God Loves a Cheerful Giver!*

Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on March 17, 2013.  The is the Fifth Sunday in Lent and also Commitment Sunday.  The Gospel reading is John 12:1-8.


A Message for Children

Boys and Girls, today I brought my blue pig with me.  This is really a piggy bank and it was given to me by Vicki Thorpe Gellerman, our Thrivent rep.  My pig is going to help me teach us something about money and how God wants us to use our money.


Here’s a truth: Did you know that everything we have in this world, including our money, belongs to God?  Some people think that everything they have is theirs and they choose to give some away to God and the church. 


Have you ever heard the word “stewardship”?  I bet if I told you where we got that word, you would laugh.  It first meant someone who took care of pigs.  It used to be sty-warden.  The person who took care of someone else’s pigs was the sty-warden.  The sty-warden didn’t own the pigs, but took care of them.


This helps us to remember that God has given us everything  and we  take care of everything for Him.  We are good stewards. 


My blue pig can also help us remember something about our money and offerings.  If we have one dollar or 100 pennies, the first 10 pennies go to God, the second 10 pennies we save for a rainy day, and 80 pennies we can use however we want.


I’m going to give each of you some coins now and let you practice what we are saying.  Please put your dime in the slot called “share” and your next dime in the slot called “save” and you can keep the rest.


May God help everyone in our church today to be good stewards.


Dear Friends in Christ,


Yes, this is a stewardship sermon.  I hope you will hear it today as a call to discipleship and the deepening of our relationship with the Lord.  It is St. Paul who wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 9:  God loves a cheerful giver.  We pastors and church leaders need to continually remind ourselves that no one wants to hear a message of guilt and scarcity when it comes to talking about tithes and offerings in the church.  We also need to remind ourselves that the best way to talk about our money and our offerings is in terms of our grateful response to God rather than as our obligation to support a church budget.


Today you and I will have the opportunity to bring our estimates of giving for the coming year to the Lord at the time of offering.  No one is going to tell you what amount must give, for this is a decision you will make as a disciple.  But please permit me to share with you some really good values that I hope you will think about as consider your tithes and offerings for today and the coming year.


1.      Is your giving intentional?  I hope that you have a plan for your regular offering and that you don’t just decide the amount as you see the offering plate coming at you.  Pastor Charles Lane tells about his experience worshipping with a congregation in India.  At the time of the offering they were ushered forward and many put food on the altar, including quite a few bags of rice.  After the service Pastor Lane asked about this practice and was told: Many of the folks are very poor and have no money.  So each day, as they prepare food for the families, they put a small amount of rice aside, and this is what they bring to worship for their offering.  On Mondays all the offering food is taken to the marketplace and sold and the proceeds fund the church’s ministry.  So, it’s not the amount, it’s what is in our hearts, as we thank the Lord.


2.      Is your giving regular?  I Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that they collection need not be taken when I come.”  We see in this letter that Paul prescribed a regular pattern for giving each week.  You decide what pattern works best for you.  Some months here at Resurrection, we have about 25% of our monthly offerings coming by on-line giving.


3.      Is your giving generous?  Jesus says in Luke 12:34,  “For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Paul writes to the Corinthians (II 9:8), “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.


I wish that  more of our Lutheran brothers and sisters would be more open to generosity.  The average giving in the Lutheran Church these days is about 1.75% of income.  How this contrasts with our ministry partners in the Spanish Seventh Day Adventist Church that meets here on Saturdays.  The first 10% of their offerings is given away outside their church and then the church operates on whatever is given beyond the first 10%.


4.      Is your giving first?  I believe that first-fruits giving is a major step as a disciple in trusting God’s promises.  The worldly temptation is to take care of ourselves and our needs and wants first, and then give God the leftovers. 


5.      Is your giving proportional?  We are talking about percentage giving, with the tithe or 10% being the best biblical example.  What I usually advise someone who is just starting their faith journey as good stewards and disciples is to pick a number that is a little bit challenging, but one that they can reasonably achieve this first year.  Then I encourage them to increase that percentage next year.  If they start at 2%, then go 3% next year and 4% the next year. 


6.      Is your giving cheerful?  The last thing that our Lord wants, I am convinced, is someone who puts in an offering because they feel obligated or harassed.  Being a good steward and a disciple is about a relationship of love with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 


Why do we do stewardship at Resurrection the way we do it?   Why do we ask of our members to make an estimate of giving and why do we ask our folks to give the major portion of their offerings as “undesignated to Mission and Ministry”?  It has to do with how we understand and do church together.  I like the explanation of our Bishop Emeritus in the Virginia Synod, Richard Bansemer, in his book We Believe, A Prayer Book on the Augsburg Confession.  Our Reformation ancestors agreed that we ought to observe whatever “may be observed without sin” and contributes “to peace and good order in the church.”  So we have agreed to certain things that are neither commanded nor forbidden in the New Testament.  We Lutheran have our children confirmed, use a liturgical order for worship and celebration of the Holy Communion, and obey the constitution and by-laws of our church.  We are not required to do these things “as necessary for salvation.”  But we voluntarily require them of ourselves for the sake of “peace and good order.”


So we teach new members that our congregation constitution says this for membership, “It shall be the privilege and duty of members of this congregation to:

a.      Make regular use of the means of grace, both Word and sacraments;

b.      Live a Christian life in accordance with the Word of God and the teachings of the Lutheran Church;

c.       Support the work of this congregation, the synod, and the churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through contributions of their time, abilities, and financial support as biblical stewards.


Let me conclude this sermon by pointing out something that has been written in our bulletin for at least the past 15 years.  Today it is written as a sidebar piece of information about the offering.  Will you please turn to that page in your bulletin and let’s read this wonderful explanation of stewardship together, The offering is a place in our worship when we offer ourselves to God.  At this time, we offer our financial blessings.  We also re-affirm the equally important response of our time and abilities, which together with our dollars, makes a complete and thankful response to God.  You are invited to make an offering to God.  The numerous ministries touching lives are made possible through the generous commitments of our worshippers in thanksgiving to God.


Thanks be to God.  Amen!


*I am grateful to Charles R. Lane and his excellent stewardship book Ask, Thank, Tell for the 6 values of stewardship