We are pleased to share the following sermon from the Rev. Dr, Craig Troutman, pastor of Raleigh Moravian Church in Raleigh, NC. A graduate of Moravian Theological Seminary, Craig began his pastorate at Raleigh Moravian in 1985.
Today’s reading from the gospel of Luke includes the watchword for this year’s stewardship emphasis: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” During the Ministry Moment, members from our congregation have spoken of the things they “treasure” about RMC. In their words, they have a heart for … the music ministry … the church facilities … the education program … the mission activities. Different ones have offered their witness, a testimony to the fact that we have a vibrant congregation.
People are invested in what goes on here. “God bless us, every one.” PJ added to this blessing today and I hope that we can continue to say, “God bless us, every one” after hearing today’s Stewardship Sunday sermon. We’ll have to see because today’s sermon is about money. Does it seem Scrooge-like to focus on this? After some thought, I decided that today’s sermon should not be entitled, “A Heart for Money.” I chose a different title but we have a heart for money. Right? Not every one in the church has a heart for music, education, or mission … but every one has a heart for money.
Are you aware of what the Bible has to say about money? If you’re curious about this, put the question into an internet search engine and an answer will appear: the Bible directly mentions money over 800 times, and there are over 2,000 financial references in scripture. By comparison, there are 500 verses on prayer and a little less than 500 verses on the subject of faith. Jesus, in particular, has a lot to say about money. Sixteen of the 38 parables have to do with money and possessions. In the gospels, one out of ten verses—288 in all—have to do with this subject.
While it’s possible to talk about our stewardship watchword and not mention money, as you heard in today’s reading, this watchword is of one piece with two parables that are about money and possessions.
Recall the story of the rich man whose estate produces such a good harvest that his barns can’t hold it all. He decides to pull down his old barns and build larger ones and then in his words: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But then we hear a different response. “You fool!” God says in the parable, “This very night your life is being demanded of you and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” This is a cautionary tale that includes a postscript: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
After this parable, there’s the one about the ravens and the lilies of the field. “Consider the lilies; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown in the oven, how much more will God clothe you? And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying … Instead, strive for (God’s)* kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
What should our response be to all of this talk about money and possessions? Are we supposed to feel guilty? Most of us squirm a bit because we’re materialistic people. We possess many “things,” many things that we enjoy. Jesus, don’t make us feel guilty about this!
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart will be also.” Are we supposed to feel guilty? No. I hear it as an invitation to reflect upon our priorities. What do we value? And are we living in a way that genuinely reflects our values? If we are serious about following the way of Jesus, these questions must be asked and are for each of us to answer on our own. In other words, no one should presume to tell you what the “right” answer is. I don’t know what your resources are. I don’t know what financial obligations you carry. You have this knowledge and with it you must answer the questions for yourself.
With this year’s stewardship emphasis in mind, I hope you will take the time to ask yourself, “What do I have a heart for at Raleigh Moravian?” Another question that accompanies this: “What amount of money can I contribute to ensure that this priority is addressed within our congregation?
This conversation about money is not intended to make you feel guilty. It’s about asking you to support what you deem to be important. So allow me to backtrack and note that this sermon isn’t entitled, A Heart for Money. With stewardship in mind, our focus is not money, per se. It’s about what we value and given this: what money do we need to achieve our goals.
Hearing the title of PJ’s Ministry Moment (In the joy of others lives our own), I thought about reciprocal generosity. In the sixth chapter of Luke, the idea is expressed in this way: “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” (Lk 6:38). When we are engaged by something, the resources usually follow. This has been our experience here: special financial appeals usually do well among us! People want to give; they are happy to give. The investment comes from the heart!
But of course, money weighs on our minds too. Many of us live with some measure of economic uncertainty. We struggle with our own anxiety about what may happen—or worse with what has already happened. Life can bring financial setbacks. There are mood swings that directly follow the ups and downs of the economy. I can acknowledge the economic uncertainty and recall Jesus’ counsel that is: “Do not be afraid.”
This counsel has been shared with generations of followers of Jesus who also understood the reality of economic uncertainty. Followers of Jesus understood and continue to understand their use of money in ways that do not make sense as the world calculates such things. One of the most counter-cultural things we Christians do is the giving of our money. Anna and I give more than 10% of my salary in support of the Raleigh Moravian Church budget.
I don’t feel awkward or self-serving in telling this to you all. This is a Christian testimony. Giving a percentage of our income has always been a part of the faith journey. People of faith give a percentage of their income not because the church needs it, or the school needs it, or the charity needs it. People of faith do this because we need it. We need to give in order to remind ourselves that our things are not who we are.
I believe that picking a percentage to give away, and feeling good about it, is the most counter-cultural thing a person of faith can do. When the rest of the world is freaking out over the stock market, people of faith remember that we live according to more timeless principles.
Whatever you have, take a portion of it and give it away. When times are good and when times are bad, do this as a reminder that you are not your possessions—you are a child of God, a giver. You were created for this. You have A Heart for Giving.
Friends, like many people here, Anna and I have a heartfelt connection with the life and ministry of our congregation. What happens here matters to us. Especially in this day and time, the life we share and the ministry we accomplish makes a difference in our community, nation, and world.
And I would add that Raleigh Moravian also has an important role within the Southern Province of the Moravian Church. Our congregation offers a response to those who ask: “What does it look like to be a faithful Christian community in the Moravian tradition?” Let us not under-estimate our responsibility in this regard.
Today, I offer my witness alongside that of others hoping that you will be inspired to give. Friends, thank you for giving generously to support the work of our congregation for another year. Thank you for giving from your heart.