Sermon for Oct. 18, 2009 Stewardship Series #1 Dan. 9:15-19; Lam. 3:21-24

Luke 12:42-48

Dan. 9:15-19

Lam. 3:21-24

Tapped into God’s Love and Mercy

Kurtz family sod house: Kansas
Kurtz family sod house: Kansas

The earliest record we have for our family is Ulrich Kurtz, born in 1610.  Some of you can probably trace your families genealogy much earlier, but that’s as far back as we know about.  I only know bits and pieces of the family story: it starts in Switzerland, moves to Germany, and crosses over to America, around Lancaster Pennsylvania.  A later generation took advantage of the offer of land in the expanding West and moved the family to Kansas.  In my generation we came back east, as far as Ohio.

My father has a photograph of a primitive prairie home made of stacked sod with a tin roof; the family’s  first dwelling in Kansas.  The story I was told was that after they became established, they eventually built a home that was quite a bit nicer – probably most everything in it was made by hand.  But then the Great Depression came and they lost that house.  Eventually they were able to replace it with a more modest home in which my father and his brothers and sisters grew up – and in which my uncle lived until he retired.

I do not know many details of the stories of those generations, but one thing is clear; over those many years, each generation  was able to affirm: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God.”  The many biblical names they gave their sons testifies to their faith: there were boys named Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Peter, Mark, Steven; it continues in my family with Benjamin and Nathaniel.

Somehow, even in the pain of a the Great Depression, they found the grace to tap into a vein that was deeper than the present; they tapped into the vein of God’s love and mercy – ancient as Creation, but which is renewed every morning..

My family story

The part of my family story I know best of course is my own.  I can look back on my life and affirm, “Great is thy Faithfulness” over and over.  There was the time when I was on summer break from college.  I was working hard every day to save up for the coming school year, when suddenly, one Sunday afternoon, while playing a little back yard softball, I tore the cartilage in my knee.  That was before the age of arthroscopic surgery.  It was weeks before I could return to work – now without the possibility of earning enough money.

That summer a family friend sold his business and retired.  He was committed to “harvest principle” of tithing one tenth of the proceeds of the sale, out of gratitude for God’s faithfulness to him and his business over the years.  He heard of my need, and wrote me a check for more that the amount of my lost income.   I went back to school that fall saying “Great is thy faithfulness, O God.”

It is easy to bring gratitude to God for his faithfulness when things work out, but my family has known of God’s faithfulness in hard times too.  In the Great Depression when that house was lost, they knew that God was with them, and had a future for them.

Israel’s family story

The Great Depression was bad – severely for some – but yet nothing like the devastation Israel witnessed during the Babylonian conquest.  Looking at the smoldering ruins of the once elegant city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah sees the fire-blackened stones where homes had been, the streets still battle-stained but eerily empty, save the scavenging dogs.

During the siege he witnessed nobel people reduced to ignoble acts in vain survival attempts.  He saw the lives of young men and women brutally extinguished.  He saw the temple invaded by infidels, desecrated, looted, and finally set ablaze and demolished; priests and prophets not spared.  He can only weep as he cries a long, agonized lament.  From the depths of his agony, from his lamentation we hear these words:

this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam 3:22-24)

Somehow Jeremiah had the grace, in that moment of pain, to tap into a vein that was deeper than the present; he tapped into the vein of God’s love and mercy – ancient as Creation, but which is renewed every morning.

Daniel’s story

During that same conquest, one of those young men, ripped from his home and family, captured and dragged hundreds of miles away in chains to Babylon to become a slave of a foreign empire was Daniel.  We heard his lament today, his cry to God from the land of exile, his confession of sin and prayer for deliverance.

18 Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.

Along with Jeremiah, Daniel, the prisoner, the slave, the homeless refugee can use the word “mercies” because he knows God as steadfast in his love.  Daniel knows the family story of the people of Israel, and even in his prayer of lament and confession he recites the narrative of past faithfulness:

15“O Lord our God, who brought your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and made your name renowned even to this day…”

Did you hear what he was able to say, from Babylon: even to this day…”.

Somehow Daniel found the grace, even in his pain, to tap into a vein that was deeper than the present;  he tapped into the vein of God’s love and mercy – ancient as Creation, but which is renewed every morning.

Our Theme Song

People of faith are not fickle people.  We are not the kind of people who take for granted all of the past evidence of God’s mercy and faithfulness as if we were here today by our own design.  Gratitude is at the heart of all of our lives, not because the sun is shining today, but because we are here, alive today by the mercy of God.

It is not just within the church on Sunday mornings that we sing the song that will be our theme this month of Stewardship emphasis, “Great is thy Faithfulness” – but we sing that song from hospital beds and from empty rooms of grief and loss because we understand that every breath we draw is a sign of God’s mercy and love.

Somehow, even in the pain of a bad economy, we find the grace to tap into a vein that is deeper than the present; we tap into the vein of God’s love and mercy – ancient as Creation, but which is renewed every morning.

Stewardship Season

Today we begin our stewardship emphasis.  We are at a critical moment in the life of our country and in the life of our congregation.  There is nothing like an economic crisis to force us to examine priorities and values.  When money has to be cut from budgets, it is painful and it forces the question: what are we all about?

Many people were not happy with the proposed budget’s cuts to mission.  I was not happy either.  Session was not happy.  No one wanted that outcome.  At the end of a long meeting, we agreed that other than cutting personnel, there was no other choice.

But long meetings have a way of strangling creative thinking.  Exhaustion can lead to decisions that might not have been made otherwise.  After we passed our proposed budget last Sunday, in conversation with several elders, we began to look for alternatives.  We believe we can find them, so I have called a special session meeting for Tuesday to reconsider every corner of our spending.

I believe that we must do this because of who we are; we are a people who like Jeremiah and like Daniel know our story.  It is a story of redemption and forgiveness; it is a story of nurture and guidance; it is a story of countless occasions on which we have been recipients of grace upon grace.  We have been given much – and as our Lord said,

to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded (Luke 12:48)

I believe that we will finish this process with a budget goal that is in greater congruity with our vision and our values.

But what will this process look like?  Each year a church constructs a budget and then asks for pledges and faith promises.  The last step of the process is to compare the paper budget with the total amount of pledges and faith promises to see if the budget is realistic.  This is made more complicated by the fact that some choose not to pledge, even though they give faithfully.   Nevertheless, the final budget is one that the officers of the church believe is realistically attainable.

Now is the time in our life as a congregation to prepare to make those pledges and faith promises.  This is a time to reflect, not just on the state of the economy, not just on our assets, but on our values, our vision, and even our identity.  This is why stewardship season is so crucial – it goes to the heart of who we are as a people.

We are people of faith in a faithful God.  We are people who have been redeemed by God’s mission of Love – in Jesus Christ, and so, we are a people in mission.

Harvest Giving, the tithe

In the church, we do not believe in “charitable giving” – adding up what may be left over after all of our bills and entertainments are paid for.  Rather we are people who believe in the “harvest principle:” that to God belongs the first fruits of the harvested income.

Just as the farmer only knows the value of the crop after the harvest in the fall, so we may not be able to predict the exact amounts of our incomes, which is why the people of God have always used the system of percentage giving.  We believe that everything that comes in from the harvest is a gift from God, who graciously allows us to spend 90% of it as we wish.  He has called for the first 10% to be set aside first, as our sacred offering.

I am calling on all of us to examine our hearts in these next four weeks: some may be giving regularly but at a percentage below the tithe.  Perhaps giving a full 10% seems to scary.  Then take the faith-challenge to grow to the 10% level.  Whatever the percentage you have been giving, increase it by two percent per year until you reach the full 10% tithe.  I promise you, you will not miss the money, but rather you will experience a new level of freedom from its dominating demands.

When we come here with our pledges and faith-promises in several weeks, let us come as the people of faith who know the truest truth: that we worship and serve a God who is full of mercy and compassion, a God who has a reliable record of faithfulness in the past, and whose mercies are new every morning

Somehow, even in the pain of a bad economy, we will find the grace to tap into a vein that is deeper than the present; we tap into the vein of God’s love and mercy – ancient as Creation, but which is renewed every morning.  As Jeremiah said:

this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.


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