Sunday, October 10, 2010

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 - “10/10/10”

Consecrated Stewards – Part Two
Sunday, October 10, 2010

Last week I got you out of your comfort zone, talking to each other during the sermon, and it won’t be something I’m going to do every week, but at least for these weeks of Consecrated Stewards, I want you thinking and talking together. Let me start you off with something easy: What does today’s date have to do with stewardship?

Get answer that points to 10/10/10 being a reminder of 10% (tithe)

What does it mean to tithe? It goes back to the Old Testament, the giving of 10% of your income, that was what you gave to the Lord, that was what was given to the temple to support the priests and their families, to support the work of the temple.

It also implies being on a budget. I can’t give 10% back to the Lord if I’m not sure what I have. I can’t give 10% if I’m not being careful how I use what I have.

Here’s a simple picture of the Old Testament budget. If I am in the Old Testament and I have 10 sheep, how many sheep do I have to give to the Lord?

What must I learn to do with the other 9 sheep?

I must live on the wool and meat from the sheep, learn to rely on the sheep to produce more lambs for the next year. I must live on a budget. I can’t go ahead and kill the fattened sheep every time I want a party. I have to live on a budget.

But you know, when you have a budget, normally you don’t start with what you’re going to spend, you start with what you’re going to receive, your income. You can think about it as starting with your blessings, the blessings has God provided in your life. Great or small, your income is your blessing, the way God has provided for you. Before you can begin thinking about spending anything, you recognize the blessings in your budget, the blessings in your life. Your income line on a budget is about recognizing blessings.

Then, and only then, after recognizing the blessings in your life, then the next step is to give back to the Lord. The first debit line on the budget is your tithe, what you are going to give back to the Lord. Tithe means 10%, and if you don’t think that you can manage 10% yet, start with some sort of proportionate gift, some kind of percentage, a percentage that helps you decide right away how many of your sheep you’re going to give to the temple.

A percentage frees you up to give, it helps you to feel confident in what you’re giving, it helps you give from the top not the bottom, it helps you to give to God first rather than just giving whatever is leftover.

Percentage giving helps you with what Paul is talking about in the 2 Corinthians passage we have for today Paul talks says that each person “should give what he has decided in his heart to give.” That’s a deliberate kind of giving, the kind of thing that’s thought through. A budget and percentage giving help you to do that. They help you think about what you’re going to give. And deliberate giving considers first the blessings. It always goes back to the blessings that God has given you.

Paul also says that no one should give “reluctantly or under compulsion,” you shouldn’t feel like you’re being dragged kicking and screaming to give, you shouldn’t feel forced to give. Being on a budget and using percentage giving frees you up from that. If you’re confident about what you’ve decided to give, if you’ve considered what you’ve been given and now are ready to give back based on those blessings, then you won’t feel reluctant about it or feel forced. But again, it always goes back to the recognizing the blessings first. Recognizing what God’s given you so that you’re able to freely give back a portion of those gifts for the work of His kingdom.

At the end of this Consecrated Stewards process, we’re not as interested in the final number you come up with. That’ll be on the response card on October 24, but this won’t be the same as our annual time and treasures survey. This Consecrated Stewards process isn’t connected to our budget. What we’re really interested in seeing is if you have been led to give proportionately, to use a percentage to help you know what you’re giving to the Lord. The card will ask whether you’ve decided to give a tithe—10%, or if you’re giving a percentage but aren’t ready to commit to 10% yet, or perhaps you’re feeling led to give even more than 10%. So this process is about training and education, about really thinking about deciding to give to the Lord proportionately, to decide on a percentage that you’ll give to the Lord on a regular basis.

A few weeks ago our Elders decided to challenge themselves to see what percentage they’re giving to the Lord. They weren’t as concerned about the actual dollar amount as they were about finding out what percentage they were giving back to the Lord. The Elders wrote down what percentage they are giving, and the numbers were averaged. They came up with an average of 8%. We rejoiced in that at the Elders meeting while also realizing that it would be a goal to get that number closer to 10%.

But again, giving a percentage starts with recognizing God’s blessings. It starts with seeing what God has already given you. It starts with that income line, rejoicing in whatever that income is, and then giving back to God. It starts with counting sheep, praising God for what you have, and then giving back a percentage to Him—in thanksgiving. Giving is based on His blessings.

Now I’ll be completely honest that I’ve been troubled about this sermon since I first got to Bethel. I mean, it’s tough enough for a preacher to talk about money, but for the new preacher whose barely been here to talk about money to people I’m just starting to get to know, well, that’s really tough. Who put me up to this?

And it’s not like Susan and I are great at this. We struggle to stay on a budget. We try to recognize God’s blessings first, but sometimes we lose sight of the blessings. We set aside a tithe for God, but we’re still tempted to reduce that, to keep a little more to ourselves. So here it’s a struggle for me personally, and I’m supposed to preach about it?

Well, I suppose it’s like anything else. I’m not preaching about stewardship because I’m such a great example. I’m not here to be the example. We look to Christ for that.

But let me tell you about my struggle this week as I worked on this sermon, my struggle as I looked at the passage from 2 Corinthians. I read that first verse and it didn’t sit very well with me.

The first part, I got. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” That I get. If we’re reluctant to give, reluctant to share, selfish with what we’ve been given, well, there’ll be a consequence. You won’t get much in return. God calls us to share what we’ve been given. I get that.

But the second part? That’s what where I was stuck. “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” I was stuck because it sounds like it’s all based on my generosity. That doesn’t sound right. If it’s based on our generosity, then it’s like we’re earning something from God. We give a lot so He’ll give us a lot. I don’t know, that seems wrong, that seems like the focus becomes on how good I am, how good a givers we can be. Do you hear what I’m saying? Do you see my concern?

I don’t want us to walk away from Consecrated Stewards thinking that we’re earning more from God because we’re getting so good at giving. Yes, Paul says that a cheerful giver, a generous giver will be blessed—but that’s about spiritual blessings. There’s a spiritual blessing in being generous. It doesn’t always mean that if you give $100 to church that God will make sure you get a check for $1000 in the mail. It doesn’t work that way. We’re not earning something from God; we’re not bargaining with God.

No, it can’t be that it’s based on our generosity. So what does it mean? What does it mean that “whoever sows generously will also reap generously”?

Well, I’ve already given you the clue to how understand this verse. I found a scholar who gave a better translation of the verse so that it isn’t based on our generosity, it’s not focused on what we do. The clue came in what I said about where budgets begin. What do you think our giving is based on?

See if anyone remembers that it is based on God’s blessings.

That’s right, it’s based on the God’s blessings. It starts with recognizing God’s blessings. The scholar translated the verse saying “whoever sows on the basis of blessings will also reap on the basis of blessings.” Whoever sows, shares on the basis of recognizing God’s blessings, well, that person will also reap according to God’s blessings.

So giving isn’t based on looking at ourselves, looking at how good we’re going to be, looking at how brave we are to give to God, looking at what we’re going to earn from God, looking at our actions. Giving isn’t based on our generosity.

Giving is based on God’s blessings. Giving is based on recognizing God’s blessings. Giving is based on counting the 10 sheep. Giving is based on that income line. Giving is based on seeing just how much God gives to us.

Giving is based on seeing how God gives so much to us that doesn’t even show up in our budget. God gives us the sun in the morning, the moon at night, family that supports us, friends that love us, beautiful days, communities to live in, happiness, joy, talents, abilities. God gives us so much.

This week’s challenge is called in the Post-It Note challenge. It’s described more fully on the bulletin insert, so take it with you, but essentially you become a reporter. You take your Post-It Note pad with you one day this week and start writing on each piece of paper different blessings that you recognize during the day. Specific people, things that happen, things you have, things you are able to do. Then when you return home with your pad of paper, you find a place to post all of your notes. A big mosaic on the wall displaying all of the blessings that God has given you. A visual way of seeing just how much God has done for you.

Giving starts with that Post-It Note wall. Giving starts with recognizing blessings. Giving starts with seeing just how much God has given us. We praise Him for all that He gives us—the things He gives us day by day, the salvation He gives us for eternity, the abilities He gives us and the forgiveness He gives us through the cross.

I want you turn to your neighbors again, and just briefly come up with a list of blessings you see in your life this morning. Pretend you have a Post-It Note pad. Start filling up the pad with blessings that you recognize right now.

Groups discuss. Then get some responses, right them down on a Post-It Note Pad to use during the Prayers of the Church.

Today’s Stewardship Witness comes from Roxanne who wants to share with you the blessings she’s seen in her life, the blessings she recognizes in her life, and how that’s guided her in her stewardship journey. . . .