Our scripture readings this morning are not from today's lectionary. They were specially chosen for today's service, because as we mentioned at the top of the service today, we're celebrating Stewardship Sunday here at Douglas UCC. Now, believe it or not, in the nearly 10 years that I've been the pastor here, I have never once given a talk from this pulpit about stewardship.
One of our retired pastors in our congregation said to me recently, how have you done that? How have you gone for 10 years without ever speaking about it? She said that at her old church, she was asked to speak about it at least once a year. And I think that's true for most churches. Most ask their pastor to also be a fundraiser.
I think for me, I've always felt uncomfortable talking about money at church, because it brings up images for me of those overzealous evangelists on TV, who are always asking people to send them money. And then we see them flying off in their private jets.
Now, look, I think stewardship is a very important topic, and I think churches should be talking about it. But I love the way that we do it here at Douglas UCC. Our stewardship talks are not given by me. They're given by members of the congregation. And if you've been with us the past few Sundays, you know that we've been hearing stewardship talks each week, such wonderful talks from Demetria, and Laurie, and Virginia, and Jack, each of them reminding us of the importance of being good stewards, which means good caretakers of this little church that God has entrusted to our care.
Now, you know, when I started here, this pastor position was just a part time job. This church at the time, could not afford to hire a full-time pastor.
And those of you who were at the church before I got here, you remember a time when the church was really struggling to pay its bills. And some of you, I see you here in this room, actually paid the church's utility bills out of your own pocket.
And I'm so grateful for the good stewardship of those people who kept the doors of this church open through their faithfulness. Their good stewardship paved the way for our abundance. That's the truth.
Now, even though I have never spoken from this pulpit about money, I have spoken to you many times about abundance. I've given lots of sermons about it, because it's one of my favorite spiritual words. Jesus told us why he came. You can read it in the Scripture. He said, “I have come so that you may have life more abundantly. His teachings were about abundance. And he demonstrated that in his miracles. You remember his very first miracle was at the wedding feast at Cana.
The disciples come to him and say, “We don't have enough! We ran out of wine. What are we going to do?” They're panicking. Jesus isn't panicking, because Jesus doesn't have a lack consciousness. He believes in abundance. So he's able to turn water into wine.
Then you may remember another time they came to him in a panic – there wasn't enough food to feed the crowd. They only had two loaves and five fish, just seven items. Jesus didn't panic. He looked at the little they did have and blessed it, which meant he gave thanks for it. He gave thanks for what they did have, not what they didn't have. And because of that, he was able to multiply the loaves and the fish. So much so that everybody was fed, and there were also leftovers.
Jesus had an Abundance Consciousness, and he was trying to teach that to us. It took me a long time to understand that, because you see, I grew up with a Lack Consciousness. It's something I acquired from my parents. My parents were children of poor immigrants. They were born during the Great Depression, and they lived through World War II. And So growing up in my house, I always heard we can’t afford that, there is not enough. And sayings like “Save your pennies for a rainy day.” And “Money doesn't grow on trees.” And “Charity begins at home.”
And I believed it for a very long time. I believed it. Because you know, thoughts held in mind, produce after their kind. Jesus said it a different way. Jesus said, “It is done to you, as you believe.” If you believe that there's not enough, then that's what's going to be done to you. If you sow seeds of lack and limitation, then that's what you're going to reap.
So I needed to retrain my brain, to think thoughts of abundance, rather than thoughts of lack and limitation. In Romans 12 it says, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
And so I did the work. You know, spiritual practice, it's work. It's discipline. People say how are you so peaceful and joyous? Well, it's work. It's discipline. What I needed to do was focus on my blessings. And so instead of focusing on what I didn't have, I started to focus on what I did have.
I shared with you many times before, I started to keep a gratitude journal each day, and that transformed my life. And I also started to pray affirmatively. I didn't pray like a little beggar asking God for things. I prayed affirmatively. And I learned a beautiful affirmation that I said each day like a mantra, it was, “God is the source of my supply. All of my needs are met, on time, and in full. I always have enough to share and to spare.” That's the truth. That's what Jesus was trying to teach us. And that is what this Gospel reading today is all about.
As we just heard, all of these people come to put money in the collection, rich people wanting to show how much they could give. But then this poor widow just gives a penny. And Jesus says, this woman gave more than everybody else, because everybody else gave out of their surplus. She gave all she had to God.
Now in this congregation, we have millionaires who are sitting here today, we have middle class people. We have people sitting here who have fixed incomes, and some people sitting in our congregation who are living paycheck to paycheck.
And that's why stewardship is not about the amount that you give. When we were putting together the campus stewardship drive, and we had been planning this for more than a year, we were very thoughtful about the words that we chose.
When we said we wanted everybody to participate, we meant that we wanted everybody to come together as a congregation, and to give with an intention of abundance. That is why in the brochure, – I can't even tell you how many revisions this went through – we chose this quote from Second Corinthians 9. “Each of you should give what you've decided in your heart to give, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
We don't want you to give out of compulsion. We want you to give from your heart. And then we chose, in big, bold Italic letters. No pledge is too small, exclamation point! All pledges are needed. Exclamation point! That is the truth.
Now some churches when they do their stewardship drive, their pledge drive, they post up in categories who gave what – there's the diamond donors and the platinum donors and the gold donors. And there are some churches that have a giving tree on the wall with little leaves, some are gold, some are silver, depending on how much the person gave, and their names are engraved in there. Now, please no judgment to churches who do this. But we don't do this. We're not doing this. The pledge that you gave today, it's not going to be posted anywhere. I'm not going to see it.
I've told you before, I don't know who gives what I don't know who puts $1 A week or $100 a week. I don't know. The only people who know are the people who take care of our finances. And the pledge today is to help them plan for these future projects. Now, again, it's not about the dollar amounts. It's about the intention.
And it's about coming together as a spiritual family.
We're all one body, so that each of us participates in supporting something that we believe is of great value. During the years I've lived in this community, I've gone to a lot of benefits. And I see many of you there, because you support things that you believe are of value, of importance. So many of you, for example, support the arts. You think that that's important. So you're supporting the Saugatuck Center for the Arts or public television. You do that regularly. Some of you support animal rescues. That's important to you, you see it as being of value. Some of you support political candidates that you believe in, that you believe are going to make a difference. And so my friends, if you believe that this little church makes a difference, you believe that this little church is of value to this community and to this world. Then thank you very much for your pledges today. And for your continued financial support of this church going into the future. For as Jesus says in Luke 12, “Where your heart is, there your treasure is also.”
Words of Integration and Guidance
Rev. Nancy Piggott, UCC Minister
I confess to occasional thoughts as I notice self-storage units along roadsides. How does one keep so much stuff that there is not enough room in the house for all of it? Then I catch myself, because my hidden self-storage unit is the unfinished part of our basement. Every time I cart another box of “treasures” into our basement, I sheepishly remind myself, “Our kids are going to hate me.” The glare of my own hypocrisy sends me into a dark corner to pray a prayer of Henri Nouwen’s: Dear God, please help me to discover that I am not what I own, but that I am what you want to give me. Amen. Money is a topic most of us think should not be discussed in church, yet nearly two-thirds of Jesus’ parables pertain, in some way, to wealth or possessions. He was really concerned about the effect that has on our spiritual life. What Jesus is confronting is that our possessions are taking up so much space. Jesus is asking each of us is, “What matters to you, finally?” The kind of materialism Jesus calls us to promises not a bigger collection of stuff, but a deeper engagement with people, particularly people in need. Being rich from Jesus’ perspective means emptying ourselves of surplus to create more justice and love. There are so many places where our energy, our ideas, our love could make all the difference. God is calling us to act, to use our energy, our resources, our time and talent to help others while at the same time enriching our relationship with God and humanity. We can become collaborators with God by using our surplus to create a world of liberty and justice for all.
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