Please enjoy this morning’s sermon! It was Stewardship Sunday at church.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Delight in Giving
Okay, okay. I feel the need to immediately address the elephant in the room. Today is Stewardship Sunday, the day when we talk about money, intentionally pray for money and – gasp! – ask you for money. This is no one’s favorite Sunday; people are either not in the mood to be asked for money or concerned about the bottom line. So this morning I am asking you to please bear with me; I promise that we will make it through today and that it will not be that painful.
During my second year of graduate school I was required to complete a year of contextual education in a parish setting. Once a week I would gather with a group of about 10 other students and we would talk about the experiences we were having in our churches. One week the subject of stewardship came up. Our facilitator, a pastor of one of the Atlanta Baptist churches, told us about a church he had served at one point in his career. This was the south, remember; money is talked about much more openly down there than it is here in New England and the biblical concept of tithing – giving 10% of your earnings to the church – is taken very seriously.
Dr. Walker explained that this particular church he attended approached their stewardship campaigns using a very simple mathematical campaign. On Stewardship Sunday, members of the church were required to bring their tax forms from the previous year to the worship service with them. At one point in the service everyone lined up, walked down the aisle to the front of the sanctuary and handed over their forms to church leaders. The church leaders looked at their bottom line income from the previous year, calculated 10% of that and handed back the tax forms with an invoice for the upcoming year. Everyone owed 10% – it was as simple as that.
I am sure you can all imagine the look of horror that ensued on my face when I heard this; after all, that stewardship practice would not go over very well at any of the old New England Congregational Churches that I had grown up in.
That conversation – and a few other fire-and-brimstone-stewardship-related conversations that took my place in one of my congregational leadership classes – put a bad taste in my mouth about stewardship. I grew up in churches that did not comfortably talk about money and that was all that I knew. And knowing that I would likely find myself back in New England where the whole “turn in your tax return and receive an invoice for 10%” policy would not go over very well, I started to dread the time when I was going to have to stand before my own congregation and talking about giving.
And yet, here I stand today, not dreading this conversation one bit. In fact, while Stewardship Sunday may not be my favorite Sunday of the year, it actually ranks up there pretty high.
So what changed?
During my third and final year of graduate school I took a class in nonprofit leadership. My professor, Dr. Jenkins, was and is one of the top notch fundraisers I have ever met in my entire life. The day we were supposed to start talking about fundraising I walked into class and said to him, “Just so you know, I hate asking for money.” He looked at me and smiled. “I love asking for money,” he replied to me.
“Are you crazy?” I quipped back.
“No,” he said very calmly. “Because I never ask for money for something I that do not believe in.”
He had my attention. “I only ask for money for something that I am extremely passionate about, that I care deeply for. And when that is the case, I am not simply asking someone for money – I am inviting them to be part of an amazing vision.”
That was the moment when I changed my mind about stewardship. I stopped talking, sat down and furiously tried to absorb everything he said that day.
So here we are, almost three years later, ready to have our own conversation about something that I believe in, that I am passionate about, that I care deeply for and that has an amazing vision.
I love this church. You, as a community, took a chance on a young and inexperienced female and called me to be your pastor 18 months ago. You welcomed Bruce and me into your homes, you have embraced my family and my friends and you have supported me in my times of need and grief. You have been willing to open yourselves up to try new things – and have been extremely patient with me as you teach me some of our time honored traditions. As a congregation you reach out to the Rehoboth community and beyond, you care about your youth and children and love one another, even when it is not easy. You facilitate phenomenal Church School and Youth Fellowship programs. Laughter – from people both young and old – fills the sanctuary week after week. You come together in service and in fellowship. You love to be together, to be both active leaders and participants in this community along its journey. It is a joy to watch this church grow – in physical numbers, in mission and in spirit.
This church is not perfect. We worked through some issues when I first arrived and I am sure will continue to work through issues as we journey forward. But we are journeying forward. We are growing; we are building; we are creating a vision of community and ministry that Christ had for this world.
So today I am not asking you for money – I am simply inviting you be part of this all over again.
The theme of this year’s stewardship drive is “Delight in Giving”. This theme, this idea about delightfully approaching stewardship, completely contradicts the practice of a 10% invoice. But if you really think about it, an invoice does not work in the church. I don’t know about you all, but I do not get much delight in paying bills. It is one of my least favorite chores, one that I just try to accomplish as fast as possible. But I love giving to the church. I love knowing that – even though my money may be paying for oil or insurance one month – I am helping this amazing congregation run, grow and thrive. Through our pledges we are not simply paying a bill or chipping away at some debt – we are a part of something incredible.
Yes, I do delight in giving to this church. How can I not? Look where my money is going; look what I get to be a part of! Look at what we get to be a part of!
Last year I preached a stewardship sermon on visions. I dressed the altar with empty picture frames and said at the end of the sermon that you all got to decide what went in those frames. Those same frames dress the altar this morning. But some of them are no longer empty.
I had the children tape photographs from the last year in a few of them during this morning’s children’s sermon. Look at all that we have accomplished over the past year! We have worshiped together, prayed together, served together, worked together, fellowshipped together and shared meals together. We have laughed together and we have cried together. We have felt so much delight in all that we have done as a community of faith. No, it has not always been easy, but when I look back on the last year the good times have far exceeded the bad ones.
Some of these frames are still empty. Again, you get to decide what goes in them. And this year we are inviting you to delight in filling these frames.
I pray that this year we, as a community, receive as much delight in our giving as we did last year through all that we did.
We will have an extended time of reflection this morning. During that time I invite you to think about your financial commitments to the church this year. I pray not only that you delight in giving this year, but that you truly do feel an invitation to be part of something incredible.
May God bless you in your discernment, through your giving and within this community.
Thanks be to God!