Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Shake Down Sunday!

Yesterday I was having breakfast with some friends.
I was talking about my sermon for this morning and how it is for us Stewardship Sunday.
One of my friends said, “Oh, you mean shake down Sunday”.
I admit that it can often feel like that.
The pastor gets up and gives a sermon about how we are not doing enough, and that we need to give more.
I know because there have been times I have given that sermon.
I once gave a sermon in my first congregation where I pointed out that I as a first year pastor was making as much money as the pastor who had been there for 14 years previous.
I chastised them for failing to pay her properly.
I may have been right, but later I regretted it.
Talking to people later about it I realized that it did not make anyone in that congregation more generous.
It just made them feel ashamed.

So this morning I want to start by doing something that is unusual for Lutherans.
I am going to brag about all of you.
I am going to commend you for being very generous people.
I am going to tell you that I am often overwhelmed with how generous you can be.
I want to tell just one story that illustrates this point.
Every year our congregation collects health kits to send to Church World Service that serves poor communities around the world.
This year we again had people give very generously to that.
When we do that program we have to pay about $300.00 for the shipping.
This last year I had two people that both wanted to pay for that shipping cost.
I won’t say they fought over it, but one of them was disappointed that they didn’t get to give the $300.00
This story shows that generosity is contagious.
Think about all the generosity going on in that story.
We had the generosity of people giving the supplies, and on top of that we had two people that wanted very badly to give to ship the supplies.
We had more than we needed.
In this story we had abundance.

When we think about God I hope that what we think about is abundance.
Our Gospel for this morning is a great example of abundance.
Jesus is being crucified.
That is horrible in and of itself.
But on top of that humiliation he is being mocked and derided.
His whole life, and all the great things he did, is being is called into question.
Think about how extraordinary it is that while this is going on Jesus responds with forgiveness.
How easily are we offended?
 How easily do we walk away because we have been disrespected?
How many relationships have we given up on because we felt that we just were not treated correctly, or for minor things?
Jesus is being crucified!
Jesus is being made to look foolish, and he is still forgiving others.
“Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
It is an abundance of grace.
It is over the top.
We would not ask any one we know to act the way Jesus does here.

But this is what separates us from Jesus.
We cannot be as abundantly giving as he is.
We are limited in what we can do for others.
We are limited in the amount of chances we are willing to give.
We are limited in the amount of abuse we are willing to take before we want to get revenge.
Jesus has no reservations about offering grace to those who hate him, torture him, mock him, and cast him aside.
We can never duplicate that.

What we can do is live a life of a steward.
We can live a life that recognizes the great gift we have been given.
We can use that life to help others, to give of ourselves in small but meaningful ways.
It will never be as glorious as what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
But it will be glorious.
And our generous spirit will encourage others to have the same spirit.

My father in law was telling me how he learned to be generous.
He was telling me that when he would go out to eat his father would tip 30%. And he would tell his father that he didn’t understand why he gave so much.
His father told him, “They have to eat too”.
Generosity breads generosity.
It helps us to see in the other person their God given importance.

The reason we have stewardship Sunday is not to shake you all down.
It is not to have you give money to the Church.
It is not about paying my salary.
It is not to have you part with your hard earned money.
It is to acknowledge the gift.
Today we acknowledge that we have been given by God something that no amount of money can pay back.
We acknowledge that God has been abundantly generous to us, and we desire to do the same.
We also acknowledge that we are not alone, and that others have to eat too.

I am aware that this is counter intuitive to us in many ways.
We are used to a system that is based more on our personnel satisfaction and desires.
A system that tells us to get what we can while we can.
A system where we get what we deserve.
I get it.
I live in that world too.
How beautiful it is to see the abundance God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
To see how much God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
How wonderful that people are willing to give up $300.00 so we can send health kits to people in another country.
How wonderful that we give to that without knowing if the people who will receive it are worthy.
We don’t know anything about them.
We don’t know if they are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, good or bad people.
All we know is that there is a need and we can help.

I have been thinking a lot about the election as I am sure you all have been too.
And last week I was at the Bishop Convocation where I talked about the election a lot.
And I want to offer something that will bridge the divide between people.
I want to say something that will make my Gay friend feel less scared about losing his rights.
I want to say something to the refugees and immigrants living here in Concord who are being told that they are not as good as the real Americans.
I want to say something to my Black/African Americans friends who are worried about all the racist words being used.
I want to say something to the Trump support who feel hopeful, vindicated and proud at the outcome of the election.
I want to say something that will make us all feel better, and will bring us back together.
I will admit that I have not found those magic words.
(This is not easy to say for a preacher.)
I don’t know if they exist.

What I do know is that what is true today was true before this election.
God calls on all of us, regardless of who we voted for, to a life of abundant giving, to a life of abundant grace.
Not because it is the right thing to do, but because the God we know in Jesus Christ did it for you.
God gave all he had so that you will be “rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, and the forgiveness of sins.”

Our God is abundantly generous.
I thank God today that all of you are abundantly generous too.
I thank God you are generous with your time, your money, your lives.
May we continue to grow in our generosity, and continue to show others the power of God’s generous grace through our stewardship.

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