“Great Need and Great Abundance”
March 13, 2016
I want to talk with you this morning
about next Sunday’s One Great Hour of Sharing offering. And my text is from
Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “You glorify God… by the generosity of
The classic Protestant sermon has three
Not all of mine do. But this one does.
I have a complaint, a concern, and a
So let’s get started.
First my complaint: Within the United
Church of Christ there is a growing effort to turn stewardship—our wise and
faithful use of money—into fundraising. And this presents the danger that
encouraging both weekly giving and generous responses to special needs will
become simply fundraising efforts rather than invitations to faithful living.
For decades the emphasis in liberal,
mainline Protestant churches such as ours has been on the wise use of our
resources as one component of faithful Christian living. Earning money, saving
money, investing money, and giving money are all important.
We give, not because we have to, not
because we seek some reward. We give as one way of putting our money in
perspective. We give as one way of setting our priorities right. In this sense,
giving is a spiritual discipline. And, yes, we also give to support the life of
this congregation and the work that we value, such as feeding the hungry and
sheltering the homeless. In this sense our giving is an expression of our faith
and our commitment.
That’s what I preach about when I preach
about stewardship. My guess is that’s what my predecessors did from this
pulpit. And this congregation has been nurtured and challenged by sch preaching
and such an approach to stewardship. The consistent generous giving of this
congregation shows that.
We care about stewardship—the wise and
faithful use of our money.
But something has changed in the United
Church of Christ beyond local congregations.
About ten years ago I was at a meeting
on stewardship led by some of our national denominational staff. The leaders
expressed a sense of dismay that at the national offices in Cleveland there was
a growing emphasis on “fundraising”—simply raising some cash. Money had been
tight in the national church for years and “stewardship” just wasn’t doing it
anymore. Conferences and the national
denominational offices have historically depended on the giving of local
congregations to what we call “Our Church’s Wider Mission” to fund their
programs and projects and to pay for staff. But with funding coming up short,
there was the sense that new tactics needed to be taken. Conferences were being
encouraged to make direct appeals to individual members of local congregations rather than
depend on gifts from churches.
For several years now, when the Iowa
Conference sends out its weekly email newsletter, they include one of those
little fund raising thermometers that display the amount of money the
Conference has received because, well, because fundraising studies have shown
that just including such a thermometer tends to increase giving. I don’t know
why—but it does. And that’s fundraising, not stewardship.
Churches such as ours were sent
certificates and posters from the national offices stating that we were “Five
for Five”—that is, we had received all five “special” offerings of the United
Church of Christ each year. We posted them in Rockwood Hall.
And then late last year, I received a
letter informing me that our congregation was one of the top 100 UCC
congregations in giving to One Great Hour of Sharing. I felt great!
OGHS has been important to me since I
was a kid. I loved getting those banks. I’ve long known that this offering
provides significant funds for significant programs. I’ve always encouraged you
to give generously to this offering—and you do!
And there we were—here we are—on the
list of the “Top 100 Churches” for everyone to see. Right up there with Ames
and Grinnell. Oh, but who’s missing? Where’s Cedar Rapids, or Davenport, or
Dubuque? Where could they be? Not on the
Top 100 List—that’s where!
I put this in the newsletter. I put this
in our Sunday bulletins. I started to think about how much better we could do
this year than last to stay on the list.
I became a fundraiser.
We’re only human. And fundraising
techniques are used because the work well on humans. Paul knew this. He told
the Christians in Corinth, “Hey, look how generous the Macedoians are. They’re
breaking the thermometer. They’re a “Top Giver.”
So, yes, sometime such techniques might
But we are called to do more than raise
funds. We are called to stewardship. We are called to wisely use the resources
God has given to us—and that includes giving generously.
Many, however, want to do an end run
around our calling.
That’s my complaint.
Here’s my concern: the need for money to
fund medical care, disaster relief, and especially this year, relief for
refugees has never been greater. Not all of the One Great Hour of Sharing money
goes to support refugees, but I want to make special mention of that need this
The situation for refugees around the
world is nothing less than a crisis. According to the United Nations High Commission
on Refugees, one in every 122 people in the world today is forcibly displaced
from their home, seeking refuge either within their national borders or beyond.
You have seen the news coming out of places such as Syria, Iraq, Burundi, and
Guatemala. Violent political actions all over the world have created waves of
refugees and displaced people, unable to return home for fear of their lives.
Some have made their way to Iowa.
Natural disasters have disrupted
communities as well, displacing people from their homes and livelihoods and
exposing the human injustice that is the new normal in many places. Life in a
refugee camp or as a refugee in an urban setting is a kind of “permanent
temporariness” that defies the wholeness of individuals and communities.
One story: In the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp
in Northwestern Tanzania, Martin, a five year old boy in a dusty green T-shirt,
takes the hand of Davide Prata to lead him to his home. Davide is a Church
World Service worker who is in the camp to help improve it.
Every day Martin goes to a makeshift
school made of plastic sheeting and poles, similar to the mass shelter where he
and his family live. The refugee camp was designed to host 50,000 people, but
the camp is now three times over capacity. There is limited movement, few
opportunities for work, and little access to water in some parts. The United
Church of Christ, through Church World Service and other partner agencies is
working to build new latrines, provide storage capacity for clean water, and
bring others services to make the camp safe.
Martin needs us to take his hand as well
and walk with him on the journey to improve the refugee camp where he lives,
providing more hope, and alleviating despair.
The need has never been greater.
And what do we hear from the news
reports in this election year? Calls to build a wall. Promises to deport
thousands. Or maybe even worse—silence.
And there has been too much silence from
this church, this pulpit as well.
This again is my concern: the need has
never been greater.
And so here is my challenge: Give.
One Great Hour of Sharing began as a challenge. In 1946 members of the
Episcopal Church were challenged to raise “one million dollars in one hour” for
relief efforts—at a time when a million dollars was a lot of money! Since 1949
this offering has united Christians of many denominations, including the UCC,
in a common cause.
Give generously to the One Great Hour of
Sharing offering that we will receive during worship next Sunday.
If you have already decided how much you
are going to give, double that amount.
If you haven’t yet decided, surprise
yourself—shock yourself, even—with how generous you can be. When you write that
check you should be asking, “What am I thinking, giving this much?”
Parents, help your children to give
using those banks that we handed out. It’s hard to talk with children about
other children who are suffering, but many of your children are aware of this
already. Gently help them to see how they can help others.
I’m not asking you to give so that we
will continue to be on that Top 100 list. We might be. We might not. But either
way, refugees will have water to drink because of your giving.
I’m not asking you to give so that you
will burst our fundraising thermometer. We don’t even have one. But people who
lost their homes in natural disasters will find shelter because of your giving.
I’m not asking you to give because we
will get a nice certificate to put up on the bulletin board in Rockwood Hall. I
don’t know if anyone even sees such items. But around the world women and men,
boys and girls will get the health care they need and would otherwise miss
because of your giving.
I’m asking you to give because Jesus
calls those who would follow him to love God and love our neighbors. Paul is
clear in this morning’s scripture lesson that those two great commandments of
love are inseparable. Giving to meet human need, Paul tells us, is a ministry,
a form of religious service open to all people.
I’m asking you to give because it is as
true today as it was when Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth that you
glorify God by the generosity of your sharing. By letting your light shine, a
little of the darkness is scattered and in that light people might find new
I’m asking you to give because you are
stewards of all that you have received from God. You know that. Take some time
this coming week to remember all the doors that have been opened for you, all
the help that you have received to get to where you are today. Great need now
meets your great abundance. How do you want to respond?
I’m asking you to give. That’s my
challenge. You can do that.
So those are my three points—a
complaint, a concern, and a challenge. A good sermon all round.
Actually, the classic description of a
sermon is that it is not just three points, but three points and a poem. So let
me make this complete with part of a poem by Warsan Shire. She is a Somali
poet, born in Kenya, who lives in London. The poem is called “Home.” [The full poem can be found on the internet.]
The challenges of our time are great.
We are called to be the church of Jesus Christ, using all our heart and
mind and strength.
You glorify God by the generosity of your sharing.