March 24, 2009

Looking Forward to March 29, 2009 -- 5th Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
From the Jewish Scriptures: Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:7-11
Psalm 41 (VU p.765)
From the Life of the Early Church: Acts 4:32-37
From the Gospel: Matthew 19:16-26

The Hymns this week are:
402 We Are One
87 I Am the Light of the World (verses 2-4)
603 In Loving Partnership
512 Lord You Give the Great Commission

The Sermon title is Charity or Community – What’s It All About?

Early Thoughts: What is the point of choosing to share what we have? Is it so we can feel good about ourselves? Is it to help those in need? Is it a result of noblesse oblige? What is the end result for which we hope?

Scripture is very clear. We have an obligation to give. It isn't a nice "add-on", it isn't something you do "if you have some extra". Giving is something mandatory. But at the same time giving is a thing to be done cheerfully (in his correspondence with the church in Corinth Paul reminds us that God loves a cheerful giver). Why is it so important?

I believe that giving is important for two reason. One is that in choosing to give from what we have we make it easier to remember that we are blessed with abundance rather than cursed with scarcity. Giving also reminds us that the acquisition of wealth and stuff is not the goal of life, we are freed from the slavery of consumption. But really the reason giving and sharing from what we have is important is that it builds community. That is the end goal of faith, to build a community where God's justice and love are the norm. And this can only be done when the community members are willing to give.

And so I am not often a big fan of the charity model of giving. At its heart charity is a good thing. The word itself speaks of caritas, a Latin word sometimes used in place of Love. But in modern times a charity model all too often has overtones of paternalism, of noblesse oblige, of doing for others to feel good for ourselves (or to get a tax receipt). And then we lose the community-building sense of why we give.

{as a digression, in my first year of seminary a classmate of mine insisted we should encourage people not to use envelopes and not to get tax receipts for their givings to the church, he figured that would make the gift more "real" somehow. others in the class disagreed rather strongly}

Does giving make us feel better? Often. But that still isn't why we give. Do we use language about helping those who are worse off than we are? Certainly, so does Scripture, but that still isn't the only reason we give. We give because we have been blessed. We give to build up community both around the corner from us and around the world from us. We give because as faithful people we have no choice. Stewardship is all about the choices we make with what we have. God calls us to be good stewards by choosing to share our time, our talent, our treasures, our love in ways that build up the community. This is part of what it means to really pray "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven".

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