[Goes to grapes on table – takes some and eats them!]
I am getting to love Stewardship Sunday because I get to eat. Last year apples, this year grapes, next year…. doughnuts!
Jesus says to his disciples, “If you abide in me you will bear much fruit.” I think of that verse and look at this vine full of ripe grapes and what a great image – delicious and juicy.
Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And I look at this little piece of vine with no fruit – it is useless.
I think of the fruitfulness of Forest Hill, all of you, the programs and ministries, increasing missions. We are an anchor institution, known throughout the region as a church that stands for important, faithful things and gets involved.
And it is because we have people who are abiding on the vine practicing faith. It is very tasty! (pops another grape!)
The Bible is pretty consistent that one of the key expressions of practicing faith is by offering a tithe of our time, talents and treasures (not time, talents OR treasures). We offer our “first-fruits”; not the leftovers.
[takes the grapes] – I know the word tithe is perhaps, intimidating. But so is loving-kindness and doing justice and walking with humility. So is taking up the cross, speaking the truth in love, loving your enemy, and forgiving yourself and others. None of these biblical expectations is easy. But with the agitation comes the blessing. With the practice comes the results.
We have all these grapes, these resources: and these automatically go to Uncle Sam. [starts dividing grapes into different piles] And these go to mortgage, car, food, STARBUCKS, and cell phones. Deanne and I need a night out occasionally (We saw Gravity last weekend – great movie). Deanne thinks I dress like an old man (sorry old men!) so I have to get clothes now and again. We want to save some for retirement and emergencies. AND we want to be generous and make a pledge to the church and to other benevolent causes that express our deepest set of values. Whew! You get pressed.
As I wrote in my stewardship letter which you will get tomorrow – when Deanne and I first moved to town, we took care of all our expenses first (and we are not spendthrifts) and then made a modest pledge to the church – heck, I thought, I give my LIFE to this place.
But maybe ten years ago or so, we began to set some new goals – we wanted to increase our pledge by 10% a year and to try to increase our savings by 10% as well. We would continue to pay off our credit card monthly and live below our means.
We were aiming to give 10% away and save 10% of our income after taxes. Now some will say “it should be before taxes.” You define tithing your way, let me define tithing my way! If you want to tithe pre-taxes BE MY GUEST!
It has been interesting, we are getting closer, and we have found that we still have enough to do what we want to do. We are in a blessed situation and everyone’s situation is different. I want to honor that. I am not judging anybody. I am just sharing our experience.
Giving to the church is not like making a yearly pledge to NPR for good programming. Don’t get me wrong: FHC has GREAT programming, amazing staff, and stands for important things. We risk courageous conversations about race and sexual orientation, money and the environment, spiritual growth and biblical interpretation, staffing and long term management of the building and actually do something about all these things!
But biblical tithing is a spiritual practice that needs exercise and development. As you deepen your relationship with God, and with one another, you come to understand more deeply the stewardship of your time, talents and treasures. You really are not giving to a budget. You are expressing your relationship with God.
This is a season for spiritual growth. If this stewardship season you are more mindful about how you spend your money, or you get on top of your credit cards, you make a vow to increase your pledge and grow your savings – FANTASTIC. You know we are not about guilt, obligation and punishment here but about joy, thankfulness and the privilege of sacrificial giving.
Make a pledge to bring in five new members to this church (who pledge!) – let me tell you the financial pressures will diminish considerably. Practice evangelism!
Your Session wants to invest in ministry to children, youth, young adults and families. Liz is going to retire in May; Caitlin is only with us for one year. We want to combine their job descriptions and create a full-time position.
Your Session wants to give more away to ministry to the poor and neglected both locally and globally.
Your Session has declared that we need to take care of our building BETWEEN the capital campaigns – so we don’t have to have capital campaigns.
We might not be able to do any of this.
But, expressing your faith in your tithes and offerings, evangelizing and bringing in new friends and members to this church…well, I may be buying YOU doughnuts next year!
I have been reading a book “Passing the Plate” by Christian sociologists Christian Smith and Michael Emerson… and they share some pretty amazing statistics.
• In 2004 – 25% of Americans did not make any charitable contributions. And 26% of self-professed protestants who attend church at least two times a month report giving nothing on a more formal basis to religious or charitable causes.
• Mormons, Pentecostals and Baptists devote the highest proportion.
• The average pledge to the church by those regularly attending church is about 2%. There are many more below that average than above it.
These figures agitate me deeply as I suspect they do you.
As I said before with the agitation comes the opportunity for blessing. Take a risk and see what happens.
Just like Jacob in the passage from Genesis, you and I rose early this morning (well semi-early) and we came to this place of consecrated pillars (pillars, which, by the way, are in need of repair – go look!) and stone; a place of prayer, an anchor of this community, a beacon to the region, a house of welcome for all people…this place people have come to worship for over 60 years.
So let us re-dedicate ourselves this day to our mission of spreading the good news of Jesus; to the rich and to the poor, to release captives and to help people recover the ability to see, to let the oppressed go and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Our mission is to equip YOU the saints for ministry, to empower YOU to live your life with integrity, joy, justice, generosity, hope, and faith – this is our mission.
God has blessed us abundantly. Surely, out of gratitude and deepening faithfulness, you and I will offer our pledges and gifts, our time, and talent and treasures, our tithes and our grapes [pops one into mouth].
Thanks be to God.