Now that last night’s anniversary party is over…let’s talk money! Stewardship season – hooray! Can I get an Amen?
You can always tell what causes people anxiety by the jokes that are told. And let me tell you there are a lot of jokes about money and particularly money in church.
A member of the Stewardship Committee went to visit a rich member of the congregation. “ Sir, (it is always a man!) we believe you make an annual income of $500,000 but have never pledged to the church – can we count on a pledge this year?”
After a pause the man replied, ”Well, did you know that my mother is very ill and her medical bills are several times her annual income?” And with passion rising he added, “And did you know that my brother is a disabled vet and confined to a wheelchair?” Indignantly he continued, “And did you know that my sister is a single mother with three children?”
Humiliated, the Stewardship Elder stammered, ”I had no idea…”
On a roll, the man cut her off. “So if I didn’t give any money to them, why should I give any money to you?”
In most of these jokes, the one who asks for a pledge comes across as timid, embarrassed even. And the one asked always comes across as tight – which may make for a good joke but it really doesn’t describe reality.
We come to the start of stewardship season and Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, encourages us to be cheerful givers, to sow bountifully, to share abundantly – not reluctantly or by compulsion. Paul states that the giver will be enriched in every way for her or his generosity.
My experience has been that generosity and cheerfulness are two of your greatest attributes. Forest Hill has never faltered in preaching the gospel, showing hospitality to all, engaging in social action, in short – doing what churches do – and you, the membership have always supported the ministry and mission. Even a few years ago when we were caught up short and we scrambled a bit – we never lost momentum, never failed to do what we were called to do. You are a remarkable bunch!
So, really Stewardship season is a time of great celebration. Look at what the Lord has done for us! Look at how the Spirit of God has equipped us for every good work.
God has provided for us everything. So what do we return to the Lord for all these blessings?
We offer our lives, our praise, our time, talent and treasures. We offer the first fruits of our lives – not out of compulsion or guilt, not even because we have to reach a budget – but because we are at our best when we are being generous and this is what God’s people do.
The spiritual practice of tithing – setting aside 10% to the work of the Lord is as old as the religious community – as ancient a practice as any we know about. I hope you move towards this discipline.
Stewardship season is indeed a time of counting our blessings and celebrating.
Stewardship season is a time of taking a look at your checkbooks and credit card statements for they are an expression of your priorities. We all get overwhelmed by financial obligations. And when I feel overwhelmed I can’t think straight – I am not at my best, I draw in, I get touchy and edgy, defensive – and this is why your pledge to God’s mission at this church should be the first check written because then it aligns everything else. It helps organize the 90% that you have left.
I know this to be true in prayer. I take a prayer walk in the park right across the street. But some mornings are very busy. Lynda, our administrative assistant, has several things that have to get out in the morning. Stavros, the custodian, has a list of things to go over. I have too many emails, five messages to return and all I want to do is get to my sermon, and then there is the knock at the door. I wanted to begin at 8:00 a.m. and now it is on towards 10:00.
So I skip my prayer walk to get to the work. And always, without fail, the rest of the day goes off kilter. I am always playing catch-up.
But, when I go on that prayer walk before I start the tasks – regardless of the time, regardless of the list of things to do – it orders my day and things fall into place – it never fails.
Likewise with my 403B retirement savings. It comes out of my paycheck before I even see it – so I don’t miss it.
It should be the same with our pledges. Cynthia Campbell, who leads workshops on stewardship, says that it is “critically important” for her to commit to write her first check of every week to her church – it is an act of faith that orders all her other actions. Try this spiritual discipline – it works.
Stewardship season is a time for honest reflection and commitment.
Stewardship season is a time for the church to re-commit itself to its mission and to make sure that our budget expresses our deepest values.
According to our Book of Order, “The Great Ends of the Church” are:
- the “proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind;”
- the “shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;”
- the “maintenance of divine worship; and the preservation of truth;”
- the “promotion of social righteousness” and
- the “exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.”
And the question we have to ask ourselves is this: How are we doing?
How is our building being used for these great ends? Sometimes we think that taking care of the building is somehow anti-mission. But that is not right.
This building is the launching pad for our kingdom living, we give food to 100 people a week and serve a meal once a month. We have hosted homeless families in our rooms and our space is home to so many support groups. This is mission, but it costs – custodial hours, and clean up, heat, light, water. This sanctuary is the house of worship a place of welcome for all God’s people – have you looked at the carpet lately? How we take care of our building is central to our mission.
Making sure that Anne and Clover, Keon and Dacia, Peg and I are paid for what we do – that our support staff and custodial staff have living wages and that Clover get full-time pay for full-time work – no longer a ¾ salary. (I am glad she isn’t hear today so I can talk like this.) No more glass ceiling for women – equal pay for equal work – that is as much a justice issue inside these walls as outside these walls; it is an expression of the kingdom.
Giving money away is crucial – but the church is more than a religious United Way giving money to other institutions.
We invest in programs that alleviate hunger and poverty, break down walls of racism, bring fresh water to Haiti, send our children on mission trips – this is our mission.
You see it is all connected. We shouldn’t separate and silo.
Stewardship Season is a time of reclaiming the mission.
Stewardship season is not a fund drive – not like NPR’s annual campaign. As Pastor Doug Pagitt writes:
“One of the reasons churches in North America have trouble guiding people about money is that the church’s economy is built on consumerism. If churches see themselves as suppliers of religious goods and services and their congregants as consumers, then offerings are ‘payment’.”
Stewardship is not about supply and demand, or goods and services. Making a pledge to the church is a spiritual discipline, an expression of a cheerful, glad faith.
Your pledge expresses trust in God who provides us with everything necessary; a trust in yourself that you can do it and a trust in the church that we will be faithful and transparent with the use of your pledge.
And above all we get a promise – a God promise: we will be enriched, our love will overflow – the Gospel will go forth from Monticello and Lee.
Some people say, “Give till it hurts.” But God recommends that we “give until it feels good!” Remember God loves a cheerful giver!
So maybe the party hasn’t ended… it’s just beginning!
Thanks be to God!