Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fit To Be Tithed

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Luke 19:1-10:

One Sunday a minister was working on getting his congregation fired up about doing God’s work in the world.  “If this church is going to serve God it’s got to get down on its knees and crawl.”  And the congregation, being actively engaged in the sermon, yelled back “make it crawl preacher, make it crawl.”  And then the minister yelled “and once this church has learned to crawl, it’s got to get up on its feet and learn to walk.”  And the congregation yelled back “make it walk preacher, make it walk.”  And then the minister said “and once this church has learned how to walk, then it’s got to learn how to run.” And the congregation yelled back “make it run preacher, make it run.” And then he concluded with “and in order for this church to run, it’s got to reach deep down into its pockets and learn to give.” And then there was a pause, and someone yelled out “make it crawl preacher, make it crawl.”

Today we complete our sermon series on money, with the one topic I know you all have been looking forward to giving.  But even though many people, including preachers dread these messages, as you’ve already learned, I don’t particularly have a problem talking about money or about stewardship, and in fact I think some of my best sermons have been on giving.  Those who think of messages on giving as me begging for money, or asking you to pay my salary for another year, I believe fundamentally don’t understand giving or stewardship, which is about a lot more than just giving.  The Bible has a lot to say about money, including the passage we just heard from Luke about Zacchaeus, and really only a portion of that is about giving, although it is a part.  And that’s because even if you were to be giving a tithe, which means giving 10%, which is biblical, and we’ll get to that in a moment, you would still have 90% of your money to deal with, and the Bible has something to say about this.  This stuff matters to us.

I also want to talk about it to bring it out into the open, because most people relate to their money more out of fear than any other emotion, and when we hide our money concerns, issues and questions, that fear only becomes worse.  Darkness increases those emotions, but light will dispel them, and so I want to bring light to our financial situation.  I want you to have your financial life in order.  I want you to know where you money is going, and I want you to be controlling your money, rather than your money controlling you, not only because we are called by God to be diligent with our money, to be good stewards, but also because I know that if you don’t know how you are going to pay your bills this month that you will not be able to be giving at the level that is appropriate, not just through the church, but to all the charities that you might support, and  probably the number one fundamental misunderstanding about money and finances, and its committed not just by us, but also by the churches is what it means to be a steward.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Save All You Can

Here is my sermon from Sunday:

We continue today in our sermon series entitled Faith, Hope and Money, which is roughly based on a series created by Dave Ramsey, and for those who are ready for me to be done talking about money, you’re in luck because we’re almost through.  But we ignore money in the church, and in our own personal lives, at our own peril. Rev. Jim Wallace, who is one of the co-founders of the sojourners movement, who are commonly referred to as Red Letter Christians, said that he once took a bible and cut out all of the passages that dealt with money, wealth, or possessions, and there wasn’t a lot left to it.  It was pretty holy, and not in the sense we normally think of the scriptures being holy. And sometimes our checking accounts can feel just as holy.

Now I know that most of us feel like this (dropping money straight through piggy bank) that our money comes in and goes right back out, and we hope that somehow, somewhere, that something will get caught, but normally it doesn’t.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism had a lot to say about money and possessions.  But perhaps his most famous statement begins by telling us to make all we can. While we can look in the Bible and see that money can be a problem, it is not a sin.  Remember that the passage from 1 Timothy does not say, as is commonly attributed, that money is the root of all evil, instead it says that the love of money is the root of all evil.  Nowhere in scripture are we told that people who make a lot of money are bad, and those who only make a little money are good.  We might believe that, but it’s not scriptural, because it’s all in how we approach our money.

You can be generous and loving with a million dollars just as easily as with $1, and you can be greedy and stingy and a hoarder with a million dollars, just as easily as with $1.  It’s all in the attitude we have towards money and what we do with it.  So first we are to make all we can.  Second, Wesley says we are to save all we can, which is what we will be talking about today, and third we are to give all we can, which is where we conclude next week.  Now it’s pretty rare to encounter someone who says, “saving is a bad thing, don’t do it.”  There are lots of debates about how much we should be saving, and where we should put those savings, but very few people say that saving, in and of itself is bad, evil or unnecessary, and yet we don’t save.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Act Your Wage

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Timothy 2:3-15:

“Hi, my name’s John and I like stuff.”   I like stuff a lot.  I like it enough that I have done stupid stuff with my money, and my stuff, and I have also proved the point that you cannot out earn stupidity.  Making more money will not solve your problems, they will only exacerbate them.  If you can’t handle $100 you won’t somehow suddenly figure it out once you have a lot more money, and the fact that more than 80% of people who win large lottery prizes declare bankruptcy within 5 years proves that.  Today we continue in our sermon series entitled faith, hope and money, which is roughly based on a series of the same name created by Dave Ramsey. This week at one of the meet and greets someone thanked me for talking about money, and I was grateful to hear that, at least from one person, because most people don’t always feel that way.

I was talking with clergy colleague this week about our sermons for today, and I told him what I was doing, and he said that one time he preached on money he was told by someone on the way out that they came to church to hear about God, and that’s what they expected to hear about, not about their wallet.  To say that we can talk about God without talking about our wallets, would be the same as to say we can talk about God and not talk about relationships, or helping others, or reaching out, or even about prayer.  Our financial lives are intimately tied to our spiritual lives, not only because scripture has a lot to say about money, but also because just about every part of our lives is impacted by money, and so how we relate to our money and our possessions will impact our spiritual lives and our relationship with God.  In the passage we just heard, we are told that athletes compete by the rules of the sport, so what are the rules that God sets down about money?

In your bulletin you have a little slip of green paper.  I want you to take it out, and then hold it up in front of you.  Look at it.  Feel it.  Now I want you to tear it in half.  Anyone have any problems doing that?  Okay, now it gets a little harder.  Now I want you to take out a dollar bill, or whatever you might have.  I want you to take it and feel it, and then hold it up and then here comes the hard part, and I’m guessing that most of your know what’s coming, now I want you to tear it in half.  How did that feel? (notice that it took people longer than it did to tear the paper)  Did anyone get a little upset stomach, or maybe got goose bumps?  Anyone not want to do it or didn’t do it?  Anyone who made excuses, such as knowing that you could tape it back together?  Anyone not have any bills to tear? Now what was the difference between tearing just the sheet of paper, which was really easy to do, and tearing the bill?  Tearing money is somehow inherently different than tearing another piece of paper although really they are both just pieces of paper.  Why is that?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Gift From God

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was 2 Timothy 1:1-14:

Today we being a new sermon series roughly based on a series created by Dave Ramsey, entitled Faith, Hope and Money, but even though this series coincides with our stewardship campaign, this will be a series on money unlike you have ever probably heard before, because it won’t only be about how we should be giving, or giving more, to the church.  Unfortunately the church has reduced the idea of stewardship simply to this idea, but that is not what stewardship is really about, and in reducing stewardship to that understanding, the church has done a disservice to itself, and more importantly it has done a disservice to you, because even if you were to be tithing to the church, which means to give 10% of your income, and that is the Biblical witness, you would still have 90% of your money with which to deal, with which to figure out what to do, how to handle it, what to save, what to spend, and where and on what, and the Bible has something to say about that.

There are more than 800 passages that deal with money or possessions. Jesus talks more about money than just about anything else.  Money impacts nearly every area of our life, including our spiritual life, after all money is the root of all evil right?  Isn’t that what the Bible says?  Actually it doesn’t, and we just heard that passage from 1 Timothy last week, in which we are told that it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  Money in and of itself is morally neutral.  It is neither good nor bad, it just is.  We are the ones who give any attributes to our money. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, also had a lot to say about money, its benefits and its perils, with perhaps his most famous statement being “Make all you can, save all you can and give all you can.”

Now I know most of you don’t want to talk about money, especially your own.  Money is one of those topics which if I was to ask you how much money you make, or how much debt you have, that you would kindly tell me what I could go do with myself, and so when the topic of money comes up we get a little uneasy, maybe some of us are wondering if there was still time to duck out the back without anymore noticing.  And so let’s just recognize and name this giant elephant that’s in the room.

Financial planner Karen Ramsey, who is not related to Dave Ramsey, begins each of her lectures by asking by a show of hands, “How many of you feel that everyone else besides for you has money figured out?”  By another show of hands, and this question comes from Dave Ramsey, “who here has ever done anything stupid with their money?”  Good, now we’re being honest, and being honest about our financial lives is the only way we can begin to control our financial lives.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A New Hope

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15:

Three weeks after September 11 occurred the passage we just heard from Jeremiah came up as one of the readings.  There are times in which I think that God cannot be found in the lectionary, which are the recommended readings selected for each week, and are compiled by a committee made up of the major protestant denominations along with the Roman Catholics.  And then there are times like that Sunday where it seems as if God is right there the whole time.  This reading from Jeremiah was perfect for that week because we were still trying to deal with the aftermath of that terrible event.  We were still looking for bodies in the rubble.  We thought we knew who did it, but were still pondering the whys.  There was talk of war, but against whom?  The markets were still depressed, as was the population.  There was a sense of coming together as a country in the midst of tragedy, but there was not a lot of sense of hope or optimism, and then we heard from Jeremiah who is writing in the midst of another national tragedy.

Jeremiah is one of those people who is not talked about a lot in church, and in fact I bet if I was to ask you the only thing that some of you could tell me about Jeremiah was that he was a bullfrog.  Jeremiah is one the Major Prophets, major in this sense not referring to importance, but instead length of the book, and the book of Jeremiah is indeed long.  In page numbers it is second in length only to the Book of Psalms, and it should be as Jeremiah had a more than 40 year prophetic career.  The Book of Lamentations is also commonly attributed to Jeremiah, and if Jeremiah did indeed write Lamentations than we have more of his writings in the Bible than from any other source.  And then there is the tradition that Jeremiah might have also written, or compiled together, 1st and 2nd Kings, a less likely scenario, and yet we don’t really deal with Jeremiah all that much.  Just as a quick survey, by a show of hands, who here remembers ever hearing a sermon preached on Jeremiah or Lamentations.

We don’t hear a lot from Jeremiah for several reasons.  The first is that there are not a lot of readings chosen from Jeremiah in the lectionary.  The lectionary covers three years, and in that Jeremiah is found 11 times, out of 156 Sundays, and then that doesn’t count other special days which have reading throughout the year like during Holy Week.  Lamentations is even worse.  Taking out Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter, in the entire three year cycle there is only one reading from Lamentations, and it appears next week.  So we don’t hear from them because they are not read, and they are not read because they are difficult to read. Jeremiah is known as the crying or weeping prophet, and we don’t deal well with lamenting in the church.  We might do it in sometimes in our personal lives, and in set apart times like funerals, but even in funerals the idea of lamenting is going away.