31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 18, 2020
Matthew 6: 19-34
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
The leaves on the trees have turned a rainbow of colors. Pumpkins and mums decorate front porches, and apple everything is plentiful in the stores. All of these signs of God’s abundance proclaim the beginning of the Season of Generosity.
In the past, churches have called this time a stewardship drive, however the Season of Generosity is so much more. It is a time to focus on the gifts we receive from God, a time to count our blessings, a time to celebrate the lives that are changed through our shared ministry.
In the mail this week, you will receive a wonderful picture filled narrative budget sharing all of the ways we, as the community of the First Congregational Church in Bristol, CT change lives, here in our community and around the world.
The Season of Generosity is also an opportunity for us to participate in this life-transforming ministry, which is why there is an estimate of giving card included with the narrative budget.
This is something new for us at FCC Bristol. For years and years and years, our church community has asked people to make financial pledges to the ministry of our church. And that worked because people felt secure in their jobs, secure in their income. The change from a pledge card to an estimate of giving card reflects the Stewardship committee’s awareness that our financial lives are not as steady and secure as they once were. We may not be able to “commit” a specific amount to the ministry of the church however we are able to faithfully “estimate” our financial gift for 2021.
Because of your generosity, this community of Christ will change lives; however this Season of Generosity, I want you to give to change one life in particular- your own.
As we travel this journey of faith, as we seek to follow Jesus and live differently, we talk often about the spiritual practices of praising God, of prayer, of reading sacred words. We rarely discuss the spiritual practices of generosity and intentional giving though. We’ve been led to believe that we should not talk about money, especially in church, because talking about money makes people uncomfortable.
It might surprise you to learn that Jesus talked about money a lot. Jesus talked about money more than he talked about prayer, forgiveness, or even his death and resurrection. The only thing Jesus talked about more than money was the Kingdom of God.
Jesus talked about money because he understood that there is an “intimate connection between faith and finances, a connection that can either threaten or strengthen faith.” (Lane, Ask, Thank, Tell, pg 33) Jesus talked about money, not to guilt people, not to guilt us, rather to help us understand that everything we have comes from God, even money. When Jesus talks about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, Jesus is reminding us that God provides for them; God provides for us. We can trust God to take care of us.
“Don’t worry. God’s got this. God’s got you.” is a very different message than the one the world tells us. Our nation is one the richest in the world, and yet, we have such a culture of scarcity. No one ever seems to feel like they have enough. Seeking financial security rarely leads to us feeling all that secure.
Jesus invites us to follow him and live differently, to follow him and trust God. To store up our treasures in heaven where they won’t rust and rot. To cherish our relationships with God and others – because where our treasure is, is where our heart will be (Matthew 6:21), and as Charles Lane writes in his book Ask, Thank, Tell “Jesus wants [our hearts]. Jesus wants nothing more than to be in relationship with you and to have your heart turned toward him.” (Pg 34)
Generosity and intentional giving turn our hearts toward Jesus because they are spiritual practices of trust. When we make a financial gift to the church’s ministry, to Neighbors in Need, to St. Vincent DePaul, to the Red Cross, or Heifer Project, we are trusting God to make sure this money is used well by this organization.
And we are trusting that we will have enough. We are trusting that even when we give away a portion of what we have, even as we stretch ourselves to give, that God will take care of us. Each act of intentional, thoughtful, prayerful giving is an act of trust, an act of faith, an act that draws our hearts closer and closer to God.
The first step on this journey of intentional giving is to talk to God about your relationship with money. Lift up to God your worries about money, your hang-ups and taboos. Acknowledge that money is an instrument, a blessing from God and not God. Money like all good gifts comes from God but it is not God. Start your journey of intentional giving by talking honestly to God about your relationship with money.
Next, decide to make a financial gift to the church’s shared ministry – not because the church needs it. God will provide for the ministry of this church. Give because you as a giver need to give. Give because it will change your life. Give because giving back a portion of what we have received from God is how we grow in trusting God.
This next part is where the intentional really comes in. Do more than fill out your estimate of giving card and send it back. Think about it. Pray about it. Do some research. Talk to God. List out all of the places your charitable giving goes. Look at the proportional giving chart that is posted on Facebook and being sent out through email. Figure out what percentage of your income your giving is. Search your heart about what percentage of your income your giving should be. Is your goal to increase by 1%, to be a modern tither giving 5%, or a traditional tither, giving 10% of your income?
Go back to step one and talk to God about your relationship with money. Again, talk to God about your worries. No one extends their life by worrying however we do find peace when we turn our worries over to God. Bring your worries about money to God.
Consider, pray, create a plan to increase your proportional giving – maybe this year, maybe next year, because it takes time to readjust our priorities and our spending. It takes time to change our mindset from valuing things. It takes time to wean ourselves away from the consumer culture that is always telling us we don’t have enough. Consider, pray, create a plan and plot out your journey to putting God first in your heart.
Then, prayerfully complete your estimate of giving card and mail it back to the church office. Again, not because the church needs it. Not because we are going to have to turn the lights off if you do not give or increase your gift.
Give because intentional giving is an act of discipleship. It is how we follow Jesus. It’s a spiritual practice in which we proclaim that we do not serve money. We serve God, the Creator of the universe and God Most High. It is Jesus who has our hearts.
Intentional and generous giving says I trust God to bless me with everything I need so there is no reason to hold onto, cling, or hoard my blessings and abundance. Giving is a spiritual practice in which we acknowledge that all we have comes from God and we are the faithful stewards, caretakers of those blessings.
Intentional giving changes our lives. It helps us depend more on God and less on things. So when you receive the green envelope of stewardship materials this week, I hope you will intentionally set aside a time to carefully look through it all. I hope you will hold it in your hands and see it as a way to deepen your relationship with Jesus Christ, strengthen your trust in God, and have your own life changed by Christ’s love.