November 14, 2021
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
Well today is our final stewardship emphasis Sunday! I’m surprised that didn’t get an applause. I’ve had people say to me over the past few weeks, “I know these sermons are hard ones to give.” And honestly, they aren’t. I love talking about stewardship, because it’s really about the heart of what we believe about God and life. God is a giver, and life is its most beautiful when we give. The root word of gift in Greek is grace. Grace makes life beautiful. So I love talking about stewardship.
So let me start by recapping some themes we’ve touched on these past several weeks. We’ve been looking at Paul’s discussion of giving with the Corinthians, noting that Paul is trying to inspire the Corinthians to return to taking a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. And we’ve noted several points Paul has made in these chapters:
• Generosity involves everything we have. Its not just our money. Stewardship
involves all God gives us which God can use to better the world.
• God is the source of our blessings. Everything we have comes from God. We are
just temporary renters.
• Generosity is contagious. Others get inspired by generous people
• When we live generously, life is generous to us.
• Generosity should come from a desire, not guilt.
• God doesn’t expect us to do more than we can.
• Generosity gets to the heart of spiritual maturity. That’s why we called this series
For Mature Audiences. Paul’s main concern was helping people mature in their faith, which meant becoming like Christ, which meant being people of grace.
So today we wrap up the series and in a few minutes we will share in our annual ritual of filling out our pledge cards and bringing them forward. If you are new to St. Luke’s you may not be familiar with pledging. The pledge is simply an estimate of what we hope to be able to give in the coming year. Its not mandatory. Again, as Paul made clear, if giving is something we have to do, we aren’t really giving. But our pledges, which are seen only by our Finance Department, help the church accurately plan for the coming year. It also helps us to be intentional about keeping the church in our financial planning.
But pledging is more, much more. It is something that should be deeply meaningful in a spiritual way. Just how so?
I thought I might give you my own personal answer to that question this morning and tell you why I pledge. I have never done that before. I’ve talked about the importance of pledging in general, but I’ve never really expressed what it means to me. So I wanted to share with you why I pledge. This is not meant to be something you should agree with and say, “this is how we ought to approach pledging.” Not at all. I just hope it might help you think about your own life and might be the deeper meaning behind this act.
But before I do this, I want to share an experience from the Normandy trip Susan and I made with Carver and Marianne McGriff last month. On our last day in Normandy we went to the American cemetery where there are over 29,000 graves of American soldiers who fought there. I had always wanted to see this spot and it was as beautiful and sacred as I imagined. The graves had the names, rank, and date of death of each soldier. But there were numerous tombs of soldiers who could not be identified. Their nametags no doubt came off in battle. Without anyway of finding names by the time they needed to bury these soldiers, the tombs were simply marked, Known but to God.”
Unknown but to God. That epithet is not only a fitting tribute for this Sunday after Veterans’ Day, but I want to use it to reflect on Paul’s closing words about giving to the Corinthians and think about why I pledge.
For one reason, I pledge as an expression of trust in God. I don’t know about you, but my trust in God sometimes gets weak, and I need to remember God is looking after me. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” (v.10) In other words, God is looking after us, and most of the time we have no way of knowing just how much so. When I pledge my gifts to God, I am expressing trust that God will supply my ability to be a blessing. I trust that I will discover how God is looking out for me.
When I went to my first church in the mountains of North Carolina it was in a very rural community without many neighbors. Nearly all of the people in the church were two generations older than me. I was terribly lonely. I remembered thinking after just a few months, “I don’t know if I can stay in ministry if it feels like this.”
Then one day I got a brochure in the mail from Joe Hale the director of the World Methodist Council. It was advertising a trip to Greece and Turkey where the church creeds were written. The cost was about three months of my salary at the time. I put it in the trash because I thought, “I’ll never be able to go on a trip like that.”
About a week later Joe called asking if I received the brochure. I said, “Yes,” and was about to say, “but I can’t afford to go,” when Joe butted in. He said, “I have a friend in Texas named Jimmy Davis who is providing a full scholarship for a young pastor and I want to give it to you.” I said, “And Joe I’ve been meaning to call you back to say how interested I am.”
So I went and met someone else who was on the trip, a young woman named Susan Wilke, who just over a year later became Susan Fuquay. Susan and I would both come to learn that Jimmy Davis, the person responsible for my being able to go on that trip, was also a key supporter of the ministry led by Susan’s sister Sarah in Dallas, TX. Now who but God? Our who life together, our three girls, wouldn’t have happened without a gift that showed God was looking out for me before I even knew it.
Pledging is important to me, because it’s a trust that there are good things to look forward to in life Unknown but to God.
Another reason I pledge is this: I pledge because I believe God does more with my gifts than I realize. Look again at what Paul says in verse 11: “…for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings.” (v.11)
Wouldn’t you like to know what Paul meant by the second part of that sentence—“overflows with many thanksgivings?” He reminds the Corinthians that their gifts help the saints, the poor, in Jerusalem, yes, but it also “overflows.” What do you think Paul was talking about?
One of the motivations for Paul’s emphatic appeal to the Corinthians to resume this collection is one we haven’t talked about yet—strengthening the Jewish-Gentile relationship. The decision to open the door to non-Jewish people seemed decisive when you read Acts 15, but in reality it was a different matter. Many Jewish members of the church looked for ways to exclude and deny Gentiles from full inclusion in the church. There was constant friction in the church over treating Gentiles as full members.
Paul knew that if the Jewish widows in Jerusalem were supported by the gifts of Gentile church members in Greece, it would go a long way to bridging that divide. Their gift could have a value far beyond their realization.
Our giving to God usually does! We may give for a specific cause or purpose but God will often do things with our gifts that bring benefits beyond what we ever intended and sometimes don’t even know.
Back in 2017, the year of my 30th anniversary in ministry, Garrett Seminary, where I am on the board of Trustees, established a scholarship in my name. Many of you give to it, as do I. Not long ago I got a letter from the first recipient of the scholarship, a young Korean student. He wrote to say he would never have been able to come to Garrett in Evanston, Illinois without the help of this scholarship. Then he went on to say that while at Garrett he met a young woman, the love of his life and now they are married and even have a son! Then he said, “all of this is because of you. My wife and I have a baby because of you.” I wrote to tell him how honored I was but he might want to be careful how he says that.
In truth, many of you who have given to that scholarship are equally responsible for a marriage and a child you didn’t even know about! When we give to God, God will do things with our gifts that often are Unknown but to God. That’s why I love pledging, because I know God will do more than I even know about, but I believe one day I will know. I believe heaven will be an experience where get to see what all God did through our generosity, and if there were any regrets in heaven it would be that once we wished we did even more, because here and now, when we are generous we may wonder, we may even have regrets thinking, “Did someone take advantage of my generosity?” But one day we will have the experience of realizing the many greater ways God used our generosity to give life and change lives.
But let me share one last reason I pledge. This is really the most important one. I pledge because it gives me a ritual to mark the person I truly want to be. There’s nowhere else I give that I get to have a ritual. The bank doesn’t come each year and give me a ritual to celebrate that I still get to payoff my house. The schools I support, the charities I support, they don’t give me a ritual. But the church gives me a ritual, and it means more than just giving to the church. It’s a ritual that reminds me who I really am.
Again, Paul reminds the Corinthians that by their giving, “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion…” (v.11 NIV) That’s who I really want to be, someone who is generous on every occasion. I don’t want to be someone who becomes consumed with consuming. If we aren’t intentional that is what our world will do to us. Our whole economy is based on the need to have more, to be convinced that we can’t be happy unless we have more.
Did you realize that the average new home in the 1970’s was 1,650 square feet, but today is over 2500 square feet. And, of course, what do we need to do with bigger homes? Buy more stuff to go in them. And if you’ve ever shopped for a loan to see how much you could get and used one of those loan calculators, then you have to respond to all kinds of questions about how much you make and where your money goes. But one question they never ask is what you give away. They never ask what is your commitment to generosity. The reason is our world bets on our being more concerned about what we can get than what we can give.
If I’m not careful I can get lost in that. I can start to believe that it’s the stuff I have that gives my life meaning. It’s the things I have that make me matter.
Do you remember these jackets—Member’s Only jackets. When I was in college they were cool. If you wanted to be cool you needed a Member’s Only jacket. Today when I see a picture of me from that time wearing a Member’s Only jacket, I think, “Who ever thought that was cool?” But one of the reasons I think we thought it was cool was Michael Jackson. MJ wore jackets that looked like these, and we all wanted to be cool like Michael Jackson. He was like the most popular person on the planet. Everyone wanted to be Michael Jackson, but looked what happened to him. We would find out later that he had pain in his life that was Unknown but to God.
Think of how many pop stars for whom that is true. People start styling their hair to look like them and wear clothes like them, and only later we find out that while we wish we could be like them, inside they would do anything to trade their lives for someone else. And we find out that no matter what’s on the outside, it doesn’t change what’s on the inside.
And what we all need inside is this knowledge that we matter, that we are accepted, that we are important. That is what God wants to give us. That is what God wants us to know. I’ve heard it said that if God had a refrigerator you’re picture would be on it. If God carried a wallet your picture would be in it. If God used a cellphone God would bore the angels in heaven showing them the latest pictures of you. Because that’s how much you mean to God.
And when I pledge, as strange as it sounds, I remember that. This ritual is an opportunity to pause and remember why I want to give. Its because of what I have been given, because of the love and worth and meaning God gives me. And when I give I am participating in God’s design for life. A seed has to be given, it has to be planted in order to become new fruit. An acorn has to die and fall into the earth in order to become a new tree. God gave his Son who freely gave of his life, so that we can receive life. This is God’s design. And I want to participate in what God is doing to give life and hope to the world. I want to generous on every occasion, because what matters most is being a child of God and being able to let God’s love flow through me.
So what does pledging mean to you? If you would like to participate in this ritual, I invite you to take out your pledge card…
As we fill out, you can watch a video of images showing us what has happened in ministry over this past year, things made possible because of this ritual we performed one year ago. Look at what God has done through our generosity. After the video, then I will lead us in prayer and as we sing our closing song we can bring our cards forward…(video)