Stewardship part 1: Because God…1John 4:7-21
SAINT PAUL UMC 11-11-12
We may complain about cold weather here on the West Coast but we really have little to grumble about compared to the weather in the East and the storms.
I saw this story the other day of a young college student named Zoe Everett. Her parents were killed in Hurricane Sandy and she decided to leave school to help raise her three younger siblings. She posted her story on some online site called Wish upon a hero. Her goal was to raise $5000 for food and essentials till their parents estate was sorted out. She ended up raising $56,000. Donations were still coming in. She closed it so others in need could be helped. She wrote, “My family has been so blessed, and we would like to be able to do the same for others who have suffered the misfortune of Hurricane Sandy.” Touching, admirable, courageous. I wonder that if you had asked her before, she would have said that she loved her family. Would she have known that she would make this sacrifice and step in to lead and care for her family?
Today is the first of a two part preaching series on Stewardship. People tend to think about Stewardship as being about money. Stewardship is fundamentally about what we do with what we have.
It is about what we love, because what matters to us is what we spend our resources, time and skills on. It is essentially about love and love begins with God’s love.
Our scripture today in 1John is a letter believed to have been written by the apostle John who also wrote the gospel. John was known as the disciple whom Jesus loved. The letter was about basic issues that many communities were facing.
Even in these verses it may feel a bit repetitive and some probably could say it in fewer verses. And yet there are also volumes of books written about these verses.
As I looked through, I found that it follows our new branding and logo of Inspiration, Incarnation and Intersection.
Inspiration. The love we have from our parents, family, friends, our community and teachers are all gift from God the source. Love is from God.
It goes on to say whoever does not love, does not know God. I began to wonder, before I knew Jesus, did I really love? I think I was shaped more by books, people and movies. At best, my love was imperfect, manipulative, human focused and limited. I became cynical about romantic movies because they were unrealistic, but I had nothing to replace them with. For me, the love and witness of Jesus gives me a larger picture of love that I can join in receiving and giving. It is not just my own or someone else’s idealism.
The amazing truth of who God is is that God reached out to each of us and all of us first. God did not wait for us to recognize him as our creator or ask for help. He reached out with love.
Incarnation Though God is reaching out, humans did not get it. John says, God revealed His love by sending his son so we could live through him. As followers of Jesus, we believe this to be true and life changing and world changing. We did not deserve it or love God for this to happen. And God still acted in love to us in sending Christ.
Many of you know Pastor Dave Rodriguez. I enjoy his poetic use of words. At one point he wrote me a note and talked about Doxology moments. The doxology is what we sing when we give our offering to God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. We give God thanks for all that is and all that God has created. Our offering is a response to that gratefulness.
Many of you know that my mother died a few years ago of pancreatic cancer. She told us very clearly that she had lived a long life, my father had passed away many years before and other peers. She did not want to undergo the pain of treatment and she was not afraid to die. We prayed that she would not suffer in her final days.
As I shared her passing with the church a few days after her death, I felt a deep sadness and an overwhelming gratefulness for God’s presence and blessing to her and all that God had provided. As we sang the doxology, praise God from whom all blessings flow, I knew it more deeply than ever before. I couldn’t stop crying with all those different feelings stirring around as I worshipped God. It was an unusual and amazing moment that I wanted to tell others about. Inspiration.
Another Doxology moment was our Capital campaign last year. Before we collected our total pledges, we had already had faithful testimonies, people stepping up to serve, care, worship and offer generosity. On the last Sunday, our DS Rev. Kristie Olah came to preach for us. Pastor SunHee and I spoke before worship and felt that whatever happened we were so grateful to God. It was clear that God was doing amazing things and we were grateful for the opportunity to be part of it.
I still remember Louie giving me the little piece of paper with the pledge total. We were so excited! I showed it to our DS and we both jumped and smiled w/excitement. Incarnation.
When have you had those moments? When have you been overwhelmed with gratefulness for God?
Because God loves us and reaches out, we want to share that love with others. We must respond! Give back, share it with others, whole body is smiling from the inside out. We can’t help but show it! Verse 11 tells us if God loved us this way, then we ought to love each other. Our godly living expresses love. This “ought” makes it an obligation of love and action. It is more than a good feeling for just a moment.
Our gratefulness for God’s generosity is expressed in action. The Tuesday morning Bible study is in Exodus. They were discussing the people giving from their riches for the building of God’s sanctuary among them. In Exodus 36, the artists who were building the sanctuary came to the priests to tell them that the people were bringing too much and tell them to stop. They already had enough for what they were instructed by God to do.
Can you imagine that, people would need to be told to stop? Why would they give so much and be so generous? I think it is out of that overwhelming gratefulness to God.
I would like to share with you an update on our Ministry Center. Last year in our Capital Campaign, we raised money towards a new Ministry Center. We had the miracle of meeting our goal of $500,000 in a not great economy. God has given us a vision for expanding ministries especially for the care of children, youth and others not here yet.
We hired an architect to help us explore the feasibility of building who also led us through the conditional use permit process with the City of Fremont. As is often the case with construction, what seemed simple took much longer than expected.
The increased capacity of preschool students led to the need for City Planning and City Council meetings. Additional survey and landscaping drawings were required. It took time to comply with all this.
A Technical sub-committee met to plan, discuss and recommend next steps. We explored two typical methods of construction. For those involved in construction, one is to hire an architect who prepares construction drawings and a general contractor is hired to build. The other method is to hire a general contractor who works with an architect from the beginning in the design. This is called Design Build. We pursued the more traditional method and then out of concern for getting the best price, we explored the Design Build as well.
We were also exploring the loan process for the balance of the cost of the building with the United Methodist Development Fund (UMDF), with which we had the loan for our current building, and different local banks.
Our Building committee has met, emailed hundreds of messages, argued and discussed a great deal for the best interest of the church. Most of them have regular full time jobs, families, other commitments. I cannot begin to thank them for the offering of their time and skills.
At times the details have been tiring, discouraging, frustrating and has taken much longer than expected. And we are certain that God is calling us to build and expand God’s ministry. It is not in our timing but God’s. We continue to pray, “In this situation with the building project, we choose to trust you God.” I hope you will pray with us.
Currently we have signed a contract with an architect and have lawyers reviewing the general contractor’s contract and advising us as we prepare to sign. We will let you know when that happens. Once construction drawings are done we will have a firmer idea of how long construction will take.
Why would we have taken on a capital campaign to raise more money during a bad economy? Because God called us and loves us. We have known God’s love in many small and large ways. We could just stay comfortable where we are with just us. We do this because we want to and must share God’s love with others in that fleshly, tangible, carne asada incarnate way as others have been the incarnation of God’s love to us.
This leads us to the place of Intersection. We love God by loving others and God’s Spirit stays with us. When we know God’s generosity and love God, we want to do what God desires.
John writes that we cannot say we love God and hate our brothers or sisters. That is a lie! It is like oil and water, they just don’t mix or go together.
“The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” 1John 4:21 the Message
Jesus is perfecting us in love, that is what He cares about. He is not perfecting us in singing, dancing, cooking, writing, math, or fixing things though you may be good at those. He cares about how we love through those things.
Love is defined by God, not Jersey Shores, or the Bachelor or Bachelorette, the Twilight movies, neighbors or movie stars.
I saw a recent article by Rev. Bener Agtarap who preached for us on Heritage Sunday, District Superintendent for Congregational Vitality. He wrote, “We do what matters to God. We recognize that our work is not about us. It is about God. The world needs churches to be vital today, more vital tomorrow and even more vital the day after.”
Stewardship is about what we do with what we have and it begins with love, God’s love. Today is Veteran’s day and we honor those who served in our military, offering their lives as a sacrifice out of love for their country and others. We also heard about Zoe Everett who is sacrificing her plans for her future out of love for her family and siblings.
Today we have an opportunity to give towards relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy and additional storms. Our individual gift may not seem like much but together with our church and the national connection of the United Methodist Church, we can help a lot of people in need.
We are also doing the Hearty Harvest Thanksgiving meals for families in need in the area who might not have a meal for Thanksgiving. You will find the list in our bulletin of items for each meal. Please bring them next Sunday to be distributed the following day.
Also you will find a pledge card in your bulletin. Pledges made for the Capital Campaign were for three years. Pledges for our church budget are made each year. Prayerfully consider if God is nudging you to move towards a tithe, to a tithe or even beyond.
Giving to our church operations budget is low. Our Capital Campaign fund is doing great! Please remember that our ministries do not stop and we really expect to gear up as prepare to expand into the new space.
As we approach Thanksgiving, make time to reflect on how God has blessed you this year
☐ When have you been overwhelmed with gratefulness for God? Remember how you felt and what you did because of it.
☐ How is the Holy Spirit nudging you to share God’s love generously with others?
☐ Take time to prayerfully consider how God is calling you to give and build God’s kingdom, doing what matters to God.
I know you all have stories of God’s loving presence in times of great joy and celebrations and times of deep sorrow and loss. God has been with you and Jesus has been made incarnate in flesh in people and at SAINT PAUL.
In that reality of God’s love for you, consider how God is calling you to act in gratefulness. How will we use the resources we have now to build God’s Kingdom?