This morning’s sermon! We are in the middle of a month of stewardship, so I preached my annual stewardship sermon this morning. We are using the UCC theme, Blessed to be a Blessing, so I introduced 293 Years of Blessings during worship, which we will get to next week. Busy time!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
October 19, 2014
2 Corinthians 8:1-15, 9:5-15
Giving Is An Act Of Grace
I feel the need to start my sermon today with the following disclaimer: This morning I will be talking about money. I will be realistic about the fact that we need money to run our church; I will be open about the fact that we are in the middle of stewardship season at our church and are asking people for money; and I may allude to the fact that we are called by God to give, both of ourselves and of our money.
But I promise that it is going to be okay. I do not plan on using any guilt tactics; the Trustees do not plan on locking the doors and holding anyone hostage until they have turned in their pledge card; and when it is all said and done, we will stand together and sing a song of praise.
Because – in the end – giving money through stewardship to this church really is a good thing. It is a ministry to God, it is a service to this church and it is an act of grace. Giving is an act of grace.
Money is a sticky subject and it is not always easy to talk about. But trust me for just one moment and let us look at this morning’s scripture.
My Tuesday Morning Bible Study and I have been working our way through Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, a letter Paul wrote to defend his ministry, to reconcile the message that members of the church community were getting from different people and to make sure the collection was being taken.
Up until last week, we had not gotten to the collection. Paul had talked about putting God first, developing a sense of community and living out your faith. Paul had talked about forgiveness, about experiencing something new and about being an ambassador for Christ. Paul had asked that the Corinthians let go of their human expectations, feel suffering for a greater cause and open their hearts so that God could renew them.
All good things, right? All things that you would gladly listen to me preach about this morning?
Well, we gathered this week and opened our bibles to chapter eight. And there Paul was, without any warning whatsoever, talking about the collection: Asking the Corinthians to give money, telling them that the church in Macedonia – a much poorer community than Corinth – had already given money and proclaiming that if they sowed sparingly they would reap sparingly, but if they sowed bountifully they would reap bountifully.
Paul did not beat around the bush, did he?
Well, unfortunately, today neither am I.
I used to get annoyed when the subject of money would come up in the middle of a perfectly good scripture that was talking about how amazing God is, how strong a community can be and how we have the ability live our lives in a spirit of faith and love. Throw in the subject of money and it seemed distracting. It seemed to be in poor taste. It seemed to take away from the message of God’s beautiful grace, reconciliation and mercy.
Truthfully, I would not blame any of you for feeling a similar sentiment today as I stand here on a beautiful fall day and preach my yearly stewardship sermon.
But here is the thing: Our faith and our giving are not mutually exclusive. This is what Paul was trying to tell us. Giving is not something that we do because we are Christians and our Christian institutions need money in order to run; giving is something that we do because we are Christians and God calls us to give.
Now as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
Paul believed that giving and generosity are just as integral to our faith as prayer is, as service is, as community is, as worship is and as learning is. Giving and generosity are not things that can or should be talked about behind closed doors or once a year or separate from every other part of the life of the church and our faith. Paul believed that giving and generosity should be talked about in conjunction with the other parts of our faith because it feeds our faith. Giving and generosity strengthens our faith. Giving and generosity expands our faith and allows us to explore who we are as Christians on a deeper level.
I think many of us – without giving it much thought – would certainly give to the church because we love this church and we know that the church – as an institution – needs money for oil, electricity, payroll, office supplies, insurance, etc. etc. etc.
But Paul was saying that there is a greater reason to give! This is a reason that goes beyond mileage reimbursements and invoices from the elevator repair company. This is a reason that is more than program budgets and building maintenance. We give to this church to give glory to God; to make visible the invisible signs of God’s grace in the community and in the world. Giving is an act of grace and grace is something that is far more important to this church than any line item on our budget is.
The Board of Trustees and the Stewardship Committee need to tell you that they need yearly pledges and offerings in order to gauge an accurate sense of income and present a balanced budget for the upcoming year. That is their job.
But it is my job – as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ – to tell you that there is so much more to giving than simply projected incomes and balanced budget. Giving is rooted in scripture. Paul talked about it because Jesus talked about it. We are called to listen carefully to our still speaking God and prayerfully consider where and how much we will give to our church.
And, Paul said, giving when it giving as an act of grace is not a one-way street! When you give so that an institutional budget can be balanced, very rarely do you receive anything in return (with the exception of a pen or a pack or return address labels). But when you give because you are living out God’s grace, you will be made whole.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
The more we give, the more we get back. The more we give, the more we are letting go of the human world that we are living in. The more we give, the more we are responding to God’s call.
You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.
Giving is an act of grace. It is a way of giving thanks to God for all of the wonderful things that God has given to us. Giving to the church bears witness not only our generation of Christians, but also the generations who laid the foundation for the church before us and to the generations who will sustain the Body of Christ in the years to come. We can and will receive so much more than we ever could give.
Paul said that we should give not out of obligation, but out of delight – out of joy, out of love, out of happiness and out of great anticipation of what God has in store for us.
God loves a cheerful giver.
So be a cheerful giver! Be proud of what you are doing and how you are listening to God and living out God’s call. Giving is not an obligation; it is an opportunity! Whether you pledge to give $1 a week or $1,000 a week, you are pledging to live out God’s call to be an active sign of grace in this world and that is truly, truly remarkable.
Pledging to this church is about something so much greater than our community, our building and our finances. It is about God’s grace – grace unexpected – active and alive today. It is about celebrating a community that is vibrant and growing. It is about a vision for the future that is not quite clear yet. It is about putting our whole faith and trust in God and letting go of the things in our human lives.
The theme of this year’s stewardship campaign is “Blessed to be a Blessing”. As part of our campaign, we will be compiling “293 Years of Blessings”, real testimonies of the ways that people in our church community have felt blessed by our church over the past 293 years. As we spend the rest of our month of stewardship reflecting not on money, but on blessings, I pray that you stand on the threshold of the past, present and future and see God’s grace come alive in our midst.
Thanks be to God!