Stewardship Sermon #1, The Why of the Delight and Joy of Giving

St Dunstan’s October 26, 2015 Stewardship #1
The Rev. Robert G. Eaton, Interim Rector

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

Our theme this fall for our consideration of all that goes into the meaning of being good Stewards of all that God has given us — all of creation, all of our lives, the people in our lives, the material goods we have, the financial resources we currently make use of, the gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it – and returning it all into the capable and mighty hands of our Lord God Almighty — our theme is “Giving Joyfully from Blessings and Abundance.”

You know even though I was being playful last week about how the Anglican tradition in the Northern Hemisphere, at least, plays its sermon responses close to the vest, including applause, I have to say, this theme for our consideration and reflection and prayer in stewardship is worthy of us showing appreciation to God and for those who have brought it to us at St Dunstan’s. Giving Joyfully from Blessings and Abundance. Let’s show our approval.

For those who give joyfully in their lives, already, they are people who quite often when asked “why”, will simply say because I am so grateful for what Jesus has done in my life. And if you follow through on the conversation – and not just say, Oh, that’s nice – and walk away, — then you are most likely going to hear a story… a story about how God brought his grace and mercy and love into their life IN SUCH A WAY, and that is important to say, IN SUCH A WAY, that they have been changed for ever, and have no other personal option except to give to God joyfully – body, mind, spirit, soul, strength. And wallet.

For the rest of us who just don’t have that mindset, or see it that way, or perhaps have to admit that such an encounter with the living God has not been a part of their lives, then we are left with the question “HOW do we GIVE JOYfully?”

We hear a lot about such an attitude and behavior and mindset and, well, really, an effervescence (that is, a Bubbling up and over). You can probably think of a few people right here in this parish who fit that description. And I don’t mean people who are just “bubbly” people. I mean those who give, and work, and pray for the building up of the kingdom of God, and no matter how long or difficult or how many times they’ve been asked, or how many times they’ve given of their personal resources, they always just seem absolutely delighted to do it again.

If you want to read up on St Paul’s teaching on being joyful, if only in terms of imperatives, then one place to go is to the letter to the Philippians, where Paul exhorts – as an imperative – even demands or commands his indebted listeners – to be Joyful 16 times.

As an aside, but not really, it seems a bit out of touch with reality to think that you could be joyful while in jail. But, my new friends in Christ, that’s precisely one of the purposes of a living faith like ours: to re-define reality based on the gospel itself – the good news of resurrection, being raised from the dead for eternity. Alleluia!

I won’t ask you to turn to Philippians in your bibles this morning; just for you to note that of the four main categories of joyfulness that Paul exhorts in Philippians, one of them is Giving. Giving of yourself joyfully in service to God and to others.
At another place in his writings, 1 Corinthians 9, he exhorts his followers to be cheerful givers, in the same vein, and this time more specifically in how you bring to the Lord a sacrificial giving of your material resources, your money, for the sake of providing for the ministry that continues to present the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully, and in the power of the Spirit.

Don’t each of these references sound so familiar to Jesus’ teaching as he answers the question of a particular lawyer – no, sorry, a Pharisee who was an expert in the Law – not all lawyers are Pharisees, you know. And when you have a good and faithful attorney in your midst, make sure you be good Stewards of them and love them.

But back to Jesus….. Not only does Jesus simply use the Hebrew scriptures to answer the question by quoting from Deuteronomy 6 and then Leviticus 19, but Jesus’ answer is succinct, and yet with so much more. Love the Lord your God… The Gospel of Mark has Jesus including 4 things: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
And then, Love your neighbor as yourself.

The love word here is from the word agape, a love that is shown in action and devotion, rather than affection or adoration, which means we’re talking about what one does to show caring, or what should happen in Good Stewardship one with another.

It is easy to make the connection here between stewards who care and take care of each other intentionally, but also the plain duty of devotion which is shown in how and what we GIVE financially to the Lord God through his church.
Still, the sense of action and duty and a matter of the will still does not answer the mindset of joy. I can be an agape, devoted, cheerful giver without a sense of joy about it, and my stewardship is still well accepted and acceptable by God.

Oh, and I can laugh about whether I am a joyful giver or not, too.
It’s the season to be able to tell you one of my favorite stewardship stories:
Well, no we just don’t have time this morning for that — I’ll have to tell you the story on another morning. ( Heh heh )

But this business of being joyful…. You will remember that I used the word delighted earlier. I said that, those joyful givers have “given of their personal resources, and they always just seem absolutely delighted to do it again.” The implication of this delight – a word which carries so much more implication of passion, does it not? – is the presence of God in their lives, then or even way before then – which is the Abundance and the Blessing of God’s Grace…..
And so St Paul said to his followers in Thessalonika — “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our lives as well.”

Hang on, here comes a St Paul kind of sentence:
In the same way that God loves us,  so we choose to love God in response, and then how God loves you and me, and so we choose to follow his command that we love one another, so we now – considering all that God has provided for us – we now have this love for all that is before us, and thus we FIND that we are actually delighted to share with each other not only the Gospel but our LIVES as well, which means working praying and giving to help bring each other into the maturity of Christ.
We can FIND something to be delighted in, in Christ, and in finding the delight, we find that it is an abundance and a blessing in our lives. You all love the Lord, and you love the people in which he dwells, and you love this place in which God has displayed his marvelous works over and over again. So here and with all of us and in the God who brought it all you FIND delight, and so from that joy you GIVE.

To conclude, let me say it in a manner of application. Paul brought the illustration of caring mother and her children to the verse regarding delight. So let’s consider these children. Don’t we FIND delight in our children?
I am so proud to be serving in a church that has children. I was so delighted to see their pictures in the profile I saw, and in the church directories I’ve seen, and that includes seeing some of you adults when you were children here.
And so, a church that seems to love their children — to highlight them, to delight in them, to show their shiny faces, to show multi-generational interaction. The website shows them in rapt attention in teaching, and having fun, and in fellowship and in serving in the liturgy and in outreach, and on and on.

So, then, when you are considering your giving joyfully from the blessings and abundance of God, considering your love for them, can you not see the passion and intention and the heartfelt DELIGHT, the Joy, of the Children of this parish? There… you’ve FOUND a delight to motivate your joy.
And your joy, joy that may have been dormant, begins to rise through the work of the Holy Spirit in you, and you see things differently, including all the other delights that you have in the Lord and his goodness to you.

I could offer the imperative to Give if only so these children have an Episcopal church in which to grow up and learn about who Jesus is, and give their lives to him, just as so many of you have. You know, suffer not these little children from coming unto me. Don’t stand in the way of them, in other words.

But today’s message, and the theme of our stewardship season, is MORE than that. MORE than simply providing a brick and mortar legacy. Out of your love for God, and your love for each other here, find your delight where you have such a desire to share the Good news of Christ in you, and to share all of your lives with each other, in every way. Then God continues to bless, and we find the abundance that he has to give, especially in our fellowship and communion. The Prayer Book says it — Work, pray and give. It means taking delight, and letting the joy rise.



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