A Mite-y Offering
Almighty God, May the words of my mouth serve your purpose for your church. Amen
If you were to take a look at the calendar for the Sundays this fall, you would see that it full with special events each and every Sunday
Looking back two weeks ago we had Baptisms
Last week we celebrated All Saints Day and joined together at the table of our Lord with Corporate Communion
Next week, Jeremy will be Preaching and we will be marking Remembrance Sunday
The following week is the end of the liturgical year and is celebrated as the ‘Reign of Christ’ – Christ’s reign will be represented by Baptisms and a New Members ceremony
Then we begin the year with the 1st Sunday of Advent
And then returning to the monthly cycle the following Sunday with Corporate Communion
So that leaves this Sunday, an island unto itself, with no special occasion to mark it’s importance
Well, just won’t do…
When I looked at the scripture for today and I looked my resources, I realized that churches all over this world that follow the lectionary have declared that today is “Stewardship Sunday”
And so we will too
Stewardship Sunday – that might not be a familiar theme to many here
And you might be thinking that’s good - you have sidestepped that difficult topic up to this point
For some, your experience with other churches might feel like every Sunday was Stewardship Sunday – that the church was always talking about money
To that… I am sorry… – I am sorry that the focus or perception of ‘stewarding the gifts that God has given us’ was reduced to only money
And it is true that in September when we were dealing with the Letter of James, that the wealthy were a particularly predominate topic, but that is where the scripture lead and that was wealthy and not the whole topic of Stewardship
In some ways, it is a shame that it is only one Sunday - for the subject of stewardship is very broad.
Broadly defined, stewardship is about what we do with what we have been given and so it goes way beyond the subject of money.
It encompasses our care of the environment – an increasingly popular subject in the world – however, in reality, part of the Christian response is ‘stewarding the planet’
The subject of stewardship is broad enough that an entire sermon series could be devoted to it.
I hope, that in some ways, Stewardship can be seen in each and every sermon that I preach – stewardship of the variety of God’s blessings
Nonetheless, what we do with our money is one aspect of stewardship and since our Gospel speaks to it – it will be our focus today
In fact discussion about money is not a curse – but an opportunity to focus on our blessings and how we can bless others
It is important to say that I had the privilege of hearing a very good sermon on stewardship a few years ago and I am indebted to Rev. Peter Case who gave me a copy of it and large portions of this sermon are directly from that good lesson
I would like to suggest three reasons why I think it is important to talk about money and Christian giving.
First and most importantly, it is biblical.
We are a people who believe that the Bible reflects the word of God.
Well, the Bible has a lot to say about money and if we ignore it, we ignore large parts of the Bible.
Second, what we do with our money says a great deal about us and our values so it is important to consider what message we are sending in the way we spend our money.
Thirdly, the current needs of so many people during this economic downturn and the role and responsibility that the church faces in the midst of that.
Let’s begin with the Bible then - In the Bible, they always seem to be taking up a collection.
No sooner did the ancient Hebrews escape from Egypt, cross the Red Sea and begin their wilderness wanderings than Moses decided to build a church.
It wasn’t much of a church - just a tent of meeting where they could worship God and listen to his laws.
They needed money for this purpose, so they held an open-air service in the desert where Moses made an appeal for voluntary contributions.
He said to the people, "Take from among you an offering to the Lord; whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s offering:" (Exodus 35: 5)
And the people did
In fact, they brought their offering with such generosity that soon they had more than enough and Moses had to tell them to stop.
In Exodus 36:6-7 we read: “So Moses gave command, and the word was proclaimed throughout the camp, ‘Let neither man nor woman do anything more for the offering for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing; for the stuff they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.”
CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT?
Can you just picture having so much money instead of collection time – the plate would be offered back - like what the kids would have seen, door to door, Halloween night
The importance of the people’s offering in Exodus goes beyond the abundance of the gift,
However. Right away, God’s people became spiritually conditioned to taking up a collection as an integral part of a ‘living religion’
Centuries later, when they failed to pay their tithes, the great prophets accused the people of robbing God and pointed to this neglect as the cause of their national misfortunes.
Listen to what God says in Malachi 3:8-9.
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘how are we robbing thee?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house;”
What God makes clear is that we are actually robbing him if we fail to give tithes and offerings.
If you are looking for texts about money - open the Old Testament and you will stumble all over them.
The same thing happens when we look at the New Testament.
Sometimes Church members or officials believe they are doing the clergy a favour by relieving them of the necessity of mentioning money in the pulpit.
Actually, they are advising us to ignore a large part of the New Testament.
If we want to ignore what the gospels has to say about money, we shall have to go through them with scissors, cutting away ONE Third of our Lord’s parables and ONE Sixth of his total teaching.
Now it is certain that Jesus had a larger interest in money than its place on a collection plate.
He was concerned with the way that people earned, administered, invested and spent their money.
In fact, he spoke harshly of those who would give their money to God without giving their heart and allegiance.
Which we see today in the Gospel, where Jesus is chastising the acts of the scribes for their visible displays of piety and need for public honours, while behind the scenes that were taking from the poorest of society,
“They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers”
And we hear where Jesus is not impressed with the large givings of the rich but instead focuses on the small givings of a widow that had so little
Jesus is lifting up her givings because our Lord knows our hearts – knows that she has given out of sacrifice not abundance
Nevertheless, he also made it clear that money is important and that we do not give ourselves to God unless we give him our money.
It remains for the Apostle Paul to provide the preacher with some really potent texts about money,
Most of them in his two letters to the Corinthians.
We get the impression that the members of the church at Corinth were fairly affluent and were doing well enough in meeting local expenses, but they were not giving too liberally to their outreach fund.
In the eighth and ninth chapters of his Second Letter, Paul resorts to a rather common ploy of fundraisers.
He tries to embarrass the Corinthians by telling them about the amazing generosity of some smaller struggling churches.
That’s where he comes up with all those texts that are the delight of any fundraiser’s heart.
Yet spiritually none would have a more powerful effect than the opening verse of Chapter Sixteen in his first letter.
After having discussed a variety of subjects pertaining to the Christian life, Paul opens Chapter Sixteen with the words, "And now about the collection in aid of God’s people."
Paul quite clearly felt that the subject of money was very much one of the subjects to be considered when talking about Christian life and, in this case, it was the next logical item on the spiritual agenda.
The power of this simple statement lies in the fact that it directly follows the fifteenth chapter where Paul talks of the Resurrection that holds forth the hope of immortality and closes with the admonition,
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain." (1Cor. 15:58)
In order to illustrate the nature of this work of the Lord in which we should ’abound’ because of our hope of immortality, Paul specifies it without pausing.
"And now about the collection in aid of God’s people".
In Paul’s mind, the Gospel of the Resurrection and the collection in aid of God’s people are part of the same great reality in the Christian life.
From the Bible then, we get ample justification for talking about money.
There is another reason for talking about money, however. I think you’ll agree that most people want preachers to speak to them about the important things in their lives.
Let’s not pretend that money is unimportant - unless we have discovered some other means of paying our bills and providing for security in our old age.
Most people like to talk about money; some people can’t talk about anything else.
Eavesdrop on a business lunch this week and you will definitely hear the subject of government tax policies such as the HST or the like.
Listen to shoppers and you will hear them boasting at how much money they saved or complaining about how much money they spent.
Listen in at a family dinner table and eventually the subject of money will come up - the cost of straightening a child’s teeth, or whether they can afford to buy a new car.
Even retired people down in Florida have two prime subjects of conversation - their golf scores and their dividends.
Money matters in varying degrees to all of us.
So it should.
Money represents our very lives.
It is our time, our energy and our ability reduced to negotiable form.
Consider your credit card statement, your bank book or your RRSP statement.
Those pieces of paper represents you and everything about you.
It is as symbolic as a wedding ring.
It represents your good judgement and broad experience that somewhere along the line guided you to make a saving.
It represents your scale of values that believes in , in what you spend it on and on saving money rather than spending your whole income to the last dollar.
It represents your earning power, the position you hold, the hours you worked, the time you expended in order to have a little capital beyond the necessary expenses.
It represents your qualifications, your years of training and education, the upbringing in your home, the gifts and abilities you inherited from past generations.
Those pieces of paper tell your life story… they are you in negotiable form.
If our money authentically represents us,
Then it follows that what we do with our money…we do in real sense with ourselves.
When we give money to the Church we give ourselves to the Church.
That becomes doubly true when we consider what happens to the money that we place on the collection plate or by PAR.
It becomes an extension of our bodies - another pair of hands, carrying burdens we cannot carry in our community, our nation and around the world.
It becomes another pair of legs, going where we cannot go.
It becomes another set of vocal chords, teaching and preaching where our voices cannot be heard, speaking words of comfort and healing to broken, defeated people whom we shall never meet.
The Church takes our money, representing our time, skill, labour and personality and uses it in the service of Christ.
To the extent that we give our money, we give ourselves to Jesus Christ.
It is not enough to say that money should be an integral part of Christian obedience.
There can be no Christian obedience that does not include our money.
If Christ is ‘the Lord of all life’ he is surely the Lord of that which authentically represents our lives.
If Christ has a valid claim on our time, energy and skill… he has a valid claim on that which represents our time, energy and skill.
You can almost gauge a person’s Christian obedience by the closeness of their money to Christ.
Where are our priorities? Is the use of our money for God’s work first or last on our list?
Sometimes as we go through monthly bills we think, "how can I afford to tithe?"
In the Old Testament tithing is defined as giving ten percent of our income back to God.
And remembering what Malachi wrote, it is clear that God views that ten percent as his, not ours.
Well, if we are dedicated to using 100% of our disposable income to maintain the highest possible standard of living, then the answer is we can’t tithe.
But is that what we are called to do? Is that good stewardship of our money?
A final reason to talk about money, is the current needs of so many people during this economic downturn and the role and responsibility that the church faces in the midst of that.
One thing that is certainly impressive to me as a newcomer to Farringdon is to see all the projects on the go or recently completed and all the ministries that flow out of Farringdon.
When I was doing my homework – back in December of last year – about Farringdon and then in meeting with Glenn Young and the rest of the parochial committee
I was impressed to see all the resources that support so many ministries outside the church.
And I am continually impressed with the fact that despite the times and despite the fact that so many churches that are struggling and in some cases closing down
Here at Farringdon there are several building projects
There is the Narthex, the parking lot, the new pews and the new flooring
All in the works for several years, yet all happening during hard financial times
Farringdon as a church is declaring to all that drive by… that we are building for the future
Whether you realize it or not Farringdon is making a very counter-cultural statement
This is not evangelism in the sense of standing on your soap box in the city centre and declaring that Jesus is Lord, but it is saying that there is a hope in Jesus – there is a future here
There are already many, many ministries that are carried out by the congregation and staff of Farringdon as they seek to spread the gospel: winning souls to Christ;
Caring for the sick, the elderly and those in crisis;
Nurturing us all (young and old) in our Christian growth;
So visibly represented, in this medium sized church and yet with a commitment to the whole family as seen by having Jeremy, our Youth minister, as a full-time staff member – and all that he does – this is truly a strong message of the gospel… to all ages
… and the list goes on and on
Many of these efforts are supported and made possible by the direct involvement and efforts of the members of our congregation, but these and future ministries also need our financial support.
As the times get tougher and tighter, the church needs to be a place where those outside it look and see ‘God’s kingdom building’ at work
They need to see the church not as some organization that is surviving
But as something that out of God’s abundant blessings, is blessing the community all around
If we believe that we are following God’s will and seeking to serve him with these ministries, then we must support them financially.
Let me close by relating a short story to you:
In London, England there was a man in a congregation named Emil Mettler who owned a restaurant.
Mettler was a close friend of Albert Schweitzer and acted as a kind of agent for Schweitzer in Britain.
It was his policy that a Christian worker was never allowed to pay for a meal in his restaurant.
On one occasion, however, he happened to open his cash register in the presence of a Secretary of the London Missionary Society.
The Secretary was astonished to see among the bills and coins - a six-inch nail.
What was it doing there? - Mettler explained, "I keep this nail with my money to remind me of the price that Christ paid for my salvation and of what I owe him in return."
As our passage from Hebrews records and was read today:
Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
We give as the Widow gave – Mite-ily - because we are blessed FIRST by God
Because we ARE saved
adapted from a sermon from Rev. Peter Case – which was adapted from a sermon by the Rev. Leonard Griffiths