GIVING TO GROW

 

SCRIPTURE: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12; I Thessalonians 2: 1-8

 

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

          Today we kick off our stewardship emphasis, so I invite you to think with me about “Imagine – Giving to Grow”. I want us to think about the reasons we give. What is our theology of giving? What does giving have to do with our spiritual life?

          We give because God is active in our lives from two different directions. The first direction we look back into our past, and we give in gratitude because of what God has already done for us.

          My parents taught me and my siblings early on to say “Please” and “Thank You.”. They drummed it into our heads. I figured since they thought it was so important to say these words, the wisest move was to say the words to them with great frequency. I soon learned just saying, “Thank you,” was not enough. They would say, “How thankful are you?” On occasion they would rattle of a list of tasks or services I could do to show my gratitude.

          We look back, we are grateful, and we do something to show our gratitude.

          I am grateful for the gift of life itself, for each new day, for the privilege of being alive.   I am grateful for Jesus Christ, and all that his life and ministry means for our lives today. I am grateful for the privilege of ministry, and for my own personal call to ministry. I am grateful for this congregation, for the love and concern you show one another, for your compassion for others, for your sense of ministry and service to the larger world. I am grateful we are together in ministry.

          As we look at our Old Testament scripture today, we remember the word “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” It’s a rear-view mirror look at the law. It’s a second look. Deuteronomy is a summing-up time, a good thorough review before the people go into the Promised Land.

          Our passage today is the closing verses of Deuteronomy. We are told here that God takes Moses up to see all the land. This is the land which was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses is permitted to see the land, but is not allowed to enter.

          We are told that even though Moses is 120 years old, his sight was not impaired nor his vigor abated. He didn’t die from old age or physical impairment. His life ended because his work was completed. He had been God’s liberator of the people from slavery in Egypt and their guide through the desert wilderness. We are told, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses.”

          A definition of stewardship is living our life for God and others. Here in Deuteronomy we see Moses summing-up all he had learned which will make life good for the people. He lived his life for God and others. He looks back in gratitude for God’s presence and guidance and offers this second look at the law for the people’s future. Moses is giving in gratitude for the past. Much of our giving is in gratitude as well.

          If our giving is spiritually based we are generous people because we are grateful people. We are grateful for all God has done in our lives. We are grateful for the blessings which have come our way. Some of those blessings may not have looked like blessings at first blush. Some have been clothed in painful experiences. Yet when we take a second look we can see in greater depth and we can discern blessing.

          Have you noticed the old pictures of the church that are on the wall downstairs, and the one at Western Sky’s restaurant? They show the church from a long time ago. Which means that for a long time, this congregation has a lot to give thanks to God for. When I talk to people around Wheatland, especially from other churches, we are known as a congregation in mission, always helping others even in those times when our own resources were stretched to the limit.

          We give as a congregation because we look back and we are grateful for all we have received. It feels good to give and we do so in gratitude. Giving makes us smile.

          The second direction we look is to the future. When we look to the future we give to grow. Paul says to the Thessalonians that his appeal doesn’t spring from deceit, impure motives, trickery, flattery, greed, or seeking praise. Paul takes the straightforward approach. He is saying the church needs to grow, so give. Give to make the church and its witness stronger. We need to give to grow and revitalize our programs and mission outreach. We need to give to start new efforts in education, fellowship and service.

          Yet Paul also says in the Thessalonian passage, “We have been entrusted with the gospel so we care enough to share the gospel and ourselves.” Good news is expensive. It can’t be contained. It has to get out or it isn’t good anymore. Looking back we give in gratitude for receiving God’s goodness, and looking forward we give to grow ourselves so we can offer more good news. We give to grow our spirits. Regular giving builds habits and demonstrates values that draw us each day closer to God.

          The spiritual gift of generosity enlarges our souls, expands our care, in producing and enables us give ourselves to others.

          Paul says to the Ephesians (4:15), “We must grow up into Christ.” Such growth, such maturing in the faith, is by God’s grace and our giving our time, talents, finances, and service so our souls expand. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 6: 19-21) said. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”

          Heaven is a relationship with God. It is not just the hereafter but also the herenow. We give to grow in our relationship with God, “for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” We give so our identity, our joy, our involvement, our focus, will be on God. Then our lives will be deeper still, richer still, and more joyful still.

          John Wesley said, “Earn all you can.” He believed in the work ethic. He wanted his people to do work, but work that didn’t hurt them or others. In his day that meant, among other things, not to be involved I or producing spirituous liquor or slavery. He said, “Save all you can.” He called Methodists to live moderate lifestyles. He said, “Give all you can.” He didn’t want anyone to go to the poor house because of their generosity. That didn’t help anyone in the long run. Yet he believed giving was good for one’s spiritual development. We give to grow.

          Billy Wright is an 8 year old boy who wants to do something in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. He and his parents were viewing a website about giving through UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. He said to his parents, “I can recycle cans and give to UMCOR.” So he has.

          When he turned in his cans to the recycling center, he told the man he is doing this for hurricane relief through his church. The man gave Billy ten dollars, and put out a can to collect more. He told Billy he would give him money the next time he came to the center. Just a few days ago Billy brought thirty-two dollars for hurricane relief to the church in a big jar. He said, “Giving makes me smile.”

          Dear friends, during this campaign let us take the next step and give because our relationship with God. May we give in gratitude for the past, and looking to the future, may we give to grow. Then we all can smile.

          Thanks be to God.

MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH