Stewardship Sunday: “The Freedom of Generosity”
Sunday, November 22, 2009
We have a pattern we’ve evolved into these last 5 or 6 years during stewardship season. One Sunday I do a “state of the church” sermon lifting up our vision as a congregation because we want you to be able to give to Foundry’s mission and ministries with a sense of this being something you can support enthusiastically.
That is what we did last Sunday. We passed out 5-year goals. We’ve already gotten some excellent feedback that our Congregational Council is working on. In my sermon I celebrated all the leadership our staff is providing and I talked about the things I feel led to devote my energies to these next five years—fixing up our building so it better supports our ministries, ending chronic homelessness in Washington, DC by 2014, reaching people who belong to Christ but who have been turned off by church because they’ve been taught not to think or feel or love themselves in church, and changing the United Methodist Church’s discriminatory policies toward gay and lesbian people. I believe if we keep working, there will be a breakthrough in the next five years.
Last Sunday the emphasis was on Foundry.
Sunday every year we try to focus not so much on Foundry’s need for your
support for our mission and ministries but more on our need to give. The mission
and ministries of
It occurred to me this week that I probably should not talk long this morning, so I won’t. Paul Hazen, the facilitator of our Resources Council, is going to share with us this morning and then we do something that makes me more anxious than anything else we do in worship all year long.
I always have high anxiety about this. We give you 5 minutes of silence to prayerfully think about your giving. Or if you are here with a partner with whom you share your finances you might want to talk very quietly together. We give you five minutes to think about what you want to pledge to Foundry’s mission and ministries in 2010.
The reason I get anxious about this is that I am afraid you’ll get bored. It is my own hang-up. I know you are perfectly able to handle 5 minutes of silence. But my anxiety is saying, “What if they all get bored and get up and leave?”
This week it occurred to me for the first time that this 5 minutes might be a service to some of us who do not take time to think much about our giving. I know a lot of my giving is impulsive. Someone asks me to give to something, I get a letter in the mail, something touches my heart; my giving to things other than to church is often impulsive.
So I hope you take the 5 minutes we offer you this morning to think about your giving and what kind of commitment you want to make to Foundry, but I hope you also think about all of the ways that you want to give your time, talent, energy, and resources in service to God and your neighbor in 2010. Again, if you are here with a partner with whom you share your finances, feel free to talk quietly to each other. You can step out into the hallway if you start arguing.
This morning I want us to look again for just a few minutes at this story of the poor widow.
In the story Jesus is critiquing the scribes; scribes were lawyers. Some of them made money by providing legal services that resulted in the foreclosure of the homes of widows and other poor people. He was pointing out the hypocrisy of scribes who made their money at the expense of the poor and vulnerable and then acted pious and religious in their houses of worship on the Sabbath.
He contrasts them to a poor widow who gives only a few coins, worth a penny. A penny in those days was enough money to buy a handful of flour.
Jesus sits watching people give their offering because he knows sooner or later a poor person will come to give. Nobody else pays attention to the widow’s offering of a few coins, but Jesus points her out to his disciples and tells them that she has given more than everybody else because the others gave out of their abundance but she gave out of her poverty.
So the question the story raises for us is whether we give out of our abundance or out of our poverty? Is there something we sacrifice in order to give, do we feel our giving, or do we just give out of our excess?
We all need to give. It is the image of God in us. In a downtown church in another city I used to serve, we had a tradition for decades of keeping our doors unlocked all day so that people could use our prayer chapel. We inadvertently became a gathering place for chronically homeless people.
We had one severely schizophrenic man for whom we became his touch-point in life. He stopped by everyday. Some days he could talk to us. Some days he couldn’t. Some days his behavior was under control. Other days we had to calmly but firmly set limits on his behavior. Sometime after he’d started visiting on a daily basis, maybe a year afterwards, I can’t remember exactly, he started bringing us a handful of change every week, sometimes twice a week. He would spend hours walking the sidewalks looking for change and he would pick it up and bring the change to the church.
At first I didn’t want to take it and then I realized how important it was for him to be able to give as well as to receive. It was part of the image of God in him. And it may be coincidental, but after he started giving his change, we stopped having serious financial problems at that church.
We all need to give and I really believe that God blesses the gifts that represent giving out of our poverty… giving that we feel… that costs us something.
Part of the spiritual power of giving that we can feel and that costs us something is that it frees us from the compulsion of our wants. Because our wants can enslave us. A commitment to generous giving to others frees us from being in the grip of our wants. It makes a profound spiritual difference in our lives to know that there is something we are denying ourselves to give to others.
So this is my encouragement and challenge to you this year. (Our ushers are going to distribute estimate of giving card right now while I am talking).
There is a yellow sheet inside your bulletin. One side is a breakdown of our congregation’s giving to Foundry’s mission and ministries. You can see how many of us give in what ranges.
Then on the other side is a chart showing some annual incomes and what a proportional percentage commitment would be.
Jane and I try to tithe. We have had $340 a week automatically sent from our bank account to Foundry this past year, so if you look at chart you can pretty much figure out our household income.
Here’s the encouragement I’d give you this year. Figure out how much you can give next year without feeling it very much and then increase it so that you will feel it more, so that it will cost you something.
If making this kind of commitment makes you a little nervous, that’s a good sign. It makes me a little nervous.
If your income changes during the year, just let our church office know and they’ll adjust your estimate of giving. That’s my encouragement … for all of us to stretch ourselves, learning not just to give out of our excess, but in a way that costs us something. It will be different for everyone but I think that is where the spiritual power comes from. And that’s the word I have for us today.
I appreciate the work of our stewardship ministry team and our resources council. Paul Hazen is going to share and then we will go into our time of silence.