Acts 20:35b - Heartstrings at First United Methodist Church
Sermons are preached. They are not writing. So, above is the sermon. Below is the sermon “plan”. (Unedited, all my mistakes kept!)
Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
I am wondering if you’ll indulge me for a few. I’m hoping I can spend some time sharing a story with you. Now, it’s not a quick story and it’s not a dramatic story. Instead, it’s a slow story, a story of a changing world view. This story is like a river digging a canyon… sometimes drip by drip, sometimes in massive, earth moving floods, always steady and moving… digging a canyon. Time and water eating away at the rock, this is a story that happens over generations.
I know you’ve heard parts of my story before, so most of this is not totally new. But maybe some of it is new for you. You see, my grandma joined a church when she was newly married. Her and my Grandfather found this community, to which they could belong and give their lives to. Part of that faith communities core belief system was giving. Helping and serving one another, of course, but also tithing. They were really, really intentional, all of them about giving 10% to the church. I can’t remember a time, when I visited grandma and we didn’t hear about tithing. When we buried her at nearly 100 last year, they mentioned her faithfulness. Tithing mattered to her. Deeply.
My mom however saw it in a different way. My mom was one of 10 kids. They didn’t have much money! So, for the church to get 10% of their income, my mom had to go without. Without new clothes, new shoes, even glasses! She was raised in a family that sacrificed so the church could get it’s 10%. I don’t know how often it came down to this, but I know, given the choice between food and tithing, my grandma would have chosen tithing. And I know that upset my mom. I heard my entire life how needy the church was. How the church would just take and take and take and demand, demand, demand. Like a beggar on the side of the road…
It began that March morning, 14 years ago, last week. Mostly against my will, I was listening God’s call for me to attend church. I didn’t know much about church, but there was something I knew for sure… they would demand my money… and sure enough… the person sitting beside me passed a basket, demanding my money. There it was. That moment my mom had always warned me about. Got me in the door promising salvation, less than an hour later, they want me to pay for it.
Will you indulge me for a few? Listen to this slow, meandering story….Can I share the story of how I changed my mind?
It was about this time that I also started listening to Dave Ramsey. Dace Ramsey of Financial Peace University. His entire business is designed around helping masses of people move from financial struggling, anxious, and stressed… to financial freedom through simple, common sense things… shifting our relationship to money. A couple of things he said started chipping away at my understanding of giving and generosity. First, he says, often, “God doesn’t need your money!” If Almighty God is creator of all, isn’t that true? God doesn’t need our money. (As an aside, the church might… we have to pay the light bill, and the staff, and for the sound system…).
The other thing he talks about, is how FUN it is to give! I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered through the years that say, “I’ll give when I make more money.” Or the other side, “I make so much money… do you see how big that number is if I gave 10%?? I can’t give that much money!!” Oh no, giving, is fun. We are made for giving!
First, just financially, if you have room in your budget to give, that means you are not living above your means. It means your house payment is manageable, your car payment isn’t outrageous (or you’re smart enough to not HAVE a car payment.) If you are a giver, it means you are living within your means, it means you are less likely to be stressed by every bill that comes in the mail, it means you are less likely to file for bankruptcy…
I get it, life happens. If you are choosing between generosity and eating a meal… choose eating! God doesn’t need your money. But if you are choosing eating or giving as a lifestyle, it might be time to find ways to readjust.
So, giving is FUN in part because it’s an indicator that you are not overextended in other areas of your life. But more than that, being generous is SO FUN!
I remember when I was 18 or so, waiting tables. I had a customer that left me an outrageous tip. He literally, called me over and handed me the money. What I know is that my complete joy, probably tears because it made a difference… gave him something beautiful. It blessed him.
Hearing that God didn’t need my money and that I would benefit from giving. That it would help ME get rich, that is a good reason to start thinking about that offering plate a little differently. So what, giving is good, but did the church have to beg for money every time I showed up??
Dan pink RSA
There was a video that I watched during that time, a talk by Dan Pink. He talked about the start of Encarta and another small little, world changing experiment called Wikipedia.
In the mid-1990’s Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They employed all the right incentives. They paid professionals to write and edit thousands of articles. Well compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came in on budget and on time. A few years later another encyclopedia started — A different model — Do it for fun. No one gets paid a cent. Do it because you like to do it. Now 10 years ago if you had talked to an economist … anywhere … and said “Hey, I’ve got these different models for creating an encyclopedia — If they went head to head who would win? 10 years ago you could not have found a single, sober economist anywhere on planet earth who would have predicted the Wikipedia model. This is the Titanic battle between these two approaches. Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose versus Carrots & sticks – And who wins — Intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose — in a Knockout.
It’s a river, slowly but surely shifting my way of thinking. Digging a canyon, maybe… just maybe, being generous isn’t about what I get in return. Maybe it isn’t about being rich, making the most money… maybe, just maybe it’s about doing what I love, and loving what I do… getting better and growing.
Which has nothing to do with the offering plate at all… or I didn’t think it did, at the time. But still, week after week the offering plate goes by. Week after week I throw a dollar or two in the plate because the church is begging for a handout.
Ted talk, philanthropy – Dan Pallotta
A couple of years later I ran across another video, another talk, this time a Ted Talk. Another Dan, this time Dan Pallotta. The entire video is worth a watch, it is a paradigm shifting video, but there was one quote that I still remember.
…we don’t like nonprofits to use money to incentivize people to produce more in social service. We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interestingly, we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people. You know, you want to make 50 million dollars selling violent video games to kids, go for it. We’ll put you on the cover of Wired magazine. But you want to make half a million dollars trying to cure kids of malaria, and you’re considered a parasite yourself.
What if, like Dan Pink says, being generous, giving of our time and talents and money to create something big and powerful and world changing is beautiful? What if Dan Pallotta is right, and it’s just as good, just as valuable to spend our time bringing healing and hope and light to the world? Not a punishment. Not a way to earn God’s love?
What if the way I saw money, and how it works in our lives was all wrong? What if my mom was wrong? What if my grandma was wrong, too? What if there was another way? So very, very slowly, over years, my world view was changing. Shifting. Service level information, digging itself down into my identy.
Some moments aren’t so slow. They are big floods carving canyons in the blink of an eye… In my “newish to church” ignorance, I mentioned something to Kent about the offering plate being passed. Why do we beg for money in that way.
In the simple way he teaches, he simply looked at me and said, “I don’t see it as asking for money. I see it as an act of worship.”
Tell me you’re a disciple
Tell me you’re a disciple without telling me you’re a disciple… It isn’t about God or the church needing your money. God and the church is okay without it. It isn’t about the best way to be healthy. Although being generous is linked to good health for a lot of reasons. It isn’t about the best way to be rich, although giving is a predictor of wealth….
We give because it is simply an act of worship. It doesn’t earn God’s love or forgiveness we don’t buy our way into heaven. We already have God’s love and forgiveness. We already have an invitation to the heavenly banquet. Giving is a tool to become the most beautiful, most true version of ourselves. God created us to be generous. That “offering plate” in whatever form it goes by you, whether a link on Facebook, a bucket on your way out, or a plate that you pass week after week after week, it is not the church begging for money. it is a reminder that God created us to be extravagantly generous. We all need a reminder, every week to let go… It is more blessed to give than receive. We need, week after week, the reminder that we have so much to be grateful for. We need the reminder that God is our God not our money or our things. The plate is not begging for a handout, it is an opportunity to worship the God that first loved us.
What if together this act of worship The place – 200 – Bristol
As you know each week, I am introducing a practice. What if you intentionally gave, extravagantly, 5 times this month. Now, it doesn’t need to be a gift to the church, it doesn’t need to be huge, it just needs to be generous. 5 times a month. Not for any reason other than as an act of worship. It’s practice… it’s practice letting go, so when we hear God asking us to show up, we can do it without hesitation…
Last Sunday, as we were leaving, Joy, our bass player, was having a conversation with Luke who played fiddle last week. Luke is teaching students at Bristol Elementary, not too far from here. He showed us a video of his students, 5 years old learning to play the violin. He talked about their love of music, the amazing things this school is doing for the kids, AND he talked about some needs the kids and school have. God, tapped us on the shoulder, Joy and me, and simply said “here.” Let’s give, here. So, without hesitation, as an act of worship and gratitude, I let them know that Heartstrings, and has much of First Methodist that is willing to come with me. We are in. We are going to give our time, our talents, our money… because there is one thing more beautiful and more true than me, or you being generous. It is us being generous together.