I Corinthians 16:1-4, II Corinthians 9:6-15
I know it’s only May, but today’s sermon is a stewardship sermon. So let’s just have one big collective groan and be done with it, ok?
But don’t blame me—blame the Stewardship Team! They’re the ones who decided upon the “Saints Alive: Living Generously” stewardship campaign that gives instruction for year long effort and campaign—one that calls for a stewardship sermon to be preached long before the formal campaign even begins.
Of course, I’m right there with the Stewardship Team when they meet and plan things—so I guess I am to blame too.
But while a stewardship sermon might have its place within a seasonal Stewardship campaign—our stewardship and that of being stewards is not seasonal. It is, of course, a daily act, a spiritual discipline that should be tended to with habitual regularity.
After all, God’s gifts to us are daily, and abundant.
Therefore, our consideration of such should at least be the same.
And so today we focus on our Saints Alive Stewardship campaign—a campaign that will continue to manifest itself over the next several months—not so that we are hounded for more money, but rather as an means to faithfully consider the spiritual discipline of giving to God.
In our first text for today, the Apostle Paul instructs us to give with priority and regularity, and in proportion to how we have been blessed.
In our second text, the Apostle Paul gives instruction to the type of giver we should strive to me.
These texts show that stewardship is certainly not a seasonal discipline.
Rather stewardship is about living generously as those who have received generously.
An interesting, and potentially problematic, thing about the Bible’s teach about giving is that giving is almost always associated with a reward.
In Malachi 3, God says through the prophet, “Test me…see if I do not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down an overflowing abundance of blessing.”
Jesus says that anyone who gives a cup of cold water to one of his little ones will not go unrewarded.
And Paul is no exception, “…the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.”
What does this mean?
Does it mean giving is an investment on which we can count on a return?
Some Christian ministries have built their empires on this sort of biblical promise—“seeds faith” as they often are called.
You believe God will meet some need, financially unusually, and so you send in some “seed” money. You’ve probably gotten letters from these kinds of ministries.
A great one I got came on what appeared to be yellow legal pad paper, and was written in one of those computer fonts that look like real handwriting, and thus, the overall letter looked as a “one-of-a-kind”, personal correspondence to me alone.
The letter stated that the writer, an evangelist of some kind, had suddenly awakened in the middle of the night, thought of me and a particular need in my life that was weighing heavy on my heart, and immediately began to pray for me.
The letter went on to say that the miracle I needed and that he was praying for would certainly come—if he had just a little seed of faith to plant.
Then at the bottom, still in that seemingly hand written way, was a “P.S.” that appealed for “a seed of faith gift of just $20…or more.”
What do we make of this investment/reward theology?
In one sense, the cheerful, generous giving to which Paul invites us seems to be destroyed by this kind of reward mentality—to say nothing of the deceit some use in addition to it.
Give for what you can get of it yourself. There’s an almost gambling-lottery like appeal to it. Such a blatant appeal to self-interest in our giving should make us nervous.
On the other hand however, as I said, the whole Bible is full of talk of rewards, not only for Godly living, but also for giving.
So let’s just be honest and admit that there is an element of self-interest to our faith. It would be a strange thing to follow Christ and make the sacrifices involved if it weren’t in our own interest to do so. Being a Christian has its benefits. It affords us an eminently plausible and profoundly comforting explanation to our existence. It enables us to live a life of joy and love and meaning. It places us in the middle of a community of faith and caring. And most of all, it gives us the promise of eternal life. That’s not a bad bargain in this world of sin and death.
So we can talk of rewards, but let us dare not forget that God’s rewards are always gifts of grace, not payments for services rendered. We have no claim on God because we made a pledge and paid a deposit on the Kingdom of God. God loves a cheerful giver because God is a cheerful giver, the giver of every good and perfect gift. And God, being who God is, loves to shower blessings on God’s children.
Now the talk of God’s love being abundant and unconditional is nothing new to us. Our human love can be like that too.
It’s natural to want to give to those we love.
Parents love their children, and so they give to them, sacrifice for them, all so they can have opportunities that come from such. The gifts of parents and family members aren’t given because we are looking for personal payback. Not in the least.
But what ultimately happens anyway?
We still receive blessings in return from those in our life who we have given to, and they come to us through love, gratitude, and thanksgiving.
What delight we find when we see what our gifts have enabled those we love to do with their lives, and how it affects the lives of others, and the Kingdom of God.
Acts of love and generosity create their own reward.
The image Paul uses for all of this is that of sowing and reaping. This image occurs so often in the Bible that it could be called a law of the Kingdom of God. And actually, it is a law of life. We reap what we sow. And we all know how such works.
If you hoard your love, you compliments, your embraces, your feelings, your resources, the harvest will be proportionately small.
Spend your love, lavish your care on others, let genuine approval and heartfelt compliments flow freely and it will all come back to you as well as enrich those around you.
If you sow love, you reap love. If you sow compassion, you reap compassion. If you sow generosity in the Kingdom of God, you will reap generosity.
But what exactly do we reap when we reap generosity in the Kingdom of God?
Paul says “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work… You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity …”
Jesus himself made the same point, saying, “When you give alms do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Now, this is all quite purposely vague. This is no computer generated letter promising the miracle we desire. But the lesson we learn from all this is that giving is never a loss. The money we give is not lost—it is sown.
But still, the question remains, what exactly do we reap when we reap generosity in the Kingdom of God?
An older colleague of mine shared with me once his recollection of his parent’s stewardship practices.
They were tithers at their church, and so every week his father cashed his paycheck and came home with lots of ones and fives so that on the dining room table his mother could put the money, in various amounts, into different envelopes—envelopes that had words written on them like: rent, groceries, and gas.
But the first envelope was one that said “Tithe.”
My friend eventually learned about that envelope, and what he learned was that it was a lot different things.
He learned that for his parents it was a priority. He learned it was a spiritual practice. He learned it was an expression of thanksgiving.
But he learned also, that it was a gift that turned possibilities into realities.
His family never got rich, not even close. But his family always had what they needed, sometimes provided in an extraordinary way, while God blessed them in countless other ways.
And as the years went by that tithe envelope became very special for the family, because though they were in “genteel poverty” as he said, the family “glowed with satisfaction and joy at what we could give.”
There was a certain wholesome pride and faithful dignity in that special tithe envelope. Their giving did not make them poorer in any way, rather in made them rich in spirit.
The lesson of this story is that we should never be afraid of losing when we give. Rather we should be sure that in our giving, whatever it may be, we reap what we sow.
The stewardship campaign we will be guided by is called “Saints Alive: Living Generously.”
I hope we all will consider what this means in our lives, what it means for our church, but most especially what this means for the kingdom of God.
I hope it will lay out a vision for the future ministry of this congregation, for in doing that we will be sowing seeds for an eventual harvest that right now we can only vaguely imagine.
But by beginning to sow those seeds now, I am certain that we will see a growing sense of excitement in our congregation as we give freely and cheerfully as God has provided us. I am certain the benefits will flow beyond just meeting goals of the campaign. They will, I believe, flow into becoming blessings of love, gratitude, hope, and commitment as God rewards our generosity.
For when it comes to giving to God—we simply cannot lose.
God loves it when we live generously.
We benefit when we live generously.
The receiver is blessed when we live generously.
Because when seeds of generosity are sown, an abundant future is certainly reaped. Amen.