Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No Arm Twisting, Please!

2 Corinthians 9: 6-8
You’ve guessed it by now.  This is the annual sermon on, and about, money and giving.  And like I said last year…even though Jesus talked a lot about financial responsibility coupled with moral imperative, it is a myth that we, in the church, only talk money from the pulpit.  This is just one sermon out of 52 or it’s a mere 1.9% of the time to be exact, that we will talk about money.  So please don’t go away thinking that’s all the church ever talks about.  Because you see it is not.

It is interesting to note however that if Jesus were in this pulpit out of the 39 parables that are attributed to Jesus, 11 of them are concerned with money, or ‘treasures’.  In fact he talked more about money than heaven or hell combined.  And it is not that he talked about us prospering or protecting our investments, rather his take on this ‘kingdom of God’ is that we should take what we need and then give away a healthy portion of it to help those in need; feed, clothe and house disadvantaged people.  Money is not a bad thing, the handling of it though is what matters to him.

So let’s set the stage for the scripture that we just heard.  Here is Paul the missionary who made his way to Corinth to begin a church.  When he left he had promised to come and visit them again but he changed his mind so he writes a letter to them.  In it he explains why he changed his mind and to encourage them to be generous to other Christians like  the Macedonians who were poor people and were in need. 

I am convinced that Paul did not have an easy life and he definitely was tenacious in character.  He was never afraid, and was always encouraging people to give to the church so that they poor among them could be fed.  He knew what he believed and he wasn’t afraid to share with others no matter the cost.  I like how Eugene Peterson has reframed the passage from 2 Corinthians:

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.  God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. Amen!
                                                                       The Message – 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8

Peterson gets down to the basics, no candy coating it, if you are stingy that’s what will come back to you but if you are generous, lavish even then that is what you will reap.  Basically, you get what you pay for.  Then he says, think about that analogy and make up your own mind as to what you will give.  We really don’t want to do any arm-twisting, Lyle Heimbaugh, notwithstanding!

God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.  How wonderful a phrase is that, too imagine God absolutely enthralled when you feel really good with what you have given?  Don’t give till it hurts…..give till it feels good.  Really good for you; God will be delighted.  God will be tickled pink.  God loves a cheerful giver.  And you will be blessed. 

There was a family once who joined a church.  They hadn’t much been church goers so the concept of pledging was somewhat foreign to them.  They really didn’t have much and their children were eligible for reduced price lunches in the public school.  They were living hand to mouth.  But through other peoples examples of giving at the church they began to see that they would not go hungry because of their pledge, that God would ultimately bless their generous efforts.  It wasn’t the size of their gift, it was the faith and trust in giving. 

Another family had a stable and higher than average income. They had pledged in the past but had become a bit disgruntled by the handling of particular fund and so they decided to withhold their pledge rather than speak out about their unhappiness.  Issues come and issue go in churches, we all know that. But the mission of the church, as directed by God through Jesus Christ never changes. 

I suppose what they did was one way to try influence change but what about what God has called us to do?  What about the personal call to be generous with the gifts you have been given by God? What about the spiritual imperative that is placed on all of us; to give as we are able? As Archbishop Robert Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis says, “God expects us to take what has been given to us…to nurture and develop our gifts and to return them with increase.”[i]   There are no caveats really.      

This family eventually found that their commitment to church life felt flat and their spiritual engagement was missing something and so they began to give again.  One of the Proverbs tells us, “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.  A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.” (Proverbs 11: 24-25)

To pledge and to give is important on many levels.  It helps us be fiscally responsible to this structure and grounds of this church, it provides for creative ways to worship our God who walks with us in this journey we call life.  And it engages our faith outside of these walls through missional outreach. 

Above all of that it is a mark of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have pledged again this year, a total of ______ and I have increased my pledge by 4%.  That’s roughly giving up two latte’s from Starbuck’s a month even thought I’m not a Starbuck’s fan.  It’s doable.

I believe in the church.  I believe in this church.  I believe in the transformative power that each dollar contains for the transformation of this world.

And mostly why I give is that I love God with my heart, all of it.  I walk out in trust that when you receive my monthly withdrawal it will be used to enact the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yes in the electric, yes the maintenance of this building, yes in the giving of ourselves to one another, yes so that we really can feed people, and provide for them while they cannot and yes, worship and love God with our whole hearts. 

Please join me in pledging this year.

Remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.


[i] St Clare of Assisi, Adult Intention Card.  The Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson.  Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri. 2012.

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