Last week Parker helped out at the church, doing the opening and closing. He is going to do the custodial job for a while and we will see how this goes. So after church we met at Panda Express to enjoy lunch together. After our Teriyaki Chicken and Mushroom Chicken, we cracked open our fortune cookies. His said. “You will share a meal with someone very important to you.” Then I discovered mine said, “The world is ready to receive your talents- don’t hold back.” I was amazed how God worked that out, seeing how I had just preached on sharing our time, talents and treasure. Then I glanced up to find these words on a poster, “Learning is a Treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” I felt like the world was reaffirming our theme of sharing our gifts. In Panda Express of all places!
Today we are receiving your pledge cards and dedicating them to God’s service. I know that over 25 of you have already turned yours in, thank you, and I hope to receive commitments from many more of you today. St. Andrew is ready to receive your talents and your treasures and we are so grateful for you sharing those as well as your time. If you forgot your card, and know what you would like to give, there are cards in the pew in front of you. Please fill them out and place them in the offering plate.
Learning is a treasure that follows us everywhere and I want to highlight three points from our passages this morning to help us better understand the joy of giving to God.
First it is by God’s grace that we give. Paul writes, “we want you to know about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches.” Paul is seeking out funds for the church in Jerusalem. They have been hard hit by famine, experiencing great need. He was traveling around looking for support. The churches in Macedonia gave generously even though they had experienced their own ordeal. Paul held them up for the church in Corinth to emulate. Paul is reminding them when we each give what we can, there will be enough with God’s grace.
With all of the heat and fires of late it is hard to remember that in January we were experiencing flooding and landslides. Guerneville, California flooded. Yet one of the poorest countries in Africa has a Rotary Club with a heart. Last February, Carmen McCabe, president of the Rotary Club of Guerneville, California, received a letter from Laurent Nzeyimana, president of the Rotary Club of Bujumbura, capital of Burundi. “In the spirit of Rotary International,” the letter read, “a club even as poor as ours wishes to share this modest contribution from the members in response to the flood that has devastated your area. We trust this minute contribution would display our solidarity with you in your time of grief.” Enclosed was a check for $200. (Herb Caen in San Francisco Chronicle.)
God is the one who makes this generosity happen. God’s grace gives us the ability to give, helps us to find the joy in sharing what we have, and the motivation to say God’s purpose is more fulfilling than my own.
One way to look at this is math versus faith. If I put on my math hat, live in the numbers world, I can find lots of reasons to spend or save my money. I think I don’t have enough, I see what my money would earn if invested, I just look at the dollars and sense. But when I look at what I give through the lens of faith I see those exact same numbers very differently. I know that when I put God first, make my faith a priority, then being generous with God is easy. It is easy because I value the ministries we do like Walk4Water, teaching our children, caring for our community, serving the homeless, deepening our faith. I value worshipping with you, being the body of Christ, the community of faith in Aptos. The place we all call home. Then when Paul reminds them of the blessing of excelling in everything; in faith, in speech, in knowledge, eagerness and love. He is encouraging them to rise to the challenge of generosity. We give by God’s grace, and we give generously, because we know the value of Christ in our lives.
The second point I want to share is that Pastors give too. I recall being asked if I gave to the church? At first, I thought that was an odd question. So I asked where did that come from? The person said, well you get paid by the church why would you turn around and give money back?
Our lesson from Numbers helps to show one reason why I give. As you know the Levites were the tribe of Israel that provided worship, cared for the Temple, and loved the people. So when people shared their tithe with God, those gifts of grain and wine, the lambs, the herbs, the wood; those first fruits would be offered to the Levite priests. Then these same leaders would set apart a “tithe of a tithe.” They would give just as the Lord asked the people to give. Of course, they were not growing wheat, or making wine, because they cared for the people of faith. But they gave of what was given to them. So I give a tithe of the tithe. I give 10% to the church of what you pay me. You never see me put money in the plate because I have my bank send a check to the church every month. It is set up as an automatic payment; you can set that up as well. My contribution to the church gets paid before anything else, even my mortgage.
More to the point I give because giving is an act of faith. Sharing what I have received with God makes my connection to God deeper, greater. If it was simply a mandate from scripture it would not give me the joy it does to give. Giving helps me to feel connected to all that we do for Christ in this church-supporting you in your walk with God, and being a light in the community. As one person said, “I don’t look back on giving as a hardship. It has always been a joyful experience” (Growing Giver’s Hearts, p. 115). My prayer is that through giving you have that same joy.
It is by God’s grace that we generously give, pastors give too, and our greatest reward comes when we give ourselves to God. Paul writes, “They gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us….” Giving your time, talents and treasures is vital. But first and foremost, we are to give ourselves to God. We are to be the offering we give to God. What God wants most, before your gifts, before your talents, is YOU! God wants the time you spend with God in the morning. God wants to be your first thought of the day. God wants to be the joy of our life and your hope for the future. God wants YOU! Paul talks about giving yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1). Remember that a sacrifice is what people originally gave to God, long before we gave our talents and treasures. God wants your heart, your mind and your soul as you love the Lord your God. God wants you!!!
Give yourself to God, completely and fully – that is the best part, the part consecrated set apart for God. Then give yourself to God in the ways that glorify Jesus Christ and help to share God’s love in the world. Give yourself to the ministries of God’s church as together we fund the family of faith and strengthen our own faith in the process. Amen.