“Giving Is Easy”

October 4, 2015

 

Isaiah 55:1-13

I Timothy 5:8

 

At various times when I was learning to play guitar or piano or trumpet, I came across a difficult piece of music, or a musical phrase that I just wasn’t mastering. It was hard for my meager skills. On such occasions, my teachers would suggest that I spend some time working on music that was even more difficult than the problem passage. After doing that, I was often astonished at how easy the first problem passage seemed.

I stretched myself and improved. No pain, no gain, I guess.

Those experiences have informed our approach to stewardship this year.

Sometimes it’s difficult to think about how we use our money.

So we started instead by thinking about our very existence and our purpose in life. “What are you doing here?” I asked. That’s a big, difficult question—taking us far beyond money.

Then I reminded you about the importance—the vital necessity—of caring for creation. You can have all the money you want—and more—but if the earth is in global upheaval, it’s really not going to help very much. So we confronted the hard question of our stewardship of creation.

And last Sunday I asked you to reflect on how you spend, not your money, but your time.

How are you doing as stewards of your life, of creation, of your time?

If we start by addressing these areas, maybe it starts get easier to think about money.

So now—only now after we’ve rehearsed the more difficult parts—now is the time to reflect on our stewardship of money.

And since it’s World Communion Sunday, let’s start by seeing if we can learn something from the worship of another congregation in another place.

In the United Congregational Church of Mozambique, the essential ingredients for receiving the offering are a blackboard, a table, and several persons to count and record what is received.

Each organized group of the congregation is call separately, at which time its members leave the church and organize outside. They choose a song with a good beat, line up, and singing and dancing return to the sanctuary. Those who remained inside rise in greeting and respect. The group dances past the table, where they offer their money, continued down the aisle, and often come around again to leave more money.

There’s a great display of in all of this. Some people will take large bills to the table to get change so that they have many small bills. With so much cash in hand, they can dance past the table many times, keeping their group in this process for as long as possible. If someone is sitting down and not participating, they’ll give some money to the nonparticipant so that person can join in the joy and the fun of giving.

If a group is small, persons from other groups will join them in support.

A tally is carefully kept of each group’s giving. After the totals are posted on the blackboard, if often happens that the leader of a group will call those people to come forward again and boost their total.

The excitement and the enjoyment can go on for an hour or more before the final total is given, a hymn is sung, and the members of the congregation heads home—but everyone stays around to until the end to celebrate the giving of the community.

They do all of this after the worship service has ended, after the benediction. It’s coffee hour with a twist.

As much as I’d like to see our Trustees dancing down the aisle with their offerings, as much as I’d love to hear the song of the Christian Education Board as they bring their offerings to the table, we’re probably not going to change our usual routine. Oh, and did I mention that “guests” are also one group that is included in the festivities? That might come as a surprise to any who were here for the first time—but again, with all the sharing that goes on, it might not be that bad.

We might not change our procedures, but we can learn about the joy of giving, the delight that comes from offering what you have to support the mission and ministry of a church that means so much to you. “God loves a cheerful giver,” Paul wrote.  Around the world many have discover and are showing that particular joy.

The United Congregational Church in Mozambique is a great distance from the Church of the Redeemer, a United Church of Christ Congregation in New Haven, Connecticut. The minister there once said that “the choir saves its biggest anthem for the collection of the weekly offering,” adding that she “sometimes suspects that the anthem is there not to draw attention to the offering but to distract us from it. The offering plates are passed apologetically, as people try not to see what others have put in. When the plates are brought to the altar, the prayers of thanksgiving praise God for many things but seldom for the dollars and cents in the plates, which are then carried to a tiny shelf behind the organ, out of sight.”[i]

Oh, the strange ways of other Christians.

Here in Iowa City we find ourselves somewhere in between Mozambique and New Haven. We line up the ushers and send them out among the rest of us. Often one or two children get in on the action—which began as a wonderful, spontaneous addition to our worship several years ago now. One Sunday morning a child simply joined the ushers. And the next Sunday there was a different child—and so it went. No one appoints them—they just respond to what is obviously an important and joyful part of our worship. And when the ushers reach the back, all of us start singing. We bring those filled plates up here and with a pretty strong prayer that often as not includes the word “money,” we place them on the table in full view of everyone and then just leave that cash up here for the rest of the service for the whole congregation to see.

Christians in Mozambique receive the offering after worship. In doing so, they point to the reality that it is only after worship ends, after the benediction, after the postlude, after we are sent out into the world that we really have to answer the question: what am I going to do with all this money?

And here we have the same ground rules that I gave last week about how we use our time: We need to recognize—without comparison or judgment—that each of us will use our money in different ways.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, put it simply: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” In fact, maybe that’s too simple, but he reminds us that earning, saving, and giving—all in abundance—are all good.

We will certainly use our money to care for ourselves and our families. Wise stewardship considers clearly the needs of our families, whatever their size. Some years ago now I stumbled across those words from I Timothy: “Whoever does not provide for relatives and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” The author of this letter is very concerned with the well-ordering of congregational life and the flourishing of healthy congregations. In this context, the people are told that financially caring for one’s family is of prime importance. That requires earning and saving, planning and acting.

And beyond our families, there are any number of ways that we might spend our money—good ways, helpful ways, productive ways. All of these are important parts of the answer each of us must give to the questions: How am I a good steward of all that I have received? How do I wisely use all that is entrusted to my care?

Hard questions—but you have the answers.

And I hope that for each of us the answer is, in part, “I give away some of my money. Really, this is a very good idea. The financial advisor, John Templeton, said that in all his years of working with people he never encountered anyone who was generous in their giving who did not grow in both wealth and happiness. I know, I’ve told you that before, but I imagine you can use the reminder. Wealth and happiness both seem good to me, probably to you as well.

Good stewardship of our money requires that we make it and save it. It also requires that we give it away. And one person pushes us, stretches us, strengthens us when he says: “Giving should make some difference in how we as religious people experience life from day to day. If giving to your congregation is similar to writing a check at the end of the month to pay the phone or electric bill, and then forgetting about it until the end of the next month, you are not giving enough. Similarly, if you take spare change or a dollar or two from your pocket or purse for the weekly collection and never notice the difference, your giving has too little meaning either for you or your church.”[ii]

So here’s what I want you to do:

Give some thought to what you earn, what you save, what you give. That is, give some thought to your stewardship—your wise use—of money. It’s not all that scary. Take some time with it. Maybe talk about it with someone else.

Don’t put this off. Do it this week. This week is a very good time. On Friday we will mail out pledge cards for the coming year. And when you find that card in your mailbox on Saturday or a week from Monday, I want you to be able to look at having given some thought to your own stewardship.

Yes, along with the members of our Stewardship Board, I invite you to give generously to support the ministry and mission of this congregation in the coming year. As you give thoughtful consideration to your pledge for 2016 reflect on what has been accomplished this year because of your giving. The compassion, caring, and community that we find here are inspiring. Your generous pledge will enable us to continue strong programing in our church and to serve those in need in our community.

And, really, that’s the easy part, isn’t it—generous giving to support this congregation that means so much to you and to this community.

So keep working on those difficult and crucial areas of stewardship—your life, your time, this earth of ours. And as you continue on the way, give yourself a break.

Do something easy.

Give.



[i] Lillian Daniel, “Affluent Christians,” Christian Century, 2/8/03

[ii] Congregations of Generous People, pg. 38.