Potluck Stewardship

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

1 Corinthians 11:17-29

Just a few weeks ago, I was listening to NPR as they began yet another fund raising campaign. Every time Morning Edition, All things considered or Car Talk was interrupted, I immediately switched stations. I know the spiel, “just one dollar a day, less than the cost of a cup of coffee, would go a long way to support the work of this station.”

Sharon and I will write a check because we enjoy so much of the programming but I don’t want to sit through all of the interruptions and pleas it takes to make their pledge drive successful enough so they can continue to offer us “quality programming”.

I’m hoping you don’t feel that way about the Kirk’s stewardship season. Most of you will contribute generously while also wishing we didn’t have to interrupt our regular programming our services for stewardship sermons and moments– even, if we are far less disruptive than the NPR or PBS fund drives. [1]

Truth is, and I think you know this: stewardship is neither a season, nor a drive for a Christian. It is a way of life… a responsibility. We are stewards of how we spend all of our lives—how we spend our time, our talents, and yes, our money. In that way when we talk about stewardship we are talking about more than what you will give to the church or how you spend your money. We are talking about how you will spend your life.

Today however, the Stewardship committee has asked me to set aside this Sunday to lift up what it means to be a steward as they ask for your money. I hope you’ll make plans to come on Consecration Sunday next week.

Art Ross will be preaching and we’ll share a good meal together following the 11:00 a.m. worship. We offer it to you free, as part of our celebration for the way God has blessed us. But it will help us if we know you are coming, so please let us know.

Today also happens to be Communion Sunday, so I want to think about Stewardship in light of the Lord’s Supper.

Today, I want to lift up the text where we receive the actual words we use every communion service to see what we can learn about stewardship and giving in the Christian community.

I’ve read the extended passage from Paul to a church who is having trouble with their church dinners and the Lord’s supper.

They are gathering every week for a meal – each group bringing food and wine for the celebration—they are eating more than a piece of bread for their supper. Looks like a good time. It’s like a church pot luck supper.Some are able to get to the service early to set up places to eat. They have saved places for their friends to join them around their makeshift tables. Others in the church are having to work longer hours to make ends meet… and they arrive late for the dinner with nothing to offer.  They didn’t have time.

With little time and limited resources to prepare a meal, the latecomers find themselves sitting at the back of the room, watching as others eat the best food and drank good wine at the supper.

But this is no ordinary church dinner. As time goes one, the gathering becomes rowdy. Those who brought generous portions of food consumed it, while others did not have enough to eat. The divisions between the haves and the have-nots could not be clearer. [2]

Paul is appalled by the behavior, their lack of sharing with one another. He cannot understand how those with so much can be so oblivious to those who have so little. You can almost hear the anger in his voice:

  “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for God and humiliate those who have nothing. Should I commend you?”

And then he reminds them of the example of Jesus…

 “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus…”

and he goes on to remind them how Christ shared himself completely with us – as remembered in the bread and cup. 

As I have reflected upon the story of the Lord ’s Supper and the reason Paul was sharing the story with the Christians at Corinth, here are some things I find Paul understanding about wealth and money and community as we think about stewardship.[3]

The first is this: I note that there are both wealthy people and poor people who gather in the church at Corinth and who gather around the Lord’s table. Even as there are both in this church—even in Cary.

I trust you know that about us—especially in this economy. But if you don’t, I want you to know about the character of our church family. There are people in this congregation who have to wonder each week where they are going to get the money to pay their bills and feed their children. We have helped some church members who are struggling, thanks to your gifts.There are people who have been looking for jobs for a long time. There are people in this congregation who work at hard, physical labor every day in order ot earn their funds. There are people who have gone through the experience of bankruptcy, foreclosure and there are people who find that money gives them a great deal of anxiety. They grieve for what they are not able to do because of it. They would like to contribute more to the church family budget—but they are not able to do so.

I find this congregation, not just with respect to money, but really on all issues to be a large tent. Much like the church in Corinth. There are wealthy people in that church and there are poor people. Much like any church.

I also note that wealth for Paul, is not a problem.  It is not a sin to be wealthy. There were many wealthy people in this church. No problem.

We know this to be true from the life of Jesus… there were wealthy women around Jesus who supported him and contributed funds to his ministry. Then there’s the story of Zaccheus who takes his wealth and uses it to repay anyone he has defrauded. Then he also uses his wealth to serve those who are poor, yet retaining half of it. And then there is Joseph of Arimathaea, whom I assume is a wealthy man, at least wealthy enough to give his own tomb over for the burial of Jesus.

No, it doesn’t look like being wealthy is a sin in the New Testament.

It does look to me, though, and this seems very clear across all the stories dealing with wealth, that wealth carries with it responsibility. And I don’t think there’s any escaping that.

It looks to me that Paul is telling the wealthy Christians that when they gather for their weekly meal and are only concerned about themselves and not other members of the family—then they are not being responsible.

As I understand it, Paul especially wants us to focus on helping the least of those among us. To be hospitable and compassionate. Paul thinks of sharing of our gifts—as part of the Christian life. As part of belonging to the Christian family.

Giving for Paul is part of the character of the Christian. It is not something we do in response to a sermon or a fund drive.  It becomes a part of who we are.

That is why I’m always inspired by those who make regular and proportional giving a way of life. It is not potluck stewardship. It is a witness to their faith that proclaims sharing is part of being a disciple.

It is clear that when they give they are not tipping God for good service, or paying dues to belong, or even offering a fee for service… for them, giving is an expression their faith and discipleship. A self-giving faith.

We learn this at the Lord’s Table, do we not? This meal offered by Jesus becomes a reminder of the self-giving character of our Lord… and it also is a call to remember we are called to the same way of life. Here we not only receive, we also commit ourselves to a life of sacrificial love.

 “Do this in remembrance” are not merely instructions on breaking the bread… it is our challenge to open ourselves up to following Jesus in his way of life.

As Jesus shared his life with the disciples and the poor and the sick… so we are called to a sharing of our lives and possessions with one another and the poor. That’s why benevolences are so important in the church.

So what matters, for instance, about money is not so much how much we have—rather it is what we do with it. That’s the beauty of proportional giving don’t you think?

In giving a proportion, 2%, 5% or even the tithe— it doesn’t matter so much how much you start with—it is what you do with what you have.

Even a small amount can be a large gift in God’s eyes. Remember the Widow’s mite? The key is not how much but in how you use what you have.

Money, like all other things in creation, comes to us as possibility for curse and as possibility for blessing. It hinges on how we manage it. On what kind of stewards we are of it.

Which is why Paul lifts up the Lord’s supper… he wants them to honor and remember Jesus in the way they live together and offer themselves—including sharing their meals and possessions with one another. He wants them to see that it is in sharing we become a blessing to one another.

You know, there are two seas in the Land of Palestine. Two seas in the nation of Israel.

One is the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea only has water that flows into it. There is no real life in it. Nothing can thrive in it, and it does not really support the community around it. Water goes in, but no water flows out. But the other sea is the Sea of Galilee. Water comes in and water flows out of it, into the community and the countryside around it. It teems with life. The community around it prospers. And from the flow of the give and the take comes the very life itself.

As I read accounts of the life of the Christian community that Paul envisions and as I reflect upon what Christ has offered in his special meal, it seems to me that God is calling us to be like the Sea of Galilee, receiving and giving. And in our giving, we will discover there is life.  Amen.

Idea for illustration from Riverside Presbyterian Newsletter, Steve Goyer

[2]Adapted from Paul Galbreath, Leading from the Table

[3]Thanks to John DeBevoise sermon for insights about wealth and money in the Christian community in a stewardship sermon, “What Do You Do With Money”, October 18, 1998


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