Surprising Gifts

Here is my stewardship sermon!  We used the UCC Surprising Gifts theme this year, which really provided a nice jumping off point.  Enjoy!

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Surprising Gifts

Why do you pledge?

This is a question that the Stewardship Committee asked people in the church to reflect on this year as they prepared to make their financial commitments to the church.

It is funny what a difference a few years can make. If you had asked me this question three years ago, my answer would have been simple and straightforward: The church needs money. In fact, when the Stewardship Committee met back in 2011, I distinctly remember saying that we should only focus our efforts on financial stewardship that year and not talk about other forms of giving. The church was in a deficit and it needed to be turned around. It was a scary time and much was unknown.

There was a lot of anxiety in the committee as we faced that daunting task.

Feelings of anxiety permeate the beginning of this morning’s scripture reading. The Thessalonian people thought that Jesus was going to return and that the world was going to end. Paul wrote to the community in response to their anxiety about their fears of this unknown.

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.

But Paul urged them to turn away from their anxiety of what may be and give thanks to God for what is.

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, beloved by the Lord.

We must always give thanks to God.

And we – the Rehoboth Congregational Church – need to do the same. We need to turn away from the anxieties that hold us back and celebrate the life that is within us. Have we spent the past few years chipping away at a financial deficit? Yes. Were there times of uncertainty? Yes. Have we completely turned things around? Not quite. Are there still a lot of unknowns in our future? Yes. But we need to shift our thinking from fear to thanksgiving. We will not worship, serve and learn in fear – rather we will praise and trust the God who creates, redeems and sustains us.

Easier said than done, right? But remember that Paul did not just say that we have to give thanks to God; Paul gave us a pretty convincing reason to give thanks.

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Because God chose you.

God chose us.

As we think about this church – about our stewardship to this church, about our hopes for this church and about our anxieties within this church – we must always give thanks to God because God chose us. God chose us to be here and to be in ministry with one another.

As a whole, this church has felt a lot of anxiety over the past several years. I arrived at RCC on the heels of a difficult pastoral transition, a large amount of staff turnover, a devastating flood, financial hardships and conflicts between individuals and committees.

But look at where we are now!

New individuals and families have come through our doors and joined our community.
We have been able to explore and implement new Church School curriculum.
Our Missions Committee has been revitalized and has shown unbelievable outreach to this church, to the community and to the world.
We have completed some much-needed upgrades around the church. In addition to being in the middle of a repair and painting project on the front of the church, we were also able to renovate and paint our classroom and create a space that is truly dedicated to the children and youth of this church.
New and creative community activities are being engaged and enjoyed.
Our Youth Fellowship Program is thriving.

I could go on and on – but the life and spirit in this sanctuary today speaks for itself.

Are we perfect? No. But there will always been anxieties within the life of the church. The darkness of the unknown is always on the horizon.

But God called us into ministry and God has given us the tools we need not only to survive, but to thrive.

I do not know if it is true, but I once heard a story that back in early Puritan New England, a major solar eclipse darkened the sky in the middle of the day. Terrified because they did not know what was going on, the people said to one another, “The world is going to end – what are we going to do?” And one man replied, “Let us be found doing our duty.”

The fifteenth verse of this passage says:

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth of by our letter.

Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.

God called us into ministry here and we have to heed that call. We need to take care of the church that has always taken care of us. We need to show thanks to those who came before us – the pillars of this church – and continue what they have started. We need to honor the traditions of the church by doing our part to strengthen its community and live out our piece of its story.

We need to move forward in our journey. We need to jump into the darkness of the unknown. We need to take each challenge that comes our way. We need to praise God, even when we are scared. We need to support the church that supports us. And we need to be committed to the work that God is doing in our community.

The end of this morning’s scripture reads:

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

This text was actually the inspiration for our stewardship campaign this year. The Message, which is a contemporary translation of the bible, translates this text to say the following:

May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.

May … God … who surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech.

God has surprised us.

So often we fear the unknown, but we really should be giving thanks for how we are surprised by what God does in the midst of that unknown.

God has surprised us. God has surprised us by breathing new life into our old church. God has surprised us with introductions to new people, ideas and opportunities. God has surprised us with peace in our minds and hope in our hearts. God has surprised us with a spirit of friendship and love. God has surprised us by showing us that we are stronger and more faithful now than we ever have been before – both as individuals and as a church.

God has surprised us – and now it is our turn.

Stewardship is not something that we do – stewardship is something that God does through us.

Why do you pledge?

Rehoboth Congregational Church is a family to us. Like our household, our church has bills, and IT’S important to help provide for a roof over our heads, spiritual nourishment, and the chance to learn and grow in Christ.
Being a part of this church family has made us better people and our own family stronger.
The church is my Family and I support my Family in everything I do.
We feel incredibly blessed by all that God has done in our lives and feel called to try to give something back.
One of the main reasons I pledge is to keep the youth program going strong.
I pledge to this church because I want my children to have a safe haven besides our home.
We pledge because it’s our turn.
I pledge to the church because I am investing in its vision.

Let us allow God to work through us in our stewardship this year. And may we continue to be surprised by the journey we are on.

Thank you for supporting the Rehoboth Congregational Church.

Thanks be to God!

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