September 29, 2019

Stewardship, III: Our Treasure
Doing What We Can, Giving What We Have

Passage: Acts 3:1–10

Click here to listen to this sermon.

The main text I want you to pay attention to this morning is Acts 3:6: “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, I give to you.”

That’s what St. Peter says to a lame beggar. The guy asks him for a quarter, and St. Peter says “No. I don’t have any money.” How is that an appropriate text for Stewardship Sunday when the church is asking for money? Well, I’m glad you asked.

One day, as was their habit, Peter and John are on their way to the Temple to pray when they encounter a lame man being carried in by friends. That was how he made his living, by begging for coins from people on their way in to pray.

He asks for a quarter. What he gets is something else entirely. Peter says, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus, stand up and walk.” And he does. He expects a quarter and gets a miracle.

The man asks for money, Peter says no, but here’s why this is an apt text for Stewardship Sunday: if you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you do what you can and you give what you have. Peter was just an ordinary subsistence fisherman; he didn’t have much money, but he had a miracle so that is what he gave.

Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s just the opposite with me. I don’t have many miracles to dispense. Hard as I try, it seems as if the Lord has decided not to grant me the power to reach out my hand and make lame beggars walk. When a lame beggar asks me for a quarter, what I have to say is, “Miracles have I none, but what I have I give to you,” and in my case, what I have is cash.

Yes, it’s true. In this church even the pastor is well-paid, and if I’m honest with myself, and, I venture to guess, if you are honest with yourself, this might be the one thing that we have to give.

Some beggar from the Nominating Committee might call you and say “We need you to serve on the Board of Trustees,” or Christine Hides might ask, “Will you teach fourth-grade Sunday School this year?” and you might rightly reply, “I already work 60 hours a week and commute to the Loop for 10 more hours, and I travel to Tokyo and London several times a year, hours and days have I none, but silver and gold have I in abundance, and what I have I give to you. Here, take my cash, because working so hard I have plenty of that.”

Lisa Bond might call you up and say “I need you to sing in the choir,” and you might well respond, “Voice and pitch have I none, but what I have I give to you. Take my pledge so that David and Jonathan and Miya and Alyssa can sing their haunting, praise.”

You’ve heard about the little girl who came to church for the first time and was surprised to see the ushers passing the plate and her father reaching into his wallet to make a contribution. Loud enough for all to hear, she said, “Don’t pay for me, Daddy, I’m under five.” The thing is, the kids are the most expensive thing in church, the most expensive because the most precious. If you can’t see your way clear to share your gifts by teaching Sunday School, will you do what you can, and give what you have?

Garret Keizer tells the story of the Methodist church in small-town Vermont that burned down. The Methodists immediately began raising funds for a new building, and they got a little ambitious in their fund-raising; they started asking for contributions from people who weren’t even members of the Church. One guy even asked the local Roman Catholic priest for a contribution, and the priest replied, “Now, Harold, you know my bishop would not approve of a thing like that. I could never give money to build a Protestant church. And then he pulled out his checkbook and said, “But I’ll give you $50 to tear the old one down.”[1] You do what you can and give what you have.

We live in a frenetic community.  All of us have way too much to do. We might be time poor, but we are cash rich. Glencoe, Winnetka, and Kenilworth are the three richest towns in Illinois; Top Twenty in the United States. Median household income in the United States is $63,000; here it is well north of $200,000, three-and-a-half times the national figure. Silver and gold have we much. That doesn’t apply to all of us; I get it. Do what you can and give what you have.

The Bible asks for a tithe: 10%. That includes all your charitable giving. Could you give 3%? If that number makes you wince, do what you can and give what you have. We trust you to make a good decision for your family and for your church.

The theme of this year’s stewardship campaign is “All of Me, All of Us.” We’re doing pretty good on the “All of Me” part. Some of you are giving All of You. The average pledge at Kenilworth Union is about $3,500; that’s pretty good.

How about All of Us? Not quite. There are about 900 families in this church; last year 580 made a pledge; about two-thirds. ALL of us is an ambitious goal, but what about 75%? 80% of us?

So there are two ways to accomplish our goal of raising $200,000 more than last year: it would happen if those 580 families who are already giving would raise their pledge by 10%, or we could get another 100 families who aren’t pledging to jump in for the first time. Probably some combination of those two roads to success.

I was on the coast of Maine last Saturday celebrating the wedding of my son Michael to Kate, his new bride.

We celebrated the union on a green lawn under a blue sky, with lobster boats bobbing placidly in the Atlantic Ocean cove behind the couple and their officiant.

It was the second time this year that I have had the double honor of being both father and officiant at my children’s weddings.

My new son- and daughter-in-law have been part of our lives since they were babies; both my kids married classmates from elementary, middle school, and high school.

We have been watching these four kids grow up together for 15 years. And Ken Harris and John Hart: I just want you to know that my daughter married an Eagle Scout. He’s amazing. He can do anything at my house.

For months now, I have been stunned almost into silence by gratitude. People ask me how the weddings were, but I have no words. At both weddings, I told our friends and family: “I feel like Wayne and Garth; we’re not worthy.”

We are not worthy of such unmerited benediction. It’s all free; it’s all gift; it’s all grace. What fit response can we make to God’s unstinting kindnesses?

I want to finish with a story. Maybe you’ve heard it before. There was a man who had two sons. He was a successful farmer, and when he died, he left his lands to his two sons. Over the course of time, one of the sons married a young woman and raised a family of six children. The other son remained single.

The two young men farmed the land together, and everything they harvested, they divided equally. The grain was placed in two barns, one for each brother.

They grew older. The land was good, and the weather kind. They prospered, and both began to plan for their old age.

One night while going over his accounts the unmarried brother began thinking to himself, “My brother has seven mouths to feed, and I am all alone. He will need a bigger share of the crops than I need. But he will never agree to accept a bigger share of the harvest.” He thought and thought, and finally decided what to do.

Late one night, long after his brother had fallen asleep, the unmarried brother got out of bed, walked to the barn, and began carrying sacks of grain to his brother’s barn. A thousand pounds a night for several nights.

Meanwhile—you can see what’s coming, can’t you?—meanwhile, the married brother was planning ahead as well. He said to himself, “My brother and I are getting older. But I have been blessed with a wife and six children to take care of me when I am old. My brother has no one. He will need more than his share to store up against old age. But he will never agree to accept a larger share of the harvest.”

And so this brother too got up in the dead of the night while his brother was asleep and went out to the barn and began carrying sacks of his grain to his brother’s barn.

This went on for several nights, each brother removing some of his own grain to his brother’s barn, so that every morning the two piles were equal size. They couldn’t figure it out. It was a miracle. Every morning both brothers would go to the barn and say to themselves, “Didn’t I carry a thousand pounds of grain to my bother’s barn last night. What happened?”

Then one night, when the moon was full, the brothers met in a field midway between the two barns. And when they saw each other and realized what the other brother had been doing, they began to weep, dropped their sacks of grain, and embraced.

Just then, the rabbi tells us, clouds drifted across the face of the shining moon, and it began to rain.

Do you know what it was? It was the tears of God, who was weeping for joy, because two of his children had finally—finally—gotten the point. Do you get the point?

Click here to read the Stewardship Devotional

[1]Garret Keizer, “No Can Do!” The Christian Century, November 1, 2001, p.8.