Today is Stewardship Dedication Sunday at the Kirk. It may have come up on you fast as we often celebrate this in November. And perhaps the name for the day is not the most accurate one. A minister who is visiting the Kirk said to me as he shook my hands at the door a few weeks ago- the name should not be Stewardship Season but Pledge Season. Stewardship is year round. He’s right of course. What we are really asking for today and in the days to come are your pledges… your estimates of the financial support you will pledge to give to the work of the church at the Kirk.
Stewardship should be more than about pledges. It should include your pledges but it should mean more and should really have no season. It should be a lifestyle. It should be an expression of your faith. We’re going to recommit ourselves in worship later as a symbol of this. We are stewards of all we have-managers of all the gifts God has given us. A financial pledge is just one part of a larger commitment we make as stewards.
Still, your financial pledge is an important part of that commitment. By receiving from participants and members of the Kirk what they hope to financially give in 2008, the church officers are able to build the budget for the year ahead. Sometimes in church talk this is called "turning in a pledge card." A friend of mine says that makes this sound as attractive as kissing your sister! Perhaps, he said, we should see stewardship season as an opportunity to "get in the game," "jump on the train" or "walk with the Lord." This is an opportunity, according to our leaders for this pledge campaign to "show our commitment" to Christ and the work of the church at the Kirk.
The act of praying and intentionally deciding to be a part of the church’s financial stewardship effort and following through with it is an act of Christian faithfulness and commitment as we try to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
If you are looking for a picture or image of what such a commitment looks like, we could do no better than that Apostle Paul. Talk about committed to faith. Pledging would have been the easy part for Paul. Paul is in prison and about to die for his commitment. He wants to see Timothy one more time. As he reflects on his life of faith he talks about his life (not just his money but his life) being poured out as a offering… (We’re just asking for your money today folks!) he talks about having fought a good fight… finished the race… as he waits to receive his reward… he talks about how when others ran away or turned on him… Christ did not… Christ stood by him and gave him strength." Christ was committed to him and so he was committed to Christ.
For Paul, commitment was not just to the church but to the gospel, to the cause and work of Jesus Christ. Commitment for him was more than a commitment to the church. It was commitment to the one who was committed to him. Have you ever thought about that? Our commitment is a response to the God who first commited his life to us in the person of Jesus Christ. A commitment so strong that it suffered and died for us? Why God didn’t give up on us a long time ago, I don’t know. How often have we let God down? After all, let’s be honest. We are not nearly as committed to God as God is to us. "Got commitment?" Well God does for sure. Our commitments are at best a response to the one committed to us.
But— but– they are a response that can bring pleasure and joy to God. Like any gift, think of the joy it brings to the receiver. Think of the gifts parents receive from children and the joy it brings. Think of what giving reveals about the relationship.
And Paul, at the end of his race is hoping and expecting that God will be pleased-that God will give him a crown of righteousness… (like an Olympic medal) as God meets him at the finish line-urging him on with applause! A sign of God’s good pleasure!
Paul is a model of commitment for us. A model meant to inspire us… encourage us… and show us a way to live our lives.
The life of faith for Paul was compared to the life of a committed athlete-the life of faith for Paul is compared to a fight to be fought or a race to be run where the finish line is death and the crown is waiting for you. Paul doesn’t even say he won the race… he just finished it. You apparently don’t even have to win to gain God’s approval… just commit yourself to the race of faith and finish it.
Paul is raising the most basic question for us that comes to all of us sooner or later. What are you living for? Death, or its closeness – raises the issue for most people. I think it did for Paul.
Some of you have seen the play Man of La Mancha. The story of Don Quixote is powerful. In the story Don Quixote tells his friend Sancho that, as a dying soldier lay in his arms, his eyes asked a question. Sancho asks, was the question, "Why am I dying?" No, Don Quixote replies, it was the question, "why was I living?"
For Paul, the answer was simple. To live, was to live for Christ and for the cause of Christ in the world. For the church, the answer should be the same-after all is said and done with mission statements and long range plans, the answer is rather simple, don’t you think? The church lives for Christ and the cause of Christ – the church offers its life for the sake of the world.
And what is the church? You (already) know, don’t you?, it’s not the building. It’s not even a program. It’s the people who worship, pray, study, eat and serve together. The church is you. Each and every one of you. The church is no better and no worse than the people who commit their lives to it. Show me a great church and I’ll show you a church full of committed laypeople whose lives are committed to the cause of Christ.
The Kirk is one of those places. The Kirk wouldn’t be here were it not for the people who were committed a long time ago to being the midwives of the church God wanted in this place. It took committed laypeople to navigating the Kirk through a period of rapid growth. It took committed laypeople to give heart and lives to developing the Rotation Model Sunday School. It took committed people to build a strong youth ministry at the Kirk. It took committed laypeople to bring Stephen Ministry to the Kirk and to develop a small group ministry. The Kirk is what it is today because of laypeople committed to serve on committees and the Session – providing more leadership to our ministries than I can name. It takes committed people to provide beautiful music for worship. The Kirk has a growing mission ministry because of committed laypeople who care that we be a community that reaches out to others. Disciple Bible study would not have begun this year without committed people. Anything that has wings and takes off at the Kirk has behind those ministries and efforts people who are committed and who care and who give their lives as an offering.
And, in addition to the invaluable contribution of time and energy, we wouldn’t be where we were without the financial pledges and giving of the members. This building-a wonderful tool for ministry-takes money to run. The utility companies do not provide us heat or air conditioning for free. The bank expects us to pay our mortgage. They are funny about that! The staff we need to provide leadership and support for your ministries in a growing church hope to be paid fairly. We’re funny about that!
Our hopes and dreams to grow in our benevolent assumes members will be growing in their giving. We turn down requests every year at the Kirk for giving to mission causes because we’ve reached the limit in the budget. If you don’t grow in your giving than we can’t grow in OUR giving. It’s simple math. So today, we ask for a financial commitment to the work of Christ at the Kirk.
I ask each of you who are a part of our church fellowship to pray about our common effort this year. We need everyone in the game in order to be the kind of church I think God is calling the Kirk to be. No one should be left out. Praying about your participation and making a decision about your fiscal giving and sharing that decision with the stewardship team are ways of being a part of this important effort. Even more, it is an outward sign of an inward commitment… a sign of what you are living for… and of your faith.
When my minister friend mentioned that we should call this the pledge campaign, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to think. My mind goes to the public radio pledge campaigns where they will interrupt their programming for weeks as they beg for people to call in their pledges. I’m glad we don’t have to interrupt every service several times for several with a plea for pledges until we reach our goal. Throughout that time they will offer free t-shirts, mugs and other offerings. In return, they offer you programming for you to enjoy.
Today, as we begin receiving your pledges-we have no t-shirts or mugs to offer for the commitment you make. But in return for your pledges and your commitment, what we can offer you is this: a church alive with mission and ministry-ready to run a good race and fight a good fight… ready to pour out its life as an offering to the Lord. A committed church that we hope will bring joy to our Lord –be ready to receive the approval and applause God gives to all who finish their race. Amen.