Monthly Archives: November 2018

“Giving to God Our Income” 11.18.2018 Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 • November 18, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

This is the final week in our worship series “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” Our theme this week is “Giving to God our Income.”

I pray that this worship series has been a blessing to you and your family. And as we travel this journey of faith together, I pray that this series has challenged you at times, maybe even ticked you off a little bit.

Most importantly though, I pray this series has helped you grow more deeply and fully into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and a steward of God. Helped you grow more deeply in your relationship with other brothers and sisters in Christ. I mean, come on…how can you not feel the Spirit’s presence as the prayers of our brothers and sisters hover over our heads as we worship.

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The eighth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth has been our guide. As we conclude today, Paul invites us to live out our faith joyfully and generously “…their abundant joy” he writes, “and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” These words are a direct reflection of our worship together today. Because today, we will be invited to enter an intentional time that will allow us to prayerfully make a financial commitment before God to support the mission and ministry God is calling our congregation to live out in the world.

Our giving to God – whether it’s giving our time, our spiritual gifts, our prayer, or through our financial ability – can often become secondary to a million other things that occupy our attention, time, thoughts, and money. Sometimes our giving to God can become selective, inconsistent, impulsive, or something we do out of guilt way more than we do out of joy.

Paul invites the church in Corinth, and I believe the church of Good Shepherd today, to give joyfully and to give generously. God, and God alone makes it possible for each and every one of us to give in ways that overflow with joy and generosity. For some of us, that means two coins. For others, that means abundantly more than the spare change in our pocket today. Whichever side of that spectrum we find ourselves on, you and I have an opportunity today, and in every day of our life of faith, to give generously. Generously at levels of abundance that we may never have considered possible before.

There are ways in my own life of faith, ways far beyond anything my spouse or I could have imagined when God made it possible for us to give. To give in ways that bring us joy each and every day. To give in ways that allow us to experience God’s presence in our lives in ways we could never have imagined were possible.

I know first hand that many of you have experienced something similar in your faith life. Throughout this worship series, I’ve asked dozens of people who call Good Shepherd their faith home this question. “In what way(s) has generosity brought you joy as you live as a follower of Jesus?! Either through your own generosity or in someone else’s generosity toward you.”

One person said, “By giving to others, I believe I become a little closer to the person God created me to be.”

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An 8-year only boy asked if he was going to get to fill out a commitment card again this year. Yes, someone is actually excited about this faith practice. This 8-year old boy has set aside money from his monthly allowance in the pastor year to give to the work God has done through Good Shepherd. It’s a faith practice he began last year after completing a commitment card during our fall stewardship worship series.

A young mother said that as she was generous she, “ experienced joy through the overwhelming freedom from her own sinfulness or shortcomings in that act or moment (control, greed, selfishness, perfectionism, entitlement, lack of trust etc.). As a receiver of generous giving,” she said, “the way I have experienced joy was through authentic humility and recognizing that I am loved by God so much that he would send his people to bless me.”

A retired couple in our congregation has experienced joy in generosity by helping a family who lives in poverty in our community have a blessed Christmas.

Other brothers and sisters in our congregation have experienced joy in generosity by serving at Heaven’s Helper’s Soup Cafe or Ministry on the Margins or leading worship at the North Dakota State Penitentiary. And still, others have experienced joy in generosity during service work in Houston, Texas or the Dominican Republic or Ethiopia or even at the Dakota Zoo, raking leaves.

A stewardship mentor once told me there are three kinds of giving: grudge giving, duty giving, and thanksgiving. Grudge giving says, “I have to.” Duty giving says, “I ought to.” Thanksgiving says, “I want to.” The first comes from constraint; the second from a sense of obligation; the third from a full heart.

Nothing much is conveyed in grudge giving since the gift without the giver is bare. Something more happens in duty giving, but there is no joy in it. Thanksgiving is an open gate to the love of God. It is the “Amen” of giving. Thanksgiving is abundant joy and overflowing generosity.

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It is my hope and prayer that thanksgiving is the kind of giving we have lifted up during this worship series. It’s the type of giving I believe most fully reflects God’s mission for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church “to share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children.”

The average church member in our denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – gives about 2% of their annual income to God’s work through the church. I believe there are members who are part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry who give far more than 2% of their annual income – maybe even reaching to and beyond a tithe level of 10%. I also believe there are many other members who are part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry who, for whatever reason, choose not to give anywhere near 2% of their annual income. The fact of the matter is, about half of our membership households give nothing, 0% of their annual income, to financially support Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry.

The good news of God’s mission and ministry for the congregation we love and live out our faith through is that all the money and all the time and all the people that God needs to fulfill this mission is already here. All that God needs, we already have.

The hands, feet, and voices that strive for justice and peace and care for our neighbors in need are those who already call this church their faith home. Your pastors and staff do not have a secret collection of people to do the work God is calling us to do. You and I are those people God is calling into ministry. You and I are those people God relies on to do this work each day.

Hopefully, you know this, but if you don’t, I want you to know that there are no outside sources of financial support that enable Good Shepherd to exist in the world beyond our own financial generosity. Every penny that is given to our congregation is used to carry out God’s mission and ministry faithfully, joyfully and generously. Your pastors and staff do not have secret stashes of cash just in case we need it. You and I are the people God relies on to financially support the work God is calling us to do in the world today through this congregation.

Throughout this worship series, we have heard the Apostle Paul commended the Macedonian church for giving themselves first to the Lord. Because out of that act of faith, abundant joy and overflowing generosity was the result. Thanksgiving in never before seen ways.

Today, as we make financial commitments to Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry for the next year, we make those commitments by first giving ourselves to the Lord.
As one of your pastors, I implore us to give ourselves first to the Lord in all that we say and do.

I believe with everything I am, that when we do that, when we give ourselves first to the Lord, abundant joy and overflowing generosity will result.

Joy and generosity beyond anything we can begin to imagine possible today.

Joy and generosity that will be life-giving, to thousands of brothers and sisters in every corner of God’s creation.

Joy and generosity that are possible because God wants Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to be part of God’s work in the world today.

Joy and generosity that is a gift from God. May our giving always be thanksgiving. Amen.

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“Giving God Our Worship” 11.04.2018 Sermon

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 • November 4, 2018

Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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This is the second week in our worship series “Abundant Joy. Overflowing Generosity.” Our theme this week is “Giving God our Worship.”

As many of you may, or may not know, my vocation in the church began in 2002 when I was hired to serve on Good Shepherd’s lay staff as Music & Worship Minister. Many years later…and a little blood, sweat, and tears through the candidacy process… I am now blessed to be ordained and serve as one of your called pastors. My roles may have changed over the years, but at the heart of everything I do as a child of God, worship remains central. In fact, I believe more strongly now than ever, that a Christian cannot exist without worship as an active and regular part of their faith journey.

I worry a bit that we have departed from that truth in recent years as followers of Jesus. Worship is important if we can fit it into the hundreds of other things clogging up our schedule. Worship is important as long as I like the music or liturgy being used and the preaching is not too long. Worship is important if it doesn’t take too much of my energy and time.

Thirty years ago, the average church member attended worship 1 out of every 2 weeks. Today, that average is once out of every 6 weeks.

I also worry that our lack of commitment to worship in communities of faith is having a negative impact on how we live out our faith. Don’t get me wrong, we still worship.
Unfortunately, the things we worship often don’t resemble much of the God we receive in Christ Jesus.

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I was visiting recently with a local politician who is on the ballot this coming Tuesday. They were out knocking on neighborhood doors early one Sunday afternoon, meeting constituents. As the candidate was walking away from the doorstep of one house, the owner of the home drove into the driveway.

A friendly hello was shared and the homeowner made a joke that they had already given in the church offering. The candidate said that was good to hear since they had done the same. And even though this homeowner had yard signs of the candidate’s opponent, this particular candidate still wanted to meet some of their would be constituents.

The tone of the conversation quickly turned from friendly hellos. The homeowner said that he wishes he could line up a bunch of these candidates in his backyard – meaning candidates in the other political party – and just get rid of them. To actually cause physical harm to political candidates in the opposite party of the one he supports.

As shocking as that story is, not only because it happened just a few weeks ago. It happened in our own community too. Remember – both the political candidate and the homeowner claimed to have been in worship at their local church just a few hours earlier in the day. A few hours before that threatening statement was offered to another child of God.

How quickly we forget whom we worship. How quickly you and I can move into worshiping something or someone else that has no resemblance of the God we know through Jesus Christ. As a called and ordained pastor in the church of Jesus Christ, if you ever hear me say that it is ok to harm another child of God or destroy part of God’s good creation, please pull me aside and rebuke me of that sin.

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The Apostle Paul is encouraging the church in Corinth and the church of Good Shepherd today to give God our worship. To give God our worship in ways that look much different than the shocking story I just shared.

Paul proclaims, “Now as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you – so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”

Paul doesn’t say that we should excel whenever we have time to make it to church; or when we think we have a few spare minutes to say a prayer for someone we love; or when we are around people who think and look the same as we do ideologically or politically or theologically; or when we feel like giving God the few extra dollars left over in our pocket.

Paul says that because of all that God has done and is doing for us through the savior of the world Jesus Christ, we are to excel in everything. Everything. Faith, speech, knowledge, eagerness, love. It’s a generous undertaking.

Since God has called us into this work, why wouldn’t we want to excel in it? I believe that is something followers of Jesus have wrestled with since Paul first offered this challenge to the church nearly 2,000 years ago.

Paul, in all truth, seems to be saying that since you and I excel in so many things, why not be generous? Be generous in everything and excel in them. By doing that, we are able to live in this world fully as the people who God is calling us to be – servants of Jesus and stewards of God’s creation.

Gathered together in worship at all times and in all places, focused entirely on the living God, we are reminded why God created us in the first place – to be in relationship with God and to be in relationship with each other. To be intentional as we live together in Christian community giving God our worship and praise – not just when we attend a church service, but in every second of every day.

Brothers and sisters, we are constantly being sent into a world in need of God’s healing touch and unconditional love. Sent as a people with a generous undertaking. A generous undertaking that is in opposition to much of what the world expects life to be. Sent because all of our life, as people who claim to be followers of Jesus, is an act of giving God our worship.

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This weekend, we also celebrate All Saint’s Day. We remember and give thanks to the saints in our own congregation who have died in the faith. We also remember and give thanks for how God is calling us to be saints as we live in this world right now, giving God our worship.

Pastor, author and theologian Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a reflection called “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” several years ago. I believe it speaks beautifully to giving God our worship as we excel in everything on this festival day of all saints.

“What makes a saint?” Taylor writes,
“Extravagance.
Excessive love, flagrant mercy, radical affection,
exorbitant charity, immoderate faith, intemperate hope,
inordinate love.

None of which is an achievement, a badge to be earned or a trophy to be sought;
all are secondary by products of the one thing that truly makes a saint,
which is the love of God,
which is membership in the body of Christ,
which is what all of us, living and dead, remembered and forgotten, great souls and small,
have in common.
Some of us may do more with that love than others
and may find ourselves able to reflect it in a way
that causes others to call us saints,
but the title is one that has been given to us all by virtue of our baptisms.
The moment we rose dripping from the holy water
we joined the communion of saints,
and we cannot go back
any more than we can give back our names or the blood in our veins.
(The great cloud of witnesses includes us all)
Clan made kin by Christ’s blood.
There are heroes and scoundrels at the party, beloved aunts and estranged cousins,
relatives we adore and those who plainly baffle us.
They are all ours, and we are all included.
…we worship amidst a great fluttering of wings,
with the whole host of heaven crowding the air above our heads.
Call their names and hear them answer “present.”
…they belong to us and we to them,
And as their ranks swell so do the possibilities that open up in our own lives.
Because of them
and because of one another
and because of the God who binds us all together
we can do more than any of us had dreamed to do alone.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us never forget to give God our worship always. God is the only one we worship. That’s what the children of God are called to do and to do it with abundant joy and overflowing generosity. Thanks be to God. Amen.