Over the past two weeks we have explored how we support the ministries of Christ’s church through our prayers and our presence.
We live as children of God and sheep of Christ’s flock, by staying connected to our loving parent God and filling ourselves with the Spirit through prayer. Remember that deep breathing – deep praying we need to do?
And we remain connected to the vine and we are nourished for this task through our presence in this community. When we start to get disconnected from one another, the leaves wither and the fruit fades. And it’s hard to get good ministry for Christ’s church out of dead branches.
Today, we remember that we are not only given power and energy through God, like empty vessels for the Spirit to flow through, but we have also been blessed with gifts to share. We have been given temporary ownership over resources and skills and abilities – not so that we can further our own aims, but so that we can further God’s.
In fact, that is why in Malachi there is such a strong condemnation! “You are robbing me!” God says… “in your tithes and offerings! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house… see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
A portion of what we already have belongs to God, it is meant for God’s ministry. We have been blessed so that we can be a blessing.
We may forget this occasionally – but in many ways the purpose of the tithe and the offering were not so much about having to sacrifice something to God, but about obedience to God’s commands. God’s command to love our neighbors are born out in the giving back of our gifts – because the temple and later the churches used that money and grain and meat to feed and clothe the priests and to give to the poor. Yes, a portion is used as a part of the ritual, a portion is burned in the case of the temple sacrifices, but the remainder is meant for the community – it is meant for the ministry of God in the world.
Today when we talk about gifts in the church, we aren’t talking about cereal and flesh offerings: bread and meat… but we are talking about spiritual gifts and that dreaded word: money.
And the purpose of these gifts is the same as those given in the temple. We are given much in order that we might be a part of furthering God’s kingdom.
But I firmly believe that in both cases – both in the things that we can do and the monetary blessings we have received – we underestimate and we under appreciate our gifts.
Those two themes – underestimation and under appreciation really struck me when I came across a video on YouTube a little over a month ago. Now, some of you may have seen or heard the story of Susan Boyle before, but I believe it is such a powerful moment, that it’s worth viewing over and over again.
(introduce and watch video of Susan Boyle)
Under-estimation and under appreciation.
When Susan walked out on that stage – everyone underestimated what she could do, what her gifts were. And I would also venture to guess that she probably underestimated herself. The immense joy that came across her face when the judges all three said “yes” she would be going on was AMAZING!
Stored up inside of her, for all of those years were these powerful notes and emotive lyrics, and no one took them seriously. Yeah, you want to be a singer… okay. Whatever.
It wasn’t until she was given the chance to share her gifts that anyone – including herself – realized what a blessing she had received or what it could do to change the world.
In the aftermath of that performance, she has caused millions of people around the world to take a second look at their preconceptions and to give someone a chance – that is the gift that God has given us through Susan Boyle.
In our own lives, we too underestimate the power of our gifts and what we actually have to give.
Reading Malachi this week and hearing the call to bring the full tithe into the storehouse… it was powerful and convicting in my life and helped me to remember Wesley’s old adage: Earn all you can, Save all you can, give all you can.
You see, Wesley was in ministry among the poor at the beginning of the Methodist Movement. He was preaching out in the fields and in graveyards to miners and anyone else who would come near. And there was practically no money to support their ministry.
But as Wesley began preaching about money – about how we need to have a strong work ethic and earn all that we possibly can – but that we also need to be frugal with our money and save all that we can – people began to listen.
The most surprising thing happened when the miners and field workers stopped buying the things they didn’t need like hard alcohol and fancy clothes and jewelry – all of those things that made them try to appear wealthy… When they started to cut back on luxuries and to live a simpler life… the Methodists went from a movement of the poor, to a movement of the middle class. They gave and gave generously to the work of the Spirit in the movement – to their class meetings and to the society – but they found that they also had a bit left over for themselves…
“see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts.”
We hear the encouragement to be generous too in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He tells us about the churches of Macedonia. In a time of severe affliction, he writes, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part… they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, BEGGING us for the privledge of sharing in this ministry to the saints.
Now there is a church that didn’t underestimate the power of their gifts. They knew that they could make a difference, they knew that they were called to make a difference, and they wanted to be a part of it.
I want to invite you to experience what the joy of the Macedonians is like. I am going to need a few volunteers to come forward… as many as we have, but not more than 5.
(give them the charge with the $20)
I firmly believe that love can conquer all. I firmly believe that God’s grace conquers all. And in 1 John, we are reminded that our faith and trust in what God will do with our gifts will conquer the world. John writes that “the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.”
These $20 bills can conquer a portion of the world. They are a gift from God – and I can’t wait to see what fruit is born for mission. I pray that you will not find this a burden – but like the Macedonians that your abundant joy and this meager sum might overflow into a wealth of generosity.
That second theme in relationship to our gifts is underappreciation. In the case of Susan Boyle – many people had heard her sing in the past. In fact, you can now find some of her old performances that are posted on YouTube. And she was just as amazing then as she is now!
But no one stopped to appreciate and to celebrate what she had done, to share in the joy of the blessing she could be to the world.
I think that is why our passage from 2 Corinthians is so important. Because Paul took the time to thank and appreciate the Macedonians for what they had given. We have no idea of how much they gave, or what they gave – simply that they gave. And simply for giving, we need to appreciate one another.
I think this is why the commandment to love is without burden. Because when we love others, it is because we were first loved. And in return for the love we give, we are filled up with love in return. It is a circle that keeps growing and expanding because it continues to be replenished and returned.
But sometimes when we offer our gifts in the world, those gifts are not appreciated and our giving becomes burdensome.
In Ephesians, we find a list of gifts that God has given us through the Spirit in order to build up the body of Christ:
Some are called to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers… in other places we find other gifts mentioned: leadership, speaking in tongues, those who can give money, care givers.
We each have a gift that we have been blessed with and when all of our gifts work together according to God’s good will – then the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, the body of Christ is built up and all of us become unified in our faith.
When they all work together.
But you know what – it’s hard to be the hands of Christ giving out soup cans at the food bank if no one ever says thank you. It’s hard to be the mouth of Christ teaching and demonstrating God’s love when no one is paying attention. It’s hard to be the feet of Christ standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes if no one values what you do.
Because when we give our gifts and no one cares, we start to doubt if we are making a difference. We get burned out because we are continually giving and we are not being replenished.
As a church, as the Body of Christ working together, we need to thank one another when we give of ourselves… we need to encourage one another to keep with it, and affirm that there are gifts present that are shining forth. But what we also need to do is to let others affirm the gifts that are within ourselves.
Maybe there is something that you have not given back to the ministry of Christ for years because you got burned out long ago. Maybe there is something that you are afraid to share with the church because you don’t want to be taken advantage of, or don’t think you have the time or energy.
Know – that I am stating today and I hope that you are all with me on this – that we will take the time to celebrate the gifts that you share with us. We will take the time to affirm what you have given to us. Because it is good. Because it is important. And because through Christ, our gifts will transform the world. Amen.