“Pumpkin Spice Sermon”

October 9, 2016


Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

II Thessalonians 2:13-17


I’ve been reading and preaching from the Book of Jeremiah for several weeks now and that has been a challenge.

After all, as I said in the first sermon in this series: Jeremiah is not the kind of guy who would be invited to join others for lunch after worship over at Atlas. He is sorrowful and angry and demanding.

Jeremiah’s personality and prophetic announcements often seem appropriate for our times—and that, unfortunately, means that for the most part my sermons have been somewhat somber and sober in recent weeks. Of course, there’s been a lot in the news that makes us somber and sober as well.

But I’ve been thinking that maybe I should lighten up a little and offer something a little more appealing, a little more inviting—perhaps a pumpkin spice sermon. I mean, it’s fall and we’ve come to expect pumpkin spice in the fall. It’s everywhere. We love it.

This lighter touch might help us see the other side of Jeremiah, because in spite of his anger and invective, Jeremiah is ultimately a prophet of hope, concerned, as we are, about God’s love for human beings.

We start to get a sense of that hope in this morning’s lesson.

With capital city of Jerusalem under siege by the Babylonians, Jeremiah, derided as an unpatriotic crank and a traitor, has been imprisoned. It seems as though there is no hope for the nation and that God’s destructive judgment is near.

Do you sometimes feel that way?

Terrorism, endless war, the devastating effects of climate change, nations in upheaval can all leave us feeling that the end is near. On both sides of the political spectrum, people frame this election in apocalyptic terms. We hear Rudy Giuliani warning that “there is no next election. This is our last chance to save this great country.”

And, of course, at times, we can feel under siege ourselves.

At this unlikely time, when all seems lost, Jeremiah’s cousin offers to sell him some property—land that will soon be in Babylonian hands.

Real estate geniuses of our day who know the art of the deal might have passed on this one. Jeremiah jumps at the opportunity. Jeremiah takes the deal because he looks toward the future. He has a vision of what is to come: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”

This story of hope in difficult times tells us something about how we might use our money.

No, I’m not suggesting that you invest in dubious land deals.

But I want you to recognize that we give, we even give generously, because of our hope for what God is doing now and will do in the future.

We don’t wait to be generous until all is well, until there are no problems.

We give, we give generously, because there are problems that need to be addressed, because the world is so troubled, because lives are troubled—and even now, especially now, we sense that our giving can make a difference in the life of the world and in our lives.

And I know right about now some of you are thinking, “Wait a minute. Weren’t you saying that this would be a “Pumpkin Spice Sermon”?

Well, of course, along with pumpkin spice, the other thing we’ve come to expect in the fall is a stewardship sermon—but if I put “Stewardship Sermon” up on the sign outside, well, you can imagine the turnout this morning.

But this isn’t just “bait and switch.”

Stay with me for a few minutes.

Were you here last Sunday when, speaking for most people, Robyn Groff said: “Standing up in front of people and talking about money—that can’t be awkward.

A lot of people don’t like public speaking.

And a lot of people don’t like talking about money.

Not me.

I’ve told you before that I enjoy preaching stewardship sermons—probably more than you enjoy listening to them—although, again, your generosity suggests that you have been listening. I am glad to announce the good news of the abundant love that God rains down upon us and the fruits that grow from our generous giving. I agree with the person who said, “There is only one thing better than raising money for the Realm of God and that is spending money for the Realm of God.”

What a joy to be part of that process of gathering the resources that allow us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, house the homeless, and heal the sick. What a humbling privilege to be able to remind you of the new life that your giving brings to other people.

And I have no problem reminding you of the outstanding personnel that our congregation employs to manage our office, to enrich our worship with music and singing, to nurture our children. You know their consistently high-quality work and their devotion to their calling in this place.

So, really, I look forward to the fall. And even more than looking forward to pumpkin spice, I look forward to the opportunity to remind all of you generous givers to be grateful that we have among us the resources that we need.

Of course, this year many of you have set the example of talking openly about giving.

It started with that bulletin board that appeared in Rockwood Hall in the late summer. Under the heading: “Why I Give” members and friends of this congregation posted their thoughts and stories.

The reasons for giving were many:

“We give to maintain our church presence and programs on the main street in Iowa City.”

“I give because it’s the right thing to do and it makes me feel good.”

“I give because I want to be a part of something larger than myself.”

 “God has charged us all to be generous.”

There’s still time to add your own reasons to that board.

In addition to the bulletin board, members have taken the risk of standing up here and talking about why they give. They have spoken openly and eloquently.

And before worship this morning we gathered in Rockwood Hall and told stories about why we give.

Certainly the reasons for giving are almost as diverse as our membership.

Some give because that’s simply a part of life in a congregation. As a member, as a friend, in choosing to be a part of this community you recognized that our covenant with each other includes financially supporting what we do. So you freely give your fair share—and more.

Some give in response to what you have received. Recognizing God as the generous giver of all things, you seek to be generous in turn. With a faith that affirms we are created in the image of God, you seek to reflect that image in your own giving. Your generosity is a response to the generosity of God. You give so that you might “share abundantly in every good work.”

Some give because you understand giving as a spiritual exercise. That is, you recognize the surprising reality that each of us has a need to give, a need to respond to the free gifts of God by giving ourselves. Offering back to God a portion of what you have been given helps keep in perspective that very human desire for more and more.

And you give because you care about other people: theological students in South Africa, people rebuilding after tornadoes, men, women, and children looking for a meal at the Free Lunch Program or a place to sleep at Shelter House. You look for opportunities to show your compassion by giving.

We don’t talk a lot about giving in the congregation. Members and friends love this congregation and our mission and ministry and support our work with an astonishing generosity. This fall we have been reminded that we are a part of a community of givers. The reasons to give inspire me as I continually seek to increase the giving and the generosity in my own life and I am grateful for each story and comment.

So I have a question for you this morning: How did you learn to be generous?

Who taught you?

I ask this because generosity is a defining characteristic of this congregation. People here sense that generosity—in how we give, in how we act—gives us the opportunity to grow in faith and to grow in human character.

This congregation is generous and actually seems to welcome it when we are challenged to increased generosity. We share a joyful spirit of giving—a giving of time, a sharing of abilities, and, yes, a joyful giving of money. We give freely to support the work that happens in this place. We give freely to maintain this wonderful and temperamental old building. And we also give generously to support, among other things, disaster relief efforts in the United States, theological education in southern Africa, and AIDS prevention work around the globe.

So again, I ask, how did you learn to be generous?

Who taught you?

Was it a family member who helped you learn how to give? Did you have parents or grandparents who were generous with their time or their abilities or their money whose example showed you a path to follow?

Maybe you learned from a friend the importance of giving for living.

Perhaps it was something that you read somewhere.

I remember many years ago reading John Templeton, the financial advisor and zillionaire, who 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. Wealth and happiness both seem good to me.

In fact, you might have learned to be generous simply by giving and experiencing the happiness that came with that.

It might even be that you learned to be generous from someone in this congregation or another one. A friend once told how, when he was a young adult and a new member in a church, two older members took him aside and told him, “We want you to know our theory of giving. Give first and you never miss what you don’t have.” It worked for him for decades to come.

You long-time members, how are you teaching generosity?

“Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught…” we hear in that Second Letter to the Thessalonians. When we have learned generosity and practiced generosity it seems to stay with us.

The reasons for giving are many. But all of us have learned—either here or earlier in life—the joy of sharing. Who taught you that? You should be thankful for them for they gave you a very valuable lesson.

So here’s what I want you to do:

Remembering what you have learned and the people who have taught you…

Remembering that we do live in difficult times…

Remembering that the living God is at work through this congregation to bring life and hope to others…

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 it 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 2017 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.

So once more, let’s return to pumpkin spice.

Reflecting on this perennial fall craze, one person said, “It’s more than just a flavor. It’s a way of life.”

I don’t know.

But I do know that stewardship is more than a way of raising money. It is indeed a way of life. We are called to wise use of all that we have been given—the time that we all receive in the same measure, our diverse abilities, our very selves in all their individual wonder, and yes, our financial resources, our money.

Not just in the fall, but each season, each day of the year we are called to be stewards of all that we have received from God.

Stewardship is like pumpkin spice: It’s everywhere.

It is a way of life.