Sunday Sermon, June 23, 2013
First Congregational Church
June 23, 2013
5th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A number of years ago, I was attending a church back in Minnesota, and it was time for the annual pledge drive. It was really the first time that I had paid much attention to any sermon on money, and apparently it struck some chords, since I remember the gist of it all these years later. As I talked about that "sermon" and time with some folks around here, one person decided to respond by writing letter.
We are a most fortunate church family. Dedicated contributing members fund the operating expenses of our church. Your financial support of our church is greatly appreciated and of great importance to continue the day to day operation.
Unlike many churches, we do not ask for a formal pledge from our members but leave it to their own prayerful decision between themselves and God as to what amount will be given.
We have been asked, however, for some guidelines as to what is appropriate. A chart has been included in this newsletter only as an informational guideline. Each of us has our own personal budgets, responsibilities and agendas for the use of our income. Please understand this is only a suggestion and is being presented as a guideline.
We are so fortunate to have a generous investment account that enables our church to meet expenses for upkeep, religious education, community outreach and missions. No monies from the investment account, however, are available for day to day operations.
Your continued generosity of giving week by week and /or month by month and even on a yearly basis, is greatly appreciated and necessary in the continued operation of our church.
Thank you for your support and understanding of this as an informational message.
Thank you, Marilyn. What struck me about that "sermon" all those years ago was a challenge to find our income on the far left of the graph and then the amount of our charitable giving - to discover the percentage of return to God. Two very specific points I remember all these years later are: 1) if you want to know what has the greatest importance in your life, look at your checkbook or credit card statement. And 2) while giving a tenth of what we make back to God is what the Old Testament asked of the Jewish people back then, our challenge was to evaluate our own situation and make a pro-active decision about what we would give.
As your pastor, I've probably not done well at addressing issues about money more often. But so that you don't get nervous, this morning's message is not about asking for money, guilting any of you to do something you don't want to or can't do, or that we have any extraordinary financial issues here at the First Congregational. So you can relax. There shall be no manipulating or arm-twisting. You all may breathe freely.
The professors in seminary alluded to this little saying, but whoever thought it up put it well. If you are a preacher and you want to: grab people’s attention, talk about SEX. If you are a preacher and you want to: lose people’s attention, talk about SIN. If you are a preacher and you want to: make people run for the door, talk about MONEY! I'm not talking about sex or sin and I've locked the church doors.
So a little background on the idea of tithing. Back in the day and the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, the tithe was a tenth of each year's produce and livestock to be given to God by giving it to the Levites who served in the temple. Offerings were above and beyond the tithe. I always wondered why church bulletins used the phrase "tithes and offerings."
The amount came out of the idea that 1) God owns everything and that we were made to oversee and manage what God owns and 2) as a means to show God that we love and trust God. It's not that God doesn't own ten percent of our income, but that God owns it all, and that people got to live on 90% of it. That concept was in place for a long time, and then Jesus came into the picture.
Jesus commended the widow who gave two copper coins above all those who gave greater amounts. He told all of us through the rich farmer that we shouldn't be greedy. Sixteen of Jesus' parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In fact, ironically, 1 out of every 10 verses in the gospels deals directly with the subject of money.
But after Jesus returned to eternity, there was a little trouble in Jerusalem. Historians don't know exactly what happened, but they do know that the apostle Paul wrote four letters to the Corinthians about helping support the church in Jerusalem. Although just two of those letters survived time, our scripture passage for this morning comes from the second of those surviving letters.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (CEV)
Paul: Remember this saying, “A few seeds make a small harvest, but a lot of seeds make a big harvest.” Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give.
Reagan: But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give. God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.
Peyton: The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.” God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.
Kyah: You will be blessed in every way, and you will be able to keep on being generous. Then many people will thank God when we deliver your gift. What you are doing is much more than a service that supplies God’s people with what they need. It is something that will make many others thank God.
Carlisle: The way in which you have proved yourselves by this service will bring honor and praise to God. You believed the message about Christ, and you obeyed it by sharing generously with God’s people and with everyone else. Now they are praying for you and want to see you, because God used you to bless them so very much. Thank God for his gift that is too wonderful for words!
Thank you Paul and grand-darlings. I've known for weeks that this particular message was coming up, but I cracked up when I heard a radio program on Friday that touched on the idea of giving and just what we do with our "harvests of seeds."
The first of those programs talked about the Economics of Happiness, a book by a Lord Richard Layard, an economist and director of the Well-Being Program at the London School of Economics Center of Economic Performance. He suggested that roughly 2% of our happiness is due to our income - as it relates to the income of those around us, and that a third of our happiness can be measured by external factors like relationships - family, if you have work, what that work is like.
The other program I heard talked about the new science of spending. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia have been exploring the a similar idea to Lord Layard: that how we spend our money can have a significant impact on how happy we feel.
Norton and Dunn suggest that experiences bring us longer lasting happiness than material items. We can get more lasting happiness from a vacation, special meal or concert than a television or car - things that we get used to having around. In both the programs that aired this week, the gist was that being deliberate in what we spend our time and energy on - the seeds we plant or sow - have direct implications in the happiness we reap and are able to pass along.
So as you contemplate your new yacht or buying trip to Paris, let us all be mindful of our job as God's managers over the seeds we have been given. Let us remember that our happiness is not dependent on things, but in us. Let us thank God for the gifts that can seem too wonderful for words.
God of all that we have and all that we are, we thank you for investing in each our individual lives. We are grateful for the seeds that were planted eons ago that have grown into blessings that can seem too wonderful for words. Help each of us to remember that you bless us - that we can bless others. When it comes to the money with which you have blessed us, help each of us be wise and generous and glad for the opportunities you give us - no matter how big or small they may seem to us. And no matter what our bank accounts say, Gracious God, remind us of how rich we are because of the gift you gave us in Christ. And all your harvesters say, Amen.
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