June 15, 2003
Trinity Sunday

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17


“God is Able”
2 Corinthians 9:6-11


Bill Riemer was a very unusual man. Bill actually enjoyed being Stewardship Chairman of a church I once served. Now, it so happened that Bill was the only person in that church who liked the job of Stewardship Chairman. In fact, he was so alone in this enjoyment that no one else in the church would even serve on Bill’s committee. So…Bill would prepare all the pledge cards, mail out all the materials, and call every single person who did not return a pledge care – and he would keep calling until he had received a response from everyone who was a member of that church.

Like I said, Bill was a very unusual man. I must tell you, however, that I gave thanks for Bill Riemer many times over!

Why do you suppose Bill would do all that work, to say nothing of the fact that he enjoyed doing all that work? My training in clinical psychology and in theology bring two possibilities to mind.

1.       My clinical psych training lead me to the possible conclusion that Bill would probably be diagnosed as a masochist. Namely, someone who actually enjoys pain.

2.       My theological training lead me to a completely different possibility. Namely that God just might have given Bill a special gift of being able to help provide for the church’s ministry.

Bill was the stewardship leader in a church that was no easy task for those who raised funds for the church’s ministry. He felt as though he needed a DDS degree sometimes - securing pledges was like pulling teeth! There were those years when people were simply dragging their feet. But, Bill was there with the persistence of a moth heading for the light on a dark night.

One church I served tried something entirely different with its stewardship campaign. It was unique for the church. It was not a new idea to the wider church, but it was very different from the annual drive of this congregation. The program was called, Faith-Promise Stewardship. The idea was to ground the issue of giving in each person’s relationship with God. They did away with the old idea of a “pledge card” where people were asked to sign their name to a pledge card. Instead, each person was asked to pray and seek God’s help in deciding how much they wanted to give to the church for the work of Christ.

So, this was the basic premise of the program--Based on your faith in God’s ability to provide enough for you to give, you would make a promise of a generous gift for the work of your church. That amount was indicated on a Faith-Promise Care (without a signature) so that the church could plan a budget for the year. But the key idea was that giving would become a matter of the relationship between each person and God. Without the inhibiting factor of a signed pledge, the thinking went, people could focus on their faith in God’s ability to provide rather than on what people might think of their pledge and the subsequent giving. The result – so the idea went – would be a much greater degree of generosity. In the stewardship committee’s more enthusiastic dreams, there would be more money than the annual budget required and all kinds of new mission would be possible.

“Great idea!” Many said. “This is the way it should be! Do away with those pledge cards!”

So…how did it work?    Well…

It was okay—no records were set. But neither was it a flop! Neither the “nay sayers” or the “enthusiasts” got to say, “I told you so.” The feeling was that Faith-Promise Stewardship is worth building on. Now…our the scripture for today contains some very important principles for giving that lift up two things: 1) Faith Promise giving is fulfilling for the giver and 2) Faith Promise giving is giving that can more than meet the needs of the church’s ministry.

Just before we look at these principles, there is one small bit of scripture I would like to share with you--this comes just a bit earlier in the scripture lesson for today – it contains the KEY TO Faith-Promise Stewardship. Listen to this:

8:1  And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  2  Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  3  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own,  4  they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints.  5  And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.

Amazing!  Their giving came out of grace and joy--not out of guilt and not from a “slick” campaign. It was Faith based giving!  The key to the issue of giving was this, “…they gave themselves first to the Lord…!”

With this as background, we can look at the specific principles God has given for the kind of giving that is fulfilling for the giver.

In authentic biblical giving, there are two things we need to do and three things God will do.  (As always… God out gives us!)

I.  TWO THINGS WE NEED TO DO:

1.       V.6  We need to Invest

* “Sow generously - reap generously”

* Story of the “small potatoes”

2.       V.7  We need to make a Heart Decision.

* The decision comes from within not from without.

* Remember the boy in John 6 with his 5 loaves & 2 fish? He gave all he had – and how did he give?

* Not reluctant/not under compulsion

   (God loves “cheerful” (the root meaning of the term in the Greek New Testament is “hilarious”)

* The young lad could easily have said, “He, no way people. This is mine. It’s all I have. You people are adults and should have known enough to bring lunch!”

And when it is all said and done, if we do our part, there are…

II.  THREE THINGS GOD WILL DO:

1.   V.8  God will supply His Grace

      * This is a great answer to what lies behind Christian giving… not guilt, duty, or any inner human emotion – but rather it is God’s grace. How does this work? God’s grace offered to me becomes the power that drives my giving.

2.   V.10  God will supply the Seed

* Seed is that which we invest--(i.e., a farmer can’t say he’s had a bad year so can’t afford much seed)

* Seed is the giving we invest in our ministry

* “enlarge the harvest of your righteousness” means this:

We will see God at work in people’s lives as they discover His amazing love!

3.   V.11  God will make it possible for us to be Generous

      * This is a remarkable statement

      * It lies behind the idea of “Faith-Promise” Stewardship… That is to say--if we in faith make a promise of generous giving--God will work in our lives to provide enough for us to be generous!

The result of it all?  Last part of verse 11…

“…your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God!”

In other words, when stewardship is authentically rooted in God’s love and grace and in the Christian’s relationship with God, the whole church will find the giving of the community an amazing thing. Instead of saying, “How wonderful these people are,” they will find themselves drawn to how wonderful God is. When giving flows out of our honest, inner gratitude for the love and mercy of God, it results in a dramatic ability for the church to have an impact on the world around it.

I believe with all my heart that people who have received nothing from God should not be asked to or cajoled into giving their hard earned money for the work of the church – the Body of Christ. On the other hand, those who have received much in the way of love, mercy, grace, hope and joy from God – will give as they have received if given half a chance.

Or let me put it this way. Give as you have received. If you have not received anything from God – then you should not put even one red cent in the collection plate. My only question is this. Does your giving reflect the way God has blessed you?

Bill Riemer was a very unusual person – (may God bless him mightily!)  God should give us a tribe of Bill Riemers – until

Until we are able to move our motivation for giving into the depths of our love relationship with God! Then the world will know that indeed – God is Able!