Sermon – “Money Talks”

Matthew 6:19-21

Today is the kick-off to our Season of Generosity, and the Worship Team and Generosity Team have challenged me today to talk to you about the spiritual reasons for giving money to the church.

 

So spiritual reason #1 – I give to the church because the Bible tells me so.

 

For those of us who value the teachings of Jesus and who follow his example, we should know that Jesus talks about money more than he did about heaven and hell combined.

 

In fact, Jesus talks about MONEY more than he does about love.

 

The only thing he talks more about is the “kingdom of God,” this vision he has for a future in which poverty, war, and hatred are eliminated.

 

And that “kingdom” of which he speaks, where love reigns instead of greed and hatred – he’s pretty clear that in order to build that kingdom, we’re going to need some people to finance it.

 

Almost a THIRD of Jesus’ parables, are about finances.

 

And yet, talking about money in church is something we don’t do very often.

 

Money is an uncomfortable topic for many of us.

 

It feels like something that should be kept private.

 

But why IS that?

 

I think that for many of us, money is something that pushes buttons.

 

Some of us are carrying considerable debt. I certainly fall into that category. We’re still paying off my husband’s student loans, and we have a credit card we’re also paying off.

 

For others of us, it brings up embarrassment about how much we DO have and perhaps how much we’re NOT giving away.

 

Or perhaps we just don’t want to make other people feel bad about what THEY have compared to what WE have.

 

I want to be 100% clear from the beginning of this sermon – although Jesus talks about money more than anything else, there is no where in the Bible where Jesus says that being in debt makes you any worse of a person than anyone else.

 

Likewise, no where in the Bible does it say that money is evil.

 

It does say that the LOVE of money can lead to evil. But money itself is neutral.

 

In fact, in many cases, money is seen in a positive light in the Bible.

 

The Apostle Paul, for example, in the book of Romans, chapter 16, thanks a woman named Phoebe. He writes, “I commend our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church. Give her any help she may need, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

 

Jesus praises the generosity of wealthy men and women who have given to the poor.

 

I have no doubt that in the modern era, Jesus would praise people like Bill and Melinda Gates for their generosity. Yes, they are crazy wealthy, but they’ve also used that wealth to fight disease in the developing world, among other things.

 

Today’s text says not to store up treasures on earth.

 

But that doesn’t mean don’t save for retirement or don’t accumulate wealth.

 

It simply means, don’t hoard money. BE GENEROUS.

 

When it says store up treasure in heaven, it’s also not saying bank good deeds the way you bank cash and you’ll be more likely to get into heaven.

 

We don’t have enough time to undo all of the bad theology associated with this text over time, but trust me when I say that Jesus is not telling us here that you can buy your way into heaven.

 

Jesus is simply drawing a clear line between material possessions and intangible benefits, and reminding us to do some self-reflection on where our heart really is.

 

Budgets are value statements.

 

When we look at how we’ve spent our money over the past year, or when we look at our budgets for the upcoming year, we’re able to see clearly what matters to us.

 

And Jesus is challenging us to consider putting our money where our heart is.

 

So that’s reason #1 – because Jesus is clear about it, and I, for one, think he had this God and community thing pretty well dialed in. And so when Jesus spends nearly a third of his time talking about money and about giving generously, I take that seriously.

 

Reason #2 for giving to the church is simple – it’s that this church changes lives for the better.

 

It builds that kingdom of justice and peace, that world ruled by love instead of hatred and fear. It builds a more just world through community, one life at a time.

 

I give, my FAMILY gives, because we believe that this community is changing lives for the better.

 

I give, because this place gives me hope for the future of humanity.

 

And that is not an overstatement on my part.

 

I mean that with my whole heart.

 

This place, for me, is the beginning of the building of the reign of God on earth, and that to me is invaluable and worth investing in.

 

I give, because my dollars pay to feed people who are hungry.

 

I give, because this place provides meaningful worship and opportunities for spiritual growth.

 

I give, because of the lives I’ve seen changed.

 

I give, because of Zack, for example, a young man who grew up in our church—a young man who experienced a Christian community that embraced his mom and her wife and celebrated their marriage. A community that welcomed him and treated him with respect and valued his spiritual journey. A community that invited him into leadership and asked to hear his voice and his perspectives. And now, as a young adult, as he faces the loss of his grandfather, Zack knows where to go to grieve. He’s found a UCC church near his college campus, and now a new community is caring for him.

 

I give, because of my son, who’s now in college, and taking a world religions class. He’s a pretty quiet student, but this week, after he got a question wrong on a test, he took the professor aside to challenge her. The question was whether baptism is a right of passage or a ritual. And he said, in many churches, baptism may be a right of passage, but in my church, baptism is a choice. And you don’t have to be baptized to be a part of the community. It’s not something that’s just a given.

 

And regardless about how we feel about the semantics of right of passage vs. ritual, my son was able to articulate what he believes.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because a child in our congregation knows that she can dance as an expression of worship, and because the other day, she wrote a joy that she’s a part of a community that’s open and loving.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

One of the greatest assets we can give our children is a church home. It’s proven over and over again that children that get involved in church are less likely to end up in jail or abuse substances. In addition, children who attend THIS church, leave here and enter the world as witnesses to God’s love, and then they share that with others. Zack Kinsman and Eli and Maggie, our dancing child, are going to make a difference for the NEXT generation, because they’ve experienced our love and our openness and our care for them. They share our values. And they’re going to share those values with the world.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because there are people like the woman in Bible study who was on a fixed income and didn’t have a lot of cash to spare, but when I told the Bible study class to pray for a family that was struggling to put food on the table, she wrote me a check for $5 on the spot to help pay for their groceries.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because this is a place that challenges ME, that pushes ME to grow theologically, spiritually, and emotionally.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because this place models, for me, what healthy community looks like.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because my poor jaded husband who used to work as a pastor and was chewed up and spit out and even abused by church after church… even though he has little faith in the institution of the church in general, he believes in THIS place, and when I talked to him about increasing our pledge this year, there was no hesitation.

 

He said, “Absolutely. Church of the Good Shepherd is a beacon on the hill. It gives me hope for what community CAN be.”

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because I’m inspired by worship. By our liturgy and our music. because I’m recharged here and am able to go make a difference in other areas of my life, because I’ve experienced spiritual renewal in this place.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because members of this church do things like take food to youth at Casa Q, a place that houses LGBT teenagers who have been kicked out of their homes on account of who they are.

 

Those are kids who now know that someone cares about them.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because we choose to pay an educated, trained, professional pastor to do things like grief counseling, to perform memorial services, to preach and help us understand the Bible, and to hold us accountable to our mission.

 

And yes, I realize that’s me.

 

And yet, I appreciate that this church values the work of its professional staff.

 

I give, because there are people in our chairs this morning who were told they were not welcome in Christian community. There are others of us who were abused or otherwise hurt by the church. And and yet here, they are safe, and they are embraced with open arms.

 

What’s THAT worth?

 

I give, because every dollar I give to this place is multiplied.

 

That’s not true in the rest of my life.

 

When I go through the drive-through at McDonalds and get a burrito and small coke, it costs me $2.47. I know that number, because I go on a pretty regular basis. I love burritos.

 

And, if I get a burrito and a small coke every day this year, that’ll cost me $901.55.

 

That’s $900 that goes straight to my gut.

 

That money doesn’t multiply. It ends with me.

 

But what would happen if I gave that same $900 to Church of the Good Shepherd?

 

With $900, I could fund more than 1/2 of our Sunday school supplies and curriculum. How many lives could I change, and how many lives might our children change if I chose to spend that money here in stead.

 

With $900, I could pay our water bill for 9 months. That’s 9 months of pot lucks and hospitality hours where people are experiencing God’s love. And then going out, refreshed and whole to make an impact for the rest of the week. That’s 9 months of baptisms, of opportunities to welcome people into this community. That seems a lot more valuable to ME.

 

With just $3/day, I could keep the heat on in this place, so that groups like the Bible study and the bell choir can experience God and explore their connection to God and community.

 

That gift multiplies.

 

This church is an investment that pays much bigger dividends, certainly than burritos, but also bigger dividends even than any mutual fund or stock market purchase.

 

Because when we invest in THIS place, God and this community multiply our gifts and make an impact on the world that’s much bigger than anything we could do alone.

 

We already have a massive impact on our community both here and outside these walls.

 

And – I want to make it bigger.

 

I want to reach more children.

I want to comfort and welcome more people who are hurting.

I want to go deeper in worship and in our spiritual practice together.

I want to feed MORE people and let MORE people know that they are loved no matter what.

 

Part of the way we will that is by committing our time. And we’ll do that next week.

 

And… another way we will do that is by pledging our dollars.

 

And when we pledge our money, in addition to funding the ministries of this church, we’re also pledging to God and this community, saying that this place, this is where my heart is.

 

I’m not saying this will be easy. Some of us are struggling financially or struggling to get our finances in order.

 

And I want to tell you today that if you’re in that boat, I’m here with you, and I’m willing to work with you to sort that out. To get things situated and organized so that God and community have a place in your budget.

 

I don’t have all the answers, and I have a lot of learning still left to do, but I’m committed to this process, so don’t hesitate to talk to me about it. Because together, we can make things work.

 

As I said earlier – this place gives me hope for the future of humanity.

 

So let’s give generously and create a just world through community one life… and one dollar at a time.