1 Peter 4:7-11 (MSG)
Everything in the world is about to be wrapped up, so take nothing for granted. Stay wide-awake in prayer. Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!
Psalm 24 (NRSV)
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory. Selah
This month, we’re working together to learn about all the ways that we give, and the ways we can give. We as United Methodists commit to giving through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. Each of the next five weeks will be focused on one of those ways, this week being our financial gifts. Starting today, I want you to think about the ways you’ll commit to giving in the next month, six months, or year. And at the end of the series, on November 3, you’ll have the opportunity to make that commitment in worship.
So today, gifts. This is perhaps the toughest topic to talk about in terms of stewardship. Because nobody likes talking about money in church, right, or at all for that matter? There’s a reason we shout out volunteers who’ve given their time, but don’t shout out how much money people tithe. It has become an uncomfortable topic, because there’s so much expectation that has become involved in it, in our own minds.
So, everybody, let’s take a deep breath and keep going together. We’re going to be okay.
We’ve learned likely before, that we are supposed to give a specific percentage number of our income to go to the church. Raise your hand if that’s the teaching you’ve learned at some point in your life. I believe the number I learned was 10%, automatically, no questions asked. What were some of your numbers you were taught?
If you can do that number, if that’s important to you, that is great and I’m not here to stop you from making that commitment. But sometimes, when we think of financial giving with such a rigid, fixed, monetary value attached to it, we miss the why.
Our money is an investment. It’s what we choose to invest our lives in, and the places our money goes tend to be direct reflections of what we value. If an interest in music was valuable to you, you might take piano or voice lessons. If you cared about animals, you may purchase a pass to the San Diego Zoo. If you were passionate about helping the environment, you might give to an organization working on climate change legislation. This sort of give and take is true for all areas of our lives, not just the church.
Today, our New Testament scripture reminds us of the why, and that why is, simply enough, love.
1 Peter 4 says this:
Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and God will get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.
“Love makes up for practically everything… Love each other as if your life depended on it.” This is why we give. This is why we choose to invest at the end of the day. It’s because we want to pour into something that leads to love. And so we invest in a lot of ways, one way being financially.
When I was about to start seminary, I had a conversation with the pastor of my home church that taught me the perspective on giving that I have now. He knew my family, and he knows my background and even spent some time in Boston, where I’d be going to school that next fall.
The summer before starting seminary, he asked me for two things. The first, was if I’d attend the next Staff-Parish Relations Committee meeting and update them on my journey in ministry. The second, he asked for my budget for my first year of seminary. I quickly made the budget and sent it to him, sort of confused as to why. And I did attend that meeting, where they heard about my call and what I was looking forward to in the next few years. The committee then told me they wanted to continue supporting me, both through their prayers, but also through the expenses that were coming in this next chapter. The pastor’s vision was for me to come out of seminary debt free. And the church agreed to support him in that vision.
The church, who had baptized, raised, and taught me my entire life, continued to invest in me financially. They were responsible for me as a candidate in ministry, honoring my call and my gifts into pastoral ministry, but they also took those gifts I had and used their own financial gifts as a form of stewardship. I did not make it out of seminary debt free, because of undergraduate loans I’ll be paying off the rest of my life, but because of their generosity and commitment to stewardship, to loving me, I graduated seminary with no more debt accrued, an enormous blessing.
I share this, because I believe strongly in us giving back to the people and places that have given to us. That is what stewardship is about. It’s about finding things that fill our souls, and then investing in them so that they can fill the souls of more people. For many of us, the church is one of those places.
Our Psalm today reminds us that all we have, all that inhabits the earth, all of that is God’s. It belongs to God and it is God, and so we are instructed and entrusted to be good stewards of all that belongs to God.
Perhaps our gifts are a way to practice that.
Today, as you walked in, you each received a five-dollar bill. You were told it’s for you, and I’ll just clarify that there is no major catch. This is for you, and you all get to take this home today. This is a gift to you from us here at Mission Hills United Methodist Church. The church is giving this very physical gift to you for no reason other than that you are loved, and that we want to invest in you.
Now, here’s the baby catch.
You can take your five-dollar bill home today, but we are asking you to steward this gift for the rest of our sermon series, until November 3. That is going to look differently for all of us, as to what that means. But we want you to use this gift to be love. Maybe for you, it means you’ll use it to feed your soul through a pastry and a cup of coffee. Maybe you’ll find a way to invest this money for the next month. Maybe you’ll use it to purchase something the church could benefit from. Maybe it can serve as a startup fund for a service project or fundraiser for the church. Maybe you’ll be empowered to save more money alongside it to give back.
There’s no judgment in how you steward the gift, but our ask for you is that you’re intentional about being a steward in this way. At the end of our series, we’ll invite you to come back with that which you’ve stewarded, from whatever comes from the five-dollar bills in your hands. That might be a full belly. It might be a new friend you were able to help. It might be the same five-dollar bill, or maybe more money. You can be as creative as you want, but that is your call.
Already, even in the three months I’ve been here, I can see the powerful ways you all invest in each other, as the church. You inspire me, through your gifts, to give also, in the ways I can, stewarding the investments made in me through love.
Sitting in board meetings with our leadership team, eating after worship treats in community, filing in and out of the pews on Sunday, I know the investment this church family has made, and I know how important stewarding that investment is as well. Gifts challenge us to invest in something bigger than ourselves, to honor and glorify God.
So this is your call. Notice the ways this church invests in you, and in those you love. If you’re newer or can’t think of anything, see that five-dollar bill as a symbol of that investment. Ask yourself how you can be a steward of those gifts. Then think about how you will do that. It might be a percentage you’d like to tithe. It might be something different.
We are not called to give from a decimal point. Rather, we are called to give from the heart.
May we be generous in our giving, seeing our gifts as an investment from God. May we seek guidance as to how we will be good stewards of all the gifts of this church and beyond. And may we know that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God.
Let us pray:
Good and gracious God, we give you thanks for all that we have. You provide for us more than we need, and you call us to steward all that we have for the betterment of your kindom. Help us know what that looks like for us. Stir in us generosity and commitment, that we may do your work in this world through our gifts. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.