My friend, Pastor Jeff, invited me to share a sermon with his congregation at St. John’s, an ELCA congregation in a nearby town. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. So exciting, and progressively more nervewracking as the time drew near. The deed is done – I proclaimed last Sunday, October 30. As I was posting it here and re-reading it along the way, I had plenty of thoughts of “ugh!”. But after a bit, some thoughts of “oh, I’m glad I shared that.” Overall I have good feelings about the experience. Enough so that it seems I need to explore this aspect of ministry a bit more. I don’t know that I *want* to preach, but maybe I have some gifts that are useful for it. Ultimately, it’s difficult to gauge, because unless I manage to take a class in preaching some day, there really aren’t any opportunities to explore it.
I kept myself a little calmer on Sunday morning by reminding myself over and over that it’s not me. I’m not manufacturing anything here, nor performing. I’m only offering myself for God to use as He sees fit. I’m taking the leap of faith by walking into the unknown, and that’s really all I could have hoped for – to be used by God for service. And even after doing it, I really don’t have much idea what happened. I did get some compliments, but that could be for just about anything. What sort of means of grace was I that morning? I suppose I can’t ever really know to what extent, so again, I take it on faith that things worked unto good.
Some background – Sunday was October 30, 2011, and Reformation Sunday. St. John was celebrating their Consecration Sunday as a part of their stewardship drive. So, I was the guest preacher, speaking on stewardship, and at the end of the service, they were to fill out and turn in pledge cards. The readings for the day were Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 46, Romans 3:19-28, and John 8:31-36. Naturally I ended up focusing on the Old Testament reading. I need to come to terms with my Christological issues one of these days……
Anyway, here goes….
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord our Savior, Jesus the Christ. When Pastor Jeff asked me if I’d come and speak to you, I had to think about it for a bit. I wondered what in the world to talk about. But then I realized – make it simple. Just share what generosity means to me.
You know, I think I’ve always wanted to be a generous person. It’s hard to enjoy what you have when you’ve got people around you who go without. But I wasn’t generous. I guess my epiphany was when I realized that I wasn’t going to church and helping out just because I was supposed to. Maybe some of you have felt like all of this is just what you’re supposed to do. You see, I really want to worship with a community of people. I want to help out with things that need to be done. And I want to serve and help the world. It’s not just that these things are important, but because I do these things, I feel like a part of the community.
But just what is generosity? Did you notice I keep saying “generosity” instead of “stewardship?” “Stewardship” is a big word that gets used in a lot of different ways. It probably helps to think about what it means to be a steward. Pretend that you’re going to take a trip. Would you invite me to watch your house for you? Who is this guy? Are you ready to hand over the keys? Probably not! You’re going to let someone into your house, to watch your things, to get your mail, not run up your phone bill or order pay-per-view. You’d want someone to take good care of things while you’re away. And you’re probably not going to ask just anyone to do that for you. You’d want to ask someone that you know, someone that you trust. You don’t want to worry about the garden hose, or the stove burner.
You know, that’s kind of like God and us. Think about God’s creation. We live in it. We take care of it. Sometimes we do a pretty good job at that. Sometimes, not so much. But you know, God still entrusts us to care for￼things. That means something. That’s a lot of trust from God. He must love us a lot to trust us to care for the world. He doesn’t need to do it. God wouldn’t invite you or me to care for these things if He didn’t know our hearts, if He didn’t love us so much to give us this honor of being His stewards. Of course, we’re broken people, we don’t always keep our word. And yet, God still comes back to us, forgiving us, and still asking us to be His stewards.
Have you ever thought about money? Who doesn’t? Maybe you know someone who’s out of work. Maybe you have trouble making ends meet. Or maybe you’re pretty successful these days. What if our money belongs to God? What if it never really belonged to us in the first place? That’s pretty controversial! You earn your money – it’s yours, right? Money can be dangerous. You loan some to a friend and they never pay you back. How’s that friendship now? What if there’s a different way to think about the whole thing? What if that money belonged to God, and never belonged to us? What if you didn’t feel like you had to protect anything? If it all belongs to God, and if we’re just caring for it, then it’s a gift, right? A blessing. Some of you might live this way. But maybe you’ve never thought about it before. What if you could just let go a little bit more? Let yourself trust in God just a little bit more?
Generosity is love. Freely giving to others. Not feeling like there’s only a little bit. Because it hurts to worry about the future. To worry about how we’re going to support ourselves. What if we could trust God enough to know that God will provide? I’m not going to say that all our problems just vanish. But if you could have a different attitude, it changes everything. I know for me, when I believe it’s all a gift, and that God cares for me and loves me, it does get easier. I feel and I give more generously. It’s not loss, it’s not giving up. Maybe there’s something important about learning how to sacrifice, but for me it’s more important to be able to think that I’m caring for the world.
You know, this morning’s reading from Jeremiah is one of my favorites:￼
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
What is a covenant? It’s like a two-way agreement – we promise this, God promises that. But it’s not just about following some kind of law – it’s God’s highest hopes for us, and his promises to us. But what I love about this reading is the part about “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” God has hopes for us – and doesn’t just leave us on our own. God sends us a Savior who died that we might live. God fills us with His Spirit, because He cares so much about us living in covenant with Him. So, if God wants us to really be His people, then I really want to live into that relationship. I hope you might think about how very much God wants you to thrive in covenant with Him. This is really Good News for us, that God would change us and fill us with desire to care for the world, and each other.
So, how do we care for the world from here in Elwood? St. John is a fantastic place to start. When you worship on Sundays, you share it together, and offer it to God. But you also offer to share it with your community as a house of welcome. Pastor Jeff has told me about the meals you prepare at the end of each month, to feed others. Just as Jesus asks His disciples, and us, to follow Him, this is part of how you’re doing it. St. John is a place that you come to, to learn more about the Lord, and more about the promises of your Baptism, that forever mark you as children of God.
Through your financial generosity to St. John, you follow Jesus even further. Your gifts help make ministry possible here, for you and your neighbors to grow. Your gifts also help the ELCA, in countless ministries￼ that save lives and give hope around the world. Lutheran World Relief. Lutheran Disaster Response. Lutheran Volunteer Corps. These are entire communities of people continuing to serve on the front lines of disasters around the world. People who know a lot more than I do about how to help in these situations. I trust in these ministries doing God’s work in the world, and when I give my financial support to my own church, I know that I’m caring for the world too.
I hope this is a message of Good News for you this morning. Thinking about how you and I can actually care for God’s world, bring life to God’s vision. Thinking about how being God’s stewards, being generous, can set us free from the fear that there’s not enough to go around. As you make your commitment this morning. I pray you might think of this as a way for you to say to God and the world that “yes, I want to be generous, I want to give.” Today you get to make that promise, to the church, to God, and to yourself, to take that step toward letting the mark of your Baptism make it’s mark in God’s good creation.