Hello and Happy Harvest! I had a busy weekend with church activities (and my final wedding of the season!) so I’m only now getting caught up. Here is this week’s sermon. I don’t have the audio because I forgot to shut off the recording and all of the prayer requests were recorded – whoops! Sorry about that. Still working out the kinks of my own system.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
October 18, 2015
Called To Serve – Called To Give
Lock the doors; I am about to talk about money.
When I was in seminary, I got into a disagreement with one of my professors about how pastors should talk to their churches about money.
Here is what happened: My professor kept saying that we, as pastors, needed to preach about money; and not only did we need to preach about money, but we needed to preach often about money (often – as in, more than once a year!). He said that we needed to be transparent about our own giving and ask others to be transparent about their giving. He talked about the biblical notion of “tithing” – literally giving 10% of your income to the church – and said that we needed to set that expectation – that expectation that every single member of the church ought to tithe – when talking about stewardship and giving money to the church.
Now, remember – I went to seminary in Atlanta. My professor was a United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia conference and had spent his entire life down south.
At one point I turned to him with kind of a perplexed look on my face and rested my chin on my hand and said, “You’ve never been to New England before, have you?”
So let me put this right out there on the table: We are New Englanders. We do not like to talk about money.
But let me also put this right out there on the table: We are a church. As a nonprofit organization, we have salaries to pay, buildings to maintain and programs to run. All of these things cost money. Part of being the church means rising up to the fiduciary duty of the organization and ensuring that the church has sufficient resources to pay its bills.
And let me also put this right out there on the table: We are a church. A church that God has called us into; a church that Jesus laid the foundation for 2,000 years ago; a church that we are still building today. Part of being the church means remembering – even when it is uncomfortable to do so (and I know that it is uncomfortable to do so!) – that Jesus called us to give back and sometimes that means pledging and giving our own money.
In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples and the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection for the third time (he did this immediately prior to this reading in chapter 10, verses 32-34). After hearing Jesus say that he would be violently killed and then rise again after three day, James and John wanted to make sure they had their bases covered.
Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.
Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left. (Mark 10:35-36)
Talk about trying to get on the fast track to a place of honor.
Jesus was not easily giving into the brothers’ request. Jesus told them that they would be baptized and that they would drink from the cup of salvation; but that sitting in a place of honor was not for Jesus to grant on earth.
The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared. (Mark 10:39-40)
This could easily turn into a horrendous sermon about giving money to the church so that you can get into heaven, but I swear on everything that is important to me that is NOT where I am going with this.
Here is where I am going with this: The disciples were focusing on the wrong thing.
The disciples were fixated on how to get that “good” spot in heaven and not paying attention to what was happening in their midst. They were focused on the future and not at all on the present. They wanted to figure out how to get in cahoots with God, but were actually ignoring the people that were in their midst and needed tangible signs of God’s love and grace; tangible signs that they, in fact, could give them.
Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. (Mark 10:43-45)
For Jesus, it was not just about ‘talking the talk’ it was also very much so about ‘walking the walk’. Jesus said that there was a level of servant hood to our faith that could not be ignored.
I was really intrigued by Jesus’ use of the word “slave” in this passage:
Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:44)
What is a slave, after all? A slave is a person who has absolutely no choice but to humble themselves and serve others; a person who must put the needs of others before the needs of themselves. The term “slave” carries a lot of heavy connotations and I do not think that we should ignore the significance of its use here. Having faith is necessarily glamorous; in fact sometimes it is downright grueling. Living out our faith is not easy, sometimes it is messy and oftentimes it takes a lot of work.
But Jesus called us to live out our faith; Jesus called us to serve.
It is not enough for us to just say that we are Christian; we have to act as though we are Christian as well.
And here is where things start to get a little bit uncomfortable: Because it is not enough for us to just say that we are members of this church; we have to act as though we are members of this church as well.
We have to be invested in the wellbeing of this church. Jesus said that we have to serve and – in many ways – we have to serve this church. We have to serve this church with our time, with our energy and with our ideas. We have to serve this church with our prayers and with our money.
I was talking to a couple a few weeks ago that is thinking of joining the church and they asked me how the whole “money thing” worked. How does the money get spent? Where does the money come from? How do people decide how much money to give? And here is a the question that got me thinking: Why do people give their money to the church in the first place?
So why do we give our money to the church? I know that money can sometimes be an uncomfortable subject for us, but this question is actually a really fun and amazing thing to think about.
We give our money to the church because we are called by Jesus not to first come and receive, but to first come and serve. We give our money to the church because giving money makes us vulnerable and the more we open ourselves by giving, the more space God has to come into our midst. We give our money to the church because we know that God’s grace has the power to do unexplainable and unexpected things – and we want a front row seat when that happens.
And more importantly – we give our money to this church. We give our money to this church because we believe in it. We give our money to this church because of the way that this church enables us to worship, serve and learn in ways that are meaningful, relevant and accessible to us. We give our money to this church because this church is changing lives. We give our money to this church because we believe that we are “RCC Strong.”
Stewardship Packets have been mailed out; most of you should have received them by now and (if you have not, I would be happy to hand deliver one!). I – along with members of the Stewardship Committee and the Board of Trustees – are inviting you to prayerfully consider your level of giving for the 2015 year and return your pledge card – either in worship or to the office.
Do not give because you think we are broke; do not give because you are afraid that programs or services might be cut; do not give because you are tired of hearing me yammer on about money.
Give because Jesus is calling you to serve. Give because God has opened your eyes and your ears and your mind and your heart to this church; and you want to be part of the ministry that is unfolding here. Give because giving is where grace begins.
Give because of the abundant blessings that you receive as the living waters of baptism are washed over you. Give because you are always welcomed at the table and invited to drink from the cup overflowing with salvation.
Give because you are and will always be RCC Strong.
Thanks be to God!