Presented by Deborah Rexrode
I want to invite you to close your eyes for a minute and try to recall your earliest memory of giving or receiving. Was it a special birthday gift or anniversary gift? Maybe it was an “unexpected” gift you received or gave. Now think about your earliest memory of making a gift to the church. How old were you? Did someone give you the means to make that gift? Now I invite you to open your eyes and for another moment look around you. Look at all that we have been given. Take in the beauty of the people surrounding you, those here in the pews and those who form the cloud of witnesses surrounding us who have gone before to pave the way. Think about the relationships, the friendships, and the special way that you are connected. If you are new to this congregation or maybe a visitor today, can you feel the love that surrounds this community of faith?
When I pause to recall my earliest memory of giving or receiving, one of those is having received this Bible from my grandmother. She gave it to me on my 14th birthday. It’s gotten pretty tattered over the years, and the cover has yellowed, but I will cherish this Bible forever because I loved my Nana and she’s no longer with me. A couple of years ago, my granddaughter gave me this butterfly ring. Now it is not a ring that I would have bought for myself, but my granddaughter told the store clerk that she was sure her Nana would love it because it was from her. And you know what, she was right. It is definitely not something I might have purchased but I wear it when I’m with her to let her know how much the gift means to me. Giving and receiving is a part of who we are. It’s a part of our DNA. It brings satisfaction and joy. Often we are blessed more by the giving than the receiving.
I’m also reminded that some of the most precious gifts we give and receive are not tangible things, and they didn’t cost any money at all. It’s the time we spend with our children and grandchildren or the children in the nursery. It’s the relationship we’ve built and nurtured with our friends and our family. It’s the love we show for one another and the love we extend to others outside these walls and even outside the boundaries of our community and our country. It’s the way we live our lives each and every day taking care to be good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us. It’s the way we care for our earth and our planet. It’s the way we express ourselves and our faith in our daily living. It’s the way we manage our emotions, our abundant joy and our deepest sadness. It’s the way we use our God-given talents, whatever they may be.
Many Biblical scholars and commentators and pastors might find themselves using this scripture to talk about the wealthy. It does say, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches.” The more likely scenario would be that pastors might avoid preaching on this particular passage of scripture at all. That is often the case with the many scriptures in the Bible on money and wealth. Most of us read this scripture and think that it is not intended for us because we don’t consider ourselves to be wealthy. And yet, as you looked around the room today, you may have also noticed this beautiful church building in which we have come to worship God, the magnificent organ that brings us rich music. We worship in perfectly conditioned temperatures to keep us comfortable, and we all came to church today dressed splendidly. We may not be wealthy according to the world’s standards, but we are indeed rich.
This is the time in this kind of sermon when we all begin to squirm and feel real uncomfortable because we know have been given much. We’re pretty sure the next thing the preacher is going to talk about is how much we give or don’t give. I want to reassure you right now that is not the direction of my message to you today. In last week’s lectionary scriptures, John recalled the words of Jesus when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” You see I’m more intrigued by the part of the scripture today that tells us what we should do to lay a good foundation for the future and to learn how to live the kind of life that really is life-giving, fulfilling, satisfying, and rich toward God.
In 1904 William Borden graduated from a Chicago high school. As heir to the Borden family fortune, he was already wealthy. For his high school graduation present, his parents gave 16-year-old Borden a trip around the world. As the young man traveled through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, he felt a growing burden for the world's hurting people. Finally, Bill Borden wrote home about his "desire to be a missionary." One friend expressed disbelief that Bill was "throwing himself away as a missionary." A story often associated with Borden says that, in response, he wrote two words in the back of his Bible: "No reserves."
Even though young Borden was wealthy, he arrived on the campus of Yale University in 1905 trying to look like just one more freshman. Very quickly, however, Borden's classmates noticed something unusual about him and it wasn't that he had lots of money. One of them wrote: "He came to college far ahead, spiritually, than of any of us. He had already given his heart in full surrender to Christ. We who were his classmates learned to lean on him and find in him a strength that was solid as a rock, just because of this settled purpose and consecration."
Borden's missionary call narrowed to the Muslim Kansu people in China. Once he fixed his eyes on that goal, Borden never wavered. Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to "realize always that he must be about his Father's business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement." Upon graduation from Yale, Borden turned down some high-paying job offers. It has been reported that on this date, Bill Borden wrote two more words in his Bible: "No retreats."
William Borden went on to do graduate work at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. When he finished his studies at Princeton, he sailed for China. Because he was hoping to work with Muslims, he stopped first in Egypt to study Arabic. While there, he contracted spinal meningitis. Within a month, 25-year-old William Borden was dead. He bequeathed $1 million to the China Inland Mission he sought to serve. When the news of William Whiting Borden's death was cabled back to the U.S., the story was carried by nearly every American newspaper. "Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice" wrote Mary Taylor in her introduction to his biography. As the story has it, prior to his death, Borden had written two more words in the back of his Bible, “No regrets.” Borden lived his life with no reservations, no retreating when it got tough, and no regrets. Borden lived his life joyfully and died faithful to his call.
Paul says to Timothy, “Flee from all of this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” If we’re going to really live today, then we must live forward; we must seize the future. We must run from those things that would tie us down to this life; pursue those things that will last forever; and fight for what we believe in as followers of Christ.
In his book, “Falling Upward,” Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, talks about the two halves of our life. Now he’s not talking explicitly about the two halves of our life chronologically. He’s actually referring to the way we live our lives in what may seem like two distinct halves. We spend a lot of time in the early years of our life becoming educated, establishing a career, building a family, acquiring and accumulating - building social capital, building financial capital, making connections, fitting it all together. Then we begin to wonder what to do with all that we have, do we have enough to retire, should we downsize, what will happen to all that we have accumulated - our stocks, our bonds, our portfolios? We also watch our children become parents and homeowners and give thanks for their independence.
Rohr says our spiritual lives sometimes ebb and flow through these two halves of life in much the same way. We begin to learn lessons of faith in Sunday school and in church on Sunday morning. Some of it sinks in deep but gets a little stuck there as we maneuver through the transitions of our young adult lives. Then we remember those lessons as we turn to the church for comfort and strength when we receive a health diagnosis or we go through a divorce, we lose our job or our spouse or our parents. We give thanks that the church remained a part of our inner being and is still there as a beacon to guide us through the difficult times. We also realize the church is there for the celebrations and the joys of our lives. It’s the place where we get to live out those lessons we learned as a child of how important it is to give to others in need.
I wonder how many of you when you were asked to recall your earliest memory of giving and receiving recalled your grandmother or mother handing you a coin in church to put in the offering plate. Maybe you had your own offering envelopes as a child or a youth and you were encouraged by your parents to put part of your allowance in the envelope to bring to church every Sunday. Those were teachable moments that last a lifetime. Giving and receiving are part of our DNA. It brings us joy and fulfillment. Paul says to Timothy, “Do good, be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
Kurt Warner, the two-time NFL MVP quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals, started a family tradition he calls The Restaurant Game. The night before he would head out for a road game, Kurt and his wife would take their seven children out to eat a family dinner. Once the Warner family was seated, one of the children would scan the dining area like a quarterback looking for potential receivers. When the Warner child had picked a table, Kurt would ask the waiter to add that table’s dinner tab to his - all anonymously. An unsuspecting family would receive a free meal without knowing it from an NFL star.
The idea for The Restaurant Game to Warner and his wife after his first Super Bowl win. They remembered the days when Kurt was working a night shift at a grocery store, and they only had food stamps to feed their family. With that in mind, giving is a joyful family tradition for the Warners, Kurt said, “We never want our kids to lose sight of what it’s really about.
What would it be like if you were to try something like that? Pay for someone else’s bill anonymously next time you go to a restaurant - maybe today after church. When you go through a toll booth, pay for the person behind you, and then glance in your rearview mirror to see their reaction when they are waved through without having to pay. Pay someone’s utility bill when they can’t afford it. Give more than you dare to those who have real needs. Give more than you’ve ever given before to the ministries you support. Put twice the amount of money in the offering plate than you ever thought about giving before. Consider how you might leave something to your church for the future. Have you remembered the church in your will?
Your Stewardship Committee is planning to implement what is known as a Planned Giving Program in the near future. This is an opportunity for you to consider how your giving and your gifts might benefit the church today and into the future.
When I think about Richard Rohr’s book about the two halves of life, I realize that planned giving should be a part of both halves. It’s the planning we do in our younger years that allows us to accumulate different forms of wealth that we then have the discretion to give to our church and the ministries of our church in our later years. In presentations I make to churches about stewardship, I have what I call, “The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Stewardship.” One of them is that your stewardship can continue even after you die. That’s what Paul means when he tells Timothy to store up treasures for a good foundation for the future.
There is an old saying that money will buy a bed, but not sleep; books, but no brains; food, but not appetite; finery, but no beauty; a house, but not a home; medicine but not health; luxuries but not culture; amusements but not happiness; religion but not salvation; and a passport to everywhere but heaven.
There once was a couple, visiting in Korea who saw a farmer and his son working in a rice paddy. The old man was guiding the heavy plough as the young boy pulled it through the fields. The man said to their guide and interpreter, “I guess that man and his son must be very poor.” “Yes,” replied the guide. “That’s the family of Chi Nevi. When the church was built, they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money. So they sold their ox and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plough themselves. After a long silence, the woman said, “That was a real sacrifice.” The guide responded, “They don’t call it a sacrifice. They are just thankful they had an ox to sell.”
“When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to you - a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant - and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord.”
In the Psalm we read together today, the psalmist says that one generation will laud the works of another, and shall declare God’s mighty acts among you. Think about it…every generation that comes after you will celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. Look around you at all that God has entrusted into your care. Let’s make sure that we are living the life that really is life-giving, living for the future, and giving forward for the next generation of followers of Christ.