Monday, October 5, 2015

Answering God's Call: A Stewardship Sermon

It was Sunday morning and a little boy didn’t want to go to church. He did his best to resist but in the end his parents won out. Everything seemed to be going just fine. But then, during the service, the pastor’s sermon dragged on and on. It felt like it would never end. The little boy grew more and more restless with each passing minute. Finally, he leaned over to his mother and whispered: “Mommy, if we give him money now, will he let us go?” 

Many of us may have felt like that little boy at one time or another. And perhaps especially so when it comes time for the Annual Giving Campaign, which we’re kicking off here at St. Luke’s this morning. It’s perfectly understandable. Talking about money and giving to the church can make some folks feel uncomfortable. And depending on our history, we may have been involved in churches in the past that used guilt to inspire giving. 

It’s so very sad if that happens. Because giving to the church is not about guilt; it’s about stewardship. And stewardship is really just another way of talking about discipleship. To talk about discipleship is to talk about answering the call to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. And by following Jesus we know the way to the truth that sets us free to receive the priceless gift of abundant life. 

What could be better than that? 

I’m reminded of a hymn we sang at the 9 o’clock service last Sunday. It’s one of my all-time favorites. The words were written by the Anglican priest and poet George Herbert, and they sum up the beauty and the joy of answering the call to follow Jesus. 

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.  
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength;
such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length;
such a strength as makes his guest. 
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
such a joy as none can move;
such a love as none can part;
such a heart as joys in love.  
(Hymnal #487) 

Can you hear it? Can you hear the depths of joy and gratitude to God in those words? Can you hear God’s call to feast, to friendship, and to life-changing communion with Him? 

Because that’s what the invitation to give our time, our talents, and our money to our church family is really all about.  It’s an invitation to new life. And the response to that invitation takes the form of ministry. 

Ministry is not reserved for a special class of “professional Christians.” It’s not just bishops, priests, and deacons who are ministers. On the contrary, every baptized Christian is a minister. Every person who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever is called to use their time, their talents, and their money to do the work of ministry. 

St. Paul unpacks all of this in his first letter to the Corinthians. He writes: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Cor 12:4-6)

Paul underscores the truth that we all share the same faith. We’re all baptized into the same Lord. We all belong to that part of the Body of Christ that we call St. Luke’s. 

And yet, Paul also highlights the ways in which we are all different. In our baptisms, each of us is uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit to make offerings that no one else can in quite the same way. Regardless of how young or old we are, regardless of whether or not we’re new to St. Luke’s or we’ve been here since this church started in the cow pasture, every single one of us possesses spiritual gifts for ministry. And God calls each of us to use those gifts for the good of St. Luke’s. 

St. Paul continues by noting that “each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits” (1 Cor 12:7, The Message). For “to each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7, NRSV)

There’s no such thing as a “small” or “unimportant” gift. All of it matters. Everything given to support the ministries of St. Luke’s makes a difference. Each offering gives glory to God. And everything we offer bears witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. 

It’s a basic stewardship principle that what we keep, we lose; but what we give, we have. 

What we keep, we lose. What we give, we have. 

If we hold on to our gifts, we lose the joy of working with God to touch people’s lives with His love and grace. But if we share what we’ve been given, it comes back to us and to the whole parish with countless blessings. 

Many of us have experienced this in our commitments to the ministries of St. Luke’s. How many times I’ve heard someone say, “I feel like I’ve received more than I’ve given by participating in this ministry.” Or: “I entered into this to share with others, but I feel like I was the one ministered to.” When that happens, it’s a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work - empowering, renewing, and transforming. 

God calls all of us to follow Jesus. God calls all of us to gather regularly for corporate worship. God calls all of us to work, to pray, and to give our gifts for the spread of the Kingdom. Those gifts include not only our spiritual gifts, but also our financial gifts. The money we generously give to St. Luke’s makes it possible for us to worship God in the beauty of holiness. And it makes it possible for us to fulfill our mission of caring for one another, spiritual growth, and bringing others closer to God through Jesus Christ. 

Along with a letter from me, most of you should have also received a copy of a prayer card. We have extra copies of the prayer card in the back of church and in the church office if you need one. This is the prayer on that card: 

Thank you, Lord, for giving me a loving spiritual home at St. Luke’s.  
What do you want to do through me for the good of St. Luke’s? 
Help me to hear your call to serve and to do your will with a grateful heart. 

As we enter into reflection on what it means to be stewards of God’s gifts, I invite you to use this prayer in your daily walk with Christ. I invite you to prayerfully reflect on what St. Luke’s means to you and to your family. I invite you to prayerfully listen for God’s call to serve one another and this community through the ministries of St. Luke’s. And I invite you to prayerfully listen for God’s call to support our ministries with your financial commitment. 

After taking time to pray and to listen for God’s call, all of us will have an opportunity to answer God’s call to make a financial commitment to St. Luke’s beginning on Sunday, October 18. 

As we prayerfully discern how to answer God’s call to give our spiritual and financial gifts, I pray that we will be grateful for belonging to this wonderful church family of St. Luke’s. And I pray that we will answer God’s call with the joy that comes from belonging to Jesus and to a loving spiritual home that welcomes everyone’s gifts for the work of ministry. 

My friends, every single one of you is minister of the Gospel. Every single one of you is gifted by the Holy Spirit. And God is calling you to serve and support St. Luke’s with the gifts of your time, your talents, and your money.

How will you answer God’s call?

No comments: