As our Stewardship Committee has  presented to you in the past, we have become convinced of the wisdom of a “year-round stewardship program,” as opposed to one or two Sundays in the Fall, talking about only pledge cards. Stewardship, of course, is about much more than pledge cards; it incorporates use of our talents, our time, our church building and other resources, care of creation . . . And we want to use all those responsibly throughout the year – so we don’t think about “stewardship,” here, only on each second Sunday of November.

Our stewardship theme for this year, as readers of our church newsletter know, thanks to Steve Blair, is “Living Generously Begins with Trust”- yes, same as today’s sermon title. And the foundational Bible verse for this year is Second Corinthians 8:7: “But just as you excel in everything . . . in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us . . . see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

We’ll come back to that theme and that verse shortly. But first, since that verse is about the money aspect of stewardship, we begin with a more basic question many churchgoers ask: Why do we have to talk about money, in church? The church isn’t the place to talk about money, many people who pose that question are assuming; the church is the place to talk about spiritual things. Why do we have to talk about… money?

One answer to this question is . . .  because Jesus did, and because the Bible does. The Bible’s discussion of tithing, of giving a certain percentage of one’s income to help the poor and to pay church expenses, goes back to the earliest-written books of the Bible, and continues throughout. And we are disciples of Jesus Christ, and followers of his commands and teachings, and Jesus talked about money. A lot. A count of the subjects Jesus addressed, and how often he addressed them, reveals that Jesus talked about money more frequently than anything else except two things: love; and the Kingdom of God. Coming in third, right behind them, is money. More often than prayer, or forgiveness, or the Holy Spirit. We think it must be okay, and even important, to talk about money because Jesus – and the apostles of Jesus, including Paul, the author of II Corinthians – talked about money.

Question number two: Then how. . . will we talk about money? What will we say about it? How do we approach the subject? Our answer for today is, once again, to talk about it the way Jesus and his apostle Paul did, use the approach they used.

There are many legitimate ways to talk about money in church. Some people give to the church out of a sense of fairness, wanting to do their fair share; some out of the desire to keep their favorite programs and activities going; some out of a sense of Christian duty, following Biblical laws about tithing; some out of a sense of gratitude to God; some out of the desire to help others. But there is one other reason Jesus and Paul seemed most concerned about, so today that’s the one we’ll focus on.

So, question number three: How did Jesus and Paul talk about money, and why did they talk about it the way they did? One of their primary concerns was to encourage us to be a spiritual people, to set our minds and hearts not just on the practical or physical aspects of our lives but on our spiritual life, our relationship with God. We read just a couple verses out of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this morning; read all of Matthew 5 to 7, and you’ll find many sentences like: “Seek first the Kingdom of God”; “Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear”; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers”; “Pray, like this”; “Love one another.” Jesus, and Paul, want us to be spiritual people, concerned with our relationship with God, and one another, and other aspects of our faith lives. And so they talked about money, too, from the perspective of what it does or can do for or to our spiritual lives.

Question number four, then: How do we become the spiritual people Jesus and Paul want us to be? One way is to practice “spiritual disciplines.” “Spiritual disciplines” are certain practices that help us pay attention to the development of our faith. “Like an artist who wishes to develop painting skills,” Marjorie Thompson writes, “or an athlete who desires a strong body, a person of faith chooses to adopt certain life patterns, habits, and commitments in order to grow spiritually”- to deepen their faith, to develop the spiritual dimension of their lives. Spiritual disciplines include things like prayer, reading the Bible, coming to worship, examining our conduct. These things help us grow in faith, help us develop ourselves spiritually.

So question number five: Are we saying that the proper use of money, then, is a spiritual discipline? And the answer, according to many passage of Scripture, is a certain “Yes.” What we do with our money is a spiritual matter; using it properly is a spiritual discipline. We need to have the proper attitude toward money, and the proper use of our money, as part of our spiritual development, as part of growth in faith. We need to use our money well for the sake of our spirits, for the sake of our relationship with God.

One thing spiritual disciplines do is to steer us away from wrong directions we could take in our lives, from getting caught up in the wrong things.

  • In prayer, for example, we strive to listen for God’s guidance, rather than just starting off in our own often-selfish directions. We listen for God’s wisdom, instead of a foolish path we might choose on our own.
  • In Bible reading, we look for God’s leading in how we are to conduct our lives, instead of poor decisions we might make by ourselves.
  • In coming to worship, we bounce our ideas off a whole community, and do reality checks of what we’re thinking compared to what our fellow Christians are thinking, so we can’t get way off course on our own.

One thing spiritual disciplines do is steer us away from the wrong direction.

Well, our necessary involvement with money, the way our world is set up,

definitely has the potential to present some of those wrong directions. We live in a

world that loves to talk about money, and the messages we hear there are constant,

relentless, and not concerned with our spiritual development. “You have to make

more money,” those messages say. “You have to spend more money. Money is important. You are judged by the size of your house, your car, your brand of clothing, your jewelry, your paycheck. Your value depends on your wealth.” Those kinds of thinking are the wrong directions we’re tempted to go in if we don’t bring our spirituality, our relationship to God, to bear on our financial decisions.

The Bible repeatedly points out these dangers:

  • Money and wealth do not ultimately satisfy, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us (5:10-13; 6:1-2). Those who become rich not only do not find happiness there, but find themselves unable to stop worrying about the security of their wealth and possessions.
  • I Timothy warns that the pursuit of wealth forces us into a choice: Will you set your hopes on the uncertainty of riches, or on the eternal, immovable God? “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation,” it says (6:9-10). They become trapped by harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. “The love of money is a root of all evil.”
  • And Jesus tells us we face the same choice: Will you store up for yourselves treasure on earth, which can be stolen, or worn out, or wasted, or will you set your sights on heaven, on your spiritual life, on your relationship with God? “Where your treasure is,” he says, “there will your heart be also.” It is a choice: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

How we use money is a spiritual matter because paying attention too much to our money puts us on the wrong path, leads us away from God, breaks down rather than builds up our spiritual development. For the sake of your spirit, for the sake of your “heart,” for the sake of your relationship with God, for the sake of your becoming the person God wants you to be, you need to handle your money correctly; you need to have the right attitude toward it.

And one way you both shape and demonstrate that attitude is how tightly you hold onto it, or how wiling you are to give it for God’s purposes: to help others, to spread the gospel, to keep this church an active presence in this community. What your relationship is to money is shaped and shown to a large extent by your willingness to give it away for those purposes. If we do not discipline ourselves to give a healthy portion of it away, to prove that we are in control of it and not it in control of us, we are letting money rule us and our spiritual lives, instead of God. When we give some of our money away, we find that it creates a healthier attitude toward money, reduces our dependence on it and our worry about it, draws us away from loving it too much.

Marcia Shetler puts it this way, in her discussion of our stewardship theme, today’s sermon title: “When we discuss stewardship, we often think in terms of time, talent, and treasure. But when I think about living generously, another important ‘t’ word comes to mind. That word is trust. It is difficult to be generous without it. Our culture tells us to put our trust in goods, systems, and financial reserves that we have erected. What we tend to forget is the fact that all of these can fail us. As Christian disciples, we are called to a counter-cultural way of living. Trusting in God is part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus. It allows us to joyfully and generously let go of what we think is ours and release it for God’s use. Those acts of generosity are our witness to the world, sharing God’s abundance as channels of God’s love.”

Paul, in writing to the church in Corinth, lifted up to them as an example of trust the churches in Macedonia. In spite of their affliction and poverty, they had been very generous in contributing to a collection for the relief of the Jerusalem Christian Church. The great local preacher on stewardship, the Rev. Laurie Williams, summarizes Paul’s reasoning this way, drawn from II Corinthians 8 and 9: “Since God is the source and means of our ability to give generously, giving generously is a matter of trusting God. Do you trust God with your financial situation? Do you trust God enough to give generously even if you aren’t absolutely sure what the future might bring?  . . . We are called to trust in God in the use of our finances, to give generously out of that trust . . . when we give through our trust in God’s abundance, then our generous giving is out of Christian freedom. We are free in Christ – free from sin, free from worry, free from death. Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians, and consequently to us, to give generously, is not a command. Paul is appealing instead to their – our – freedom in Jesus Christ. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are free from the power of money. {We can trust,} and we can give generously.”

We have asked a series of questions today:

  • Why do we talk about money? Because Jesus, and Paul, and other sections of the Bible do.
  • How do we talk about money? Today, the way Jesus and Paul did.
  • Why did they talk about it this way? To help us become a spiritual people.
  • How do we become spiritual people? Through spiritual disciplines.
  • Is how we use our money a spiritual discipline? Most certainly, yes.

The remaining questions we will each need to work on individually:

  • How will I respond?
  • How generous will I be?
  • Do I trust enough to give generously?

“Living Generously Begins with Trust.”

“Just as you excel in everything . . . in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us . . . see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”

Let’s pray: God, we thank you for the abundant wealth you have given us, and the comforts it can provide. But we also recognize, as Scripture has pointed out, the dangers, to our spiritual lives, of the pursuit of wealth, of its becoming too important to us. Help  us to use our money well, to trust, to be generous. Amen.