Today’s sermon begins shortly after the 31 minute mark. (The timing is slightly different on Apple devices.)
To those who are visiting today or who have only been worshiping with us for the past few months – each year at this time we have a Stewardship Campaign – we raise money in order to pay salaries, take care of the building, support our social justice work in the community, and pay for programs like youth groups and such. You will be hearing about this in our Minute for Missions.
We expect our members and friends to make a pledge to the work of God at this place. But we don’t force you or judge you or guilt you, or chase you down (well, not too much.)
We see pledging as an expression of faith and as a faithful practice. It is what Christians do – give money away to support the building of the beloved community both inside and outside these wall – and take care of the walls too. We offer our time, talents and treasures to God.
So my sermon today is about getting us to think about giving to the work of the church. Let us pray:
Gracious Lord – you have given us everything. We respond with faith, hope, love and generosity. May my words touch your truth and may they touch some heart and mind so that we might continue to build the beloved community where all are welcomed and Christ is praised! AMEN
More and more I believe that God has a sense of humor. Maybe not in the stand-up joke telling way but in the off-putting, subtle, playful way that is expressed in narratives and frankly in how God works in our lives.
I mean, in the book of Job – which is about as sobering a book as you can get- Job, after suffering so much, finally gets to have his face to face with God and ask “why?”
God tells Job: “You want to know why? Consider the Ostrich.” Not a belly laugh, but still.
It is absurd and distracting: an ostrich.
Next time you are feeling stressed meditate on an ostrich!
And in the second creation story of Genesis – the one where the woman, Eve is taken from the side of Adam, the man. It is a reverse birth story. Adam is put to sleep … so of course, Adam is asleep when Eve is “born”. He isn’t half the woman Eve is! I think that is very much intended in the text. I suspect the women who heard that story told 3,000 years ago would chuckle to themselves in appreciation.
I laughed out loud last Monday when I read the text for today. What better text could there be on Stewardship Sunday then a man coming to Jesus, asking “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (which most of us would interpret as a way of saying: “How do I get into heaven?”) and Jesus looks at him and says, “Sell all you have, give it away, and come and follow me.” Wow, that is good!
That is a mic drop moment: BOOM! The Stewardship Ministry was encouraging me to encourage you to tithe or at least raise your pledge by 8% or whatever. But this passage gives me the courage to say: “Give it all!”
The great line from the old movie “Now Voyager” comes to mind: “Why reach for the moon when we can have the stars!” Just write your total income on the pledge card and let’s all go home!
But the divine humor expressed in these passages always comes with a dissonance. Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Jesus is always agitating the listener to get over the barrier that keeps the person from going deeper in discipleship.
You hear me use the word “agitate” or “agitation” a lot. It means more than “annoy to the point of anger.” Agitate in today’s parlance is a wash cycle. As the clothes are agitated – the dirt comes off and you get clean.
When Jesus agitates us through the word – he wants your clean self to come out. He wants you to go beneath the surface, beyond the hesitancy to more fully engage. Jesus has the wonderful divine uncanny knack of seeing the person in front of him, knowing that person – loving you enough to push.
Just like any good coach, he knows your strengths and weaknesses, and encourages you to consider your own stuff and do something about it.
This man who comes to Jesus is a good man. But he is a rule follower. He is a good behaver. The theologian Martin Marty entitled one of his books A Nation of Behavers. We all just want to do the right thing and get along. Marty believes that Jesus wants believers not behavers – those who are willing to risk, to go beyond the expected, to draw outside the lines and to roll the dice!
I believe this rich man comes to Jesus with a true yearning. He wants something more out of life.
Jesus loves him. Jesus loves him enough to agitate him. He knows that this guy has some issues around his wealth. And Jesus goes right there. “Sell what you have and give it to the poor and come and follow me!”
While Jesus certainly gives priority to the poor, I do not believe that Jesus is anti-wealth or anti-money. He doesn’t tell everyone to give everything away. But he does expect sacrifice for the Kingdom – there is a cross involved. Jesus wants followers, not just funders.
Sadly, this man walks away. He is shocked–“grieving”–for he had many possessions.
“Grieving” is an intense word.
It is what Jesus feels in the garden the night before his death.
In Mark 5 where Jesus asks the demon his name, the demon responds with groaning and grieving: “My name is legion for we are many!”
This rich man is possessed… by his possessions.
Consider today how Jesus might agitate you to deepen your faith discipline, your faith walk as you consider what you give to the church and how you live your life? Are you a behaver or a believer?
I hear Jesus agitate us as a church – how can we deepen our mission – to spread the gospel that all are welcome here and that we will continue to move towards becoming the beloved community.
Well, Lord, we are taking a risk by calling Pastor Veronica Goines as our Co-Pastor.
We don’t know what that will fully mean, or what it will fully cost. But the will of God through the will of this congregation was pretty clear – let’s jump! And the more I communicate with Veronica the more I know that God-filled things await us.
We can’t pat ourselves on the back saying, “Look how good we are!” Because I think that Jesus will agitate us to move beyond self-righteousness to the next step of faithfulness!
So allow me to agitate you: If you have never made a pledge – do it this year. Just do it. Start somewhere. Take a pledge card now and write a number and hold yourself accountable to it.
It is a great spiritual discipline to be held accountable to your commitment at whatever level. It is freeing!
I mean this for the children and the youth too – giving away your wealth is a wonderful practice.
Deanne and I were always a couple of thousand-dollar givers. But a few years ago, we were agitated to move towards a tithe (10%) of our taxable income.
And we are essentially there and when we add the other financial gifts we make to non-profits that do righteous and just work we’re on the mark. I don’t say this to toot our horn – it took time and prayer and sometimes it hurts, when the VISA bill comes or we really want to go to that restaurant for dinner. (Deanne is generous by nature, I am tight.) But overall, we are doing it. And it makes us feel good that we are supporting the mission of this church which is giving people experiences of God’s acceptance and love.
Let me agitate you to take a three-month tithe challenge. Jan, Feb, March – pledge 10% of taxable income and see how it goes. If it is not working – that’s ok… cut back to what is doable.
If you simply pledge the same amount each year without much thought – this year please give it more thought. I suspect you can afford another $20 a week.
And if this agitation causes you to feel guilt, or discomfort – perhaps this season, take those feelings seriously, investigate them. Why do you feel this way? Feel good about what you do. Offer it to God with a cheerful heart – no apologies, no excuses.
As St. Paul writes: “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion.”
Perhaps some of you might be agitated to take the “food stamp” challenge. Find out what the food stamp allowance is for your size family and live on it on a month and pledge the savings to the church along with your annual pledge. That will open your eyes. I haven’t been brave enough to take that challenge yet.
And of course – if you have no income and you simply cannot make a pledge of money now – God loves you most and this church needs your body here more than your money. As I said, Jesus needs followers more than funders! Perhaps someone will feel called to make a pledge for someone else. Nobody needs to know who.
Jesus always makes people the number one priority. Just come and be a part. It is more than enough! I really mean that. For folks who are really financially stretched, stewardship season can be the “cruelest month!” I want to welcome and honor you. I apologize if you feel you are an “outsider” in this ocean of abundance.
There is enough. More than enough. We have abundant mercy, abundant grace and abundant wealth. This church is generous and faithful and good with a mission pointed towards the future of God’s kingdom in this world where everyone is welcome and we share power as we seek to show a little piece of heaven.
God tells us to imagine the Ostrich and Jesus closes his teaching with another strange, humorous picture: a camel squeezing through the eye of a needle. Scholars have tried to explain it. But whatever the “needle” is – a gate or a sewing instrument – who cares the point is: A camel can’t do that. But that doesn’t seem to stop God from doing what God does!
Saving, encouraging, loving, agitating, giving–God will use what you give.
So, give it all to the glory of God.