First Things: a stewardship message

Jesus said, “THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Book of Common Prayer, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5)

When the Pharisees asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?,” (Matthew 22:36) He replied with the first and greatest commandment. These are First Things. Under the law, all Israelites in their total being are to love God this way, and so are we.

When I reflect on my own state, this is where I most fall short. In the face of all of the cares and demands of daily life, how can I possibly love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind? I cannot. No one can. Saint Paul writes about such shortcomings in a very personal way: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)

Thanks be to God that we are not bound by the law in the legalistic sense that applied the Israelites. We do not have to seek righteousness by keeping the law. The law is good for one thing. It convicts us of our sin. (Romans 7:7) And, thanks be to God that the righteous requirements of the law for us are fulfilled in Christ. (Romans 8:3)

We do try to keep the law in our daily life, because the law is good. In doing so, we are not striving for our own righteousness as if our life depends upon it, but out of thankfulness and love of God, without fear and condemnation. Instead, as Saint Paul puts it, working out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12) nurturing our relationship with God, growing in maturity in both faith and practice.

The law relates to Christian stewardship and giving by helping us to identify and defeat those things that impede us from First Things and cultivating those things that help us to love God with all heart, soul, and mind. What are those things? For one, Jesus and his apostles had had a lot to say about money.

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) And, St. Paul wrote, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10) Clearly, our relationship with money can be a precarious thing. Our relationship with money can fuel many evils such as greed and covetousness, but it can also help fuel and grow the kingdom of God.

Jesus also said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

As you consider giving us an estimate of your next year’s giving, you might consider how your giving contributes to the kingdom of God while it helps you grow in First Things.

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First Things

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:33-34 ESV

I know, even though this is familiar, these verses don’t stand alone very well. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” comes at the end of a discourse that starts with, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus is calling our attention to the most important things, away from our material passions. The most important things are what I’m calling First Things. Hold that thought because I write next week about how First Things relate to the stewardship of money.

What I want to do in this article is to outline what we are going to be doing about stewardship for the next few weeks. Last Sunday was the soft kick-off of our annual financial stewardship campaign. This had been preceded with a Sunday Bible College lesson about tithing the week before. If you missed the lesson, you can find it on our web site.

A box has been placed in the nave where you may deposit a small card with your 2017 estimated tithes and offerings. (You may be familiar with congregations that run “Pledge Campaigns.” We don’t do that, and the card you give us is not a pledge. These cards are treated confidentially and are only seen by the treasurer. If you have questions about this, please ask me.) We collect these little cards for two reasons. One, is that it gives us a chance to teach and encourage about the stewardship of money. The second reason we do this is that your input on those little cards helps the Vestry prepare a meaningful and realistic 2017 budget with confidence. Over the last several years almost 100 percent of the congregation has participated for which we are truly grateful. Thank you.

To be honest, compared to most parishes, we don’t run much of a campaign. We don’t hold any high-pressure (or any other) commitment events. The “finance gang” (we don’t really have one) won’t come knocking on your door. What we do want is for you to feel right about your participation and for you to be well informed. The most important outcome of this campaign is that it makes a small contribution towards appropriate, thoughtful, cheerful, and generous giving without any pressure, compulsion, or sense of guilt.

If we haven’t gotten a card from you by the end of November, we will mail a letter to you with a card and envelope that you can mail back to the parish or place in the weekly offering. We don’t want to make guesses about your future giving without your input.

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Treasure in Heaven

Jesus said, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 ESV

Outside of our annual campaigns, we don’t talk or teach very much specifically about the stewardship of money or giving to the church. That doesn’t mean that money isn’t important to us. Holy Trinity literally lives off of our offerings. This is the income the parish uses to meet its everyday household and business expenses and to provide decently for our rector and his family. Beyond that, tithes and offerings are the fuel that powers the ministry of Holy Trinity here and beyond.

On another level, God cares deeply about our relationship with money, wealth, and possessions. St. Paul writes, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 And Jesus said, No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:24

The love of money is idolatry which destroys the relationship between man and God. One of the best cures is to give some (or a lot) of it away in godly ways to help the dispossessed and the work of the church. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

At this stage of our annual stewardship campaign, we are not seeking offerings. We aren’t even seeking a promise for offerings in the future. Instead, we ask every household to prayerfully make a best guess, good-faith estimate of their 2016 tithes and offerings, and to turn that in on a 2016 Estimated Tithes and Offerings card. Your faithfulness in doing that will bless us more than you can imagine.

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(As published as part of Holy Trinity Anglican Church’s 2015 Annual Stewardship Campaign My Cup Overflows, Week 3, 11/22/2015)

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