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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, October 30, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Ddedicated dedicated to dedicated to the 2005 Stewardship Committee for their amazing work and always to the glory of God!
Now and Here
Deuteronomy 8:17-18, II Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 12:13-21, 48

It is a new day, grow in your giving, From the beginning of this campaign, Judy Smith and the Stewardship Committee reminded me that whenever and wherever we publish material, a "comma" must appear at the end of the phrase: It is a new day, grow in your giving, A "comma," I was informed is the punctuation which sets our church apart in these troubled times - for a "comma" indicates that "God is still speaking," A "comma" shows that God is not finished with us, yet. A "comma" indicates that everything which follows that comma is open to possibilities and a future of God's own creating. As we are reminded by the United Church of Christ "God is Still Speaking" campaign and the late, great Gracie Allen, "Never place a period, where God has placed a comma,"

If God had placed a period on the holy scriptures when God was finished with Genesis, there would have been no Exodus. If God had placed a period at the end of Malachi, there would have been no Matthew, and thus no Jesus. If God had placed a period at the end of The Revelation of John, there would have been no you and no me. God is in the comma placing business - from God's Good Book until now, God has been placing commas in the creation.

Never place a period where God has placed a comma..... Many preachers and churches today are in the period placing business, which is not the same business as God. I believe the period placing business cuts against the very nature of God - who creates, celebrates, and improvises, and returns again and again to recreate, adds to the celebration and improvises all over again. The proof I have of this belief is each one of us. If God were finished with you and me, then our life stories are complete. These is nothing more that can be said or done to change us. We would either be perfect forever or flawed (and in a state of constant and unrelenting flaw) forever. End of story.

That is not how our God works. Like the potter, God is constantly shaping and reshaping us. God is opening us to new possibilities, new looks and new projects. God is saying, "Timothy, I am not finised with you yet. And in certain cases, (certainly in my case), the Lord God Almighty, Ruler of the Universe, must be saying: `There is a lot more I can do with this one...comma,'"

TODAY is a new day, we MUST grow in our giving, I can think of many reasons why you and I must grow in our giving. I will name two:

1. We must gro because....the costs of running this church are growing, and we need to keep up with costs. The worship attendance is growing. The membership is growing. The choir is growing. The educational offerings are growing. The children and youth are growing. Our justice ministry is growing. The needs in our neighborhood are growing. The Vision is growing. The Spirit of God is growing! The one thing that has not grown in the last two years is our Stewardship and thus, our budget. We cannot continue to serve you and this community by (what amounts to) decreased stewardship and less giving to the ministry and mission of this church. We can't do it. We need to grow in our giving.

My family, our staff and their families haven't seen a raise (beyond 1.5% COL) for at least three years. In that time, as we all know, the cost of living has escalated beyond that. I say this not to complain but to inform. So, we are all falling behind, rather than keeping pace in these times. While I realize this is not uncommon for many of us, it is, nevertheless, the reality in which I live and our staff who serve you, live as well.

Beyond staff costs, the costs of running this "gothic beauty" increase each year with her age. We have run this church basically on the same budget for two years. If we are serious about implementing the long range plan which we unanimously accepted last Sunday, then we ALL need to invest in First Church. I am happy to tell you that ALL TEN of the pledges which were mailed to the church last week increased significantly. That is good news. Perhaps at the end of this day, we will continue our 100% increase across all households and in addition many more of you who are members but haven't pledged, new to the church, friends of the church, considering membership in the church will step forward to pledge for 2006. That would be GREAT NEWS.

Rather than talk theoretically, I want you to get out the calculator percentage giving chart. Look at the income section. As a family, how much do you take home in income each week, each moth, each year? (that includes your investment income and return on stocks, bonds, and securities). Now, go down to the section: And you are giving: What is the percentage of income you are giving to the mission and ministry of this church? Are you on the chart? You should be giving at least 2% and hopefully 4% and more to the ministry and mission of the church. My family is working toward a tithe. I feel bad that we give only 5% of our family income to the church. But, with a son in college, we are biting the bullet this year.

How about you? How much do you give? Are you on the chart? Based on what our membership is and what our composite annual income is at First Church, if we, as a congregation, were giving 2% of our income to this church, we would have at least $750,000 in pledges for the coming year. What do we have - not even $500,000. If we are all giving at 5% of income or highter, we would go over $1,000,000 dollars for mission and ministry in pledges alone!

If you want to know how conservative (or strictness) churches are getting ahead in these times - look at their giving patterns. Their people give 5-10% and more of their income to the church. That is how they build big churches and maintain huge programs and ministries.

It is also how they grow more! People who give, people who invest in their church, also commit themselves with time and talent, beyond the treasure! It is proven. If we have any hope of becoming a vital and transformational presence in this community and world, we need to give 5%-10% of our income, too. It's that simple. We need you to grow in your giving. While theirs is an "outside in" change approach. In other words, "you must do this." Ours is an apporach which calls you to change from the inside, spiritually this is, to the outside.

2. TODAY is a new day, we MUST grow in our giving, because it is good for our souls to be givers. You feel better when you give. You feel better spiritually. You feel better physically. You feel better in relation to God and family. It is that simple. If you want to feel better, grow in your giving.

NOW is the time to grow in your giving, First Church. HERE is the place to grow in your giving, First Church.

Take the new few minutes to pray. Be silent. Reflect on your giving going forward. How much will you give in 2006? I hope it more - significantly more than 2005. Because to grow in giving, means to step forward in faith. It means to trust God to carry you into the time ahead. Today, do not place a period, where God has placed a comma! Be open to the moving of God's Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church