“Give Till It Feels Good”                                                                       October 21, 2012

Luke 21:1-4                                                                                            Stephens City UMC

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

I.                   What do you give a pragmatist for his 90th birthday?

A.    That was the matter facing the good friends of John Dewey the famous American educator, psychologist and social reformer as they considered how to make memorable their friend’s very special day, which was October 20, 1949.

1.     Since Dewey was one of the founders of pragmatic philosophy which holds that theory is of no benefit to anyone unless that theory is connected to practice, they recognized that they would embarrass themselves if they wrapped up a bunch of silly, meaningless gifts to present to him.

2.     Presenting him with some books may have been considered but Dewey was well-read having authored 27 books along with numerous journal articles while he had taught at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago and Columbia University.

3.     Dewey would have been gracious in accepting the books but pragmatically he wouldn’t have read them because he probably had thought more deeply on the issues dealt with in the books than the authors who had written them.

4.     So Dewey’s friends wondered what to give the great man that would be pragmatic and please him when they hit on an idea.

5.     The pragmatic idea that they carried out was that since they knew he wanted nothing for himself, other than to respond to the fire inside of him to help others in need, was to present him with $1,000 for every year of his life – a total of $90,000 which Dewey in turned donated to the causes he cared most about in life.

6.     The friends gave & Dewey gave it all away & everyone felt good.

II.                 Today we consider the fifth of our discipleship skills during our “Committed to Christ” campaign and that skill is financial stewardship.

A.    As we reflect on our giving we become pragmatic when we recall all that God has done for us.

1.     After all, what can we give to the God who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, made us in His image, breathed into us the breath of life, sent us His Son to be our Savior and continues to send us His Spirit to guide, direct and empower us in the ways of truth and holiness?

2.     Can you begin to give God anything that even begins to equal what He has given you?

3.     I think not!

4.     Perhaps you are wondering about the possibility of presenting God with a book.

5.     I don’t think so because the Bible is still the best seller in the history of the world and if you were able to give God a book I don’t think his response would be “Thanks, this is a topic that I haven’t thought a lot about.”

6.     The truth is God’s put more thought into things than all of us put together or all human beings who have ever existed put together.

B.     But God is pragmatic in that God connects theory and practice.

1.     Theoretically God created human beings to grow and to mature.

2.     You don’t always see that in practice but that’s not God’s fault and in theory boys and girls can become men and women and mature into what it really means to be children of God.

3.     Much of that process seems to involve the God like characteristic of giving.

4.     The example that God provides for us is that God gives until He feels good and God must like feeling good because He keeps on giving.

5.     I think that God feels good when He gives us a beautiful sunrise or a beautiful sunset.

6.     I think God feels good giving us someone special to love.

7.     I think God feels good giving us the warmth of His presence through the experiences of prayer and Bible reading and worship.

8.     I think God felt good giving us His Son on Christmas Day.

9.     I think God felt good (not in a “Oh, isn’t this fun?” sense, but in a “I need to suffer and make this sacrifice in order to save my people” sense) when God watched His Son die upon the cross.

10.             I think God felt joyously good when He raised Jesus from the dead and I think God feels joyously good when those who die in the Lord are received into heaven.

11.             I think God feels good even now in the preparations He is making for us in the eternal Kingdom.

C.     For God giving is not just theory.

1.     God is pragmatic.

2.      God connects theory with practice and He gives us the opportunity to give until we feel good as He feels good.

3.     God does not reserve that blessed feeling for Himself.

4.     Whether or not that blessed feeling will be ours is our decision.

III.              One of the things I have felt good about over the years is the financial giving I have been able to channel to and through this church.

A.    Y’all are not “Let’s throw money at it, types.”

1.     Believe me – I’ve sat in on plenty of Finance Committee meetings and Church Council meetings so I know.

B.     In addition to being frugal you are dreamers.

1.     This church has some big dreams for reaching this community for Jesus Christ and while some dreams require zero funds because all we need are volunteers, others such as paying the debt on what in essence is the community center for many who live on this side of the Interstate, and helping children and youth become disciples of Jesus Christ, require funding.

2.     These are good dreams and good goals.

3.     They are obtainable but each year a number of us have had to increase our giving so that those dreams and goals could be accomplished.

4.     One pragmatic reason for that situation is that it is not just a theory but a reality that each of us will die.

5.     Like other congregations some of our members who had the ability to strongly support the ministry and mission of this church through their financial stewardship, were advanced in years and now they have died.

6.     Their giving made it possible for us to be what we are today but now they are in glory and to maintain or to grow slightly, the rest of us will have to step up in order to replace their giving.

7.     For that reason, even though the proposed budget for 2013 that was passed five days ago by the Church Council has a modest 1.8% increase (with some of that increase for mission or future repairs), Jan and I will be increasing our giving by 3%.

8.     Status quo isn’t our goal and at present I am seeing the most energy and observing the greatest commitment by this congregation, since I’ve been here, to enter into a new future.

9.     That’s why a 1.8% increase of giving on Jan’s and my part would not leave us feeling good.

10.             Granted, our 3% increase won’t cover it all because we are just one couple and not everyone here today will be able to increase their giving by at least 3%, but if enough of us do then we’ll be able to fund our church’s dreams for ministry for 2013.

C.     How you give will affect how you feel spiritually.

1.     Financial stewardship is a spiritual matter, it is a spiritual discipline: it is a discipleship skill.

2.     Now, if you give a large amount that does not necessarily mean that you are more spiritual than one who gives a lesser amount.

3.     In our scripture lesson from Luke Jesus said that according to his math the widow gave more than the others.

4.     The widow gave all she had because she trusted in God and her giving made her feel good.

5.     The wealthy on the other hand were apparently giving only a small portion out of their excess money.

6.     You might say that Jesus notices the balance in our checkbook as well as the size of our check so the 10% is the great equalizer.

7.     If a poor person puts $50 in the offering and a wealthy person puts in $5,000 and both represent a 10% tithe then their gifts are equal according to Jesus’ math.

8.     Jesus’ call is for equal sacrifice, not equal gifts.

D.    So today examine your commitment to being Jesus’ disciple.

1.     As the Rev. Bob Crossman says in his “Committed to Christ” material: “What do our gifts say about our ability to love? What does our checkbook say about our willingness to trust? Do we trust God at His word more than we are afraid of a bad economy? Are we controlled more by God’s word or by the Wall Street Journal?”

E.     Someone who entered into such an examination long ago regarding his discipleship was the founder of our denomination, John Wesley.

1.     When John Wesley was young he earned 30 pounds for a year.

2.     He lived on 28 pounds and gave 2 pounds to the poor so that 2 pounds worth of giving was 7% of his income.

3.     Then his books and pamphlets began to sell.

4.     The next year his income doubled to 60 pounds.

5.     He continued to live on 28 pounds and gave away 32 pounds which was more than half his income.

6.     Granted he didn’t have a family or college loans to pay off but two years later his income again doubled to 120 pounds – he continued to live off of 28 pounds a year and gave 82 pounds or 77% of his income to the poor.

7.     By the end of his life, because of his book and pamphlet sales, Wesley had become one of the wealthiest men in England.

8.     He was no longer making 30 pounds a year but was making over 1,400 pounds a year.

9.     John Wesley lived to be 87 and near the end, possibly to help pay for medicines, he allowed himself to live on 30 pounds a year, but he gave away over 1,400 pounds each year to the poor which represented 98% of his income – he did not limit himself to 10%.

10.             It was in 1744 that he wrote (and I’m paraphrasing a little here so the English can be understandable), “When I die if I leave behind me 10 pounds then I want you and all mankind to bear witness against me that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”

11.             When Wesley did die in 1791 all that was found in his pockets and his dresser drawers were a few miscellaneous coins and John Wesley died feeling good about his giving.

IV.              So the friends of John Dewey gave him $90,000 as a birthday present and he gave it all away and they all felt good.

A.    The widow gave all she could and she felt good.

1.     John Wesley amassed a great fortune and gave all but a few coins away before he died and he felt good.

2.     When I reflect on my testimony and level of commitment verses Wesley’s testimony and level of commitment I feel humbled.

B.     I can’t speak for how you feel but I encourage us all to do as God the greatest giver has done and let us give until we feel good.