Sunday was my annual stewardship sermon, although Bruce told me last night that he didn’t feel like it was so much a stewardship sermon as it was a sermon on why I love the church so much. But that totally ties into why I give to the church, right?
We’re still in the middle of our sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount! This week’s scripture tied in really nicely to our stewardship theme. A totally God thing!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
October 20, 2019
Shout It From The Mountaintop
This is the perfect stewardship scripture, right?
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus is saying, it’s not about the stuff, right? That the “stuff” we collect on earth is not really what matters most; that what matters most are the divine and faithful treasures that we collect.
So, because we are in the middle of our stewardship season, I can stand up here and self-righteously proclaim that everyone just needs to buy less stuff, because it is just going to get eaten by moths and rust anyway, and then give more money to the church.
But it is not that simple.
It is not that simple, partially because I currently have five pairs of shoes in my office (which does not include the pair I am wearing right now), so the term “hypocritical” would not even begin to scratch the surface of that sermon.
It is also not that simple because we live in a very human and imperfect world – and in a consumerist society driven by a lot of technological advances on top of that. So to say, “just don’t buy stuff and give the church all your money,” is not really a realistic or a fair request.
Finally, it is not that simple, because I am not entirely sure that is what Jesus meant, anyway. The Gospel of Matthew was written in the midst of the Roman Empire, which was a hierarchically ordered, commercialized, peasant society with virtually no middle class. Jesus is not speaking to the wealthy here; he is speaking to the disciples, who were humble fisherman. He is not necessarily talking about what they, themselves, give, but more about where wealth comes from. I do not necessarily think we can put ourselves directly into this context when we are talking about passing our own offering plates around today.
But it does give us something to think about, does it not? Particularly as we prayerfully consider our own level of giving for the upcoming year.
If you have heard me preach on stewardship or read my stewardship letters over the past eight years, you know that I have a very complicated relationship with stewardship.
The conversation about pledging and giving money to the church is not really something I remember from my childhood. I grew up in New England, where money was/is kind of a taboo topic, particularly in old congregational churches. I remember hearing about stewardship in kind of an abstract way. There was a church budget that needed to be balanced and church members donated the money to help balance the budget, but I do not ever really remember getting into the nitty-gritty of the who or what or why or how.
Then I went to seminary in the south where, come to find out, money is not as much of a taboo topic. I have talked about this before, but at one point I went head-to-head with one of my church leadership professors over how to preach about stewardship.
His opinion was, you need to stand behind the pulpit and tell everyone they must tithe (which means, from a biblical perspective, that they must donate 10% of their income to the church).
My opinion was, you will get stoned in an old New England church if you try to do that.
And so I had a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing until I took a course in nonprofit leadership and we got to our unit on fundraising. When I walked into class and emphatically proclaimed to my professor that I was not looking forward to class that day because I hated fundraising and did not like asking people for money, he smiled and said:
I love asking people for money. I only raise money for the things I am really passionate about. Who wouldn’t want to ask someone to give money to something they are really passionate about? You are inviting them to be part of something that is so important to you.
The funny thing about this interaction is that, in that moment, my opinion did change about stewardship. It did not seem so scary of off-putting. It did not seem like the necessary evil I always thought it was, but a faith practice that actually could be grace-filled and life-changing.
So my opinion did change. However, it is only as I have come to really know and love this church that I actually understand what he was talking about.
I understand the part about passion, because I feel it for this church, now more than ever. I am passionate about this church, about this community that loves unconditionally and cares more about people than about anything else and because of this passion, I really do not mind asking people to be part of it, even if it means asking them for money (or preaching on stewardship, even though I know everyone haaaaates listening to stewardship sermons). I want to be able to grow our church and expand the depth that we are able to reach and the number of people we are able to proclaim the Gospel to. I want our little church in the village to do really big and God-sized things. And I know, realistically, that it is going to take some money to do it.
So I cannot help but talk about it. I cannot help but “shout it from the mountaintop.”
Our theme for stewardship this year came out of my desire for us, as a church, to express, more on an outward level, our excitement, joy and pride for giving. This is not necessarily something that we should be secretive about, but something that we should celebrate. Because we are not just giving money, we are giving money with the hopes and the expectations and the visions of what we can accomplish together. We are giving money knowing that our church will not only survive, but it will thrive. We are giving money knowing that lives will be changed.
And so while I used to dread preaching about stewardship, I have come to a point in my journey with you all where I actually look forward to talking about why it is important that we all (myself included) make a pledge to this church.
Mostly because I see beyond this moment to the moments in the weeks to come where we sit down together and pray and dream about what we can do next year. And those moments are grace-filled and life-changing.
When Jesus is talking to his disciples about not storing up treasures on earth, I really do believe he is talking about what it means to bring about heaven on earth; to uncover the kind of light, love and grace that will change people’s lives. If you remember from last week, the passage immediately preceding this one is where he teaches the disciples how to pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
You will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Part of our call, as Christians, is to do everything we can to bring about heaven on earth; to ensure that lives are changed by the Gospel. And so when Jesus says to not store up for ourselves treasures on earth, it is because God’s will should be done here. It is not about our devotion to stuff, it is about our devotion to God.
And one of the ways that we enact our devotion to God is by giving to our church – to our community of faith – so that, together, we can do the hard work that God is calling us to do; so that, together, we can change some lives.
This church did some really cool things this year. For the first time in the four years since its inception, our New Year’s worship brunch exceeded capacity. We brought our love of all things visual to a new level when we suspended over 100 paper stars from the ceiling in preparation for Star Sunday. Our Mardi Gras worship included special music that was followed up by an email I received the following week from our guest trumpeter who said, “Your church is really cool, call me if you ever do anything like that again.” God’s love overflowed on Easter morning (literally), which kicked off a season of science-experiments-turned-Children’s-sermons. In May we hosted our first annual Blessing of the Bikes, blessing over 30 motorcycles in our parking lot on a beautiful spring day. We took over Hillside Country Club at the end of July, with something fun for everyone to do. We brought back Rally Night, playing games, cooking out, making s’mores and watching a movie. We became a name tag church, which is … going … and we spent a lot of time talking about – and practicing – hospitality, which is casting a vision for this church that I never could dreamed of.
The thing is, we are not storing up for ourselves treasures on earth, but instead we are asking God to transform the money that we give to this church so that we can expand the depth that we are able to reach and the number of people we are able to proclaim the Gospel to. We are giving to our little church in the village not necessarily so that the church, itself, can become bigger, but so that we can do bigger and God-sized things.
That is what I want to shout from the mountaintop; that is what I want the world to know.
You should have received your stewardship packet this week (if you did not, let me know, we will be happy to get you one!). As you look through everything and get ready to fill out your pledge form for next year, I want you to, first of all, think about what you are able to give, because obviously that is the most important piece when it comes to our own personal pledging. And then I want you to think about what your money can do here, at this church. How will it be used change lives? To spread the Gospel? To strengthen our own faith?
And then let us do the hard work that is required to bring about heaven on earth. I think we will be inspired by the treasures we uncover as we do this work. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.
Thanks be to God!