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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, October 22, 2006
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to Denise Vogt and the 2006 Stewardship Committee and always to the glory of God!
Leap to New Heights in Our Giving
II Corinthians 8:1-15, Matthew 14:13-21

Last Sunday, Dayna and Michael McCrary, Phil Hart, and Al Waddell shared three reflections on “Time, Talent, and Treasure.” They inspired us as witnessing stewards on why they are givers to this church. We all took away something from their preaching moment. But, one phrase that inspired me as I was preparing for today came from Dayna McCrary. She said, “Sometime ,someone has to write the check. Our time is now.” How true. Dayna’s words reminded me of this story by a 20th Century Universalist leader, Clinton Lee Scott, a story about giving for life:

And it came to pass that the time of year was upon them when the call went forth from the Great Temple for pledges of support for another twelvemonth. And one there was who rebuked the solicitor gruffly saying, “Get thee hence, and return not. Verily, the Great Temple seeketh money from everlasting to everlasting.” The solicitor accepted the rebuff, and said unto him quietly, “My son, when he was a child was very costly. He was forever hungry, and was fed; he was forever wearing out or outgrowing his raiment and was clothed anew. As he increased in the stature of manhood, ever more money had I need to spend on him. And it came to pass that the Angel of Death smote him, and he died. And lo! He costeth me not a cent!” And he who had rebuked him was filled with compassion and understanding, and he said, “Verily, verily, thou hast opened mine eyes; for now I see that only a dead Temple needeth no money; a live Temple needeth ever more!” And he offered up his pledge, . . . a sadder but wiser man.


Through the years, I have witnessed too many “solicitors” put a great deal of creative thinking and speaking into not asking people to give money to the church. I stand guilty among them. We use our stewardship sermons to urge people - with great emphasis no less - to give our congregation “time and talent” but ask only indistinctly, if at all, to give money. We use writings, musical presentations, poems, quotes, plays, speeches, balloons, and many other creative measures to dance around not asking you to give money to “The Great Temple.” We preach about “cheerful giving,” and through the years, I see too many givers whose cheerfulness is based on getting away with giving as little as possible to the church. I imagine I have preached more than 75 sermons during stewardship season, but after all these years, Dayna McCrary’s words strike me as among the clearest and truest: “Sometime, someone has to write the check. Our time is now.”

In today’s epistle reading, The Apostle Paul speaks to one of his favorite topics: financial support for the Church in Jerusalem. He knew the “Mother Church” was poor. He knew that the Gentile Christians coming into the church were able to give generously to the church’s ministry and mission. Out of their abundance, Paul knew the church was very capable of giving generously - just as I know you are very capable of giving generously.

Paul offers five arguments to appeal to the Corinthians to give worthily. Give generously, following the example of others. Give generously following the example of Christ. Give generously

First, Paul cites the examples of others. He tells them how the Macedonian Church had been. They had been poor and in trouble, but all they had, far more than anyone could have expected. They knew their own individual poverty and coming together, and they gave abundantly!

There are churches within a mile or two of our church which some of you would call poor. Many of them are Hispanic or predominantly African-American congregations. I know for a fact that if we went to those churches, the percentage of giving which their members present each Sunday would put our percentage of giving to shame. Like the Macedonian Church, our neighboring churches give a tithe or 10% of their income to the church.

“What exactly is tithing? Tithing is a proactive practice of giving back. It is a spiritual principle common to many traditions that says you should give back a portion of what you receive, that those who are blessed with abundance have a duty to help others through gifts of kindness, time, ideas, and money. What is amazing about tithing is that when you tithe you get a feeling we often associate with acquired material things. You simply feel great! We think money and more stuff will make us feel great, but this isn’t always the case . . . With tithing, the more you give the better you feel . . . What tithing is really about is giving for the sheer joy of giving” (David Bach, The Automatic Millionaire, pp. 213-214).

In his book The Automatic Millionaire, Paul Bach writes:


...here’s something amazing. Although you should give simply for the sake of giving, the reality is that abundance tends to flow back to those who give. The more you give, the more comes back to you. It is the flow of abundance that brings us more joy, more love, more wealth, and more meaning to our lives. Generally speaking, the more you give the wealthier you feel. And it’s not just a feeling. As strange as it may seem, the truth is that money often flows faster to those who give. Why? Because givers attract abundance into their lives rather than scarcity (Ibid).

 

The Apostle Paul knew this. Now you know it. Become a tither in 2007. Set your sights toward this amazing generosity and give like you mean it. Give generously because it feels good. Give generously because more joy, more love, more wealth, more meaning returns to you. Give generously because givers attract abundance into their lives rather than scarcity.

Second, Paul cites the example of Jesus Christ. For Paul the sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the Cross. It did not begin with his birth in Bethlehem. It began when he laid his glory by and consented to come to earth. Paul says to those around him, With this tremendous example of generosity before you, how can you hold back?” In today’s Gospel, when Jesus sees the hunger of the multitudes, he calls on the generosity of the crowd to multiply the loaves. The miracle was more about everyone giving everything they had to feed everyone around them than was about Jesus zapping some bring and fish to feed the crowds. The essence of Jesus Christ is generosity. He healed, he taught, he gave of himself without asking anything in return. We, as his followers, must follow this example. Let Jesus be your guide to giving. Give as he gave -without complaining or questioning - simply because it is the right thing to do. Multiply the loaves at First Church! Set yourself as an example of being in Christ and following him in the kindness of actions and in the generosity of sharing your money. As Christ is clear, you must be clear, too.

Third, Paul cites the Corinthians’ own past record. Paul points out to the church in Corinth that they have been a leadership church. Can they lag behind now? As they have always lived to their highest standards of living and giving, they can leap to new heights in their giving. What a difference it will make.


This year marks our 75th year at the corner of 9th and Broad Sts. This Cathedral of Grace was built to inspire people to new heights in their living and giving. The vault of this ceiling reaches 70 feet so that our eyes are pulled heavenward. The Neshaminy rock and stone which surrounds us, was brought by train from southeast Pennsylvania - 600 miles away - to say to all who passed by - there is no other church like this in Ohio! The Martin MacNevin Memorial Organ was built as the largest church organ in Columbus in 1931 so that this cathedral would shake when it played.

However, this congregation’s record is not simply cast in beautiful rock, stone, glass and pipes. First Church has been created and sustained by Christian men and women who through 154+ years have said, “NO” to slavery, “NO” to racism, “NO” to sexism, “NO” to heterosexism, “NO” to greed and abuse, “NO” to injustice anywhere - believing that injustice anywhere restrained the fullness of God’s reign of justice everywhere. As such, they have said, “YES” to grace, “YES” to hope, “YES” to inclusion, “YES” to tolerance, and “YES” to love!

This is our record, First Church. If we want to keep this record going strong, we have to reach for the highest standards to make this happen! If we give little, we can expect little in return. If we give greatly, we will see the return of greatness shine forth around you! Now is our time to say, “YES” to generous giving!

 

Fourth, Paul stresses the necessity of putting fine feelings into fine action. Paul knew that feelings not turned into action become a “pity” for the heart. They are fine desires which never find themselves lived out into fine deeds. The tragedy of life so often is not that we have no high impulses, but that we fail to turn them into actions. How often have you and I resembled this situation? Fortunately, we are living in the right time to change this.

Several years ago, Susan and I made the best decision of our church giving lives. We decided to have our pledge directly deposited into the church’s treasury. Every two weeks there was an automatic transfer of funds at the time we were paid. The church received our first gift every paycheck. In time, we have changed this slightly. Now, we have our pledge withheld. Whether direct deposit, automatic transfer of funds to the church, stock options, or other automatic means of giving, I highly recommend you do this form of giving. It takes the guesswork out of wondering how and when you can give. For the church it means we don’t have to chase you around and send you reminder letters throughout the year. This year, 19% of our giving comes to automatically. In 2007, let’s set an ambitious goal of 60%. That means that 3 out of 5 of you, rather than 1 of 5 will give automatically in 2007. Our Business Manager, Sharon Leidheiser will gladly help you set this up - today or in the weeks to come. Take your fine feelings and make them simple and direct actions through automatic giving in 2007.

 


Finally, Paul reminds the Corinthians that life has a strange way of evening things up. Life is measured to us the same we measure it to others. Life has a way of repaying us for what we do. If we give sparingly and with a sparing spirit, we will receive sparingly. If we give generously, we will receive generously. Life repays bounty with bounty. I saw this lesson lived out a few weeks ago by my daughter Sarah. As she was selling the Buckeye necklaces that she had made in August to raise money for the Beyer’s lot to our westside, a poor man had found me to ask for money. I had nothing to give him, so I approached Sarah to see if she would be willing to share $10.00 for this man. Sarah smiled and reached into her money and brought out $20.00. She told him to enjoy the food he bought with the funds. Sarah already understands that bountiful sowing of seeds of love and grace will reap bountiful seeds of love and grace.

Remember Paul’s teachings in II Corinthians and - follow the great examples of others in your giving, follow the great example of our Savior Jesus Christ, follow the example of our church’s own record of witness and generosity, put your fine feelings into fine actions, and remember that by being a great giver, God shows us the way of evening things up!

Next week, 10/29, we will gather at 10:00am to glorify God and leap to new heights in our giving. Remember to turn your clocks back one hour Saturday night. Remember also to plan to stay for a glorious brunch in parish hall. An anonymous donor stepped forward this week with $1,000 to help cover the costs of the luncheon. Someone has already taken the leap of faith! Next Sunday, join the rest of our “Someones” who will write the check for the future of this great church! Come leap to new heights in our giving! Amen.

Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church