I am, I suspect, like most of you, ready for this presidential race to be over. I feel dirty, disheartened and frankly depressed. And that is not a good position for a Christian to be in. So I am searching for good news. Searching for a word of hope and joy – for there seems to be a drought in the land.
The words of the Psalmist are a good place to start:
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions. …
You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
No matter what, we praise God in the midst. God forgives, redeems, creates and restores. “It ain’t over till it’s over” and God has the final word.
And the psalmist rejoices:
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
The hills gird themselves with joy,
The meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
The valleys deck themselves with grain; they shout and sing together for joy.
There had been a memorable drought in Joel’s day. He was inspired to read the cloud of grasshoppers as a sign of judgment from God. And yet, he too, searching for good news, reminds his first listeners – who were living in a time of terror and transition, at the mercy of nature – to give thanks for countless blessings:
O children of Zion be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God;
for God has given the early rain for your vindication,
God has poured down for you abundant rain….
The threshing floors shall be full of grain,
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
Joel gives the promise that we Christians celebrate at Pentecost:
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
The words of the psalmist and prophet give me hope. It is not time to panic but to praise; it is not time to get nostalgic but to look ahead with great expectation – because God is not done with us yet!
This Stewardship Sunday comes right on time for me. It is like a balm of Gilead, a soothing cool breeze that cuts the hot humid night of our discontent: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you have received.” (1 Peter 4:10)
It is good to be able to celebrate and serve, to be generous and hope filled and to rejoice. Yes, right now, in this time and place, in this age and space – in this time of abundance – spiritual and material abundance. Our world needs us.
In times of uncertainty there is a tendency to get tight, to be angry, to become suspicious of the “other.” I get more entrenched in my opinions, more set in my certainty. I give fear more power then it deserves.
In tough times there is a tendency to pull back: we become less generous with our time, talent and treasures.
But you and I live in the time of post-Pentecost. The day that Joel was anticipating came, and it came again in Jerusalem and I declare to you that in these days the same thing is happening: the Spirit is pouring itself out in abundance upon all flesh. I can tell because there is so much tension – something is breaking through.
It is not time to hold back. It is not time to say “no.” It is not time to be tight. It is not time to hedge our bets. Because, as the old Methodist Hymn sings out:
We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
that shall turn their hearts to the right,
a story of truth and mercy,
a story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
and the dawning to noonday bright;
and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
the kingdom of love and light.
It is time to pledge to God’s “kingdom of love and light” through this church. It is time to go “all in.” It is time to tithe; it is a time to give more. It is the only antidote for an ailing soul, a sick body politic and an aching world.
A pledge is a vow that you are going to follow through with whatever your gift is – a lot or a little; I know that some of you are in situations where money is tight, and this kind of talk creates anxiety. And if this is such a time for you – then just pledge something, relax in God’s love and let us who can give more cover you.
Young people: you need to start pledging now. Ask your parents to help you.
Your pledge is not dues to a club, or support for the work of a non-profit. Your pledge is a profession of faith to God through this believing community. Because together we are the reflection of a redeeming and generous and sending God.
As part of this community, Deanne and I tithe on our taxable income. And because Deanne has a new job we are raising our pledge for this year by around 20%. It is heady stuff, we have never been in this position before – we have more than doubled our pledge in the last 5 years – but it feels rather good. We like it.
We have grown into this slowly and steadily. Until 10 years ago we never gave it much thought, so I judge no one or share this to show off.
Some have asked, “Isn’t it rather weird that you, John, give out of your own salary for your own salary?” Maybe, but why should Deanne and I be deprived of the joyful opportunity of a spiritual discipline that makes us feel good? Why shouldn’t we support the community where we both receive so much, where God is made alive to us and we are so magnificently agitated to grow, pushed beyond our comfort zones – where we have been transformed and seen God in you?
We are part of a faith community that seeks to be welcoming, learning, worshiping, witnessing and discerning. We are a part of a faith community that seeks to serve one another and the world.
We are people that want to grow in faith.We are persons that want to free ourselves from the tight tyranny of the almighty dollar – so we give it away.
We want to live aspirational lives –leaning into the future, investing in what matters.
It is exciting to be part of a trustworthy and transparent community whose sole purpose is to change your life, help you name your experience of God, and equip you to serve others and change the world. No other organization makes this claim!
The goal to be raised is $735,000. That is not aspirational. It is a nuts-and-bolts budget with a 2.4% raise because that is all that the Session thinks you will be able to afford. If we don’t raise that, then staff won’t get raises, programs will get cut, and our mission dollars will have to lessen. But I am not worried because we are church and you are generous.
So take your pledge card and give more than you gave last year. Few are on that fixed of a budget.
And if you have never pledged before – just do it! You will feel better. “Generous givers are typically more spiritually generous and happier than those who are not generous.”
If you are feeling guilty that you may not be able to give as much as you would like, or that you can’t give what you think other people are giving – GET OVER IT! Offer what you can, not what you can’t, because you have no idea what others give. And the person you think gives a lot because they drive a nice car, or you have seen their name in the program at the Symphony – may not give much at all. You just don’t know.
Yes, giving of your time and talent is important too – but sharing your treasure is the third leg of the stool – so you won’t fall over.
God has promised and delivered a pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh. So we need to deliver and join God in the pouring out, and the giving of our abundance. We need to be the gift that keeps on giving, and nurturing, and hoping, and transforming because we are….
Fit to be tithed!
All to the glory of God… especially in this crazy time.
God bless you.