* This sermon was not based on a fully written manuscript, but was preached in a more extemporaneous style. What follows is a basic outline of the sermon.
Last Sunday, we explored the way we typically think and communicate about our lives. Most of the time we begin by explaining what we do. Then we describe how we do it. But rarely do we reflect deeply on why we do what we do. And so, last week I asked each of you to reflect on this most basic question, “Why do you do what you do here at Good Shepherd?” What is the fundamental belief that inspires and motivates and drives you to give your life to the mission that God has called us to do? When I walked into my office last Monday, I found this stack of about 200 cards sitting on my desk. I immediately began to read through these cards, and I was inspired – I was inspired because even though each card says something different, together they represent the heart of who we are as the people of God in this place. And I intend to continue to read and “inwardly digest” the contents of these cards, because this is why we here this is why we do what we do – to the glory of God.
But this morning, I want to take this one step further and ask the question, “Why do we give?” Or to make it even more personal, “Why do I give?” I want to speak to you this morning not simply as your Rector, but as a fellow pilgrim walking this spiritual journey with you. And so, what I want to share with you is not a formally prepared sermon, but rather my own story, my own testimony of giving – first of all, why giving is important to me and, secondly, why I don’t always do it very well.
Let me begin by saying that I have been a follower of Jesus for as long as I can remember. And I have been following Jesus in the context of the Episcopal Church for as long as I can remember. And giving has been part of my Christian life for as long as I can remember.
When I was young, during the season of Lent, every child was given a mite box. And throughout the forty days of Lent, we were asked to put loose change into the mite box. I remember being very excited if someone gave me a dollar bill that I could fold up and stuff in the box. At the completion of the 40 days of Lent, on Easter Sunday, the children would process into the church with their mite boxes and in my church, some had built a cross that seemed to me to be about eight feet tall and the front of the cross and the arms of the cross were actually panels that would open up. And we would place our mite boxes inside the cross and as we sang the doxology, the cross would be rolled into the center of church. There might have been a few hundred dollars in that cross, not a great sum of money, but that experience has shaped the way I think about giving – and in particular, that image has helped me to articulate why I give. And it really comes down to three words.
Worship is the orientation of our lives toward God. It’s not simply what we do here for an hour each Sunday. Worship is not limited to the official liturgical rites of the church. Worship is the orientation, the turning of our entire lives toward God. And so, whether it is my work as a priest, my relationships with my wife and my children, my role as a son, a brother, a neighbor, a friend – how I care for my body and how I use the resources entrusted to me – all of those various facets of my life are part of my worship.
God doesn’t really see a distinction between what we do in here and how we live the rest of our lives. For that 10-year-old boy, placing the mite box inside that cross was an act of worship. It was about the orientation of my life. Several years later, when Shannon and I were dating and we both had part-time jobs, we made the spiritual decision to begin tithing – the commitment of giving 10 percent of income. And for over 20 years, that has been our commitment. It’s a non-negotiable for us. Not because it is an obligation, but because it is an act of worship.
Here again I’m not talking about the particular moment in our service called the offertory. Here I’m talking about the offering of ourselves. When we think about the use of money in almost every other aspect of our lives, it is a means to some other end. I pay the store money and I get food to take back to my home. I pay the phone company money, and I get to use my phone as much as I want. The use of money in our culture is transactional. But offering giving simply to give. It is the surrendering of ourselves, the giving of ourselves and our resources, expecting nothing in return. When my wife and I were first married, our small Episcopal was going through a difficult time. The Senior Warden asked that everyone give $1000 to help keep the church going. We were both working part-time jobs and going to school full-time – we didn’t have an extra $1000 to spare. But after some time in prayer and discernment, we felt called to give our $1000 toward the mission of our church. Now, I would like to stand here and tell you that everything turned around the the church was thriving, but that is not what happened. But it was experience that taught us what it meant to give without expecting something in return. Giving became an act of offering.
The final word is transformation. Transformation really the result of worship and offering. I am changed. Transformation when we see God at work in the midst of our giving. Through our journey of giving, we are changed and we grow more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. When I was in high school, my first car was a 1987 Toyota Corolla. At one point, the car needed some major maintenance, which was going to cost over $1500. The day I was scheduled to pick my car from the mechanic, my girlfriend (now wife) attended a Christian conference. There was great music, preaching, and thousands of people. At the conclusion of the conference, an offering was received. The preacher stood up and said that someone in the crowd was going to receive a 30-fold blessing on their gift. I was skeptical. I had seen these kinds of pronouncements on TV. But we prayed and gave an offering of $50. After the the conference, I went to pick my car. The mechanic greeted me and said that he didn’t what had happened, but the initial repair was no longer needed and my bill would only be about $35. The savings was almost exactly 30 times the $50 offering I had just made at the conference. Now, I’m not saying God fixed my car. But I did experience God active and present in my journey of giving and it changed me.
Giving is important to me, because it is about WORSHIP, OFFERING, TRANSFORMATION.
Now, as I said, I don’t always do it very well.
Selfishness, Fear, and Control
Am I going to be able to do the things I want to do?
Will I have enough?
What will happen if I completely surrender my life?
So, I get bogged down by selfishness, fear, and control.
But here’s the thing. What’s the antidote to selfishness? – WORSHIP – Orienting my whole life toward God.
What’s the antidote to fear? – OFFERING – Surrendering and giving without expectation.
What’s the antidote to control? – TRANSFORMATION – Letting go and acknowledging that through my journey of giving, God is changing me and shaping my life.
It comes back to that mite box!