"A Sum In Proportion To Our Gains"

By Rev. James A. Splitt

Sermon October 11, 1998

Malachi 1:10-14 Matthew 25:31-46 I Corinthians 16:1-4

According to sociologist Robert Wuthnow, "people are reluctant to discuss their salaries, their personal net worth, and their doubts." In other words, people don't want to talk about how much they make, the value of their assets, and what worries them.

I know when I get these surveys in the mail or over the phone that ask all kinds of questions about what magazines I read, what movies I like, where I like to eat, and so on .... there is the question that asks for income level. I always leave that one blank or tell the telemarketer, "that's none of your business."

It's not hard to figure out why most people who have income and some accumulated wealth want to keep that information personal. It's also understandable why people would prefer not to discuss their personal fears and doubts. If our income and our net worth we're a matter of public information what difference would that make? If we openly shared our doubts, what might happen to us?

What if it were our practice at the church to list everyone's income, and the value of all of your savings, property value, and other investments? What dynamic comes into play when you do this? It's easy to figure out. First we want to see where we fit in, how we compare. Who's got the most? The second thing that happens is the Stewardship committee sends us a bill. Based upon how much we got is how much we have to give. Pledging is a thing of the past, the disclosure of our worth now means we can't fudge on our giving to the church. Everyone knows what we ought to give, so the annual Stewardship campaign is a breeze, we are given a bill for a sum in proportion to our gain. And we just pay the bill, it's that easy. Can you imagine what kind of Stewardship campaign we would have if we did this?

No wonder people are reluctant to talk about money. If that became the practice at this church, it would be the first and the last time. Everyone would leave.

Therefore, when it comes to planning the next year's budget and talking about personal giving, church folk usually get a bit nervous. In fact, I've known some people who try to avoid the one Sunday of the year the Stewardship sermon is going to be given.This is that Sunday, and this morning's sermon is about personal giving to the church.

Our stewardship committee has undertaken a challenge this year in presenting an inspiring stewardship theme. A packet of information has been prepared for you which includes a Stewardship newsletter. Two banners adorn our chancel that capture the theme of our Stewardship campaign. Instead of one Stewardship sermon, there have been and will be a number of sermons that address the subject of stewardship. This morning I want to address giving as an expression of GRACE, giving a sum in proportion to our gains.

In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul instructed the people to set aside a sum in proportion to their gain for an offering that would be distributed among those in need. We read in this morning's text that a "gift" is to be taken to Jerusalem. The "gift" is the total sum of giving by the church in Corinth. The "gift" is a word we understand, but it is far from the word used by Paul in the Greek. I am very familiar with the Greek word "Charis" that is found in the Greek translation. caris means GRACE. During my college years I worked as a camp counselor at a camp called Koinonia in Highland Lake, NY. Koinonia is the Greek word for communion. There were two lakes on the camp and one was name Charis, the Greek word for grace. The people of Corinth collected money, a sum in proportion to their gain that would become an expression of GRACE to those in need in Jerusalem. What happens when giving becomes GRACE instead of a gift? Does it not change your whole perception of what stewardship is all about? Giving is an expression of grace!

Grace is our gift to the stranger, the homeless, the imprisoned, the hungry. The parable of Jesus that is this morning's text is about the stewardship of grace. Our personal gift to those in need. This is where we meet Jesus. I remember this summer during our Bible School program listening to a woman who had a band-aid ministry to children in Europe in need of basic medical supplies. What we gave to her was CHARIS, a gift of Grace.

Jake Sawyer, walked for Southeastern Ecumenical Ministries. He walked with our gifts of Grace. When we participate in One Great Hour of Sharing, we are sending a sum in proportion to our gain to help those people who have faced a disaster, a flood, an earthquake .... whatever, our money turns into a gift of GRACE. When we support the building fund, or pay money on the debt of this church, and when we support the general funds of this church, we turn our giving into grace.

Grace is the expression of our gratitude to God. Look again at the verse of scripture that sets the tone for our worship. From Psalm 89:11 it says, "Yours are the heavens; the earth also is yours; you laid the foundation of the world and all that is in it." Gratitude comes when we are fully aware of God's blessings. In order to give a sum in proportion to our gain, we first have to recognize God's blessings to us. It's real easy to return thanks when we are sincerely grateful to God. If we don't see it, that we are reluctant to talk about what WE HAVE. We don't equate what WE HAVE to what God has given us! When we do, our giving becomes an expression of GRACE!

This church has had a history of good giving, but there is always a short fall. Perhaps it is because it is more and more difficult for smaller churches to sustain all the budgetary needs. This is a church of 120 members and it is struggles financially. I would welcome full time ministry in this church and a secretary in the office. We all want more classroom space and a larger facility to serve our church program. We are short money on the project to paint and carpet the hallway. We have had to put a halt on recarpeting the nursery because we're out of funds for this project. Our finance committee is keeping a close eye on the budget and restricting spending to match income. We are doing a good job as stewards of our money, but we are struggling. We pay the bills, but there is little left for creative programming and ministry in this church. It seems there are two solutions. We need our present membership to give a GREATER sum in proportion to our gain. And, we need more members who will share in the financial goals of our church. We need to get beyond struggling. We need to experience our giving as an expression of Grace that reflects the gratitude we have for all God has given to us.

Grace is the expression of our best! It is giving our best and not settling for a second rate gift or a half hearted effort. The words from the prophet Malachi are words of warning. When we avoid giving what we are capable of giving or we give mediocrity, we insult God. We don't have to list people's salaries or net worth, we are not accountable to one another, we are only accountable to God. There is an expectation when you confess faith in Christ. The expectation is that you choose a life style of selfless giving.

Here's an exercise worth doing. If you don't have a concordance in your personal library, borrow one from the church and look up the word give, giving, given and see how many entries there are for this word in the Bible. There are hundreds. Giving is a word that characterizes our faith. Pledging our financial commitment to the church is an expression of GRACE as it is a joyous act of Christian faith. Start with tithing a portion of your income to the mission of the church. Set aside no less than 10% of your income for the work of this church and experience this as a simple means of expressing your gratitude for all that God has given to you. Choose 10% as that sum in proportion to your gain that moves you to GRACE. Make it your best offering, the best you can offer and not something that is simply a left over from all of the other bills and expenses you incur.

Our denomination has a program called Church Financial Campaign Service (CFCS). We can get a consultant who will come here and help challenge financial stewardship in the church. They use two approaches in accomplishing this task. First is to renew commitment by celebrating the mission and ministry of the church. The second thing they do is educate people about being good stewards. The stewardship committee did not enlist the services of CFCS, but took on the role themselves as internal consultants to this process. We are celebrating the mission and ministry of our church and our denomination and we are tying to educate member of the church on what it means to be good stewards. It is an act of GRACE! It is giving of ourselves so that our entire life reflects GRACE! We are called and swept into giving because it is the full expression of our Christian faith, recognizing God's blessing, responding to those in need, and giving the best that we can. We do this so that our gifts become GRACE. Amen!