Sermon preached for World Communion Sunday at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church.
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord! Bless his name!
Share the news of his saving work every single day!
Declare God’s glory among the nations;
declare his wondrous works among all people
because the Lord is great and so worthy of praise.
He is awesome beyond all other gods
because all the gods of the nations are just idols,
but it is the Lord who created heaven!
Greatness and grandeur are in front of him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Give to the Lord, all families of the nations—
give to the Lord glory and power!
Give to the Lord the glory due his name!
Enter his courtyards!
Bow down to the Lord in his holy splendor!
Tremble before him, all the earth!
Tell the nations, “The Lord rules!
Yes, he set the world firmly in place;
it won’t be shaken.
He will judge all people fairly.”
Let heaven celebrate! Let the earth rejoice!
Let the sea and everything in it roar!
Let the countryside and everything in it celebrate!
Then all the trees of the forest too
will shout out joyfully
before the Lord because he is coming!
He is coming to establish justice on the earth!
He will establish justice in the world rightly.
He will establish justice among all people fairly.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
We all know that there are words that are not appropriate for church. Words that have no place in a sanctuary dedicated to the Lord.
But I would like to take one word off that list, and talk about it today.
The word is money.
I’m not even going to use the euphemisms. (Treasure. Gifts. Blessings. Tithes.) We’re gonna call money, money.
Now I know that some of you are already uncomfortable. I have heard from more than one churchgoer—not here, but elsewhere—that if they come into a church and hear the preacher talking about money, it makes them want to get up and leave.
I get why.
Money makes us anxious. Financial stress, in our personal lives and in our institutions, is one of the biggest stressors facing Americans. And preachers have often talked about giving to the church in terms that make us feel guilty. As if our worth and our pledge statements had something to do with each other.
Pro tip: they don’t.
Because it can bring up such strong feelings, most of us are bad at talking about money. Some of this is based on the ways our families of origin talked—or didn’t talk—about money. Some of this is based on our class. Some of it is based on our generation.
Generally speaking, older generations have given to institutions, quietly, routinely, and almost exclusively, whether that’s the church, the Red Cross, or the Audubon Society. Those of us in younger generations tend to give instead to individual asks and crisis causes—to specific, limited fundraisers. Just for fun, I counted up the number of fundraisers on my Facebook page on Tuesday—recognizing that Facebook doesn’t even show you everything. I had nine. Nine different people in one day asking for money for nine truly excellent causes. It’s easy to feel bombarded and overwhelmed.
If I’m reading the research right, I’m going to make everyone a bit uncomfortable with a sermon like this one. For those of you who prefer to give your money and not speak of it again, I ask for your patience, cause we’re gonna talk money. For those of you who prefer to give to causes rather than institutions, I ask your patience, because we’re going to talk about the church, and why we need regularly-given money to do the things God has called us to do.
God created the church with a purpose. The church is to be Christ’s body on earth—and what did Christ do? He prayed. He healed. He shared food. He taught. He connected people with each other. He spoke up for the vulnerable and outsider. He spoke God’s truths, even when it wasn’t popular. He gave people compassion and hope.
God created the church to carry on Christ’s missions. If we didn’t have a dime, we would still find a way to be the church. But money is one of the tools we use to strengthen our missions, a resource we can draw on to teach and worship and connect and serve more effectively.
Earlier I read the description of the very first church from Acts. I suspect Luke was recalling it with rose-colored glasses, but still I give thanks for the vision it gives us of what church could and should be.
“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.”
You can hear the four missions of God’s church, collected in one simple sentence.
The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching—to the formation of their own faith.
They devoted themselves to the community—to serving their neighbors.
They devoted themselves to their shared meals—to connecting with each other in fellowship.
And they devoted themselves to their prayers—to worshipping God.
These are the missions of the church universal, boiled down to basics. And, funnily enough, if you look at your handout, these are also four of the five missions of Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church. When you give your money to this church, this is what it goes to.
Those of you who are pie chart junkies will notice that there is a fifth category as well, labeled “reducing our debt.” This is not a universal mission of the church, but in having conversations with members of this congregation, I think it’s fair to consider it a particular mission of this congregation, as a way of being financially responsible. We are paying down our debt both to keep our promises and to free up our resources for the other four missions we hold dear.
The budget you have in your hands probably looks different than the budget you expect to see from this church, so I want to take a few moments to explain the whats, hows, and whys.
When you look at our traditional budget—and don’t worry, you will be getting one of those to see too—the two biggest expenses by far are the building costs and the pastor’s salary. Which, I have to tell you, makes preaching stewardship season hecka awkward for me, because there is the inescapable fact that I’m kind of up here to fundraise my own salary. Which feels icky and unholy, and so my impulse is to sort of bypass that fact. But I’m making an effort to be more transparent, and so here we are: my salary is a huge part of our budget. I am so beyond grateful that you have made the choice to support a full-time pastor—not a choice you necessarily had to make. I happen to think it was a smart choice for the strength and health of this church, even though it has meant sacrifices elsewhere (I’m looking at you, people who scrub the toilets). There’s nothing shameful about the fact that you all have chosen to support trained, full-time pastoral leadership. And I’m extra super duper thankful that that happens to be me, cause I really love y’all. In case you couldn’t tell.
All that said, God did not create this church for the purpose—for the mission—of paying my salary and my bills. God did not create this church for the purpose of maintaining a building. The building and my time are both tools this congregation can use to carry out our real missions—worshipping God, forming faith, serving neighbors, connecting in fellowship, and reducing debt.
To better show how we are financially supporting our five missions, our core purposes, the budget you have in your hands distributes the money you all gave this last year into the mission it actually supports. For example, I estimated that I spend about 40% of my time preparing for worship, so 40% of the money you all give to support my salary really goes to support our church’s mission of worshipping God. Our building is used about 20% of the time for worship services, so the money you all give to maintain and equip this sanctuary really goes to support our church’s mission of worshipping God. The money we pay Tony and Josh allows them to share their incredible musical gifts with us in leading us to worship God. The money we use to lease the copier and buy ink and paper provide us with bulletins to help us worship with ease and clarity.
Money doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Money has a mission.
One of my favorite financial truths is that budgets are moral documents. Budgets show what we care about, what we’re willing to sacrifice for. And our budget from 2018 shows that we have made worshipping God a priority in our life together. I think that’s entirely appropriate.
Worshipping God is what sets us apart as a church from any number of other social clubs or charity organizations. Simply put, worship is the lynchpin of our life together. Everything else we do, we do because of the strength and grace and wisdom we receive when we take the time to rest and worship God. Worship is where we are reminded that everything we do, we do in gratitude to the God who created, chose, saves, and loves us beyond all measure. Worship is where we are united with the billions of God’s people across the world and throughout the ages who have knelt before God in praise, all the way back to the psalmist who called her people to sing to the lord a new song.
It is a lovely coincidence that today happens to be World Communion Sunday, a day when we celebrate what Christians across the world have in common—a mission to worship, learn, serve, and connect with each other. It is good to remember that there are congregations in every corner of this globe who are striving to live out the goodness of God—that we are not alone in the missions God has given us. Some of our sister churches have much more money than we do. Some have much, much less. But imagine what we could all do, together, if we were united in our purpose to be Christ’s healing, giving, loving body here on earth. Just imagine what we could do if we had our priorities straight. Christianity changed the world once. It could do it again.
When you make your pledge this year, your promise to support us with your money, you will be pledging to help keep worship a priority at this church. To help provide your brothers and sisters in Christ with worship that is rich and meaningful, in a space that is safe and hospitable. You will be making a promise to band together with the other people in this room to be Christ’s body, kneeling in prayer to his Father. You will be making a promise to yourself, that worship means something real to you, something worth sacrificing for, something worth your generosity.
The budget you have in your hands is based off the current year’s numbers. I don’t yet know what this coming year’s budget will look like—probably not wildly different, but some of the numbers may shift around. What I do know is that we have had a strong budget this year, created by incredible generosity from you all, and I think it has shown through in the strength of our ministries. If we can stay on target next year, it will keep us in a position of strength. If we can increase our budget next year, because you have found a way to increase your giving, that will only give us more tools to work with as we carry out God’s mission for the church.
Over the next month, I will be talking about each of the missions God has laid out for us. Some may call to you more strongly than others; one might take priority in your life, based on your own personality and passions. But I give thanks that you have made a choice, like those first believers in the church of Acts, to share everything in common; to commit to not just your vision of church but God’s vision of church, to give money that you have worked for so that others might have hope, food, friendship, healing.
Money isn’t everything. Not by a long shot. I wish there was a way to tally up the hours you all spend working and teaching and praying and cooking and practicing songs and yes, scrubbing toilets. By those calculations, I think our budget would be truly astronomical.
But what money—and in particular, pledges of money—can do is give us flexibility. If we had to do a fundraiser every time we needed more printer paper, or every time the electric bill was due, we’d never have time to do anything else. Stewardship season frees the leadership of this church to spend its time carrying out the missions God has called us to, trusting in the generosity of its members to provide the money that we need to do it most effectively.
Everything about stewardship—about giving our money to the church—is counter-cultural. In a world where the consumer is king and money is power, giving our money to the church means giving up privileges and pride. It means taking what could have made us feel more important, or more comfortable, or more powerful, and placing it in the service of God and neighbor. When you give, you are showing the world that there is another way to live: a way that puts the “we” before the “I,” a way that sees money as a tool instead of a master, a way that says living out God’s goodness is more significant than anything on the sale rack at Target. When you give, when you open your hands and trust us—your session, your treasurer, your pastor, and your committees—with your money, you are showing the world that it does not have to be suspicious and afraid. That there are communities that are working hard to lift each other up, to provide for each other, to heal each other, and to do it all not for reward or status, but simply because of love.
Giving money is an act of love, pure and simple. One of a thousand acts of love that I get to witness in this congregation every. single. week.
You could be at home with an online devotional for free. But this congregation gives so that we can all worship God together, because we believe—more than that, we have seen—that we are stronger together.
For God’s church, its strength, its beauty, and its goodness, I give thanks. Amen.