SCRIPTURE LESSON: Genesis 1: 26-31

We Support the Church Financially

On our way to Pentecost this Eastertide, we have been thinking together about the covenant promises we make when we join Community Spirit Church.

Thus far we have touched upon these commitments: to pray regularly for this church and its pastor, to worship regularly, to live into our Relational Covenant, to participate in the church’s programs, and to serve the church in life-giving and Spirit-led ways.

Now this morning, we are considering our vow to support the church financially.

This pledge is straightforward and obvious. As we fulfill our kingdom potential, as we become the blessing God has created us to be, we naturally incur expenses. And so we pool our financial resources to meet those expenses, just as we pool our prayers, time, and talents God has bestowed upon us.

And yet as straightforward and obvious as this commitment is, there is more to it than meets the eye.

In his book on the spirituality of giving, the late Henri Nouwen says that we each have a money story—a collection of influences and experiences that together shape our beliefs around money. Our habits, too.

Some of our money story influences are unique to us, some we have inherited from our families, and some arise from our communities, cultures, as well as current events.

Over the years, I have noticed how my money story differs from that of my mother. A baby boomer, I grew up in an era marked by economic growth and prosperity, and this colors how I think about and relate to money.

My mother was born during the Depression; that season of economic collapse greatly affected her family and, as a result, has shaped her thoughts about and relationship to money.

When I lived on the Navajo Nation, I learned plenty about how my money story was shaped by my social location. And how my Navajo boyfriend’s money story was shaped by his.

As people of faith, each of our money stories are meant to intersect with our origin story, the “great story” we have inherited from our Judeo-Christian tradition. This story begins in Genesis with God creating out of chaos and creating what God then regards as good and very good.

Inspired by love, what God creates is lavish and lovely, beautiful and bountiful. What God creates is diverse and interdependent.

Living in our own version of Eden here in western Colorado, it is easy to be bowled over by the scope and passion that attended God’s original vision and which continues to play out moment by moment, eon by eon.

Being bowled over is just part of our response, of course. We are also deeply moved and maybe even astonished all over again when we let ourselves contemplate not just what God brought out of chaos at the dawn of time but by God’s next move.

Do you remember what God did? God took everything God created, every rock and river, every bird and blossom, every field and flower, every vein of gold and teeming sea, and God placed it all in human hands to manage and utilize.

Here, this is yours now to care for and use as you see fit,” God said in the beginning of our great story.

Rarely have I felt this free. This trusting. This generous. This confident in the capacity of others to act wisely and well. If you raised teenagers and handed over car keys on a Friday night, you know what I’m talking about.

Think about this with me. Having just created paradise, God decides to give it all up to us. God hoards nothing. God keeps nothing in reserve. God doesn’t create any qualifiers, doesn’t say “After you all prove yourselves, then we’ll talk about your inheritance here.”

No, God gathers up creation, ties it up in a bow of love, and says with eyes filled with caring and hope “Here. All this is yours to use and care for.”

And generations later, Jesus comes and follows suit. Jesus gives everything he has away, too. He holds nothing in reserve. He hoards nothing—not his time or his gifts or even his life. Anchored in love for God and for us, Jesus simply gives everything away, his eyes filled with the same love and hope that filled the eyes of God that first week of creation.

Both our great story and Jesus’ have the power to inform how we think about what we have, including our financial resources.

Both stories are meant to challenge us to move into that spiritual space that calls forth whole-heartedness, that calls forth generosity, that evokes in us a love-drenched, hope-filled confidence that our giving can and will make all the difference in the world, just as God’s giving has, just as Jesus’ giving has.

Last week as we thought together about our service to the church, both within and beyond our walls, I said that the church has often missed the mark by saying “We need warm bodies. Someone, anyone will do.” I asked: Where is the joy here? The expansion of our souls? A sense of true meaning and purpose that is meant to attend our service?

Sadly, the church does this same thing with regard to the financial support of the church. Too often the message the church has telegraphed to its members is “We need your money.” And this too is short-sighted and so easily fails us.

When we are living out of the great story in Genesis, a story enfleshed and amplified in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then what the church needs isn’t your money. What it needs, really, is your generosity.

Let me repeat that: When we are living out of the great story of Genesis, a story enfleshed and amplified in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, then what we need isn’t your money but rather your generosity.

Our financial contributions are simply the means by which our generosity is conveyed. A generosity that does not begin and end with us but rather is rooted in our lives in God, our lives in Christ, and our life in the Spirit who is ever on the move for the sake of love and justice.

A church will have bills. Why? Because it has a calling. And that calling, like generosity, does not originate with us. It comes through us. It is expressed through us. And no matter its denomination or dogma, every church’s calling in grounded in God’s generous, generative vision for all that God has created, is creating, and has yet to create.

Years ago I served a church that suffered a significant financial shortfall. A concerned member came to the Moderator and said “I did the math. If each household would just contribute $50 more per month for the remainder of the year, we would be set.”

As much as I loved that this parishioner was concerned and looking for a solution to the church’s situation, my pastor’s heart was broken too. Churches have bills to pay, yes, but deeper still churches have callings, have claims God has placed on them. This is why we give. To enable God’s vision to come into fullness in our midst, through our generosity.

His was a church that had a tremendous gift God was calling it to give to its community. That church was a haven of hospitality and solidarity for the LGBTQ community. They were a place of healing for those whose religious experience had been hurtful or harmful or simply too small for the expansive spirits of some. This church was a community gathered in love who had more love to give than they knew what to do with.

Unfortunately, giving there had come to be separated from the church’s calling. It had been reduced to pragmatics. “Hey, we have bills.” Somewhere along the way their money story got divorced from the great story of God’s profound generosity and confidence in all that God has created.

Now they were on their own to address their shortfall and watching this made my heart hurt. Because the God they were seeking to serve, the God they were wanting to make real, the God they were hoping to glorify was not part of their shared money story.

Back when I was working in higher education, a grad student from the African country of Burkina Faso told me a fable from his culture that explained why it is that human beings have to work to eat.

This was not God’s original design. No, in the very beginning all anyone who was hungry had to do was reach up into the sky, grab a piece of cloud, and eat it. It was delicious and nourishing and incredibly satisfying. And everyone was full, everyone was content.

After a time, it struck someone that a bit of cloud could be quietly tucked in a pocket to eat later. And so rather than relying on God’s abundant provision, the people began to rely on themselves and their cleverness.

When God caught wind of this, God cried for a time and then pulled the clouds further up into the sky, beyond the reach of human arms and human hands. And from then on, people had to work for money to buy the food that had been so generously provided by a God who loved them.

This story reminds me of the one we have in Exodus where God feeds a pilgrim people with manna each morning. There was more than enough for all to eat. More than enough to get them through the day. And even still, in their fear of scarcity, in their inability to trust God’s faithfulness, the people began gathering up the manna and tucking it away. Only to discover that in doing this, the manna spoiled and was inedible. The people’s fear of not having enough became its own sad punishment.

Humans often do not act wisely when they are afraid and especially when they are afraid there will not be enough of something.

We’ve seen that this week as Americans in some parts of the country have raced to the gas pumps with Rubbermaid tubs, orange Home Depot buckets and yes, even garbage bags to secure enough of what is in short supply.

I told Mary Loncar this week that as far as I can tell, one of the most dangerous words in the English language is… can you guess it? It’s “mine.”

The only time God says “mine” is when God looks at us. We have had God’s favor, God’s heart from day one—and always will. Everything else falls into God’s great “yours,” a gesture so profoundly generous and trusting we can never fully comprehend it.

The church doesn’t need our checks. It needs our generosity. Not because it has bills to pay but because it has a deep calling to move in the world saying, as God does, “here’s evidence of my love, and here’s more evidence of this love, and here’s yet more evidence.”

Go and be fruitful, God says in the beginning, smiling to Godself because here’s a secret we are still only just beginning to trust—inside every fruit is a seed to assure even more fruit will come into being.

Generosity begets generosity. Abundance births abundance. And we are here to learn this, trust this, teach this, practice this, and celebrate this. For our great joy and God’s great glory.

Let us pray:

For the gift of life, we give you thanks O God. For those who have shown us your face, your love, your generosity, we praise you. For the ample and awesome gifts of creation, for the on-going assurance of your abundance, we are your grateful people. Free us from fears of not enough. Mend our money stories when they do not serve us. Root us in our calling, as individuals and as a community, that your abundance might flow through us freely and fully, today and every day.