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October 23, 2005 (Sunday 30 · Time after Pentecost)—“Living in God’s Abundance”

Pastor David Barber

Matthew 22:34-46

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

This is a story that could take place in many congregations. One Sunday after the late service, the ushers discovered to their horror that the entire morning's offering had been stolen from the sacristy where it had sat unguarded.

The amount taken was a couple of thousand dollars, which was a large amount and a big crime for a small town. As a result the police launched a full-scale investigation.

As you can imagine, the robbery dominated the discussion in the local café and the barbershop. The local paper featured the story every day and editorialized about the moral decline in the community.

The next Sunday every pew was filled as the Senior Pastor entered the pulpit. "This has absolutely been the worst week in my ministry," he declared in a booming voice as the congregation shuttered. "And you know why? Because the entire city knows how little you give."

Such a theft could happen in any congregation--even here--but I'm happy to report that I wouldn't have to level the same indictment against LCH as this pastor did in regard to his flock.

I know that I can get into trouble comparing you to other congregations, and it's neither healthy nor helpful to make more of ourselves by using other congregations as a benchmark. But I do want to commend you and thank you for your generous and faithful stewardship.

It may surprise you to know that the average gift in the ELCA per confirmed member is $468.00 per year. In the Pacifica Synod--which includes more affluent areas such as Southern California and Hawaii--that amount climbs to $988.00 per confirmed member per year.

Does anyone want to guess what that amount is for the Lutheran Church of Honolulu? We have 174 confirmed members and last year we received $252,872.00 in Member Stewardship Giving. That means each confirmed member gave $1453.00 just to our general fund alone.

That's commendable and certainly worthy of praise! And we give thanks to God for the grace and the generosity of Jesus Christ that flows through us.

That being said, here I am again to preach another stewardship sermon encouraging you to continue your faithful giving and to grow even more in your financial stewardship.

Sometimes I wish that I didn't have to do this. Talking about money and asking you to give is not always the easiest thing to do. In fact, I just recently read about a Bible Study entitled, "For Church Leaders Who Hate To Ask For Money."

Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to the Hackfeld/Isenberg era when they provided for the daily operation of this congregation. Because of their benevolence no offerings were taken in this congregation for many years.

Or I sometimes wish that the emails I receive about once a week were true. You probably receive them, too.

"Dear Rev, I am Barrister Anthony Arinze, a personal lawyer to my client Willy Bubenick who made a bequest to youŠ. He left the sum of Five Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars to you in the codicil and last testament to his will.

"Being a widely traveled man, he must have been in contact with you in the past or simply you were nominated by one of his numerous friends abroad who wished you good."

Of course, all I have to do is send my identification to them to receive this landfall.

But wouldn't it be great if it were true? We could disband the capital campaign and the stewardship drive for many years. We'd all be fat and happy. And we could concentrate on the more important aspects of ministry.

There's only one problem. Sometimes congregations with huge endowments often find themselves in conflict over the use of this money.

But more importantly, the level of individual financial stewardship and the opportunity to grow spiritually through our giving generally decreases when we look primarily to other people or other avenues to support our ministry.

The Apostle Paul may have used a little exaggeration when he described the churches in Macedonia and their attitude about giving. These were not affluent people. In fact, Paul describes them as being severely afflicted and living in extreme poverty. Did this stop them from giving?

No! Their abundant joy overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. Then Paul says that they gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints."

Wow! They begged to be involved. That hasn't happened to many times in my ministry. And yet, even though many folks haven't gotten on their knees to beg, many of you are more than excited and anxious to share your resources. You know the joy and the privilege of giving and giving sacrificially.

You understand that giving is not a matter of "have to" but that we "get to." We "get to" share our resources. We "get to" respond to those in need.

We "get to" proclaim a gospel in word and in deed that frees people from the clutches of all that enslaves them. We "get to" because our response is one of grace working in and through our lives.

And the amazing thing is, when this generosity and this sharing takes place, there's always enough. In fact, there's more than enough.

We've been studying the Apostle Paul in our Sunday morning adult class. A couple of weeks ago the presenter used the illustration of light. When we light a candle, for instance, the donor candle isn't extinguished when it gives its light to another candle.

We could light a candle for every person here this morning, and the room would be filled with great light, and the donor candle would still be burning as brightly as ever.

Sometimes we look at the abundance given to us by God in Jesus Christ as limited commodities. But our light, our love, our kindness, our generosity and forgiveness doesn't decrease as we give it away. It just doesn't work that way. It's just the opposite. It increases.

That's true with our material resources as well. Surely, that's not what an accountant would say, and if such resources are used simply for ourselves they will dry up and become depleted. But that's not what happens when they are shared for the welfare of others. This is true not only for our individual giving, but for our congregational giving as well.

This morning I would like to briefly highlight three particular goals that we need to address in this year's Stewardship Emphasis.

First, we need to meet our financial goals for this year--2005. At the end of September we were $13,450.00 short of meeting our expenses. That's not an alarming amount particularly when we remember that we lost some major sources of income this year.

Also our projected giving by members is only at 80%. If that percentage was 100%, we would more than meet our obligations. We just need to set our minds and our hearts to this challenge and do it. $13,000.00 is really an insignificant amount when you consider the people and the resources of this congregation.

Secondly, I'm also hoping that you will respond faithfully when you consider your commitment for 2006. The lives that are touched in this place, in our community, and in the world because of your support are legion. We do make a difference for those who gather here, and for others as we love and serve in the name of Jesus.

Your bountiful commitment is what makes this ministry a reality. We can't do it without the unsparing participation of everyone. I'm counting on each of you to make this happen.

Third, the capital campaign needs your continued involvement. If you've completed your pledge, thank you, but also consider an additional gift. If you're still working on your pledge, I hope you will honor this commitment. And if you didn't make a pledge to the capital campaign, but would like to do so, I'll be happy to accommodate you.

There is a story about a country preacher who was preaching very pointedly to his congregation one Sunday night. He was discouraged at the spiritual condition of his church. "This church was not saved just to sit," said the pastor. Soon he was beginning to preach with conviction, and he said, "Now let the church walk."

A deacon in the church responded, "Amen, let her walk!" With this response, the preacher was uplifted and encouraged. So he continued with even more enthusiasm, and he said, "Let the church run!"

Oh, the spirit of the living God began to move in that little church, and the deacon said with great emotion, "Amen, parson, let her run!"

Now the pastor, filled with the vibrancy of the Holy Ghost, cried out, "Let the church fly!" Now the congregation was with the preacher, "Bring it on brother. Let her fly!" said the Spirit-motivated deacon along with others in the congregation.

The preacher, with all the God-given faith he could muster, said with great conviction, "Now it's going to take money to let her fly, brother."

At this particular point, it was like throwing cold water upon the congregation, and they suddenly turned silent. Then with great solemnity the voice of the deacon was heard once more, "Let her sit, let her sit, let her sit."

Today in our Gospel we heard the two great commandments to love God with all your heart, your soul, and your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. There are many ways that we demonstrate our love for God and our neighbor, but one of the ways this love becomes specific is through our giving.

We thank God for the opportunity to do more than simply let this church sit. But rather with the abundant grace of our Lord Jesus Christ working in and through our lives, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will let her fly.

Amen.


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