Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hey, I know . . . lets talk about money . . .sounds fun, right?

Sorry, I have been absent from the blog - I know you have all been really missing me and it.  Anyway, crazy day today, but I thought I could share with you the sermon that I shared on Sunday.  It was a 'stewardship' message, but I think there is something there for all of us.  I have also included the scripture passage and the prayer I opened with.  I hope you can hear God speaking through these words.

Luke 6:27-38 (NIV)
 27"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.
 32"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them.33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 37"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Prayer: God, we are gathered together this morning to worship you.  As you draw us into your presence, help us to hear and understand your will.  Give us wisdom to know what is right and courage to do what is right.  And now I pray that you would hide me behind your cross, so you are what’s seen and speak through me, so you are what’s heard.  Amen

So, today we begin a season that many people in churches across America dread – Stewardship season.  Many people simply can’t stand to hear people in church – especially pastors – talk about money.  And the truth is many pastors can’t stand to talk about it either – some actually avoid the subject entirely.
It is a tempting thing to do.  But I think it is a dangerous thing to try and keep God out of any part of your life – even the financial part.  But more than that, I think if we allow ourselves to think about stewardship simply as a discussion of money – or if we frame it as a way of paying the churches bills – we really are missing the point.
Stewardship is a part – a central part – of discipleship and giving (of your time, your talents and yes your money) is a spiritual discipline – one that leads to a stronger relationship with God and a more powerful witness to those around you.
The goal of our stewardship ministry is not to raise enough money to pay the bills next year – we certainly hope to do that, but the goal of our stewardship ministry is: To help God’s people (you and I) grow in our relationship with Jesus through the use of the time, talents and finances God has entrusted to us.
Simply put Stewardship is about you and I working to grow closer and more faithful to Jesus Christ.  So let’s get right down to it . . . In the words of Jesus from our Luke passage this morning we have a pretty incredible list of instructions.  Jesus tells us to: give to others whatever the ask,
allow people to steal from you, treat others how you want to be treated, love those that don’t love you – even your enemies, do good to those  who have done nothing for you – or even those that have done harm to you,
and finally lend out money without expecting repayment. 
This is a pretty long, detailed and serious list.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me none of the things on that list are exactly easy to live up to.  Not only that, but just about all of the items on Jesus’ list seem at the very least counter-cultural if not completely illogical. 
I guess that isn’t entirely surprising, by this time we all know that Jesus sort of does this.  His instructions and directions are often the opposite of what one might expect or instinctively do.  Even so, this list is particularly troubling because not only does it live up to the unexpected nature of many of Jesus’ sayings, at no point does Jesus give any insight as to how one might actually live like this.
So not only does Jesus give us this seemingly unrealistic set of instructions, he expects us to just know how to go about following them.
With almost no explanation to look too, living up to or applying this list seems close to impossible.  I mean, honestly, look at that list, someone living up to the requirements of that list would most likely be identified as a sucker before they were labeled a Christian. 
We all know that it is good and maybe even important to care for and look after others, especially those that can’t take care of themselves, but we also have to look out for ourselves.  If you don’t look after yourself, who will – right?
Give your money away to people that aren’t going to repay you?  Sounds like a good way to end up broke and friendless. 
Give people whatever they ask of you?  Sounds like a good way to make sure that you get taken advantage of.
 Love those that don’t love you? All that would accomplish is opening yourself up for more people to hurt or take advantage of you. 
We can probably all admit that we could work on not judging and not condemning people or what they do, But isn’t that the point – even if we don’t judge others – we are likely to be judged by those around usbe that kind to me. 
So, should I be the only one that lives like that? It just doesn’t make sense. 
We don’t know if those hearing Jesus’ words initially had the same thoughts as I did when I heard His list of instructions for us, but if they kept listening to him they would have heard what God has in store for those that follow his instructions. 
The amazing promise of God that Jesus was sharing with them is this: if you love the unlovable, give freely, give generously, and reach out to others without judgment or condemnation you will be rewarded beyond your comprehension.  Jesus was telling them that God would bless them from His blessings according to the measure that they had blessed others from theirs.
But the question still lingers:  but how are we supposed to do all of this?  The answer to that question lies at the heart of our topic for the day, Stewardship.  Some of you may know that we use the term Stewardship to remind ourselves that all that we have comes from and even know belongs to God - we are simply stewards, or caretakers, of what God has given us.
All that we daily call ‘ours’ and ‘mine’ are really not ours at all but God’s. 
This is a subtle change of perspective, but it is a change that makes all the difference, and it is a change that makes Jesus instruction sheet not only possible but logical.  God is longing to care for us, keep us safe and bless us and this is exactly what He will do if we relinquish the illusion of control over our lives and acknowledge His power and providence in our lives and indeed over the entire world. 
What this means is that stewardship is a choice, it is a choice between holding on to everything that we can grab, as tightly as we can – even as it slips through our fingers or living a life of trust and faith in the God that loves and cares for us and has already provided for everything that we have ever had and that has promised to continue to care for us.
We live in a fast paced, crazy, isolated and sometimes cruel world.  All of us get caught up in taking care of ourselves because of this reality.  It is often said that you can’t make it alone in a place like this. 
It is into this crazy, fast moving, isolated and cruel world of ours that God enters into and offers a promise.  The almighty creator and Lord over all the universe, the one that has already given His very life for you, Jesus Christ is longing to be your guide, your shield and your provider. 
Jesus Christ challenges us to trust him:  Give freely, even to those that maybe taking advantage of you and watch God provide for you.  Refrain from judgment and condemnation and watch God open up a world of new opportunities and relationships to you. 
All you need to survive and thrive in this cutthroat, dog eat dog world where everyone is only looking out for themselves – is start looking out for someone else and let God take care of you.
As I was preparing this sermon I made every effort to stay away from talking about what we get out of giving, about the benefits that come from admitting that God is in control and all that we have is God’s.
I really didn’t want to give you story after story about what happened to people when they choose to give sacrificially.  I didn’t want to share the amazing stories that start with people deciding to put God first, even when the bills were due.  I don’t know why but it just seemed like the wrong message for church – do this because of what you will get out of it – isn’t it supposed to be about sacrifice? 
The problem was that Scripture, my own personal experience and the Living God would not let me get away from the message that giving to others ensures God giving to you and God giving to you in abundance. 
Listen to Luke 12:31-33:
 ‘But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.’
So I invite you to accept the challenge of Jesus – and begin to life into the promise of God, and along the way give up the illusion that you are in control, that you are the only one that can ensure that you are taken care of. 
Instead begin taking care of others, go ahead and test God.  Go ahead in spite of the logic of this world, the lack of space in your calendar and the arithmetic of your checkbook and give freely, give boldly and see if what is returned to you . . . ‘a full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over.  Because whatever measure you use in giving –large or small- it will be used to measure what is given back to you. 
Because in God’s economy it is in giving that you receive, in blessing that you are blessed and in giving and living generously that you are showered with the full generosity of God.

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