Matthew 7:7-12 CEB
Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.
November 12-13, 2016
Stewardship Theme: “Hope Is Our Future”
Over the last several weeks, we have been asking for you to seek and find ways to open the doors of your hearts and lives in giving your stewardship of time and talents and treasure.
Yet, stretching ourselves in our generosity and making sacrifices to make our giving possible takes prayerful discernment and is not always easy. We consider many factors when making a decision of the heart and that is why prayerful discernment is so important.
And making decisions of the heart when it comes to our generosity, starts at a young age. A mother wanted to teach her young daughter a lesson of stewardship, so she gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church. “Put whichever one you want in the offering plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl. When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the offering the pastor said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”
The late Christian theologian and author, Howard Thurman, once wrote, “Remember, it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental attachment you overcome that counts.”
That feels like a good definition of ‘sacrifice’ when it comes to our stewardship and the giving of our time and talents and treasures…it is not the size of a gift, it is its quality and the amount of mental attachment we overcome in the giving that counts.
When it comes to giving to God through the ministries of this church, I have said before, it is not about giving equal gifts…it is not a matter of equal capacity to give, but it is about equal seeking of how we can make sacrifices so we can give from the heart to care for what God has blessed us with in our ministry together.
Intentional stewardship is about living in such a way that we are aware of the opportunities and blessings we have been given individually and especially together as a community of faith.
When we bring together our gifts and commitments from the heart, we soon find that what is impossible for any one of us to do individually becomes possible when together we encourage one another and by God’s grace and guidance continue to make ministry and mission happen.
Lou Holtz, the former football coach at Notre Dame, used to tell a story about a man who accidentally ran his car into a ditch out in the country. The man was not hurt, but his car was stuck and he couldn’t get the car out on his own. So, he went to a nearby farm and asked for help.
The farmer was home and said, “I have an old mule named Dusty. He can pull you out.” So, the farmer harnessed Dusty and hooked him up to the car and when all was ready, the farmer snapped the reins and shouted, “Pull, Jack! Pull, Joe! Pull, Tom! Pull, Dusty!”
Amazingly, the old mule pulled the car out of the ditch with relative ease. The car owner was grateful and impressed. He thanked the farmer and then said, “Let me ask you something; why did you call Dusty by four different names?”
The farmer replied, “Well, you see, it’s like this. Old Dusty’s eyesight is just about gone, and if he thought for a minute that he was alone and the only one pulling, he wouldn’t have tried at all!”
When we tether our hearts to God in our living and our giving; and then pull together with others who also have their hearts tethered to God, wonderful things will happen for the work of God. And that makes a transforming difference in our lives, in our church, and outside the walls of our church in our communities and world.
What I strongly believe is that God calls us to a life of giving, whether it is giving of our time to serve others at the food pantry or the Sunshine Supper, or Shelter from the Storm; or teaching Church school, or going on mission trips or giving toward trip experiences for others; or making a commitment to the overall ministry of the church.
I believe that ultimately God does call us to sacrificial giving; that is to sacrifice some part of ourselves for others and for the church. Sacrificing part of ourselves is what parenting is about, or what caring for aging parents or an ill loved one is about. And when it comes to the church, it is about asking and seeking and finding ways to open our hearts to how we give.
All of us have something to give and all of us have a need to give. The call upon our lives is to be giving people because of how much more God has given to us. People may give without loving God, but it is hard to love God without giving.
I have many different places and people on my giving list, but the place that has been a constant throughout my life, from my childhood, has been the church, even when times were challenging…I feel that strongly about God’s work through communities of faith.
I made a list of why I give to The United Methodist Church and to our Sun Prairie UMC. It is not a complete list by any means, but it was a good mental and spiritual exercise to remind myself and perhaps encourage others.
I give because I am indebted to the vision of John Wesley, who reminded us to earn all we can, save all we can and give all we can; and that “the world is my parish.”
I give because I am thankful to be part of a faith community that has made an intentional statement of inviting and welcoming all people.
I give because when we worship and I hear music from our gifted choirs and groups or from those who individually share their gift of music, I get the feeling God is speaking through them to me and others.
I give because I have seen and felt the impact of our Stephen Ministry within this congregation and our community.
I give because I have seen the thankfulness of people as they come to be part of community gatherings in our building such as the Area Chorus, scout troops, theatre troupes, blood drives, and the nursery school.
I give because I have seen people have those ‘ah ha’ moments as they discuss something in a study or small group.
I give because I have seen the excitement of our children and youth as they learn not only the stories of our faith, but also the meaning of community and love.
I give because I have heard the stories told of how a young person’s life or the life of an adult chaperone has been changed by the LOGOS trip experience or a mission trip experience.
I give because I know that our shut-ins and other seniors are being cared for by lay visitors and staff.
I give because I know probably better than anyone else the dedication of our church staff and volunteers and what a difference they are making in the lives of others.
I give because I have seen the flicker of glow sticks and candles on Christmas Eve and know that Christ truly is the light of the world.
And I give because I have seen glimpses of God’s kingdom in the here and now and I know that we are not done…God continues to call us to live and give and be the Body of Christ where we are now.
There are two phrases that struck me in this scripture passage from the Gospel of Matthew. One is the phrase, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.”
And the other is the phrase, “…how much more will your heavenly father give good things to those who ask him.”
Those words of Jesus, “how much more,” can have different meanings in different settings. ‘How much more’ can be used when determining what is left to do in completing a to-do list. ‘How much more’ can be the question used to wish for the end of something or the hope for something to continue.
In the busyness of our everyday lives, ‘how much more’ may be the lament that comes in asking, how much more can I keep up with the demands of my family schedule? How much more can I add to my work load? How much more disappointment can I take? How much more negativity can I hear? How much more can I trust in God when I see hate and violence and hopelessness in the world? How much more am I willing to give of my time and money?
We need these words of Jesus today, to remind us that the ‘how much more’ that Jesus speaks about is in the context of God.
For every lament of ‘how much more’ we speak from the hurt or pain or loss of our lives, God’s response is, ‘how much more will I give you good things when you ask and search and knock.’
God’s response is, ‘how much more do I promise to be with you.’
God’s response is, ‘how much more do I love you.’
There are times when we need to pray, ‘how much more’ out of our need or pain or grief. But, if we have an attitude that our giving is simply giving money to the church and we lament, “How much more can they expect?” then we have missed the joy. But when we have the understanding that our offerings, no matter their size, are a gift to God, then our giving becomes an act of worship.
If you are like me maybe you give because someone taught you how to do it and then gave you the choice of finding your own joy in giving. Ultimately, our giving is an expression of our heart because we know how much more God has given to us.
This is the Good News of God this day.
Thanks be to God. Amen.