Our Stewardship theme for this year is “More than Enough,” drawn from Paul’s familiar message to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 6:6-9). The best-known phrase from that passage is the one that proclaims, “God loves a cheerful giver.” And that seems so true. Who does not love one who gives cheerfully, willingly, gratefully?
In this passage Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to fulfill their promise of a generous gift to the needy church in Jerusalem. Strategically, as a means of bridging the gap between the Jewish and Gentile Christians, he wants the new churches outside Jerusalem to show their appreciation and gratitude for the “mother church” in its time of need. In particular, he is using a little guilt here to get the Corinthians to follow through on their pledge of support.
Thou Shalt Not Toss Food: Enlisting Religious Groups To Fight Waste
Separation of church and state? When it comes to fighting food waste, the U.S. government is looking to partner up with the faithful.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday launched the Food Steward’s Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. It’s one piece of the agency’s larger plan to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
“We can make leaps and bounds in this process if we tackle this problem more systemically and bring a broader number of stakeholders to the table,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tells us. By engaging religious communities, she says, “we are tapping into incredibly motivated and dedicated people.”
LIVE FREE is the theme for our yearly stewardship drive, ending in Stewardship Sunday on November 22.
In I Timothy 6: 7 (RSV), Paul states “For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world.” He speaks about the rich in this world, in verses 18 and 19, saying that: “They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.” We are all rich in God’s grace—therefore, LIVE FREE to take hold of life.
We need to realize that stewardship is not only giving money to the Church, but encompasses giving of our time and talents as well. We may not all be rich in monetary means, but we can give a portion of what we have by helping in other ways. Paul also states in II Corinthians (SRV) 9: 6-8: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.” LIVE FREE to do God’s work from what God has given you.
I can remember while growing up that whenever there was something we needed, my parents would say, “don’t worry, the Lord will provide” and He always did. This is just one example we all need to remember as we think about our commitments to our Church and humankind. Can we follow the example of those who donate their time, talents, and money for the good of others? First Baptist Church of Palo Alto is a very giving congregation for both the budget and the chosen missions. But each year we must review our Church expenses and missions. Give freely so that you may LIVE FREE to do God’s calling.
Now wait a minute. Something’s wrong here. It’s only the middle of May. Why are we talking about stewardship? Isn’t the pitch for stewardship supposed to be reserved for November? Every year, as we approach the time of thanksgiving, Jane Chin asks me about the Sunday I plan to deliver the stewardship sermon. The truth is, I don’t try to limit our consideration of stewardship to just one Sunday or just one season of the year. Perhaps you’ve picked that up by now.
For whatever reasons, in our journey with Brian McLaren, this is the Sunday he’s selected to focus on stewardship. I don’t think it will do us any harm to stay with him on this phase of our walk together. Of the many biblical passages that consider money and resources, he chooses three, two of which we have as texts today. The ancient word from Deuteronomy addresses how we handle resources in the context of Sabbath. The letter to Timothy seeks to establish in the young man a proper appreciation for the place of money in the economy of God and in the development of his own sense of godliness.
Among other things, McLaren says stewardship is “love in action.” I like that idea but maybe it needs a little unpacking. What would love in action look like to you? How would it shape a practice of stewardship? What I like about this notion is it grounds giving, sharing, caring in an attitude of gratitude.
In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Mark Biddle argues that “The economic aspect of Deuteronomy’s understanding of the Sabbath principle – release from slavery, release from debt, release from need – underscores the Old Testament’s very this-worldly viewpoint.” He argues that “Deuteronomy does not speak of a ‘spiritual freedom’ only, or of merely emotional responses to God’s Grace. One freed from the very real hardships of slavery in Egypt will find it difficult to enslave another! Can gratitude and greed co-exist?” he asks. “To begrudge the needy, among whom one was formerly numbered, is to hardheartedly and tightfistedly deny YHWH’s redemption and blessing…Deuteronomy understands Sabbath as a principle of liberation from oppression and need. In order fully to participate in the Sabbath, then, it is not enough to be freed. One must extend liberty!” (Mark E. Biddle, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, p. 270.)
Have you ever seen someone freed from some form of bondage, let off from promised punishment, given a second chance, then turn on another seeking similar freedom and possibility? Remember the parable Jesus tells in which a debtor, released from a great debt by playing on the pity of the ruler, then cruelly demands that another who cannot repay a small debt to him be thrown in prison? In the end he meets a worse fate when the ruler finds out about his lack of mercy (Matthew 18:21-35).
The whole Sabbath tradition is centered in good stewardship. It insists on learning to care for creation which, of course, means caring for our sisters and brothers. It calls is to work and play and rest in the joy of our relationship to God who made us and loves of us with unending love. The writers of Deuteronomy, as does Jesus, insist that stewardship is grounded in attitude of gratitude – gratitude to God for the wonders of creation, for the invitation to share with God responsibility for creation and, above all, for God’s grace and mercy when we manage to mess things up. In her wonderful book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells us that the two best prayers are “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” In an interview, she expands: “The full prayer, in its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.”
First Timothy, too, expands on the attitude of gratitude. The early church developed within the rule of the Roman empire. In this context, Christian Eberhart writes that “For the most part, riches could only be acquired through continuous cooperation with the Roman administration. Those who were rich, therefore, usually supported a system that oppressed the vast majority of the population for the benefit of only few at the center of the Empire” Christian A. Eberhart, “Commentary on 1 Timothy 6:6-19, September 29, 2013”, workingpreacher.org).
While the early church was largely counter-cultural, they didn’t exactly eschew wealth. People of means helped to fund the enterprise and keep it viable. In some cases those with resources pooled what they had with those who had little or nothing so that everyone had enough. Remember the passage from Acts we read a couple of weeks ago? “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:44-47). Remember I said that one of the things that stood out for me in this passage was that they ate their food with glad and generous hearts”? Talk about an attitude of gratitude. And the result, they had the “goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The problem is not wealth per se. It is people’s attitude toward it. The writer tells the young Timothy that “those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” It’s the attitude that matters. It’s not money itself that’s the root of so much evil, as we have often heard it misquoted. It’s the love of money, the lust for wealth, that gets people into all kinds of trouble, but we don’t know anything about that, do we? Bill Leonard reports that “In the May 3 Times Nicholas Kristof noted, ‘Just the annual bonuses for just the sliver of Americans who work just in finance just in New York City dwarfed the combined year-round earnings of all Americans earning the federal minimum wage’ (Bill Leonard, “Sifting the Conscience,” May 6, 2015, baptistnews.com).
The clearly counter-cultural words of the writer of First Timothy hold a different perspective for those with wealth. “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” Enjoyment? Doing good? Generosity? Sharing? Sounds like an attitude of gratitude to me. What if we were to cultivate just such an attitude, not only for stewardship season, when the whole culture suddenly rediscovers thanksgiving, but all the time, every day, every moment? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Wouldn’t this be liberating, the very freedom that the Gospel offers so freely? An attitude of gratitude – I think it’s worth a try.
Stewardship Sunday comes early this year as we take the next step in our journey with Brian McLaren. This week’s focus is “Alive in a Global Uprising: An Uprising of Stewardship.” He suggests three great texts on the topic. The first is from Deuteronomy, which features guidelines for the “year of Jubilee” in which debts were to be forgiven and the land renewed (and redistributed.) The second involves instructions to Timothy on how to be a good steward and a righteous or godly individual. This passage contains the famous maxim that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” The third is from Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. Here the apostle “guilts” the Corinthians into giving more to the special offering for the church in Jerusalem by telling them how generous their poor sisters and brothers in Macedonia have been.
One of the things we discussed in Bible study on Tuesday is how important our attitude toward giving and sharing is. We know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Two weeks ago we looked at the passage in Acts 2 in which Luke tells us that the first church gathered with “glad and generous hearts.” What if our attitude toward our neighbors in need, toward God’s good creation, toward life overall, was one of gratitude? How would we be different and what difference would it make in the world around us? McLaren argues, and I agree, that an “attitude of gratitude” is fundamental to our discipleship.
And while we’re focused on giving, thanks to everyone who has given so generously to support the scholarship needs of the students at ABSW. I was telling the Dean Tuesday night what a delight it is to sit in the lounge before class and listen in on the incredible multi-cultural experience that the school now provides, with students from Korea and Africa and Latin America and Oakland and even our own Doug Davidson, who will be graduating in a couple of weeks. It’s a blessing to eavesdrop on this rich mix of folk committed to following Christ into specialized ministries of all sorts. Thanks also to those who have given to the offering for the important work of the Peace Fellowship as well as for earthquake relief in Nepal. The needs are great; your generosity is valued.
We did not begin the series on religion and evolution last week as Doug shared his presentation on prisons and mass incarceration from his class on Saturday. The presentation was timely and informative and led to a spirited discussion. Thanks for sharing with us, Doug.
So, this week in Adult Spiritual Formation we will begin a seven part series from the producers of the “Living the Questions” curriculum that we studied several years ago. This new series is entitled, “Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Earth.” Each session includes a twenty minute video featuring theologians and thinkers such as Philip Clayton, Rachel Held Evans, Matthew Fox, John Shelby Spong and Bruce Sanguin, whose beautiful prayers from If Darwin Prayed, we have used a number of times in worship. I believe this will be an exciting and challenging study for us
Please plan to be here by 10:00 AM for worship and Sunday School, followed by Adult Spiritual Formation. Then join the “Lunch Bunch” if you’re available. What better time to bring others along to share in the life of our community than this blessed Easter season?
It seems that today’s worship service is, of necessity, a hybrid. To begin with it is Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. As one liturgical year draws to a close and we anticipate a new one in the season of Advent, it seems appropriate to recognize and celebrate the fulfillment of the Christhood in life of the child whose birth we will soon recognize and celebrate. The story comes full circle and begins again. The little boy soon to be born once more ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God in glory.
And of course it is the season of the great US holiday, Thanksgiving, with its dual emphasis on family togetherness and conspicuous consumption. Surely we must sing either “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” or “We Gather Together,” along with other songs of thankfulness for God’s blessings. Before facing “Black Friday and its aftermath, we will gather around tables groaning with the abundance of the feast. We will share the things for which we are grateful before eating ourselves into a stupor and falling asleep before televised football games or seasonal spectaculars.
Many congregations plan their annual stewardship drives to culminate on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, taking advantage of the generous spirit the season evokes. We are no exception. Today we have asked you to bring your pledges of support so that we might budget responsibly for the ministries of First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, in the coming year. Laura and I and others have asked and will continue to urge you to give generously in the spirit of gratitude for all that with which you have been blessed. As I have said once already this season, I am not embarrassed to ask you to give to support the budget because I believe in the ministries of this church and I believe in your witness as part of God’s beloved community. This congregation – that is, us – matters in this community and in the larger world as we worship, learn, care and serve together.
Then we have been on this journey with Brian McLaren, trying to understand how “we make the road by walking.” Because we need to move on to Advent next week, there were two chapters of the book and six wonderful scripture texts to consider for this week. If you’re not feeling a little overwhelmed by all this, you can rest assured that I am. However, undaunted by the overabundance of possibilities, we plunge ahead. Perhaps we will find a convergence of all the themes laid out before us for today. It is not unlike the rich array of dishes laid out for us at Friday’s Gratitude potluck, which, in the end, made a meal!
So let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you remember, our “Song for Sending Out” was the great hymn by Georgia Harkness, “Hope of the World.” This is one of my favorites and its words remained with me through the week, especially its opening phrase, “Hope of the world, O Christ of great compassion.”
I suppose on Christ the King Sunday the tendency is to think of Christ enthroned in glory. I know that when I googled images there was a rich collection of paintings, carvings and mosaics of the triumphant Christ, crowned in splendor. Still, there is something compelling in the Harkness image of Christ who, because of his compassion, is the hope of the world. We can glory in Christ ascendant. We can sing wholeheartedly the hymns to the Christ who reigns with God in heaven: “Blessing and honor, glory and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne…” But how well do we understand this God who takes on human form and dwells among us out of concern for the well-being of creation?
It’s a challenging paradox, this God of glory who is also the Christ of great compassion. Hear Harkness’s prayerful words once more:
Hope of the world, O Christ of great compassion:
speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent.
Save us, your people, from consuming passion,
who by our own false hopes and aims are spent.
In the midst of abundance and celebration, do these words speak to you? Fearful hearts, conflict rent, consuming passion, false hopes and aims? Does any of that sound familiar? I think both Isaiah and Paul heard something of Harkness’s longing in today’s texts.
Paul is writing to a people by “conflict rent.” There was a battle going on among the Christ followers in Rome between Jews and Gentiles. If it was not an all out dispute between who was in and who was out, there was certainly tension between who was more and less favored. We may not be caught up in that particular conflict, but how many such battles can we identify in our world today and how many of them affect our own lives, at least indirectly? Can you name a few?
Paul says that this is the “hope” we find in the scriptures, that “…the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant[s us] to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He goes on to explain how the Jewish Messiah is also the Christ who welcomes all, Gentiles included, from before the beginning of time. In Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike find their hope. Hope of the world – not just part of the world, not just some of the people, not just aspects of creation – it’s the whole wide world.
Perhaps Paul’s vision was well summarized in this morning’s special music:
Many members, one body; many hearts, one hope, one faith in You.
And when we disagree teach our eyes to see that we are one
in the family of faith, the family of faith, joined by the miracle of grace.
We are brothers, we are sisters…children of the one Creator of all.
So as we live and grow, help us always know, that we are one
in the family of faith…
Compassion does that to you. It makes you aware of all that’s around you. It helps you hear the hopes and fears, the dreams and challenges of others. It give you access to the hearts and minds of everyone you encounter, if you will let it function in yourself. This is one of the crucial identifying characteristics of the Christ, the capacity for compassion, to feel as the others feel, to see as the others see, to share, ironically, in a common humanity. Christ sees and understands our fearful hearts, our conflicts, consuming passions, false hopes and aims. Christ also shares our dreams and joys, our laughter and play, our communion with one another and all creation. Compassion offers a uniting vision of what the world might yet be.
Isaiah’s vision is somewhat different but perhaps still related. You may also remember from last week that I began my sermon with several “texts of terror” – Joshua’s instruction to obliterate the seven tribes that occupied Canaan and a couple of the more violent passages from the Psalms. These verses from the second chapter of Isaiah come as a kind of oasis in the grim landscape of destruction promised for a disobedient, unfaithful people. Most of the first chapter of Isaiah and much of what follows today’s text is a prophecy of doom, related to all those empires that have and will conquer Israel and Judah. “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:10-15).
Not exactly an encouraging word, is it? But here is the hope in these first verses of chapter 2. Walter Brueggemann points out a rhythm to Isaiah. He says, “For all its harshness, the tradition of Isaiah characteristically moves to hope” (Walter Brueggemann, Westminster Bible Companion, Isaiah 1-39, p. 24). He affirms that “There is hope, but it is deeply postsuffering hope. Yahweh’s wrath is deep and serious and will be outlasted only by Yahweh’s resolve to bring Jerusalem to its true and proper function as a place of justice. The poet looks historical threat full in the face but holds out for the holy purpose of Jerusalem…” (op. cit., p. 22). The day will come when the nations will stream to God’s holy mountain, seeking instruction in peace and justice: “…they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Hope of the world, God’s gift from highest heaven,
bringing to hungry souls the bread of life:
still let your Spirit unto us be given
to heal earth’s wounds and end our bitter strife.
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket on the glitter of the holiday season. There is much to celebrate and much for which we can be grateful. Still, even in a time of celebration, it is important to remember that there is much to concern us in the world around us and in our own lives. There is still trouble all over this world and parties and shopping and even celebratory worship services will not make it less so. Maybe in this season we can celebrate and be grateful for the Hope of the World. Maybe we can be touched by the Christ of great compassion. Maybe we can share the hopes and fears, the joys and concerns of all those we encounter. Maybe we can learn to live in harmony with one another as one family of faith. Maybe we can beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Maybe can pledge ourselves not to learn war anymore. Maybe we can heal the earth’s wounds and end all bitter strife.
Hope of the world, who by your cross did save us
from death and dark despair, from sin and guilt:
we render back the love your mercy gave us;
take now our lives and use them as you will. Amen.
Doxology – “a short hymn of praise to God,” according to Wikipedia. I was thinking about this because Jan and I were talking Sunday about changing our “Song of Response” (our modernized term for “doxology.”) I imagine that some of you are aware that we change that sung response from time.
During World Mission month, In October, we have been using “For Fish and Poi” in that slot. In the Advent/Christmas season, we use the verse from “What Child Is This?” that begins “So bring him incense, gold and myrrh…” Other options have been the traditional “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and “We Give Thee but Thine Own” (a personal favorite for both Jan and me.) Recently we have used the 5th stanza of “Rejoice, the Lord is King”:
Praise God who rules all worlds, the risen Christ adore.
Praise God the Spirit, Holy Fire, one God forevermore!
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice give thanks and sing.
All my life in the church (which is, of course, ALL my life,) there has been some form of doxology at the point in the worship service when the offering is brought forth and prayed over. So, I have always associated “The Doxology” with gratitude and giving. Everyone knows that’s the offering song. It is interesting, then, to discover that the song is not necessarily about the offering, it is about praising God, which, of course, should be the focus of all our worship.
To me the obvious connection is in praising God for the ways in which we have been blessed and recognizing that whatever we give is a return, in gratitude and joy, for what we have received. Another of my favorite hymns sings:
There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.
Surely this recognition of God’s presence in our lives and throughout is
cause for gratitude and songs of praise.
We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.
All that we have and are is a trust from God. What would our lives and the world around us be like if carried this concept into every aspect of our living? This concept fits well with the journey we have been on with Brian McLaren. Remember the starting place, God created all there is and called it good, including you and me. Then God invited us to share in God’s love and care for creation, including one another. This is foundational to our faith. The word we commonly use for this is stewardship.
We are co‐caregivers and sometimes even co‐creators with God. We are invited to look around to see the treasure that God has embedded in even the least of these. Elizabeth Barrett Browning reminds us of “every common bush afire with God.” I’ve mentioned before the artistry of our friend and colleague, Sue Yarborough, from New Community of Faith, who takes amazing photographs, close‐up, of the interior of flowers. At times the “God‐presence” in those photos is palpable. We used one particularly powerful one on the cover of our bulletin for Pentecost Sunday. We have responsibility both to care and share with God in the abundant and surpassing beauty and goodness of creation.
Now to the mundane. The above is preface, or maybe it’s grounding for this “Season of Gratitude.” We know that this is the time of year in which every non‐profit does some appeal for funding. Our mailboxes fill up with the letters and flyers. There is an assumption that holidays ahead breed a giving spirit. The church is no different.
This is the time of year when we appeal to you to support the church’s budget by making pledges for next year. It can be very awkward to ask others for money, but, because I believe in FBCPA and its ministry, I am not reticent to ask for your support. There are many good things happening here in ministry to and with this world so full of God. We have been faithful in our stewardship of our community and our facilities and I pray that we will continue in that faithfulness into the future God has for us. Remember, “We make the road by walking” and part of that journey is our financial support, the gifts we give back to God, because we have been so blessed that we want to bless others through the ministries of our congregation.
Is it too far‐fetched to think of our giving as “doxology” – a song of praise to God for all that God shares with us? I invite you to join me in a “Season of Gratitude” in which we open ourselves in every way – spiritually, compassionately, financially ‐ to praising God from the very core of our being. In gratitude to God for all we are and have, let us claim identity and practice as
“More light, more love, more life” – God bless and keep us, inspire us and guide us on this journey into God’s future. Pastor Rick