31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 11, 2018
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
The theme for this year’s season of generosity has been “Giving Joyfully Because We Can”. While joy and giving often go together, especially when it comes to Christmas gifts or finding a new home for something you no longer need, unfortunately, joy and giving do not always go together when it comes to church.
There are some people who skip worship the entire fall because they don’t want to hear a single message about giving. Being asked to give makes them feel guilty; makes them feel obligated. And who likes to feel like that?!
While it is true that God asks us to give our first fruits, a tithe, ten percent, back to God, our giving to God and Christ’s ministry is not about guilt or obligation. Giving our first fruits, giving our tithe, giving our offering is about being in relationship with God and with others.
It’s God’s way to remind us that all that we have comes from God. It’s God’s reminder that just as we are called to love God, we are also called to love and care for our neighbor.
What does God “require” of us? To love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. To love our fun neighbors, our cranky neighbors, our homeless neighbors, our immigrant neighbors, our veteran neighbors, and all of our neighbors suffering with depression, addiction, and chronic diseases. To love them all.
What does God “require” of us? To do justice, loving our neighbor so much that we seek fairness for all. To commit to kindness, seeking always to do good for one another. To walk faithfully with God, never taking ourselves too seriously, although always taking God’s commandment to love seriously.
And God wants us to do all of this with joy. Yes, with joy. To give and love and serve with joy. God does not want gifts of obligation; God does not want gifts of guilt. God wants gifts of love and joy. Did you know that the word “joy” shows up 267 times in the Bible? “Rejoice” and “rejoicing” are in there 271 times.
God does not ask us to give from what we do not have. In calling us to give, God reminds us of our abundance, reminds us that we are blessed with so much that we can give a portion of it away, that it is a blessing, a joy! to be able to give to others.
Look at this representation of our shared ministry. Think of the children whose learning is supported by the school supply backpacks. Think of the hungry families who are healthier for our contributions of fruits and vegetables to weekend food backpacks or for the canned and paper goods donated to Brian’s Angels and Agape House. Picture the homeless families who have a safe place to sleep because of our ministry with Family Promise. The mom who said to me “This classroom is so much better than sleeping in a van.” The dad who cried when Joe DePaolo assured him he was doing a great job as a parent.
Think of the hearts that are inspired by the welcome they receive at the First Congregational Church, healed when they are hugged, comforted when they are prayed over. Maybe it’s your own heart. It’s definitely mine.
Our shared ministry nurtures our Christian faith journeys as adults, and it nurtures the Christian faith journeys of our children and youth. They sing their faith with Bill and Lisa, play a joyful noise to God with Jacob and Sara. A dedicated group of Faith Guides discovers what Donna Katsaounis and I discover every time we teach confirmation- that we learn so much from those we are called to teach. Our ministry nurtures all to be Christ’s disciples of love.
And just as this faith community welcomes others in the spirit of God’s extravagant love, so does this church facility we are blessed to be caretakers of. It is here that people who are struggling with an addiction or another’s addiction find a safe space to gather for support. It is here that preschool children get to laugh and learn all week long. It is here that the community of Bristol can gather for “Holiday’s on the Hill”. It is here that people with no church to call their own can grieve the loss of a loved one, celebrate a wedding or baptism, host a birthday or anniversary party, and be told, “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here”.
Look at this representation of our shared ministry. Think of all of those things I did not have the time to mention. Think of all of the people, including ourselves, whose lives are touched, transformed by the ministry we do in Christ’s name and in Christ’s love. There is so much joy to be found in giving to our shared ministry, in giving to God and to others.
I hope you feel joy. I hope you feel pride when you think of how we, as a Christian community, make our world a better place. Because whether this is your first Sunday worshipping at the First Congregational Church or your 2000th Sunday, you are a part of this ministry. Your prayers, your acts of service, your financial gifts, they all make this ministry of Christ’s love possible. You make these ministries of love possible. This church’s ministry could not thrive without each and every one of you and your gifts.
This morning, during the offering, representatives of our ministries of worship, welcome, nurture, and outreach will be holding baskets. I invite everyone to come forward and to place in the baskets a representation of your gift of joy to the shared ministry of the First Congregational Church.
If your pledge card is not already in the basket, I invite you to bring it forward. You are also invited to bring your financial gift and/or to write on the pieces of paper at the end of the pews your commitment to our shared ministry: how you give of your time, how you pray for others and this ministry, how you attend worship, pledge, sing, donate tangible gifts of care.
I invite everyone to come forward because I want you to hear, not only from me, also from the leadership of this Christian community, that your gift makes a difference and that this church’s ministry thrives because of you.