Meadowbrook Congregational Church
“Give and Be Gifted”
Rev. Art Ritter
November 8, 2020
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit;
In the past few days, you should have received a letter about your annual financial commitment to the ministry here at Meadowbrook Congregational Church. Inside that letter was an Estimate of Giving card, which we hope that you will pray about, pray over, and return to the church. This is the Sunday of year that we traditionally observe Consecration Sunday. We have sometimes invited a guest speaker to remind us of our financial commitment to the church, viewed especially through the lens of our response of faith to what God has provided for our lives. We then usually meet in Fellowship Hall for a meal celebration. The pandemic has changed all of that.
The pandemic has also changed some practical things. As with most businesses and households, the financial pain created by COVID-19 has affected Meadowbrook Congregational Church. Our Board of Trustees has done a remarkable job of navigating these uncertain waters. They have limited spending to necessary items and technology that benefits our church in this unique time. They successfully applied for the Paycheck Protection Program Loan and it is in the process of turning it into a grant. You have been extremely faithful in remembering your giving and in sending in regular contributions through the mail or through those new-fangled but not really so difficult electronic payment methods. This would be a good time to review your Estimate of Giving for 2020 and doing what you can to keep it up to date.
Yet the road ahead is uncertain. We do not know when the pandemic will ease. We do not know when the financial stress will be lightened. There are monthly bills that must be paid there are financial obligations that the church must meet. Even as the before mentioned PPP loan helped our finances this year, there may not be such a blessing in the year ahead. Sadly, our church fundraisers have had to be canceled. Because of our virtual worship services, the cash that comes through weekly offerings is not part of our revenue. As you know, I will be retiring next spring. While it is not my intention to cause more distress for all of you, I think it is important for the church to be in a good financial position while seeking a new minister. A record of faithful stewardship is a good sign for attracting good candidates.
Before the end of the year the Board of Trustees will have to plan a difficult budget for 2021. That is why they have asked, as indicated in the letter you receive, that at the very least, you maintain your level of giving into the new year. They ask that if at all possible, you increase your estimate of giving for 2021. Please do all that you can to return your Estimate of Giving cards to the church this week. You can even fill one out electronically. The link is in the Monday Messenger and on our website.
There is an old legend about commercial life years ago in England, when they still used the balanced scales to measure grocery and agricultural purchases between farmers and merchants. There was a level of trust involved in the measuring and if the scales used in the transaction were not accurate, trouble ensued. At one time a baker sued a farmer over a pound of butter that he was buying. He said that when he first started buying butter from that farmer, he always received a full pound. But gradually the farmer was selling him less and less butter in each transaction, until he was only getting about three quarters of a pound while still be charged for the full pound. Frustrated, he took the farmer to court. The farmer in his defense before the judge said, “Sir, I only have a balanced scale to measure my butter. I always put the baker’s pound loaf of bread on the other side of the scale and it becomes the scale for the rest of my daily measurements. That is how I know the baker receives his full pound of butter.”
Unfortunately it seems that our annual Cookie Walk will be one of the casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is most unfortunate because the Cookie Walk has been a great fundraiser and it is festive celebration of the Christmas season. One of my favorite memories of the Cookie Walk took place in either the first or second year of the fundraiser. Those familiar with the operation know that once people did their cookie shopping, they had to go to the Christian Education classrooms to have the cookies weighed and to pay for them. The price is always a certain set amount per pound. One year however there was a slight glitch in the checkout process. One of our tables of expert checkout volunteers had set their measuring scales to kilograms instead of pounds. For at least an hour or so, customers at that checkout stand had been purchasing cookies at a discount rate. In fact they were receiving more cookies than they had paid for.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” This teaching of Jesus is part of the so-called Sermon on the Plain from the gospel of Luke. Jesus was speaking to followers who were living in a contentious time. There were disputing views of how to live while waiting for the Kingdom of God to come in its totality. Some advocated violence and resistance to Jewish leaders and Roman officials. Many were taking advantage of the situation by abusing the poor to benefit economically. Other wondered how their faith and their belief in mercy and justice could make a difference in a world in which earthly values seemed to be reflected in the actions and words of most people.
In all of these teachings, Jesus offered his followers guidance as to how they can live and witness faithfully in their specific life situation. His words reflected God’s grace and God’s generous nature in situations of conflict, of judgment, and of forgiveness. Jesus advocated living with a spirit of abundance, recognizing the extravagant love that God brings to our lives and then responding to others in a like fashion. We need to acknowledge God’s goodness, abundance, lavishness, and overflowing love by letting God’s care for us having a profound effect on how we look at the world and how we live our lives.
In the words we hear this morning, Jesus specifically talks about our giving. He warns us that our usual response to our abundance is a fear that we will not have enough. We convince ourselves that what we have is ours because of our work. It is ours to do what we want. Happiness and security come only when we do more for ourselves. In a time of great uncertainty, that reaction becomes stronger and more natural. But Jesus teaches that we are supposed to recognize that what we have is God’s. It is not ours to do with what we want and that more joy can come to our lives if we respond to God’s generosity with generosity of our own. Give and we will receive. Not only a full measure but also an overflowing measure.
There is a story about the Marquis de Lafayette who provided invaluable assistance to George Washington and the struggling colonial army in the Revolutionary War. After the war was over, Lafayette returned to France where he resumed his life as a farmer of many estates. In 1783, the harvest was a terrible one and many in the country suffered as a result. Lafayette’s farms however were not greatly affected by the crop failure. One of his foreman approached Lafayette with what seemed to be good advice. “The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat. This is the time to sell.” After thinking about those who were suffering in the area, Lafayette disagreed and said, “No, this is the time to give.”
Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we earn; we make a life by what we give.” I think that Jesus would have agreed. What we earn and possess, helps us survive. But what we give, fulfills our lives. Be generous with your giving, with your words, with your kindness, with your forgiving- especially in these times. All that we have belongs first to God. If we give of it, we will certainly receive.