A private plane crashes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with 2 businessmen and the pilot. All 3 survive. After a week on a deserted island, the pilot loses all hope and in despair shouts: We’ll never be rescued. Another week passes and one of the businessmen hopelessly cries out: We’ll never be rescued!
After 3 weeks, the two despondent men spot the third man carelessly lying on the beach, drinking from a coconut and ask him how he can remain so calm at a time like this? To which the man replies, “Listen, I filled out a hefty pledge card at my church this year. I guarantee you, someone is going to find us.”
Today marks the 2nd week of our stewardship campaign here at St. Thomas’ and as we know money can be a very serious and sensitive subject.
Dr. Robert Wuthnow, a professor at Princeton University, who has done extensive research on the subject of money, says that it evokes deep feelings. In fact, he says, “The darkest taboo in our culture is not sex or death, but money.”
Perhaps this is why some people get very uncomfortable talking about their personal finances especially when it comes to pledging or tithing to the church.
Over the years, I have talked with a lot of people who see no real connection between faith and their use of money. Most of them think that the church should stick with spiritual subjects such as faith and prayer and let the secular world deal with the issue of money.
But the truth is, the Bible spends a great deal of time discussing money.
As a matter of fact, out of Jesus’ 38 parables, 16 of them deal with how to handle money and possessions.
And in the entire Bible, there are approximately five hundred verses on the subject of prayer and another five hundred on the subject of faith. However, there are over two thousand verses dedicated to the subject of money and possessions!
Yet as we know, there is, one big difference between the Bible’s thoughts about money and our own. Typically, we are interested in how to get money. Whereas the Bible is more interested in how to give money.
When I was in college, I served as a part-time choir director for a small Methodist Church just outside of Waco. As most churches do, this little church had some rather peculiar customs, especially when it came to recognizing member’s birthdays.
Instead, of simply praying for parishioners with upcoming birthdays as we do here at St. Thomas’, this little Methodist church did something very unique.
After the announcements, the minister would ask the congregation, “is anyone celebrating a birthday this week?” If at least one hand went up, the pianist would begin playing and the congregation would sing “happy birthday” as those celebrating birthdays would make their way up front to deposit money into a tiny plastic church.
The church also had a group of retired parishioners who called themselves: “the old goats.” The old goats would gather at a local coffee shop every morning for breakfast and when one of the members’ birthdays rolled around, the person celebrating his or her birthday was expected not only to buy everyone’s coffee, but to provide cake for the group as well!
To be quite honest, I never did like these traditions, because somehow it just didn’t seem right to me, that on your birthday (the one day of the year that you’re supposed to receive gifts and money from others) you were expected to give to others.
However, as I recently began to think about these strange customs, the more sense they began to make. After all, as one of our offertory sentences in the Prayer Book states: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said it is more blessed to give than to receive.” And the members of this small church seemed to know this and live it out!
Over the next few Sundays we will focus on the subject of stewardship, because, as we know, money is not just a piece of paper used to make transactions, money represents our time and talent as well. After all, for each dollar we earn, we must invest a certain amount of our time, energy, and at least some of our talent.
Therefore, money really is a spiritual issue and nothing tells us more clearly about where our priorities are than the way we handle our money.
Some of you may have heard this story before, but I think it’s worth repeating.
A torn and ragged $1 bill was about to be retired from circulation. As it slowly moved along the conveyor belt to the shredder, it struck up a conversation with a $100 bill that was meeting the same fate.
The hundred began reminiscing about its travels all over the world, “Life has been good. I’ve been to Las Vegas many times, to the finest restaurants, to shows in New York City, to political fund raisers, all kinds of sporting events, and I just returned from a trip to Disney World.”
“Wow!” said the $1 bill, “You’re fortunate to have been able to visit all those places.” “So, where have you been, my little friend?” asked the $100 bill.
“Well,” replied the $1 bill, “I’ve been to… the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Episcopal Church…”
“Excuse me,” interrupted the $100, “but… what’s a church?”
Whether we realize it or not, our checkbooks and debit card receipts all tell a story. They tell us the story of what is valuable and important to us, because ultimately the way we handle our money, determines our priorities.
Jesus put it this way, “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).
So, the question for us to consider this morning is, “where is our treasure?” Because, whether we like it nor not, that is where our heart’s and priorities will be!
Our culture continually attempts to tell us where to place our treasure, (pulling us in a variety of directions) seducing into believing the myth that “more” is better. Telling us that what we already have is simply not enough.
We are constantly bombarded with two messages. The first is we should not be content. The second is contentment is just one purchase away.
Now don’t misunderstand me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with spending our money on things we want.
However, if we are continually focused on the next thing—the next electronic gadget—the next car—the next vacation—the next job—the next home improvement—we hardly experience the gift of what we already have.
Also, in our pursuit of more, we tend to forget that all of our valuables, possessions, and even our relationships with our parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends belong to God and are simply on loan to us.
However, when we choose to give back, even a small portion of what we have been given, we are reminded of this.
Over the next few weeks we will focus on stewardship here at St. Thomas’, not because God needs our money—As we know, God doesn’t need anything—but because we are the ones who benefit by giving back to God.
In other words, there is receiving connected to our giving. The return maybe something material that we directly benefit from such as programs, activities and events for children, youth, young families, prime timers, or the senior saints here at St. Thomas’. Or it may be something spiritual such as:
1) learning that our security lies not in what we have but in what we become when we give;
2) knowing that our resources are helping others; and
3) participating in the love of God that is always sacrificial and self-giving.
So may we give of our time, talent, and treasure today, remembering that God’s return on our investment of generosity is aimed not so that we might have more but that we might give more and in return become more peaceful, joyful, and loving people.