This Week’s Sermon – Joy Fully Serving

SCRIPTURE – 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Joy Fully Serving
2 Cor. 9:6-15
September 12, 2010

I’m excited to begin our first Stewardship Campaign together here at Crestwood. Technically, I guess, this isn’t my first campaign with you. I understand that last year I made an appearance as a disembodied voice during worship. I’m glad to say this year I’m here in body and in spirit.

The Stewardship Sunday sermon is always a dicey one to preach. I’m sensitive to the many concerns people have about the church’s obsession with money. It hits close to home for me. My dad stopped going to church because he said all they ever talked about was money. Of course, the only Sunday he ever went to church just happened to be Stewardship Sunday, so that relationship was doomed from the start.

I think the church gets a bad rap when it comes to money and stewardship, but I also realize that sometimes churches do things to earn that bad rap. So many television ministries have clamored for dollars that I wonder if, when I preach on stewardship, you expect an 800 number to scroll under my chin. “Call now and give your love offering to help us build our Shine Jesus Shine drive-through car wash…”

That’s not what this sermon is about. In fact, that’s not even what this Stewardship Campaign is about. And that’s certainly not what God is about. Too many churches spend too much time worrying about how much we give, and not enough time focusing on how we give. So let’s leave the dollar signs out of this sermon, shall we? Let’s not turn the thumbscrews or tug at the heartstrings or send you on an all-expenses-paid guilt trip. Instead, let’s celebrate! We have so much to celebrate, don’t we?

In Chicago, one of my favorite places to eat is Jimmy’s Charhouse. It was a classy steakhouse with good food and reasonable prices, but there was one main reason it was my favorite: The Sloppy Salad. What is the Sloppy Salad, you ask? Oh, let me tell you. The Sloppy Salad starts out as an innocent salad with a simple bed of crisp lettuce and slice of bell pepper. That’s the salad. But then it’s topped with several strips of chicken smothered in barbecue sauce, then drenched in peppercorn ranch dressing. That’s the sloppy! And it’s served in a bowl that’s roughly the size of Commonwealth Stadium. I liked ordering it because when my wife would ask me what I had for lunch, I could truthfully tell her I had a salad; what she didn’t know is that it was a Sloppy Salad.

One time I was eating at Jimmy’s when the waiter brought me my Sloppy Salad, refilled my water glass, and asked, “Is there anything else you need?” And I looked around me, at this huge salad, at the basket of warm bread on the table, at the full glass of clear, clean water, at my good friend sitting across from me, at my nice clothes, at my car parked outside the window that takes me from my loving family to my great job and back each day. “Is there anything else you need?” No, no thanks, I’ve got all I need.

Did you ever think that when you were at this stage in your life you would have all the blessings that surround you? Your parents, your children, your grandchildren, your home, your job, your cars, your friends, your hobbies, your church. Who could have imagined? I’m sure there are times when you dream about having more – bigger house, nicer car, more zeroes in the paycheck. That’s only human, and we all do that from time to time. But when we stop and look at our lives, do we have all we need?

We have spent our lives working hard and sowing seeds that are now bearing fruit: seeds of love that have blossomed into our families; seeds of education and training that have led to our jobs and responsibilities; seeds of hard work and determination that have grown into all the wonderful things we enjoy around us. We’ve spent a lifetime working to get where we are, and now we are enjoying blessings beyond compare. Do we have all we need?

Paul reminds the Corinthians to not forget the source of their blessings when he says, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” When we look at how God has provided us the seeds and increased our store and enlarged our harvest, we realize there’s nothing we can say to adequately express our feelings for all we have. So we’re left with only two words: Thank you. That feels like such a small insignificant thing in the face of all we have been given, but it’s all we can say, so we say it. Karl Barth said, “Our gratitude follows God’s grace like thunder follows lightning.”

And how do we express that? Lots of ways. We can tell God directly through our prayers, we can commit ourselves to worship God regularly, we can serve God with our time and our talents. Paul tells us another way when he says, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” Paul says that through our generosity we can express our thanksgiving.

Notice here that Paul doesn’t mention an amount. He doesn’t say, “A gift of $10 is the silver generosity level and comes with a darling little angel lapel pen, but a gift of $100 gets you the gold generosity level, complete with a ‘God Loves Me’ cute kitten sweatshirt.” Paul doesn’t set a minimum or maximum to define generosity. Paul knew that our attitude when we give is more important than the amount. God is not concerned about how much we give; God is concerned about how we give. “Give what you have decided in your heart to give, no reluctantly or out of compulsion, because God loves a cheerful giver.” God doesn’t love a rich giver or a poor giver; God loves a cheerful giver.

Is it possible to be a cheerless giver? Sure! We can give begrudgingly, we can give because we feel we have to. And let me be clear in saying the church won’t turn away a cheerless gift. But your decision to give isn’t between you and the church. It’s between you and God. John Ortberg says that when we give casually, we receive casual joy. When we give effortfully, thoughtfully, creatively, we get immense joy. Looking at our own blessed lives is proof that God is by nature a giving being, and one of the ways we reflect God’s image in us is when we are giving.

There’s a circular flow to giving, a natural rhythm to the taking in and sending out that is a part of being in relationship with God. Paul highlights it when he says “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” And I think it’s fair to say that, as we enjoy our climate-controlled sanctuary, our padded pews, our Sloppy Salads, we have been made rich. In fact, we’re so blessed that it’s easy to feel guilty about it. When we see the poverty and need in the world, and we read passages that tell us to give all we have to the poor, we may begin to feel like we’ve done something wrong in accumulating the wealth and possessions we have, as if those things were inherently evil.

Don’t feel guilty about having money! There’s nothing wrong with that, and you won’t find a passage in the Bible that says otherwise. The key is how it’s used. Passages about the love of money being the root of all evil and the difficulty of rich people getting into Heaven is about our attitude toward what we have. Peter Gomes makes this more understandable when he writes, “Wealth is not what you have; it’s what you have been given that enables you to give to others.” The circularity of giving. No one here can tell you what that means for you. It’s up to you to determine what your expression of gratitude will be. It’s up to you to determine what Joy Fully Serving looks like in your life.

I do know this: I don’t want you giving to something you don’t believe in. I don’t want you giving out of compunction or reluctantly. Paul recognizes that obligatory giving is not cheerful giving. If this church is not a blessing to you, it does not deserve your money. There are plenty of other places out there that need your resources. But if Crestwood is a blessing to you, then give as you are blessed.

I’ve been honored these past nine months to begin hearing your stories. They are amazing stories. They are stories of changed lives, renewed faith, deepening commitments and a rediscovery of hope. They are stories of the way God is working through Crestwood to make a difference in this world. And there are more stories to be written in 2011. I don’t know if feel you a sense of excitement about the future of Crestwood. I know I do. Things are happening. The Spirit is moving. God is calling us forward into something spectacular. I’m not quite sure what that is, but that’s a good thing, because whatever I could dream up would be paltry compared to what God has planned. Can you feel it?

I believe God has big plans next year for Crestwood. A vision is bubbling to the surface that will call us to be something greater than we’ve ever been, building on our glorious past to create an awesome future. And I will tell you honestly that we need money to help make it happen. But we need more than your money; we need YOU. Will you join us on this adventure? It starts with our Stewardship Campaign. God only knows where it’s going, but that’s good enough for me. Do you have everything you need? Yeah, me too. So let’s give to God cheerfully as a way of saying, in the words of Paul, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

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