September 27, 2015 – First Fruits or Leftovers

Matthew 6:19-24


What is most important in our lives? Are we concerned at all with the future, or are we just trying to get through the day-to-day challenges we have to face?

Often at the beginning of the new year we set goals – resolutions if you will.  Some of the popular resolutions I’ve heard are to lose weight, spend more time with the family, and to get organized.  When one sets a goal of getting more organized, the first task most experts will recommend is to set a priority list.  We need to decide what are the most important things that must be accomplished first, and then order the rest of the duties accordingly.  Sounds simple enough, correct?  We got this – just start the list, set the priorities, proceed down the list and BAMM we will be more organized.  It is interesting that life doesn’t always follow such a logical progression.  It’s also interesting that God often doesn’t make it to the top of the priority list – at times God doesn’t make the list at all.

I have the privilege of assisting with the leadership of the Financial Peace University class. I realize we have talked about this class before but bear with me.  The second class in the 9-week session is all about debt and budgeting. It is rare that you find folks who enjoy the task of budgeting.  But more often than not, the money we have on hand is not enough to cover all the wants and needs that come up in a given pay period.  What governs us is often what we deem most important to pay for first and that of course floats to the top of the list. If we have credit card debt, it is usually in the top 10 category, along with a mortgage, car payment, insurance, doctor visits/prescriptions, children’s activities, and so on.  What I find intriguing is how often giving and saving fall off the list entirely.

It seems a reverse of priorities if we give to God first, yet this is exactly how we are directed by God and how FPU starts its budget form. Returning to God a portion of what God has richly blessed us with takes top priority when we learn to manage our finances differently.  Our pyramid of importance is suddenly turned upside down.  Yet it just doesn’t seem possible or logical to give a portion back to God when the numbers simply don’t add up.  The Bible refers to giving our first fruits to God – the first portion instead of the leftovers.  This can be a hard concept to grasp and to follow.

I think I’ve shared with you my own personal experience with stepping up to tithing as this slide shows.  A tithe is a Biblical term referring to giving 10% of your income back to God.  I knew I should be giving back to God, but there was barely enough to cover everything else.  So Mark and I began with giving only 1%, fully expecting a negative balance.  Ironically, when we changed our attitude concerning what was important, the money was still there at the end of the pay cycle.  Our whole demeanor changed – we were finally giving something back.  Over time we were able to grow this.

The scripture read for us notes Jesus telling his disciples that it is impossible to serve two masters.  You cannot serve God and money at the same time.  I think often we may feel as if our money is controlling us, therefore we are in essence serving money.  In case you weren’t sure, this is the week I am speaking about stewardship and what it means to be a good steward of what God has given each of us.  When we decide for ourselves that our service to God is deeper than just a surface promise, it will change everything.  Remember some of the benefits we shared concerning generosity?  What is in store for us as we become more generous is a more active lifestyle, less stress and physical pain, inner joy even in the tough times.  While we are giving back to God and loving our neighbor, we reap the benefits of a generous heart.

Generosity extends beyond our finances but includes our prayers, presence, gifts and our service.  We will be talking a lot about prayer in the coming weeks as we begin a sermon series and Bible study based on the movie and book called “War Room.” If you have not seen this movie I strongly recommend it.  When we talk about our presence, often we are referring to a donation of time.  This is significant for many of us.  Our time is a valuable commodity.  Yet we often feel as if our time is controlling us rather than the other way around.  All it takes is one snag in our carefully scheduled time table for house of cards to come tumbling down.

Martin Luther, the Catholic priest who initiated the Protestant movement, was often heard to say, “Today looks to be a particularly busy day. I will need to spend two hours in prayer instead of just one.”  He would increase his prayer time on busy days rather than decrease or eliminate it.  This sounds a bit backwards unless you view things from a different perspective.  If we are truly seeking first the kingdom of God, time with God becomes a chief priority.  Our presence with God and with others is what allows us to cope with the rest of our busyness.

Our presence with one another in worship is an act of stewardship when we realize that our purpose in coming together is to worship God.  Being fully present these days seems to be a rarity.  How often have you greeted someone only to have them constantly glancing down at their phones. Or better yet, never giving you eye contact at all.  I worked for a boss who would call me into a meeting only to accept every phone call while I was sitting there. He was clearly making it known that all those callers were more relevant and important than me.

Have we lost touch with how to interact with one another? Have we forgotten how to encourage and strengthen one another? When we greet one another in the spirit of Christian love, are we fully present or just going through the motions?  Our stewardship of presence lets other know that we have placed God first in our lives and building relationships with one another is part of sharing the joys and blessings of generosity.

What about the gifts of our talents? Every time someone joins the church, or someone is baptized or confirmed in the church, we recite together the words of the Apostle’s Creed, and we also reaffirm our vows to support the church with our prayers, presence, gifts/talents and our service.  How do we give back to God through our talents?  What talents are worthy of sharing?

Paul states it this way: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  We are all given talents – none are exempt. We can’t just say, ‘Well I don’t have to give of my talents because I don’t have any of those gifts.’  God is calling each of us to a closer walk with God. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. We do not all have the same gifts and talents but we all have something to give back to God.  I remember listening to a missionary who was called to a village meeting of all the leaders – all men. She had no idea how she would relate to these leaders living in this foreign region. She was not of their culture, she did not speak the language, she did not have specific building or technology skills, but she used what she had. Through an interpreter she was able to understand their needs and use her voice to serve as an advocate for assistance.  She communicated their needs to others and was able to execute change for the good.

Today is a day of celebration.  I am so blessed to be sharing this time with you as I am able to finally adjust to the fact that I am now a full elder, ordained in the United Methodist Church.  It seems odd to be talking about stewardship on a day of celebration – or is it?  Can we celebrate the blessings that God has given us?  Can we recognize that all things come from God? Can we begin to express joy in a way that settles deep in our souls because we have experienced what it means to be generous?  I hope so.  Sharing our blessings with others is our way of living countercultural.  While others only look out for themselves we as Christians are called to love God and love our neighbor.

I encourage you to consider your pledge to this church body that is active in its community. I encourage you to give of your time, your talents, and your service to support the many ministries here that lead to connections and relationships in our community.  I encourage you to hone your prayer skills to draw closer to God while caring for yourself and others. Ministry can happen in the hearts of all of us if we are willing to take that first step forward and say without a doubt, “Here I am Lord, send me.” Amen.

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