Due to some technical difficulties we were not able to record this past week’s sermon. So I am providing to you the scripture text ALONG with my sermon script. I hope God blesses you as you read through what I felt led to speak about this past week.
Epistle Lesson: 2 Corinthians 9
Now it is not necessary for me to write you about the ministry to the saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be; otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written,
“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Over these past 5 weeks, we have talked about what it means to be a Simple Church as in a simple process for forming mature disciples of Jesus Christ. The leadership of this church has and is continuing to do the work of designing a mission strategy that is clear, with thought out sequential steps in the process, that is aligned with all of the ministries at Red Valley, and that is focused on nothing but God through this mission process. Red Valley’s leadership believes that our Mission is to form disciples of Jesus Christ who are a Community of Faith is Called by God: to learn, to befriend, and to send forth! We have over these last 4 weeks gone into detail about what each of these ministry steps in the process looks like. But now we are in need of supporting our leadership, supporting our mission strategy, which we believe ultimately supports the Missieo Dei, or God’s Mission for the renewal and transformation of the world.
In our reading from Scripture today, we have a letter, actually believed by scholars to be Paul’s 5th or even 6th letter, as 2nd Corinthians seems to be of a compilation or fragments of letters put together, but in our Scriptures we have what we call 1st and 2nd Corinthians. Anyways, from Paul’s letter in 2nd Corinthians, more specifically Paul’s letter in the 9th chapter begins by saying, “Now it is not necessary for me to write to you about the ministry to the Saints, for I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia.” Pretty much what Paul is saying here, is that I do not need to remind you of what I told you in my previous letter, BECAUSE I know you are eager to make a difference in the world through your financial generosity, which I boast about and tell others about when I speak of you and that community of faith.
So what is Paul referring to when he speaks about the ministry to the Saints. Well, let’s back it up to one of his previous letters….1 Corinthians chapter 16. Paul writes, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: you should follow the directions I gave to the churches of Galatia. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.” Paul continues to tell them that he will take their gift to Jersualem and this gift is used for the poor in the Jerusalem Church. In essence, these two chapters, 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, may be two letters, one to the church in Corinth, and the other to the Church in Achaia asking for their support in the mission of taking care of the poor. Paul, needs the support of the church for the vitality of the mission he was commissioned to carry out. And Paul gets down to business when he says, “The one who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”
Now many of you all know that last week I spoke to you all about a conference event Diana and I had gone to about Evangelism and Communication. I want to share with you about another conference from the 5 Talent Academy that Diana, Barbara Carne, Charlotte, and I attended this past Spring. It was about Stewardship and Financial Generosity. Now is the time when if you haven’t already, you are probably thinking, “Great, Pastor wants more money.” And that’s not exactly what I am saying. I want to share with you today that I believe in this mission strategy and I will support this mission with my full tithe of 10% of my household income, because I believe in this mission. But I want each of you to also know, that that’s not going to be enough to support this mission.
Now Clif Christopher, the keynote speaker at this past Spring’s Academy would tell me that we should never ask for money without showing you the results of the mission. He says this because the number 1 reason why anyone gives to any organization is because of their belief in the mission. Now this is true for most anyone of any age. When Clif first said that, it struck a chord within me. I began thinking about my own personal story of how I came to be one who tithed. And yet again, one of the most formative places for my spiritual life was when I was working at Camp Overlook. I remember the day that I received my pay check for working at the camp, which by the way I think the counselors and I had worked it to be less than a dollar an hour, and I took my freshly printed check from the Director Ron Robey, and brought it back to him and asked, “Could you take 10% off the top of this check before giving it to me to go towards the Camp Funds?” His reaction was truly priceless…apparently it is not every day an employee asks to give 10% back to his employer. Of course, legally he told me he could not, but that I could deposit the check and always write a check for 10% back to him. And sure enough that’s what I did for the next 3 years of working at Camp Overlook. The reason why…I believed in the mission and I saw the fruits of the labors that it was producing. I saw in the children’s lives how they were giving their lives over to Christ, how they were growing in their faith, and how they desired a deeper relationship with God because of what camp was doing. I saw not only how it affected the kids, but also the staff, and myself. I saw the formation taking place and how much more I desired to be in deeper relationships with God and my community of faith. I told you this story, because I believed in the mission and I believe others are like me and that our giving is based upon primarily our belief in the mission. I want to tell you a sad story now. After leaving camp, I graduated college, and I went off to be a part-time pastor and a full-time student. I continued to tithe, but not to my faith community that I was serving. Now you may think what a horrible pastor I was. How could I not give my money to the churches that I was serving. I can tell you exactly how I could do it…I didn’t want to pay my own salary. I did not believe in the mission that my previous churches held, because their mission was survival. And that is not the mission Christ gave to the Church and that is not the mission that Christ gave to me. To sum it up, the mission that God gave to the Church is to change lives and I believe that if we work our mission strategy that is exactly what we will be doing. We will be forming mature Christians as long as we focus, pray, and work the plans that God is leading us in.
The second reason why people give to an organization according to Clif is their regard for its staff leadership. I believe the leadership at Red Valley to be a growing and maturing group in their leadership and in their faith. I cannot, and will not though stand up here and tell you that you should give to this mission because I am such a great leader. What I can do though is this: I can tell you that I am a young leader, who continues to seek better practices, and more faithful ways of leading this congregation. If any of you ever question me about something I have done or am doing, please pick up the telephone, call me, and we can discuss whatever issue you may have. Please do not see me as someone who is unapproachable. I love to have conversations and I believe wholeheartedly the worst thing any leader can do is to shut off communication with his or her church.
Finally, the third reason and last one for today of why do people give to an organization according to Clif is because of the fiscal responsibility of the organization. In other words, is the church throwing away your money and is it staying above float. Currently as Red Valley, over the last few years, we have floated, but truthfully and honestly, very thinly. We have pulled it out each time in December and made it work. As to those who have been charged to look over our finances and our budgets, I believe this past year we have grown tremendously. We have stopped doing what has always been done before, and we are thinking, studying, praying, and brainstorming ways to raise the finances we need for our mission. I cannot say it enough, tell Charlotte, Elneta, Barbara, Steve Miller, Bob Weihold, Dwain, and Diana Hackett thank you thank you, thank you for the time and work they put into this finance committee. The long hours they have spent looking at better and more faithful practices as a Church.
But let me spend just a moment look at finances in a way that many do not. Jesus speaks about how we cannot serve God and Mammon or money. The thing of it is, is that our generosity, our giving by our finances, is no less a spiritual discipline than our giving of ourselves to prayer, giving of our time to the poor or to the church. It is no less of a spiritual discipline than giving of ourselves to a study. And so the act of generosity is not a money issue, but it is a spiritual issue. If we are to not give of our finances to the mission of God, but rather we would rather keep it for our physical wealth, then that is placing an idol above God. And if we believe that other organizations can do the mission of God better than the Church then we have a Church issue.
Some of you may be thinking, but I have given all that I can and still live. And to you that are at that point, I say thank you. However, I also know that there are other ways to give than just primarily out of the pocket which receives your base income.
There are two other pockets as Clif speaks about that I want to mention in case you have never thought about it in this way. I know I surely had not. The second pocket other than the earned-income pocket is the capital pocket. In this pocket it stores our accumulated resources . “In it are stocks, bonds, pieces of property, insurance policies, savings accounts, and inheritances we may have received and put away.” These are the resources that have been placed into our care, but are not typically apart of our regular cash flow. But you may be thinking, “Pastor Josh, we aren’t building something right now that would cost that much money.” And I am thinking, “Not yet we aren’t…but what about years down the road when we really want to add on because we have so many small groups meeting in this church that on Sunday morning, we can’t fit them all.” We have to be thinking about the future. Or like when years ago the Oak Tree was taken down and no one thought about what would happen to the pavement out there when those roots began to die. Do you trust your Financial Committees enough to hold onto or invest those accounts for things as those needs arise?
And finally, the third pocket that Clif speaks about is the Estate Pocket. Now I have to say when Clif spoke about this subject, it really struck me and continues to stick with me. Clif and unless he is living in an alternate reality than the one we are, stated a very simple fact, “We all are going to die one day.” Everyone of us will have to die…and ALL that we accumulated, all our treasures will not be going with us. And we, even in death, are responsible for how they are going to be used. What do you think, if you earnestly prayed to God and asked, “God what should I do with my possessions after I have died?” would God say? Now imagine with me for a moment, now I know this is not what we came to Sunday morning to think about, but think about those who have passed away in just the last few years. What if each of those individuals had said in their will, “After all my bills are paid, I want 10 percent of my estate (a tithe) to go to Red Valley UMC.” Imagine with me the endless possibilities of the ministries that could funded with this giving alone. Now I know that when I go to a family who has recently lost their loved one and they say in lieu of flowers we wish for the donations to go to Red Valley UMC, I follow up with a question as to which fund they would like those to go to. I tell you this, because I think it is important for all of us to understand how and why we spend money in some ways we do. I tell them that those donations can go to any fund in the church, but I specifically ask about 4 funds. The General Fund which the money can be spent for anything in our budget, the pastor’s discretionary fund which goes to helping out the immediate needs of our community, a memorial fund that can be spent only on lasting fixtures much like our communion ware or this projection system was paid for. And finally our Endowment, which anyone can add to at any time where the principal that you give cannot be used, but the interest from it can be used for anything for the life of the church. I have heard of some churches because of such a large endowment that their entire budget was run from their endowment interest and 100% of their offerings was used for mission. And so there are many ways to give and many different types of gifts.
Though to hear me clearly, I am not talking about money, I am talking about ministry opportunities missed because we lack the funds to do them. Paul says, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you, and arrange in advance for this bountiful gift that you have promised, so that it may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion…Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” And so I am not asking you today to take all the money in your wallets and place them in the offering plate to appease your minds and spirits. What I do ask of you though is this….To spend some time thinking about the mission that Red Valley has placed before you, to prayerfully consider how you are giving of yourselves, your time, your finances, your presence, your gifts, and your service and ask yourselves, “What can I give, that I can give not because I am told to, but because I want to see God’s mission fulfilled through my faith community?”
Today, during the Offering you will hear the Choir singing a new doxology found on page 94 in your hymnal. There are a few different words that I want to point out that as we sing it today and for a while now as our new doxology that as the offering plates are coming forward to be presented to God, we are in PRAISE! We praise God for giving us the abundance to be able to support God’s will and God’s mission. We sing our Alleluia! Our praises because we are a joyful giver. We praise the triune God for God who is the giver of all our gifts, Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of Salvation that uplifts, and the Holy Spirit who has shown us and continues to guide us in our faith journey. Praise praise praise, Alleluia! Amen.