Sermon Title “Head” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  If you have paid attention to the April Connection, Pastor’s Report, or logo at the top of your bulletin, you might be aware that this is the first of a three-part series on biblical stewardship, Head, Heart, Hands.  If this is news to you, that’s fine — we can still get there together.  The church can get a bad rap about stewardship; there a people who complain that all the church does is ask for money, or people who are just baffled by the whole process.  Tim and I had friends from Indianapolis who were Chinese, who had both grown up in China.  He was a very bright guy who worked in sales for Eli Lilly.  They were up to visit shortly after I had begun on the pastoral staff here at Creekside, and I was explaining what I do — remember he had very little context for Christianity.  He had this look of bewilderment on his face, and he asked, “So your salary depends on people giving their own money to the church?”  When I said, Yep, that’s how it works, he just shook his head and said to “That is not a very good system.”

A church certainly has a different set of rules than a for-profit business, but I believe stewardship is actually a great system when it recognizes and utilizes both gifts and givers.  We do stewardship a disservice if we make it only or always about what’s in our checking accounts or pocketbooks.  That’s part of the picture, but if church feels like a Capital One commercial, “What’s in your wallet?” we have missed some important things.  Giving, sharing, stewardship, generosity — whatever you want to call it — may eventually get around to your wallet, but that is never where it starts.  It begins with what we know and what we love — our heads and our hearts — or maybe with what we love and what we know.  You can give money to things you don’t know or care about, if you feel guilty or obligated, or you want to impress someone, but that is not biblical stewardship.  Biblical stewardship is based in the belief that every good thing comes from God, and people who have received good things have the opportunity to use and share those things for the glory of God and their neighbor’s good.

I could have chosen many, many scripture texts to illustrate stewardship: receiving and using gifts from God is a concept which is an integral part of both the Old and New Testaments: making offerings to God of grain, fruit, oil and other gifts of the land and also offerings of the best lambs or goats, or cattle is all part of the Jewish Temple system.  This was clearly part of Jesus’ experience from the very beginning when his parents offered two doves when they brought him to the Temple to be circumcised.  It’s good to have this biblical precedent, but I am more interested in what stewardship means for us at Creekside today.  I chose this passage from 1 John because it talks about being stewards of the grace of God and using whatever gift each of us has received.  We do not create or control the grace of God, of course, but we are called to grow it and share it — not hoard it or keep it to ourselves because we’re worried that it might run out.  The gifts we have received from God are intended to be used so that God is glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.

The church needs people with a heart for ministry and also for a head for ministry.  Business acumen and experience and a knowledge of financial rules and instruments are wonderful gifts to be able to share, and Creekside has benefitted greatly from volunteers who have these gifts and have used them for our church.  I did not get those gifts when God was passing things out.  But what we each have, which is even more important than the skills we can develop, is the understanding that our time and talent and money are things which we are called to offer to God.  For some people this attitude begins rationally in your head, for others it starts with generosity in your heart, but it is always, always, bigger than financial skills.  This understanding has often begun before we are aware of it.  In my childhood home, money was tight — at least I assumed it was, because every expenditure was calculated to the penny.  My mom was a child of the depression and saved or re-used everything, including the water we ran waiting for the tap or the bathtub to warm up, and the water from washing and rinsing dishes. I’m sure my parents gave money to the church, but I have no idea how much.  They never talked about how much they gave with us kids that I remember.  My mother didn’t work outside the home, and I didn’t have any idea how much money my father earned. But time — that was something else.  We all spent a lot of time walking to church, attending church, preparing for church.  My father was a full-time professor and volunteered to preach at least once a month at the church I grew up in.  We never counted our time: what would the point have been?  We weren’t getting paid for our time — that was just what we were expected to do — whether we wanted to or not.

I am not saying those attitudes are correct, or a model of biblical stewardship, but those are the attitudes and experiences which formed me.  I was well into high school before I realized that my experience was not typical, or probably not even normal.  It took years of being away from my family and interacting with a different family system before I had any objectivity about how my family of origin operated.  I know I am not the only person to experience this, but an important part of stewardship is to be aware of our attitudes and opinions and where they come from — even those of us who claim to be Christian may have attitudes about stewardship which are less biblical than we think.

Knowledge, facts, and insight are important ways that our heads and our brains are involved in stewardship.  But our heads are also where imagination and creativity come from, and imagination and creativity are also an important part of stewardship.  Because stewardship is not simply making whatever we have go as far as possible, stewardship is a partnership with God.  If the only time we talk about stewardship is when we need to put a new roof on the church, we are missing the larger context of God’s gifts.  If those gifts are intended for us to seek, celebrate, and share God’s love, then how we use God’s gifts should be driven by the mission and vision of the church.  Some of you are familiar with the writing of theologian and activist Henri Nouwen.  I want to share some comments adapted from a collection of his comments published as A Spirituality of Fundraising.  I am substituting the word ‘stewardship’ where he uses ‘fundraising’:

Stewardship is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.  Stewardship is precisely the opposite of begging.  When we seek to raise funds we are not saying, “Please, could you help us because lately it’s been hard.” Rather, we are declaring, “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting.  We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources God has given you — your energy, your prayers, your money — in this work to which God has called us.” [1]

Stewardship, as Nowen says here, is about investing ourselves.   Our knowledge, our skills and our experience, but also our insight and creativity and imagination.  This is work that anyone can participate in, and you are all invited to be a part of.

Next Sunday, April 28, is our spring congregational business meeting.  Our ministry teams have already had conversation — in their team meetings, with the Church Board — about what their vision is for their work in the coming years.  Those reports are printed for your reading and reference.  You will have a chance, in small groups or the group as a whole, to share what you want to invest yourself in.  We don’t do ministry by ourselves, but vision is cast by people who are following their passion and what they want for Creekside.  A few caveats for that conversation:  1. What you want to invest yourself in is a bit different than what you want other people to do on your behalf.  We all have limits to our time and energy, but if you don’t have the passion to invest yourself, other people may not feel inspired to execute your vision for you.  2. Conversations about mission and vision inevitably and appropriately lead to conversation about resources and money — but they should not start there.  Resources follow vision and passion.  Part of investing ourselves is investing the gifts and resources we have.  A vision which is funded by an outside source and asks nothing from us is not a vision.  A wonderful part of being the body of Christ is that no single member has to do everything; but a reality of the body of Christ is that everyone is called to do something.  Your energy, your prayers, your money — whatever it is you can offer, God will find ways to use it.

Two of our adult Sunday School classes have begun, or will begin this week to study materials about biblical stewardship.  I believe Thee Seekers is beginning this week, and Onward/Overcomers class will do their second session next week.  Even if you don’t regularly attend a Sunday School class, you are welcome to be part of these discussions — even if you choose to simply listen.  Next week, on April 28 our congregational meeting is before worship at 8:30.  Please read through the packet of team reports in advance so you you’re ready to ask question or to move through them so we have time for discussion.  Next week in worship we will be focusing on generosity and our hearts and what we love.  Before next Sunday I encourage you to do some thinking — use your heads — to consider what you are willing to invest yourself in, and what mission and vision you think Jesus is calling us to at Creekside.Thank you for your creativity and imagination.  God bless you!

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Fundraising, John S. Moggabgah, series editor  Upper Room, Nashville, TN 2010, pp18-19.