Text: 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
I come before you this morning extremely grateful for you. I am humbled at the privilege of being your pastor. I am humbled at the invitation you extend to enter your homes and hospital rooms, to journey with you through the ups and downs of life. I stand awed at being part of your connection to the divine, a respected voice as you seek to discern scripture, a mediator in your relationship to the holy. I am amazed how you willingly set aside a portion of your time to support this ministry you’ve called me to help lead, and how you willingly set aside a portion of your finances so my family has food on its table, a roof over its head, gas in our cars and an okay quality of life. Thank you.
What do you get for your money? Why do you give? Why does anyone freely give? Economists might tell us we put money in the offering plate in exchange for a slate of religious services. I knew a guy once, a neighbor of our church in New York, who stopped by each Advent to purchase a few poinsettias for the sanctuary and discuss his funeral plans. Even though he had little use for the church while he was alive, he wanted to make sure he’d receive the proper prayers and blessings once he was dead.
And its true, we do rely on our congregations for a certain slate of goods and services. We often choose a church based on what classes it gives, or what the worship services are like, or whether we feel a personal connection within its walls. Maybe we should even own this commodification. Instead of a pledge card we could send everyone an itemized invoice: $50 for a pastoral care visit, $500 Sunday School tuition, a weekly worship fee, double if you want to ensure nobody sits in your seat, an upcharge for communion, a surcharge for baptism.
Even the thought of running the church like a doctors’ office gives me the shivers. I don’t get up in the morning praising God because I happen to be the executive director of a great religious services organization. I also didn’t fill out my pledge card by calculating the value of religious services my family plans to consume this year.
My pledge has nothing to do with what services I hope to receive. It has everything to do with who I am as a follower of a Savior who demanded and illustrated generosity. And while as Pastor I spend many of my waking hours providing religious services, each class, each funeral, each pastoral visit, each worship service serves a deeper vision, a broader movement, one stretching back to the feet of Jesus, one defined by the resurrection, one empowered at Pentecost, a movement absolutely vital to individuals within our walls and without, a movement upon which our communities’ very survival depends, a movement for which our nation yearns and our world cries.
In a world of individualism, I get up each morning committed to journeying with you in a quest to build genuine community. In a world of violence, I get up each morning committed to journeying with you in a quest to discover the deep peace for which hearts and societies yearn. In a world of hurt, I get up each morning committed to channeling with you the healing presence of Jesus Christ. In a world of hatred, I get up each morning committed to joining you in the struggle to define our lives by love. In a world of death, I get up each morning committed to joining you as we embrace a God of resurrection, who makes, who is making, all things new.
I get up each morning, I fill out my pledge card, because I want to be a part of what God is doing. I want to experience the newness. I want to bring newness to my neighbors, my community, my nation. I want to be filled, and to be filled I must empty myself, I must empty my emotions, empty my energy reserves, empty my bank account in service to my Lord.
Last summer, driving home from East Palestine, I experienced the immense power of what God is doing in our midst. Two days before a young girl, Samantha Magness, had all but died during a softball game in East Palestine. In the intervening hours I’d worked with Rev. Mark McTrusty, Samantha’s pastor, and our own Jo Barto to harness the resources of three churches and lead an entire community in prayer. It was incredibly late as I was driving home. I was utterly exhausted. The spirit engulfed me. This is why you are here. This is why we are here. This is why my church is here. For this and so much more. To heal our community. To renew our community. To make Christ so visible the power of divine presence can literally be felt – felt amidst the hurt, amidst the pain, amidst the divisions, amidst the sense of loss, amidst the fears for the future, amidst the yearning for resurrection.
I get up each morning because it is such a privilege to be a part of what God is doing. I fill out my pledge card because whatever pennies I sow will be returned ten-fold, a hundred-fold as part of the divine harvest.