Monday, October 18, 2010

What are you invested in?

Sorry that the blog is late today.  I have been in a presbytery meeting all day (I still am, don't tell anyone!)
So, that means no lectionary blog.  But below you will find yesterday's message that I shared with Good Shepherd.  It was our 'Stewardship Sunday' and I asked the question, 'are you invested?'
I would love to hear what you think:

Malachi 3:6-12
 6 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty.
      "But you ask, 'How are we to return?'
 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
      "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
      "In tithes and offerings. 
9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
Matthew 6:19-34
19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
    22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, [c] your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, [d] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
    24 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life [e]?
    28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Prayer: God, open our eyes that we might see you.  Open our ears that we might clearly hear your Word calling us.  Open our hearts so they might be tuned to yours.  And I ask 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.
Several years ago, I was part of a group of St. Tim’s leaders going to get a $150,000 donation from Mrs. DuPont.  A leader said, it really shouldn’t be that hard, after all she could really pay for the whole thing and not even miss the money.  ‘She won’t even miss it’ – maybe hard for us to comprehend, but that was the reality of her situation.
But then Father Tom, the priest, said something profound that I will never forget - If she doesn’t miss it, then we will never get it.
The point he was making is about the nature of giving in the church and it is one that I think we all too often miss.
You see, I don’t think giving from a Christian perspective is about generosity or helping out those in need around us, or even helping to ensure that the doors of the church stay open.  These are all good and important things, and the money given to the church is certainly used for them – as it should be
But that is not the point or the purpose behind giving back to God through our tithes and offerings.  The point is that we are to be fully invested in what God is doing in and around us – that we are to actively participate in the mission and work of God in this world.
It is a point clearly illustrated in the story of the widows’ offering :

From Luke 21:1-4 (The Message)

1-4Just then he looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies. He said, "The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all!"
Many of you may be familiar with that story and it is yet another one of the stories of Jesus that gets trotted out around stewardship time, but I think by looking closely at this passage – along with the others we read this morning  can give us an important understanding of God’s call to invest in His mission in this world.
I think we are to draw two things out of Jesus’ description of the widow’s offering.  The first is about priorities and the second is about control.  The issue of what are priorities are in relation to God is simple
God calls us to put him first in our life, this may be hard to hear or difficult to think about implementing, but if you listen to the words of Jesus – this isn’t really a negotiable point
The thing is it’s easy to talk about making God a priority in our lives and there are many ways to do that:
Daily study and devotion
Involvement in the life of the church and regular worship
Engagement in service to and for others
But really, for most of us it is when we reach for our wallets that we get the truest picture of where God really stands as a priority in our lives.  We can take solace in remembering that of all the people Jesus encountered, only one did he call to sell everything and follow him.
For most of us God simply requires that we put him first.  Our money is so interconnected with the rest of our lives that when we shut God out of that area, it quickly becomes difficult to truly make God a priority in any other area of our lives
The hard truth is that in our world our ‘spiritual lives’ are directly connected to our pocketbooks and our wallets.  This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel passage from Matthew that we heard a few minutes ago: ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’
To put it more bluntly, Jesus is saying that our Hearts follow our dollars.  And that our Dollars lead our Hearts.  I think we assume that the heart – our hearts – work in the opposite direction: that we care first and then we share.
We think that someday, sometime down the road we will be spiritually mature enough that we will trust God to provide enough so that we can share with others.
We allow ourselves to believe that someday – but not now – when we have all we need, we will practice generosity. 
But Jesus says that isn’t the way it works.  First we must become invested in God’s work and mission in this world and in and through our lives.  Jesus says that if we want to trust that God will provide, we begin that process by  trusting that God has already provided. 
Treasure first, says Jesus.  Our hearts will follow. 
First we share – of our time, our talents and yes, our money – we invest who we are and what we have in God’s mission and in so doing we grow to care.  Trusting in God – which is a crucial part of what is needed to take the first step in investing yourself in God’s will for your life and in God’s work in and around you is not easy. 
It isn’t easy and it hinges on the second issue.  Jesus is getting at in the story of the widow’s offering– control.  If you were here last week, we talked a little about this then too – because I really believe it is right at the heart of stewardship.
We all want to be able to control as much as we can about our lives, and thanks to technology, wealth and knowledge for the first time in human history we can at least perceive to have some level of control over all or almost all of our lives
But if you have lived long enough, studied enough history or listened closely enough to the Word of God you know that our ability to control – well, much of anything really – is nothing more than an illusion.  And this is, again, directly tied to how we handle our money
Do we see ourselves as children of God, trusting in our creator and savior for all that we need – as we are told in Matt 6 –
'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Or do we ignore those words and hold on as tightly as we can to all that we have been given, operating under the illusion not just of control but of responsibility – that we are in this life alone and it is our responsibility (and ours alone) to provide for our families; to care for ourselves; etc.
If we let go of this illusion, if we truly make God a priority in our lives – in every area of our lives and we recognize that God is in control and accept his responsibility for us than I believe, It will mean that sometimes we are asked to give so much that we can’t help but notice it
But I also believe that whether we have less or more; plenty or want; whether we are the rich giving our offerings or the poor widow among them when we trust in God and invest what God has given us in the mission and work of God we will experience grace, peace and providence as the first dividends of an amazing investment
Let me briefly share three steps to beginning to invest in God’s mission in and around you
Step One – Make a promise.  The spiritual practice of generosity begins with a promise – the promise to share.  It is a promise to ourselves and to God.  In this church we have the opportunity to record our promise through a pledge card – which I once heard described as a promissory prayer.
Step Two – Share in proportion to your resources.  Our Hebrew ancestors gave us an example of proportional giving, setting aside the first ten percent of their harvests or herds to God in what was called ‘the tithe’.  Ten percent is a good goal or bench mark, but it isn’t a magic number – especially if you are just beginning the spiritual discipline of generosity.   Starting where you are is a great goal – beginning with 1 or 2 percent of your resources.  Much more important than the amount is that we promise a proportion of what God has shared with us.
Step Three – Be persistent in giving.  Generosity, like all disciplines is self-confirming.  What I mean by that is that it is only by practicing it that we are able to learn and understand its value.  This is true of prayer, worship, Bible study and it is true too of generosity.  Simply put to see the benefits of generosity for ourselves and the world around us we must keep at it. 
Persistence pays off as disciplines become habits and Godly habits become sources of joy and energy for our life and the lives around us.
Are you invested?

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