Because we had such a great presentation from the Gideons, I’m going to keep this a little shorter than usual today…and probably quite a bit shorter than many “concluding sermons” for a stewardship drive. This would probably be the sermon where the pastor pulls out all the stops, pulls on every heartstrings, tells you to think about the children, and implies that an angel cries when you give anything less than 10% of your income to the church.
As fun as that may sound, this is “Simple Stewardship.”
We’ve been saying that stewardship could be simplified to some base concepts.
FIRST — SIMPLY BELIEVE – Believe that we have a God who’s big enough to provide for you…and when you give, God will take care of you. God, the creator of the heavens and the earth will be with you if you nudge up your giving. Believing that you couldn’t possibly give more…for almost everybody…is a belief that God couldn’t possibly provide enough. Don’t sell him short.
SECOND — SIMPLY SERVE – Our giving is an act of service. Because you give, we can have a food pantry, we can have someone to counsel those who have lost loved ones, we can have Vacation Bible School, and we can, “through our apportionments (our giving to the Alaska United Methodist Conference) be in mission and ministry around the world. When we give, we think beyond ourselves to others.
And, today, it’s SIMPLY GIVE.
This week I went into Anchorage to see my allergist, so I could move to allergy shots every other week instead of every week. The visit took one and half hours. And it wasn’t because of the various tests they ran. It took a long time because the doctor and I were talking about Jewish law.
I told the doctor, who is Jewish, that I had been talking with folks recently about the grieving process and how, when someone you loves dies, one of the problems is that, while your world comes to a screeching halt, the rest of the world keeps on spinning. People go to work. People, who are very sorry for your loss, have their lives to manage. There are places to go. Days and nights come and go. And it can be so difficult, after trauma in your life, to figure out how to work your way back onto the world again.
The Jewish Law, I said, gives guidelines for this. It’s a process. There’s a seven-day SHIVA period when you isolate yourself and your family. Food may be provided. Torn garments are worn to symbolize the loss and the pain. It’s a week of great grief where the community supports the mourners.
Then for 23 more days, there’s the practice of SHLOSHIM. The family reenters the community. Engagements are limited. It’s recognized that pain is still present but that community life can begin
And, if one has lost a parent, mourning goes on for a full year until, after a year’s time, one is not considered a mourner anymore.
What I talked with my doctor about is how beautiful and healthy and wholesome this is. It doesn’t shelter anyone from the realities of death and pain and loss. It recognizes community. It recognizes the need for mourners to grieve, even as they make their way back onto the spinning world that never really stopped for them in the first place. What might, by some, seem like overly restrictive rules and regulations is for us.
And the doctor shared how this rang true in his own life when his parents died and how he remembers the anniversary of their death in worship each year.
Says AISH.COM, the largest Jewish content website these days:
Judaism provides a beautiful, structured approach to mourning that involves three stages. When followed carefully, these stages guide mourners through the tragic loss and pain and gradually ease them back into the world. One mourner said her journey through the stages of mourning was like being in a cocoon. At first she felt numb and not perceptively alive, yet gradually she emerged as a butterfly ready again to fly.
The loss is forever, but the psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing that takes place at every stage is necessary and healthy.
This Jewish law and ritual actually brings life.
This brings us, if you can believe it, to giving…
I can spell out for you all the things the bible says about giving…but I won’t. It doesn’t really mince words.
We talk about tithes because that’s what’s in there. It’s what the Bible says:
“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram …. Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:18-20 NIV).
This is where it begins.
Abram, later Abraham, had his spoils from battle with a nearby king and he sees Melchizedek. And, because he sees that he is someone who is with God, Abram gives him one tenth of what he had received. This sets it all up; the process of giving ten percent of our increase back to God.
This was a sign of the covenant. But you and I both know that sometimes it’s hard to relinquish any…let alone 10% of what we’ve been given. Some people sit with calculators making sure to tip their server 15% after good service and a good burger and fries, but giving extra to God for his service can give us fits.
We’re not alone. Israel had that trouble as well. There were times that they held onto what they had and forgot the tithe and things got bad for them. That’s where the prophets came in, to call persons back to God and why Malachi does this so well in Chapter 3:
“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.
The Deuteronomy text we read before, begins with:
Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
And then it says that if you fail to follow the commands, you’ll forget the Lord and fall away from his covenant. We’re not going to burn anyone with unquenchable fire here, but it’s clear that holding back on our giving, is detrimental to our relationship with God. Our holding back gets in the way.
This makes sense. Sheila ________, at our meeting last week, used an illustration from Dave Ramsey. She said that, when you’re holing onto your money, you have tight fists around it. Nothing is going to get out. But nothing is going to get in. When we are generous with our gifts, it makes it possible for us to receive as well as give. It opens us up to God’s blessings and reminds us, in our wallets, that we have a God who does provide for us, that he will take care of us. And that’s the relationship he wants to have with us.
As I talked with my allergist this past week about Jewish laws and regulations for mourning, we talked about how these laws and regulations, while hard to follow, while misunderstood, while countercultural, are designed to help those very persons who have suffered loss in their life. They bring persons into community and into a proper relationship with the God who gives and takes away.
The Scriptural rules and regulations and understandings about giving are hard to follow, misunderstood, and very much countercultural. I know it can be hard to hear, but they really aren’t about meeting a church budget or being asked to support a new church construction or fund a pastor or even some wonderful, holy, life-changing ministry. They are designed to help the very persons who have an income, and increase, material things. They bring persons into community and bring us into a proper relationship with the God who gives and takes away. It also fights against the impulse to make an idol of material things. It reminds us who we are and who God is. It’s about faithfulness and holiness.
In this place you will be defined by the sacrifice of Christ, by a God who loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life. That will define you here…God’s love for you. You will never be defined by how much you give or don’t give. You will never be defined by what percentage of your income you offer to God. There won’t be bigger crowns in heaven for the larger portion of guilt that you carry as you go to write your check. That won’t define you.
You are defined as a loved child of God with whom God wants to be in relationship with.
Part of that relationship, a prominent but challenging part, is stewardship. To put it simply. SIMPLY BELIEVE. SIMPLY SERVE. SIMPLY GIVE.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.