Our November newsletter has a perfect quote by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, which really speaks to our stewardship theme today. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live them.” I suspect Kennedy would have been a fan of St. Francis of Assisi whose own sentiment: “Preach the gospel; use words when necessary” is a precursor of this belief in a lived faith where our actions do speak louder and more honestly about what we hold to be true and right.
Today we celebrate the gifts we’ve received from God. We celebrate the ways in which we are called to use these gifts and to give thanks for the way in which we express our God-given gifts out in the world. We celebrate all this in order to fully, in Kennedy’s words, “express our gratitude” for this amazing, complicated, engaging, extraordinary, challenging and expressive life with which God has blessed each one of us.
It seems redundant to say “stewardship is not about money”. We’ve heard it before. It’s not about giving away our riches; we’ve heard this before too. Rather stewardship is about giving away our lives and not simply at the proscribed 10% tithing level. Yes, though it may go against the grain, God wants much more than just 10% of what we’ve been blessed to receive. God wants us to give our whole lives, 100% of lives but not measured out in dollars. The measure is more challenging than tucking a dollar into a basket on a Sunday morning or dropping a can of food in our “for the hungry” food pantry box. God measures the level of our giving through the tears of compassion we shed, through the words we speak and the actions we take to the needs around us. God measure our level of giving in our acts of gratitude, in the ways we express love for ourselves and for others. God measures the level of our giving in tender moments of mercy and through strong actions, which express our desire to seek justice for those who are hurt, lost, alone, or in need. God wants all of what we have and why not? What we are in this world, what we own, what we receive in status or power is ours only because we have a gracious, loving God who gives from a heart which loves us and then encourages us to do the same for others.
Paul experienced this level of giving from the Corinthian Church; they gave generously from their means and then, went beyond their means to provide for Paul and his fellow travelers. This generosity so inspired him, he was quick to offer his gratitude and to emulate their efforts in his actions, through his preaching, and by his faith as he traveled to other churches. What they had done for him became both a word of encouragement to his disciples and a word of grateful thanksgiving.
We began this year with some financial struggles and we could have let those deficits define us and our ministry through the year but, we didn’t. Instead, we chose to give not only from our means but, beyond our means. During this year, thus far, our ministries have included two for which we should feel proud. As a church we gathered our resources, gave of our time, energy and finances, invited others to join us and held one of the most successful and worthwhile missions to date. The “Stop Hunger Now” ministry provided 14,000 meals packaged and sent out to the hungry both within and beyond our country. And, now, we follow this success with our Operation You project, paying an act of kindness forward to influence and affect many lives in beneficially ways. We do this as an act of ministry based in the gifts we’ve received and as a living reminder of our quote from Kennedy, the words of St. Francis and, most importantly, as a way to celebrate gratefully the life and ministry of Christ Jesus. As Christ told his disciples, “When you do this for the least of these, you do it unto me” we are to fully offer our lives in response to the needs of others. Our lives than have meaning and we give them away with the same kind of abandonment and freedom Christ gave his for us.
Each of us has access to God’s grace in our lives. Through such grace we can be supplied all our needs but we must also have faith in the giver. God seeks us out and through example teaches us what it means to be generous. In Christ we recognize God’s love and generosity. We know that Christ was willing to let go of everything, including life itself, for our sakes. It is a powerful example to follow but one, which God gives us by providing us with the necessary means to attain a strong faith. Within each one of us a miracle is waiting to happen.
Many years ago, I received a newsletter from one of our Conference churches in Northern Maine. In the pastor’s column there was an interesting anecdote which seems relevant today as we celebrate and rejoice in the lives and ministries God has given us. So here it is: “At the 1994 North Texas Annual Conference, Bishop Bruce Blake noted the difference between the church as a tunnel and as a cave. A cave is an underground area where one goes in and comes out at the same place. A tunnel, on the other hand, is where one goes in and comes out in a different place.
Bishop Blake then went on to argue that it is important that the church see itself as a tunnel, and not as a cave. If we come out of church at the same place we went in, then something is wrong. The church leads us in the direction of the light; knowing that the light at the end of every tunnel is the light of Christ.” [i]
So here we are. Many of you may believe that you are being invited to make a
commitment, an estimate of giving, to the Rockville United Methodist Church but actually, you are being invited to do much, much more. The invitation being extended to you this morning comes not from the Stewardship and Finance Committee of this church. It does not come from me, your pastor. Rather, the invitation we are being offered today comes solely from God – your God and my God. God is the only one with the right to ask us to give back what we have received because God is the one who makes it possible for such a gift to be made. God provides the raw materials…the inspiration…the example of generosity and the expectation of like effort from us. We all have choices: we can live our lives as though we are in a cave, going in one opening and out the same opening, never touched or changed or moved to be anything other than what we are right now. Or we can live our lives as though we are moving through a tunnel, always seeking brilliance of Christ’s light and love in our lives. We can be expectant, hopeful, filled with faith, and as generous in our poverty with a generosity reflecting the same generosity Christ shared in his life. No matter what we could give in the way of money it could never fully express our gratitude for the gift of life God
has given us through Christ. But our gifts do make a good faith effort to express the gratitude we feel for the one who loves us into living miracles.
Paul affirmed and encouraged the people in the Corinthian church by reminding them that God welcomes joyful giving. As he points out to them they are excelling in much. He says to them, “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.” Those same words encourage us today…to excel in everything for the sake of the one who calls us into life and who claims us throughout life as God’s own beloved children. How could be anything but grateful? How can we do anything less than joyfully sing a new song? How could we live less than a 100%, fully engaged, and forever faithful life of thanksgiving? Amen.
[i] Bishop Bruce Blake, North Texas Annual Conference, Keynote
address to the 1994 session.