“Growing By Giving”
Last May the nursery school taught some fun songs to the children at the end of the school year. Our daughter Cate came home singing one for Mother’s Day about Mommies, to the tune of the Oscar Myer hot dog, “my baloney has a first name” song. Instead of spelling Mommy though, she sang, and it was super cutie, she sang, “My mommy has a first name, its M-o-n-e-y.” We all laughed.
Children look to parents for support. Children understand that what they have ultimately does not originate with them. We can all learn from them. We can be grateful that as we too grow to share in life and faith, we can learn to sing the praises of our heavenly parent.
Let us pray. Loving God you have given us gifts to use but also to share. On this Stewardship Sunday, show us how to grow more like you as we give. Amen.
In Luke 19, we hear of Jesus and Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of a prosperous city. Zacchaeus was rich, but unpopular. No one liked tax collectors in the ancient world. They took money, collaborated with the Roman system of oppression and were often corrupt.
Zacchaeus was an outcast in the community. He was rich in possessions, but unhappy. Yet Zacchaeus was determined to see Jesus, so he went into the crowd, where he was likely pushed or kicked, and climbed a sycamore tree, which would have been seen as undignified for someone of his station, but appropriate for someone of his stature.
Jesus called to Zacchaeus and said he’d like to stay at his house. Today inviting yourself and your friends to someone’s house for dinner would seem rude, you have to wonder what Mrs. Zacchaeus might have thought, but this time it was quite an honor.
Jesus asked Zacchaeus to share what he had to further the kingdom of God. Zacchaeus responded with gratitude, saying he’d give half his possessions to the poor and if he defrauded anyone he’d give them four times what he took. In doing so he more than fulfilled the law. Jewish laws of compensatory damages held that if someone stole something and admitted it they were to return it plus 1/5 more. Zacchaeus was offering much more than he was required. Jesus celebrated his generous change of heart by declaring that salvation had come to his house.
Through Jesus, Zacchaeus grew in his giving. He grew physically as the tree helped him see Jesus. He grew socially as Jesus stayed with him at a time when he was unpopular. He grew emotionally to feel good about himself perhaps for the first time as his lifetime of accumulation was replaced by the joy of contribution. He grew spiritually as he found meaning in giving.
During stewardship season, we have an opportunity to grow as we contribute to something meaningful through God’s work in the church for 2016.
How much should we pledge? The Old Testament law and our tradition suggests a tithe, 10 percent of our income.
Why does our tradition suggest that it is good for everyone to choose to contribute? We could just assess membership dues, like some faith traditions do.
We could send you an invoice, a fee for services, a certain specific amount for Sunday school, visit, or counseling, etc.
We could just divide up the church budget in equal portions and mail everyone a bill. That would help take care of Bradley Hills’ budget.
It’s an important budget. This church does important work. We have a terrific staff and impactful programs. The contributions we make allow us to spend time with those hurting or sick or grieving or experiencing a loss or looking for work.
As a result of the church’s activities we are able to help those in need. We gathered to support the National Center for Children and Families in September. Our family joined several others at our kitchen ministry in October and will again in November. Tomorrow night I’ll be at a meeting to support those with developmental differences who meet here twice a week. Next Friday we’ll be with several of you at a breakfast for Habitat for Humanity and the following week with our Friends Club to support families with dementia. The following Sunday we meet to plan our intergenerational mission trip. Your financial pledge is critical to the church at this important time.
Yet that is not the main reason to give. Our giving is an expression of faith. Jesus talked about money a lot. When Jesus talked about rich rulers or parables about sowers or Samaritans, sons or silver, Jesus did not talk about church budgets.
He talked about how our stewardship and spending reflect our relationship with God. How our use of our financial gifts can help us experience God more deeply.
Giving of yourself and what you have is fundamentally Christian. For that is what Christ did. Christ left it all on the field. He held nothing back.
So even if Bradley Hills’ budget was not made up mostly of what you and I pledge, as it is, or the budget somehow funded itself, I would still give and still ask you to give. Because Jesus was about people growing by giving. As Zacchaeus discovered, we get something when we give.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Delta Flight 15 was flying over the Atlantic when the terrorist attacks caused air traffic control to order the plane to land at the nearest airport and stay there. In this case, Gander, Newfoundland.
No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. They were told that as many other planes had landed there too, their turn to deplane would be almost 24 hours later.
The next morning a group of school buses took them to town.
They learned there that the town had a population of 10,000 people and that they had more than that to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced to land.
Gander and the surrounding communities closed all high schools and meeting halls and converted these facilities into lodging areas for all the stranded travelers.
The elderly and sick were cared for. Bakeries began baking. Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. The town went into a focus on caring for the stranded.
Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport for a plane back to the U.S.
On that plane one of the passengers asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. Airlines usually don’t allow that, but this time was different. The man picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of strangers.
He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks around Gander.
He said he was going to set up a fund to provide college scholarships for the high school students of the community.
The man, a doctor from our greater DC area, promised to match any donations. The fund has now raised more than $1 million and has assisted 134 students with college education.
Luke tells us that earlier in his sermon on the mount, Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.” Giving can lead to unexpected grace and growth. Generosity leads to capacity for more generosity. That is what Zacchaeus and the people in Gander experienced.
Watch any global news program and you know it is a gift to live in America. Pick up any newspaper and you know we are blessed to live in this area, send our kids to schools around here and to retire in this community. Read any publication about trends in the greater church and you know we are blessed to be part of this congregation.
These past twelve months we have had 38 adult members join this church, more than any year in the past 25 save one. Our Building Our Future campaign is behind us. Our future is before us. Our small groups, task forces and families ministries are making us more vital. But we can become even more vital in our caring and connecting with one another. In our understanding God better. In our family ministry to teach our children solid values and give them a safe place and ourselves an oasis in a competitive school district and city. In our interfaith witness. And in our impact on the world, if we invest in it.
Bradley Hills is a beacon of light. Our task as Christians is to help make God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven through the church.
We get something when we give to the church. We get to contribute to a cause that changes lives through God’s work in the church. Samwise says to Frodo at a pivotal moment in the middle of the Lord of the Rings, “There is good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” For many, this church makes the world a better place. I feel it is a privilege to be part of a place that does that. And both a privilege to have some resources and a responsibility to use them to support such a church.
Our second scripture concludes with Jesus saying that the son of man came to save those who were lost. The word in Greek for lost here doesn’t mean condemned or gone never to be found. That is not God’s way. Lost here means someone has been influenced to go astray, has gotten off the path and lost their way and then Jesus goes to bring them back to the path, back to himself.
While the world tells us to hoard what we have, our faith tells us to share. While advertisements encourage us to buy impulsively, the traditions of the Bible ask us to plan to give a percentage of what we have to support God’s work. While society tells us we have too many expenses to ever think of giving substantially to a cause like the church, Jesus invites us to grow in our relationship with God by giving. We act differently because of our faith.
Something happens in us when we know we are giving something and to something that makes a difference.
I talked with a couple at our church recently who have decided to tithe 10% of their income to the church. It has taken them a while to get to that point. Their contribution grew over time. They were so proud to be able to give that portion of their income to God’s work in the world.
There was great joy on their faces in their growing to do this.
Begin where you are. Consider adding 1% of your income to last year’s pledge or a flat 10% total to last year’s gift; grow until you get to your goal.
If you have never pledged to Bradley Hills, we invite you to consider deepening your relationship with God and this community in this way. Stewardship is part of our Christian community and part of our caring.
Jesus taught that how we spend our resources reflects our relationship with the Almighty. I promise you that growing your giving will draw you closer to God. I hope you will join our family in making and increasing your financial pledge to the church for 2016.
There is a story about a New York man around the Great Recession of the last decade. He was in finance and well off. He gave generously to his church of time, talent and treasure. When they had a capital campaign he had given to help rebuild the sanctuary, especially its seating. But he had held back on giving more to help rebuild the annual programs of the church. The Great Recession hit his congregation hard. This man had taken some risks and lost all he had. One day the pastor of that church found the man wandering in the church sanctuary, pausing occasionally to rub the back of the sanctuary pews. Concerned, the pastor approached the man and asked how he was doing. The man lifted his head, gave a sort of smile, and answered, “It’s been hard. But you know, Pastor, I have learned something. That which I kept, I lost.” Then he said as he rubbed the back of the pews, “That which I gave away, I still have.”
Everyone I have met who tithes or makes the church their top nonprofit priority or gives a substantial portion of what they have or sees their contribution as a spiritual act, shares that their giving makes them really happy and proud.
That is because giving of what we have is a profoundly spiritual act. Our giving mirrors God’s grace. It is our way of showing we understand that we can grow in our relationship with God when we give. May it be so. Amen.