Brothers and sisters in Christ – stewards of God, disciples of Jesus – grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
How are you doing so far? We are in week four of our fall stewardship worship series Empowered by Grace! Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the essays and bible studies that you’ve been taking home. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to view a few of the online bible study videos. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the Mission Moments about stewardship that your brothers and sisters in Christ have shared. Hopefully you’ve been able to hold your congregation in prayer as we’ve embarked on this journey of stewardship. Hopefully.
This is actually the first time in about five years that we have taken a journey through stewardship in such a direct way. So it continues to be my hope and prayer that through things like the Empowered by Grace! worship series, you and I will grow in relationship with God and each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’ve always found it interesting when someone approaches me and says something like, “You know what pastor, that worship service was horrible. I didn’t get anything from it.” Or someone will say to me, “That was the worst bible study I’ve ever been too. I didn’t get anything out of that. What a complete waste of my time.”
I find these statements interesting and try to offer a response when I can because I think they reflect a serious spiritual issue in our lives. Sometimes I’ll offer, “I’m sorry that you don’t feel like you got anything from worship today. But I’m more concerned if you didn’t give anything during worship? After all, worship, for followers of Jesus, isn’t about getting something, it’s about us giving back to God for all that God gives to us.” Or I might say, “I’m sorry that you feel you didn’t get anything out of that bible study, but I hope you were able to give something during it – especially to the others who were there with you that may have been blessed by your thoughts.”
Brothers and sisters, you and I are recipients of God’s grace. Everything that we have ever been, are today, or ever will be is a gift from God. And everything that we have ever had, or have today, or ever will have is God’s…first. That is why we gather together in community to worship. That is why we are on a lifelong journey of learning and discovery as we listen together for God to speak to us through holy scripture.
Life in Christ is not about our selfish ambitions of getting. Life in Christ is about the selfless ambition of giving.
Do you know that Jesus spoke more often money about than any other topic? More often than prayer. More often than witnessing. Even more often than faith. Jesus spoke clearly and directly about money. And going beyond even Jesus’ teaching, the entire bible is filled with stories and teachings on the topic of money.
I think the reason why so much of scripture, and such a major focus of Jesus’ teaching, addresses the issue of money is because of this. Money and the ways in which we use money can have one of two outcomes – good or evil.
Let’s face it, money is one of the most powerful weapons that the devil uses to separate us from each other and from God. Throughout the history of creation money is used to destroy homes, consume businesses, overturn countries, divide churches, and darken the lives of people we claim to love.
So the challenge that I believe is before us today as we explore the theme Empowered by Grace to Give! is this. How is the way you and I handle the money God entrusts to us reflecting the abundant grace that God gives to us through a savior named Jesus? Is the use of our money tearing people and places apart? Dividing and conquering no matter the cost or the destruction to others. Or…is the use of our money building people and places up? Restoring wholeness and shining light where neither existed before.
As we think about how we are being empowered by God’s grace to give, what might that look like? Have our giving patterns and habits changed since we were teenagers? Or do our giving patterns and habits still reflect the image of a little child holding on tightly to a toy and yelling “mine!”
The statistics on giving in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and at Good Shepherd are quite striking. Across the ELCA, congregational members give an average of about 2% of their income to God’s work through the church. Based upon the median household income in Burleigh county and the number of members currently on the membership list at Good Shepherd, we don’t even come close to a 2% average. This is a deep spiritual issue in congregations like Good Shepherd. It remains a focus of much of my prayer life and study. And I’m not just concerned that we believe giving less than 1% to God’s life-changing work through the church we love is ok. I’m much more concerned with what we are doing with the other 90 or 95 or 99% of the income that God is entrusting to our care.
In verse 10 of our Old Testament reading today, we heard “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This is also vanity.”
The great theologian, and one of the leaders of the sixteenth century reformation, Martin Luther wrote a wonderful reflection about this section of King Solomon’s book Ecclesiastes . Nearly 500 years ago Luther wrote, “Solomon does not condemn riches, nor does he forbid that we acquire riches or food or drink. But he calls these things gifts of God in order to teach us to put down our anxieties; then we shall wait for all of these things from God by faith and when God wills shall surrender them with patience…Therefore riches are not to be rejected. Nor are they granted to us by God for the purpose of rejecting them or abstaining from them, but rather so that we use them and distribute them to the poor…Solomon intends to forbid vain anxieties, so that we may happily enjoy the things that are present and not care at all about the things that are in the future, lest we permit the present moment, our moment, to slip away.” [Luther’s Works 15:93]
Hopefully by now you’ve noticed the images that have been playing on the screens during worship. Brothers and sisters, these images are just a few hundred examples of the ways our financial giving is being used by God through Good Shepherd each and every day. It’s our moment.
If we give $1 of our money or an hour of our time in service we are not only blessed, we are also a blessing to those who we are sitting beside right now and millions of others around the world, including our brothers and sisters in Paris this weekend through Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Disaster Response. Our giving through the church has that significant of an impact.
If you haven’t yet had a chance to look at the two giving charts that are part of the bible study packet you’ve been receiving as you leave worship, I encourage you to do so this week. Look at where your household rests in the Annual Congregational Giving of Good Shepherd. I invite you to prayerfully consider how God may be calling you in your future annual giving to support God’s ministry and mission through this congregation.
And also, take some time to look at the Empowered by Grace! First fruits Percentage Giving chart. Where does your household fall on this chart today? I invite you to prayerfully consider how God may be calling you to increase your weekly giving by 1 or 2% in the next year.
The images on the screen behind me, and the stories of the brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of those images, are possible because you and I are willing to support them with our prayer, our time, and our money. And whether you believe it or not, the ability to pray, the experience of time, and the freedom of the use of money are all gracious gifts from God. Because you know what, it all belongs to God.
As we gather for worship next week, the final week of our fall stewardship worship series, you and I will be invited to make a commitment to support God’s work taking place through Good Shepherd. To support this work with our prayer, our time, and our money. I look forward to how God will call us to respond. Because brother and sisters in Christ, you and I are empowered by God’s grace to give.
Please join me in prayer.
Good and gracious God, we give thanks for your generosity toward us, all that we have is yours. All that we ever will be is yours. You call us to live generously from all that we are given. Grant us loving and thankful hearts. May we continue to grow each day in what it means to be empowered by grace to give faithfully and generously. In Jesus’ name we pray. And all God’s children say, Amen.