>"Simple Stewardship: Simply Serve" — Sermon for 7 November 2010

>FootwashingImage by crunklygill via FlickrText:  2 Corinthians 8:1-15 & John 13:31-25
Title:  “Simple Stewardship:  Simply Serve”

A little over a month ago I went into the Alaska United Methodist Conference office with Sheila _______ (our money person) and Steve _______ (our “building” person).  To meet with Dave _______ and Leila _______ (our Conference Leadership Persons).  We met with them to talk about our church finances, which, the farther along we’ve been getting in our construction without actually occupying the building, the harder it’s been.  And we knew that this year, as we were looking at what we’ve had on our plate to get heat and start worshipping over there, it was becoming more and more evident that our “income” wasn’t meeting up with out “outgo.” 

And we’ve tried to be honest and forthcoming here.  The longer we’ve had to wait for construction to finish, we’ve been paying bills for a building we’ve not been able to occupy.  And we could see that it was going to get a little too close for comfort as we got to the second half of this year and into the beginning next year as we’ve had some large chunks of money due at one time while giving has gone down a bit.

And we’re there now.  I won’t get into all the details here, but know that we’re struggling to cover some of our basic bills—even things like my salary and the building insurance—all the time as we strive to increase the amount of ministry done in the community.

Well, we went to the Conference office to seek some guidance, knowing that we need to keep pushing to be in that space next door.  Well, from that meeting, I found out there is a fund set aside by the Conference called “The Mission Aid” fund.  It’s a fund built up from APPORTIONMENTS – which is a collection of money all the United Methodist Churches put into to keep up with the functioning of the conference but also for mission work both here and around the world.  Some people—particularly those in the South and Midwest—view APPORTIONMENTS as a HEAD TAX or a “fee” for having members.  It’s not that.  Really, APPORTIONMENTS are A PORTION MEANT FOR OTHERS.  It’s giving beyond ourselves.  And because of that giving from United Methodist Churches around Alaska, our church is getting $7,000 which we’ve said that we would apply to my insurance and pension contributions, which we’re behind on.  It’s a gift for us.

But, many of you know, that’s not the only way we’ve been helped by others throughout this building process.  BY NO MEANS! (As the Apostle Paul says a couple of times.)  Really, it’s breathtaking when you think of all the financial help we’ve gotten just to get in the place we are…with a full-time pastor and some active ministries and a nearly completed building – where I was able to write my sermon this week. 

Did you know that, in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 – each year – we took in over $50,000 from Christians around the US to put towards, not just our building, but also our ministry?  That number’s going down some which is why, this week I need to start mapping out a trip to Mississippi this winter, to visit churches. 

And that $200,000 doesn’t include the vast generosity of churches that have held bake sales and cookbook sales and carwashes and special offerings to send work teams up to Girdwood, Alaska to help us build.   I think it’s 34 work teams—with an average of 12 people.  That’s over 400 tickets to Alaska with rental cars and food and some supplies and, at about $1,500 per person, that’s another financial gift of $600,000 just so people could come and work for us and with us.

I’m done saying we’ll be in that new sanctuary on this or that date.  Been heartbroken too many times for that.  But I know that, as we sit over here today, soon we’ll be over there.  And the hope and the promise of that is only because of the grace and kindness and gifts of – not just the people you see around us today – but a whole lot of other people.  People have been generous with us. 

We are talking about STEWARDSHIP over this three-week period.  And I’m trying to think of just how simple I can make the concept so that you appreciate its importance in the lives of, not just our church, but all followers of Jesus.  I said, if I could break this concept down into just the very important parts to know and understand, I’d say that SIMPLE STEWARDSHIP means SIMPLY BELIEVE, SIMPLY SERVE, SIMPLY GIVE.

Last week we talked about that BELIEF aspect.  This is a tough one in our culture where we have a sense that there just isn’t enough to go around, and so we worry about what we have and how much we have and how much everyone else has.  There’s a SPRIRIT OF SCARCITY which makes us hold onto what we have.

But part of what we need to do as Christians is to recognize that we have a very big God…one who even created the heavens and the earth…and through his PROVIDENCE he will take care of us.  And, even if we loosen our grip on our money by 10%, a biblical tithe, he will take care of us.  He’ll make sure that we have enough…more than enough…to keep on going.  If you don’t believe that God will take care of you…well, then you have to rely on other things, such as money, for backup…in case God fails to come through. 

That’s the first aspect of a SIMPLE STEWARDSHIP.   SIMPLY BELIEVE.

The part I wanted to get to today is SIMPLY SERVE. 

We’re all well aware that our God is a serving God and our Jesus is a serving Jesus.  In fact, that passage we read before kind of gets right at it.  Jesus has come to the Passover Meal with the disciples…although they don’t know it’s “The Last Supper” yet.  And as the meal is set to begin, Jesus does the strangest thing.  He takes off his outer robe and begins to wash the disciple’s feet.  Now, remember, this is Ancient Israel.  Sandals.  Dusty roads.  Dirty feet.  This was the job of a servant, not of the Messiah.  Peter protests, but then relents.  And then the meal begins.  After the meal he gives them a “new commandment.”    He says:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And that love…, well, it’s shown through service…through washing feet, through offering food, and bread and juice.  That’s how it’s shown to the disciples…and us.

It’s also shown to us through churches coming together to help us with our benefits or people around the US giving $50,000 a year to help us build. 

Now, I hope it goes mostly without saying that service is important in the Christian life.  After all, Jesus said for us to take up our crosses.  He said that he came to serve and offer his life as a ransom for many.  And if we look at his life, he went out of his way to serve others…to minister to the hurting and the lost, to reach out to the social or economic outcast, and, of course, to die on a cross for the sins of the world.  Service…, well, that’s part of what made this Messiah different than the military and political Messiah that a lot of folks expected.  They expected someone to ride into Jerusalem on a stallion, with army behind him….not on a donkey.  This was a different kind of King.

And so, we know that we should do good things for people.  We know that we should have things like a food pantry and that we should help persons who are homeless or are having problems with their kids or their jobs or their marriage.  For that’s part and parcel of the Savior we say we believe in.

We are thankful for those who have served in our church in this way…for the committee folks…for the construction folks…for the people who’ve served as mentors for kids…for those who have cleaned Little Bears or shoveled the chapel roof or chopped wood or whatever.

That’s good stewardship of time.  That’s serving through our talents and time and spiritual gifts.

But stewardship of money is also connected to service…in a big way.  See, money is AMORAL as Dave Ramsay says.  Money is neither good nor bad in and of itself.  It’s just money.  It’s like a brick.  A brick is neither good nor bad…in and of itself.  It can be used for good or bad purposes.  It can be used to build a hospital…or it can be thrown through a window.  And money can be used for good or bad purposes.  It can buy things that are unneeded, unwanted, unhelpful in this life.  It can be stored with more and more money out of fear that we’ll never have ENOUGH.  OR…it can be used to serve.

We can’t really wash the disciples’ feet with money, but we can use it to help those in need.

We had fun a few weeks ago in Bible Study looking at Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8, which is one of the most thorough explanations of stewardship in the Bible.  Well, at least I had fun with it.

The scenario is that times are tough for the Jerusalem church.  Poverty there is bad.  They need help.  And Paul’s taking up a collection along his journeys, in order to help support those Jerusalem Christians. 

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul talks about the Macedonian Christians and, essentially, says “You know how bad they have had it in Macedonia.  Well, let me tell you they have been graced by the grace of Christ and even amidst their poverty they have responded generously.  They are eager, out of their poverty, to help the saints of Jerusalem.   He says, to the Corinthians:

“…for during a severe ordeal of affliction , their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.”

So…you Corinthians, who also have been blessed by God and others, and who are not in a severe ordeal of affliction at this point…will you, also, excel in this undertaking?  Remember how well those Macedonians excelled…as I was just saying.

One of the Bible study folks said they hadn’t realized how amusing Paul can be at times.  He really is funny in places.  And this is one of them.  It would be like me standing up before the offering plate was passed and say something like this…

Friends, before you reach into your wallets and open up your checkbooks, I want to ask if you’ve been blessed by God.  I know you have.  But I want you to answer that question.  Well, if God has blessed you so much then we need to address what we should do with this blessing.  There are people in this community, in this world of ours who need some help.  They need to be served.  And the Bible tells us that we love because he first loved us.  Well, you’ve been loved.  So, we can, in turn, love with what we’ve been given. 

And, before that plate is passed, I’d like you to consider, for example, the fact that we’ve had three workteams from Elkhart, Indiana over the years…a place so depressed that MSNBC had a special place on their website to talk about the unemployment and depression there.  And this is a community that was so very generous with their gifts to you.  They excelled in their giving.  Will you excel in this present undertaking?

I couldn’t do that.

Paul’s got some guts.

But more than guts, it’s true.

Yes, we need funds for the building…not so that we can complete the building, but so that we can start using it for ministry.

Yes, we need funds for my salary…not so that I have money in my pocket, but so we can afford to keep a full-time pastor here, doing what I hope you think is valuable ministry to and with the community.

Yes, we need funds for the heat, and the mortgage, and the phone line…not so the lights stay on for us but so they stay on for all who might need this place.
Paul says, closing out his discussion of the collection:

“The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

I’m not going to say that you have too much.  I’ll say that I have too much.  But I won’t speak for you.  But I will say that pretty much everyone here has more than ENOUGH.  Well, what if we could serve by offering up some of that MORE THAN ENOUGH to others – through the work of this church.

That’s what others have done for us.

If you want to have a very basic understanding of stewardship, you need to SIIMPLY BELIEVE and SIMPLY SERVE.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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