The Why’s and Wonders of Worship: Grateful
Philippians 4: 4 – 8
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
September 30, 2018
I invite you to take out your wallets this morning. Exchange your wallet with the person sitting next to you. The offering plates will be coming around and I would like for you to give like you have never given before! (Sophia plays “Money, Money, Money”)
We continue our sermon series, “The Why’s and Wonders of Worship.” In this sermon series, we address the specifics of worship – the Joys and Concerns, the Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, Music, the Bible and other sacred writings, the sermon, the sanctuary, and today we will address the offering. I know – some of you probably would opt for a root canal over talking about money in church.
I once heard an Elder stand up in worship at the former church I served and say this, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is we have all the money we need in this church right now for all the ministry and outreach we want to do.” The congregation sat at the edge of their pews with smiles on their faces until the usher continued. “The bad news is that the money is in your pockets.” Ugh! There the church goes again asking for money.
I am even reminded of a little boy who was sitting in church with his father. His father gave him a dollar to put in the offering plate. The plate came down the pew. Dad nodded for him to put his dollar in; the little boy shook his head and held on tightly. Dad nodded again; little boy held on tightly. Finally, the plate went on without his dollar. All through the service the child held on tightly to the dollar. When the service was over and they were leaving, the minister reached out his hand to shake hands and the little boy put the dollar in the minister’s hand. The minister was surprised, “Why, thank you, but why are you giving me this dollar?” “I’m giving it to you,” the child responded, “because my dad says you are the poorest preacher he’s ever known.”
We need to laugh about money because sometimes we take money way too seriously. Comedian Jack Benny had a reputation for being a scrooge. One day, in a skit on his radio show, a would-be robber stopped him on the street, poked a gun into his ribs, and said, “Your money or your life.” After a long pause, and a few more jabs with the gun, Benny said, “I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” I heard a pastor use the theme from that skit when he preached about money. His sermon title: “Your Money or Your Life.” That morning, the choir’s anthem was the familiar “Take My Life.” It is probably no coincidence that today’s opening hymn was “Take My Life.”
This morning, I would like to suggest that we bring our entire selves as an offering to God. This church participates in a unique membership process called “covenanting.” For those of you who are currently members you will notice that your covenants are available in the Narthex. To be a member of this congregation one needs to write a covenant each year or verbally share your covenant with me. The covenant has three parts to it: The personal covenant which is completely confidential. I am the only one who reads the personal covenants. In that personal section, you may want to share with me where you are on your spiritual journey at this time, what it is that you need from your church family or from me, or anything else you would like to share that you believe that I, as your pastor, need to know. It is my honor to read each and every one of those covenants with intentionality and great care. It is my honor to walk with you on this sacred spiritual journey.
The second part of the covenant is the “Time and Talent” survey – your gifts that you are willing to share with the congregation. Do you have the gift of leading, the gift of envisioning, the gift of singing, the gift of teaching, the gift of baking, the gift of gardening, the gift of welcoming, the gift of worship leading, the gift of faith, the gift of compassion and passion for justice, – your gifts, your time and talent are very much needed to create the most dynamic community possible. The purpose of our gifts is not to hide them under a bushel basket, but to let them shine for the edification of others. I am so very grateful for your generosity in sharing your gifts. Each gift you bring to this church body is absolutely significant.
The third part of the covenant is the financial portion. The 2019 budget is completely based on your financial giving. The budget is about $300,000 per year. There are about 100 giving units which means that the average gift to the church for the general operating expenses is about $3000 per year. Some people are able to give more and do so – some may have very little to give (lucky to give $3)– barely making ends meet. We get it. We don’t want you to go broke. Whatever gift you are able to give, large or small, is so very appreciated. Thank you for your sharing your financial resources with this church.
These three parts make up the covenant. When we bring our covenants forward on Covenant Sunday (November 4th), we bring our entire selves. As many of you know, I grew up in this congregation – as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. Covenant Sunday was my favorite Sundays of the entire year. I brought forth my covenant not out of duty and obligation – but out of gratitude for God, for this faith community and for this sacred place.
It is here where I developed a deep love for the Creator. It is here where I learned to honor the beauty of creation. It is here where I learned to say “thank you” to the Holy Mystery of the universe. In this place, I learned that all of life is a miracle. The sun rises over the horizon, 93 million miles away at temperatures in the thousands of degrees, yet it gently warms our face and causes the nearby flower to open in a glorious display. It causes a tiny seed to transform into a 50 foot Oak tree. It causes the moon to shine. What does Rumi say, “After all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” It is here where I learned about the generosity of the universe. It is here where I was taught to pay attention to the miracle of creation. In the words of Anne Lamont, “God is such a show-off.”
It is here where I was taught to honor my neighbor. To love those who feel unlovable, to heal the wounded, to care for the sick, to embrace the outcast, to speak truth to power, to work for justice.
It is here where I learned to accept myself just as I am. This faith community welcomed my doubts, my questions, my struggles, my idiosyncrasies. This community has not only brought healing to my life, but to the lives of hundreds who have walked through her doors.
Each time I walked down the aisle on Covenant Sunday with my covenant in hand, I wanted to give everything I could – everything I could—to the God who called me here. I filled out my covenant with exuberant joy and focused intentionality – not as an attempt to meet the church budget, not because I had heard an inspiring sermon on stewardship, but because I was overflowing with thanksgiving. And even when I served another church in San Diego, for many years I continued to covenant with this congregation – because I believed in the mission of this church wholeheartedly, in its stand on radical inclusivity.
Every time I bring forth my covenant I feel like the apostle Paul in today’s scripture passage. Paul declares, “Rejoice in God always! Again I say rejoice!” I hope that through the covenanting process you feel like rejoicing too. This is such an exciting time in the life of this church – so much possibility to bring love, peace, healing and wholeness into our world.
I close with a story about a little boy who came to church one cold morning to get out of the rain and wind. He had been trying to sell newspapers but not a single customer had passed by. He sheepishly entered the sanctuary and hoped to pass his hour unnoticed on the back pew. Though the Sunday crowd was slim, the preacher delivered a stirring message about God’s love and when the sermon was finished, he called for an offering. The ushers went from row to row and as one drew near to the little newspaper boy, he stood in front of the boy and held out the plate. The boy’s eyes were fixed upon it, and after a long pause he asked the usher to place the plate on the floor. The boy did something both strange and beautiful. He literally stepped into the offering plate. And when he looked up there were big tears running down his cheeks. He said, “Preacher, I don’t have any money, I haven’t sold a single newspaper today, but if God loves me the way you say God does, I will glad give my life away.” Amen.
May we all step into the offering plate this morning. Amen.