Next Sunday is Commitment Sunday here at Christ the Servant – that Sunday in which we bring our statements of intended giving for the coming year and present them to the altar. That means that today is what I call “Stewardship Sermon Sunday” … that Sunday in which I preach a sermon which is so deeply spiritual, so well presented, and so profoundly inspirational that all of you will want to come back next Sunday bursting with enthusiasm to share the bounty of your blessings with the Lord! Isn’t that the way it happens. Sure! So let’s begin!
I’d like to take my sermon from the first verse from today’s Epistle to the Hebrews: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active.” Let me repeat: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active.” Why don’t you say it with me: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active.”
“The word of God.” That is one of those phrases which sounds oh-so-holy. It sort of begs to be said in a stained glass voice: “The Word of God.” So you go home after church and your spouse who hasn’t bothered to come says, “What went on in church today?” and you say, “The word of God.” In another church I had a council president who went through the directory name by name to identify people he determined, “Stood under the word of God” and who didn’t.
Sounds pretty judgmental, doesn’t it. And it does sort of sound judgmental when we hear the rest of the verse in Hebrews: “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
That’s intimidating. Makes God out to be a judge before whom we stand naked and trembling. Awaiting judgment. Awaiting condemnation. Is there no one to speak in our behalf? Yes, yes there is.
An illustration may help. Let’s say that you are seated at your desk writing checks for a mountain of bills. You have more bills than money in your account. You are in debt up to your eyeballs. Suddenly a very wealthy person appears at your elbow and says, “How much do you want? Here, let me write you a check. And next moth I will meet you here again. Whatever it is you need I will supply.”
That part – the taking the burden off you part – is the Word of God. No, not the Old Testament judgmental ole white man in the sky Word, but the New Testament word made flesh – Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord – who is now The Word of God. Christ appears at your elbow and says, “I see that you are in debt to sin, death, and the devil. I see that you are in deep debt. I will help you out. Here is forgiveness. Here is deliverance. He is salvation. Here is eternal life.”
Now, back to that imaginary person at your elbow with the checkbook. He hands you a big fat check. More than you need. How would you feel? Relieved? Grateful? Thankful? Would not this gratitude go down deep? Wouldn’t your relief be profound? Wouldn’t you be searching for a way to say, “Thank you!”?
Sure! God’s grace is the basis of our thankfulness and praise. But wait, there’s more! The whole purpose of God’s word isn’t just to create warm fuzzies down deep in our souls. It is meant to be a creative word which moves us to get up off the parts of our bodies upon which we sit and do! God’s word isn’t exactly a noun. It is a verb. It is an action word. Go. Do. Help. Feed. Clothe. Heal. Advocate.
Worship isn’t the only way we thank and praise God. We continually speak of thanking God by giving of our time and talents. Each year in the spring we emphasize praising and thanking God by completing a time and talents survey asking how you would support Christ the Servant by singing or reading or serving food, etc. Next Sunday is our one Sunday in which we focus specifically on our treasures. Our money.
I received this weekend a mailing from CTS. You did, too. It contained the Estimate of Giving form we are encouraging all of us to bring to the altar next Sunday. Between now and then we have an opportunity to consider just what proportion of the gifts God has given us is right for us to give back to God.
Just as giving our time and our talents is a faith response to God so, too, is the giving of our treasures. During this next week I will be doing what I do each year. I take a look at last year’s tax return and find that line which tells me what my adjusted gross income is. Some people use the gross income line. Use either one.
The important thing is to look at the return in the first place… to be aware of what God has given you. Once I have found the line I want I figure what 10% of that is. That’s easy. Just move the comma over one place to the left. That 10%, that tithe, becomes my giving target. For me, the tithe includes all of my charitable giving. CTS is one part of my charitable giving, but it is the main part. Some people give their entire tithe to the church. You need to do what is right for your case. But the point of the whole exercise is for us to take a cold hard cash look at our blessings and prayerfully consider what is appropriate to give to the church and to other charitable institutions.
I’d like, also, to make a personal plea here. Please, please consider automatic giving. Automatic giving is when you instruct your bank to send a check periodically or when you arrange for electric funds transfer through our Simply Giving program. More and more of you are doing this. It is convenient for you and for us. Your gift gets here when you can’t. It is simple. You contact your bank once and it is taken care of from there on out. You can do it online with a few keystrokes. If you still feel you can’t just let the offering plate pass you by, flip a bill into it…. denomination your choice. Churchwide tells me that more than half of all Lutheran offerings are now coming in automatically.
Again, our verse from Hebrews tells us that “The Word of God is living and active.” I believe it is alive and active here at Christ the Servant. Each year I preach this money sermon. But there is something different about it this year. In other years I would add a paragraph about the church’s need to receive. I would often say something to the effect of, “This year we find ourselves so many thousands of dollars behind our budget. Programs are in danger of being cut. Please consider that in next year’s giving.”
This year is different. The last two treasurer’s reports at our church council meeting have reflected that we are ahead of budget – something which we rarely, if ever, see for August and September. By year’s end we will have received at least 10 new members in 2018. So, we are encouraged in our giving precisely because the word is living and active here. We are healthy. We are active. We celebrate. We think. We serve.
The next fifty-one sermons will be about worship, study, and service. This particular one is about finances. Whatever it is you decide between new and next Sunday, please be assured that, at Christ the Servant, “The Word of God is living and active!”
Text: Hebrews 4:12-16