Why Church? Summer Series
Why Would I Give My Resources to the Church?
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
August 6, 2023
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?
For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.
A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Last Sunday in worship, Rev. Tully Fletcher led our youth and their advisors as they spoke sincerely about the meaning and impact of the summer mission trips and youth conferences.
We were reminded that such experiences, especially for a young person, can be transformative. To all of you who give your resources to the church – your time, your talent, and your finances – thank you. You make these important experiences possible.
Last week in an adult Sunday School class, the group was going around the room, checking on how folks were doing and one gentleman in his 70’s spoke up. He told the group how much this Church had meant to him over the past few years. For most of his life, he participated in church at the encouragement of his wife. He had held the church at at arms distance, you might say, for he is an intellectual, and he has struggled over the years to reconcile the claims of Christian faith.
But his wife entered a memory care facility during the pandemic, and he now lives alone. At this stage of life, living alone, worried about his spouse, he has found welcome and comfort and hope within the church.
And yes, he has also found intellectual stimulation as he has sought answers to his questions. Thank you, he said sincerely to the Sunday School class last week, for providing the ministries of this church.
Last Sunday, an Agnes Scott college student was in worship with us. During high school, she worked in another town in a veterinary office alongside a college friend of my sister. To make a long story short, my sister’s friend, now a Presbyterian elder, connected me with this college student last year, and I connected the student with our congregation. And I connected her with Drew Wilmesherr and the UKirk Campus Ministry. This student has felt welcomed in this place. She has been encouraged by the UKirk ministry, and she has found a potential spiritual home during what can be turbulent and challenging college years.
Thank you for that.
There’s a certain three year old among us who has been at home with Mom and Dad for most of the last several months, due to the arrival of a new baby in the family. This three year old was so excited to be back in worship over these past weeks. This is her spiritual home. You are her beloved extended family. She feels welcomed here and loved here, and she loves you. She loves this congregation, because she has experienced over and over again in this place the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for that.
There is an active member of our congregation who lives in an apartment nearby. She has been retired for some years, and she has been open with groups within the church regarding her struggles with depression. This is nothing new for her; she has dealt with depression throughout her life to some extent. But during the pandemic, she was really struggling, as were so many. As we began to open back up, she discovered here a place of service. She found a worthy place to use her gifts of hospitality and caring, and her service has helped her, strengthened her, renewed her sense of purpose. Though she comes from a different region of the country and is of a minority population,she has felt warmly welcomed here, and she has warmly welcomed so many others.
There is another woman, very active here, who grew up in this congregation. She was involved through high school and college, but then was away in other congregations for decades, for most of her adult life.
When she returned some months ago, she too found a place of welcome. She found a small group that she very much enjoys. She found a place of service. She has reconnected with old friends and she has made a number of new friends. Her faith has been renewed. Her joy has been refreshed.
She told me the other day how glad she is to be a part of this congregation.
Thank you for that.
I could go on and on and on.
As I look at the faces before me, I see a myriad of different stories, a myriad of reasons why Church is important to those sitting here. but the ministries of this church go far beyond this room, far beyond this campus. There are fruit tree farmers in Madagascar that are feeding their communities and helping reforest Madagascar because you support Dan and Elizabeth Turk.
There are coffee farmers in central Mexico who are getting fair payment for their coffee beans, and thus able to make a living, and able to stay at home with their families, instead of crossing a dangerous border, because you support Mark Adams and Frontera de Cristo.
There are young men and women in South Sudan who are learning the skills of peacemaking, in the midst of a violent political powderkeg, because you support for Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather.
And yes, there are countless stories of desperate men and women, and families with children, who have been helped by you through our Threshold Ministries. Sometimes it is a Kroger card for a man on the street who has not had a decent meal in weeks. Sometimes it is a gas card for a woman in her 60’s who lives in their car. Sometimes it is a referral to Hagar’s House so that a young mother and her children, so that a young mother and her children can get off of the street and have a safe place to sleep.
And there are preschool families who find belonging and Christian nurture in DPCC, Decatur Presbyterian Children’s Community. And there are female refugee teenagers whose educational path, indeed, whose whole family future is being transformed because they arrive on our campus every morning for school with the Global Village project.
And there are unchurched families of neighboring youth and children who discover hopefulness and belonging and Christian nurture in our youth group and children’s choirs.
The love of Jesus Christ for the world is being shared in this place, every single day.
Why would I give my resources to the Church?
We give because we are members of a broad human family.
We do not exist on this earth or in this nation or in this state as an island.
We are interdependent upon one another.
What is good for the community, what is good for my neighbor, what is good for the man or woman on the street, ultimately is good for me as well. Our families, our friends, and our neighbors need the ministries of the church, and our entire community benefits from what happens on this campus.
Young people do far better in life when they discover that they are loved by God, and when they are surrounded with adults other than their parents who will love them and guide them and be available to them in times of need.
Parents do far better in parenting and in their marriages when they surround themselves with others of similar values and beliefs who are facing the same struggles. Those of us sitting in these pews and participating online are able to give, able to make a difference.
We are all one human family and the sooner we learn to help one another, and take care of one another, not just our own tribe, not just our own family, the sooner there will be peace and wellness on earth.
A man named Michael Murray shared his story in a Christian magazine a few years ago. He wrote that he had always believed that money and possessions were a guarantee of happiness.
“One day in August 2009,” he wrote, “I was reading the New Testament story of the young man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:16-22). Jesus said, “Go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” …
The story opened up a space in my heart. I felt that God was telling me to follow what Jesus had advised in the scripture. … That summer,” Michael Murray claims, “I gave away about ninety percent of my possessions … I live pretty simply now. I don’t make much money. I pay my bills and usually give the rest away. I have never been happier. … Jesus is all I need. He will always be enough for me.
(Michael Murray, Alive Now, September/October 2011)
Live simply, so that others may simply live
Be not afraid.
Give generously, expecting nothing in return.
Will Willimon, the Methodist bishop who once served at the Duke University Chapel, used to say that tithing for him was an act of defiance, an act of defiance in the face of a consumerist world.
He would say proudly, but with a bit of hesitation, “the world hasn’t gotten all of me…yet!”
Give freely and generously out of a spirit of abundance and hopefulness. Christians do not live constantly in fear of the future. Christians do not live with the anxiety of a scarcity mentality.
We trust God that there will be enough to go around, not just for you and your family, but for all.
Followers of Jesus do not ask themselves, “What is my fair share of our congregation’s budget?”
Followers of Jesus do not themselves, “How much can I ‘afford’ to give without sacrificing anything important to me?”
Jesus followers themselves: “Am I living up to my potential as a grateful steward of all that has been entrusted to me?”
Am I living as a grateful steward of all of my time and my talents and my resources. God does not want just 10% of us, of our time or resources. God wants 100%! What are we doing with all of the money God has allowed us to earn?
What are we doing with all of our time?
A quick review of our bank statement and our calendar will tell us what we most value in life.
Did you know that Jesus talked more about money and possessions than he did sin or love! Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables talk about the use of money. Jesus knew that we become attached either to the material things of this world or to the God who grants us every blessing.
And Jesus knew that those who would give gladly and generously would know joy, the joy of having discovered that it is truly, truly “more blessed to give than to receive.”
Giving to the Church has always been more a matter of the soul than of the pocketbook or the calendar.
Giving of ourselves is a matter of aligning our hearts with Jesus Christ and trusting that God will provide what we truly need.
Giving of ourselves is an indication of who or what will serve as the “lord” of our lives. As Saint Augustine once said, gratitude is a “mature emotion”, an emotion of one who has lived through enough of life to understand that every opportunity and even every breath is a gift from God.
Everything we have – our bodies, our time, our minds – belongs to God, sheer gift.
And we serve as temporary caretakers of all that has been entrusted to us.
The question is: What will we do with what we’ve been allowed to receive?
I challenge you this fall to give it a try – give generously of your time and your talents and your financial resources, and see what happens. You will most likely learn what many others who have gone before you have learned – that you cannot possibly outgive God.
I promise you, you cannot outgive God.
I read an article this week in The Atlantic by Jake Meador. And several people sent me a link to the article, which relates to our summer worship series. The article is titled: “The Misunderstood Reason Millions of Americans Stopped Going to Church.” The author, Jake Meador, claims: “The underlying challenge for many is that their lives are stretched like a rubber band about to snap—and church attendance ends up feeling like an item on a checklist that’s already too long.
What is more needed in our time than a community marked by sincere love, sharing what they have from each according to their ability and to each according to their need, eating together regularly, generously serving neighbors, and living lives of quiet virtue and prayer?
A healthy church can be a safety net in the harsh American economy by offering its members material assistance in times of need…. Perhaps more important, it reminds people that their identity is not in their job or how much money they make; they are children of God, loved and protected and infinitely valuable.
The problem in front of us is not that we have a healthy, sustainable society that doesn’t have room for church. The problem is that many Americans have adopted a way of life that has left us lonely, anxious, and uncertain of how to live in community with other people.”
(by Jake Meador, The Atlantic, July 29, 2023)
Why would I give my resources to the Church?
So we can all learn to live in a healthy, faithful, and generous community. And because our resources are not ours, afterall. We are mere stewards of all that has been entrusted to us. And it all could be taken from us at any moment. Do you remember Jesus’ parable about the man who built bigger and bigger barns?
“You fool!, the parable says, “this very night your life will be demanded of you.” (Luke 12)
We are stewards of our time, talents, and finances, and we are stewards of our minds, bodies, and souls.
We are stewards of our families and homes and pets.
We are mere creatures of this earth, allowed to reside here for a relatively short time, so, while we are here, let us enjoy God and let us bring glory to God by the manner in which we live and give and serve. So be it.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Invitation to the Communion Table on August 6, 2023
“And the Table Will Be Wide” by Jan Richardson
And the table will be wide.
And the welcome will be wide.
And the arms will open wide to gather us in.
And our hearts will open wide to receive.
And we will come as children who trust there is enough.
And we will come unhindered and free.
And our aching will be met with bread.
And our sorrow will be met with wine.
And we will open our hands to the feast without shame.
And we will turn toward each other without fear.
And we will give up our appetite for despair.
And we will taste and know of delight.
And we will become bread for a hungering world.
And we will become drink for those who thirst.
And the blessed will become the blessing.
And everywhere will be the feast.