What Pleases God? By Rev Steven R. Mitchell Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 11/8/2015 Hebrews 10:5-12, 14; Mark 12:41-44
Today I would like to speak a little about how we serve God. One of those ways is through our money. We are very quickly approaching the time when we will be asked to present a pledge card indicating the amount of financial support we are willing to commit this next year toward the ministry that will take place here at Mountain View.
I often wonder what motivates us when we sit down at the kitchen table and think about that magic figure that we put down on our pledge cards (this is assuming that we give some thought to this process.) Do we sit with our spouse or partner and discuss with one another what we are willing to give based on what our household budget is; or do we direct our discussions through our heart and ask questions like: How has God blessed us? How much have we been blessed by attending this church? Or, if I give this much money to the church, what can I expect in return? If you listen closely to the way that I have asked these questions, you will note they all stem toward, “self” or “what’s in it for me”. I don’t think we intentionally mean to think this way, but it is a natural human process of thinking.
Once the stewardship committee receives our pledge cards, they meet with the budget committee and work out a budget for the upcoming year, based on the total pledges made and estimated income from other sources that are normally received. This is the way it generally is done in most churches. It seems to be a very practical way to be fiscally responsible. Yet I have to ask myself, is this the way God wants us to be serving him?
From my Baptist roots, we talked about financial commitment all the time. Generally we were asked to give what we felt we could. This was a comfortable way to approach financial stewardship, as it allowed us to approach giving to God our leftovers, not making us stretch too much in our financial commitment toward our faith community. I’m not sure we really thought too much about our financial commitment as a part of how we serve God, but more of how we support the institution. In the Hebrew Testament, the understanding of honoring God was to give a Tithe. A tithe was the first 10% of your income and giving it to the synagogue, leaving you with the other 90% to live on and do with as you wished.
When I think about ministry that is done through the structured organization of a faith community, I wonder if we go about preparing our budgets backward. I recall while serving my first church in Washington state, working through some potential programming with the church council. They would choose their projects by the cost of the project. I challenged them to step back and re-evaluate this approach. I suggested that they look at each potential project based on its merits, choose the one that most excited them no matter what the cost might be, and then figure out how they were going to pay for it. When they started approaching their budgeting differently, amazing things started to happen. Interest grew, participation grew, and achieving the goals grew.
This often meant having to think outside the box. As an example for us: We have almost two acres of vacant land – how can we turn that into incoming cash to finance our ministries? One suggestion could be, to rent it out to a promoter who handles farmer markets or flea markets. This not only would bring in an income, but give great exposure to the church, especially when coupled with some outdoor activities on our part.
So I have to wonder if the reason some faith communities stagnation comes because it bases its ministry on the cost instead of what they want to achieve. I wonder if more faith communities would be more vibrant if they first sat down and worked on what they wanted to achieve over the next year, or two, or three, then figure out what the budget would be to achieve those goals, present those goals to the congregation and let the congregation figure out how to fund their desired ministries.
Scripture says: 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched… then a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. Giving out of her poverty, she put in everything—all she had to live on.”
Is Jesus telling us to give everything to the point that there is nothing left to live on? I don’t think that is the point of his observation. What I believe Jesus is pointing out is not the amount that we give, but in “how do we give?” When we are thinking about how much to pledge do we think about what comforts we are or are not willing to forgo to promote the mission of our faith community? Am I looking out for myself first, or do I give based on what God asks of me, that of giving my first fruits?
In our prayer of confession, there are implications that, “While we do not willfully disobeyed God’s commandments, our own short sightedness and impatience leads us to make choices based upon our immediate needs over God’s desires, choosing desires and unnecessary wants over potential ministries that as a collective could accomplish. Some questions that come to mind around this implication are: What are the long term goals for Mountain View? What is our church to this neighborhood? Why do people come to Mountain View or better yet, why would they come to Mountain View? And the ultimate question: What is the potential that we can offer them?
Another part of our confession is: “We know you created this world with enough for everyone. Yet, in this land of plenty people know deprivation.” When we think about financial commitment to our faith community the truth is, it evokes fear. Are we guilty of letting these fears overwhelm our faith and trust in God? How do we use our money, not the money that we give to the church, but that portion that we don’t give to the church; how do we use it? The Apostle Paul wrote, “In Christ, we are no longer slaves to fear.”
Ministry is what we call the thing that we do here at Mountain View. My challenge to you this morning, is to honestly examine your heart and see how you envision the minister of this church, and to what extent you are willing to support that vision, and I don’t mean just financially. Ultimately – I hope the answers that you start to come up with will be based through your relationship with Christ, saying to God, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” For no ministry truly exists without the Love of God at its heart. Amen