrow,
because we don’t know whether we’ll have food”
which allowed us to eat when we didn’t have food the next day
the theology of scarcity tells us that there might not be enough,
and we need to hoard, keep for ourselves and not give away what we have

contrast that with what the Hebrew people learned in the wilderness ~ the manna lesson
collect what you need for today ~ if you keep too much, it will spoil and rot and fester
worms will crawl through your food and it will smell bad
collect today what you need for today, and trust that God will provide enough for tomorrow
and lo and behold, God did indeed provide enough for tomorrow

this is the beginning of a theology of abundance,
where we recognize that what we have is enough
that God has provided, and will continue to provide, what we need
this is the beginning of a theology of abundance

my family backed into discovering this theology of abundance
when we started giving more of our income away
all of a sudden, not only were we set free from that money
we realized that God has provided enough in the remainder

and this, people of God is how we begin to participate in God’s work of turning the world upside down
by setting aside that which society tells us is of utmost value
by setting money aside, and recognizing that God, actually, is in control
and recognizing that God really will provide enough for our needs
it can be a huge leap of faith, especially in these economic times
but isn’t that the beginning of faith ~ letting go of control

bear in mind, though, that your status as a saint of God is not based on your financial giving
(or on your time or talent giving, either, for that matter)
give a little, give a lot
increase your giving, decrease your giving
though it is good to give,
your value to God also is not based on what you give
or on anything you do

saints of God
in Christ we hear the word of truth, the gospel of salvation
and believing in him, we have been marked with the seal of Holy Spirit
in Christ, we have obtained an inheritance.
our identity, “beloved child of God”
comes not from anything we do or could do
but from the covenant God makes with us in our baptism
that we are God’s own, and we cannot escape the love of God

In the name of Christ


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