i hate this sermon: on giving, potluck dinners, & the part of the bible nobody reads.

god be with you

So this morning we’re going to stay pulled over from our fall sermon series about the parables of Jesus,
– we’ll pick it up next week when we have our friend Rev Erin to walk us through the parable of the bridesmaids,
it’ll be great to hear a female perspective on that,
and then I’ll finish off the series with you on the 19th.

But today …
today I give you a sermon I really don’t want to give.
Today I talk about something I hate talking about.
I would rather talk about literally anything else than what we’re about to talk about.

Today is the stewardship sermon;
the sermon on giving,
on why you should give your church your hard-earned money.

So as collective joy and excitement flows through the room,
today,
my friends,
we will talk about:

– lists of why we’d all rather be doing anything other than this right now,
– pot luck dinners,
– the part of the Bible nobody reads.

I tried really hard to frame this in a way that’ll catch the attention of those of you who who suddenly remembered you left the oven on.

But before we get into it, shall we say a prayer?

//

Now I realize ‘hate’ is a strong word.
But please know it wasn’t just some homiletical trick to get your attention.
That is how I honestly feel about the annual “stewardship sermon.”
I really do hate these things.

On the surface they seem like a pretty straight forward thing:
“church is a community endeavour, we all need to pitch in.”
Boom! Easy!
But the thing is,
for us ministers,
they bring to the surface a whole bunch of really tough tensions.

So to let you inside my head,
and to be fully honest with you,
I present to you:

The Reasons Rev Nick Hates Stewardship Sermons:

– Im already well aware of the pastoral distinction between me and you guys – of my being in but not really of this community. So me being up here asking you for money is always a strange tension.

– I struggle with how these sermons can feel like Im simply preaching to ensure there’s enough money for my salary.

– Talking about money inevitably leads to people feeling shamed and guilted for not meeting some unstated expectation.

– Different generations have different understandings around what it means to belong to a church and therefore what it means to give, which makes preaching to different generations a really tough thing to do.

– It means justifying why the church should get your money and well, depending on the church, thats not always easy to do.

– The follow up conversations that should happen, usually don’t – conversations like ‘Well, we said we want this and we wanted to go here, so what do we need to do to make that happen?’

– And finally, it’s just so terribly terribly awkward.

Thats a big list, isn’t it?
And maybe it helps you understand a bit of why us ministers don’t like preaching these sermons.

But to be fair, this isn’t a one sided thing, is it?
Im sure it’d be just as easy for you to make a long list of reasons why you hate hearing stewardship sermons.
Some of the reasons are probably similar, but then throw on:

– We’re already being asked to give at work and at school. Stop asking us for money!
– Churches aren’t always the best stewards of our money so we’re skeptical of giving more.
– We’re not always clear on just what it is we’re giving our money towards.
– And again, they are just so awkward to sit through.

Anyone know what Im talking about?

Im sure we all do.

Now I don’t bring all this up to be all “Wah Waaah” and be a Debbie Downer.

I bring it up because all that should lead us to one really important question:

With all of those things on our lists, why do it?
Why is it important to talk about giving and give to your church?

Well, because of potluck dinners and the part of the Bible nobody reads.

Obviously.

//

Who here knows what potluck dinners are?

Quite of few of us do.

It’s this way of having a meal together where everyone brings a dish to share.
And it always some sort of special dish, isn’t it?
The dish they,
and most always in their own minds,
feel famous for.

Dishes like Gladys’s Famous Creamed Ham,
or Faye’s special jello mould salad,
or Eric’s Egg Salad Sandwiches,
the secret ingredient being the mayo thats been in his fridge since 1979.

And so everyone comes with their dish,
they line them up on the kitchen counter,
and they step back
and what happens?

A miracle happens:
there will be be enough for everyone.

There’s a reason why churches and potlucks go hand in hand.

Potlucks,
at their core,
embody an essential characteristic of what it means to be spiritual –
of what it means to be connected with God, each other, and with ourselves:

Generosity.

Of living in a way that is fundamentally oriented towards ensuring that everyone has enough.

Giving,
sharing,
donating,
doing your part,
its how the world was meant to work,
its what happens we truly love God and neighbour,
its tapping into that ancient and divine wisdom that if we all pitch in,
if we all contribute,
if we all show up,
if we all give,
miracles can happen.

We give because its how we are meant to live as spiritual beings;
its one of the fundamental postures and dispositions of being human we’re called to embody.

//

So that brings us to the second reason we need to talk giving as a church,
which brings us to a part of the Bible nobody reads,
a part of the Bible so seemingly boring I dared not have it read a loud in church:

1 Chronicles.

If you are one of the people who,
like me and so many others,
tried to read the Bible from front to back,
this is probably where you gave up.

Now if you’re all ‘But youre a minister, how can you say the Bible is boring?!”

I can say that because 1 Chronicles starts like this:

Adam
Seth
Enosh
Kenan
Mahalalel
Jared
Enoch
Methuselah
Lamech
Noah
Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Japheth had Puts, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.
Gomer had Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah.
Javan had Elisha, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim.
Ham had Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan.

and it goes on and on and on.
And I mean on and on and on.
Its 9 chapters of this:

Judah had Er, Onan, and Shelah; their mother was Bathshua the Canaanite. Er, Judah’s firstborn, was so bad before God that God killed him. Judah also had Perez and Zerah by his daughter-in-law Tamar—a total of five sons. Perez had Hezron and Hamul; Zerah had Zimri, Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Darda—five sons. Carmi had Achar, who brought doom on Israel when he violated a holy ban. Ethan’s son was Azariah. And Hezron had Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai.

Ram had Amminadab and Amminadab had Nahshon, a prominent leader in the Judah family. Nahshon had Salmon and Salmon had Boaz. Boaz had Obed and Obed had Jesse. Jesse’s firstborn was Eliab, followed by Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and finally David; David was the seventh. Their sisters were Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to three sons: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel; Abigail was the mother of Amasa (the father was Jether the Ishmaelite)

Now unless we’re looking for a really awesome name for a kid,
why would we ever want to read that?

Great question!

Now, lets remember for a sec, what we’re looking at and when, where, and why something like this would be written.

What we’re looking at is a genealogy.
A list of 936 names of some of the people who made up what would become the tribe of Israel, the tribe much of the Hebrew scriptures are about.

While a family tree is going to focus on who married and produced who,
a genealogy does something different;
a genealogy is meant to convey something particular about a particular group of people – it’s meant to tell a story.

So in a world like the one this was written in,

a world that was chaotic and competitive,
a world of tribe against tribe,
and where power, might, and strength mattered for survival and dominance,

when it comes down to writing your tribe’s genealogy,
when it comes to telling the story about your group to the world,

how would you write it?
what kind of names and people would you include?
what kind of narrative would you convey through it?

You’d pick the best of the best, wouldn’t you?

You’d list the Connor McDavids, Maya Angelous, the George St Pierres, the Lebron James’, and the Oprahs.

Why?

Because you’d to show off.

You want your genealogy to tell a story that says this is who we are and this is what we’re about:
We are the best, the strongest, and the smartest tribe around.
Just look at the names we have!

Are you with me?

And this is the reason why,
when it comes to 1 Chronicles,
when it comes to the part of the Bible nobody reads,
we all need to come back and really read it.

Because when you look at that list of names,
when you look at their genealogy,
what do you see?

How many of their names do you recognize?
How many Bible stories do we have about how amazing these people are?
How many of your kids are named in honour of them? How many Puts, Cushes, or Magogs do we know?

None.

These are not the names of the best, brightest, and strongest, the people about whom stories are told and passed on.

These are the names of the average, normal, and not overly special, these are the people history did not remember.

So what gives?

What gives is that the people who wrote this genealogy are telling a very different kind of story.

Its the story about how the very Spirit of Life,
the very Energy of the Universe,
this God of Love,
is moving to create a world where everyone has enough and everyone has a place,
a world of peace and justice,
a world Jesus called the Kingdom,
the world as it was always meant to be,
and this God is doing it through the Magogs and Puts of the world,
God’s doing it through the average, every day, and normal people.

Are you with me now?

We talk about the part of the Bible nobody reads during a stewardship sermon because it reminds us of something really really important,
a scandalous truth we need to name more often as a church,
something we need to keep in mind when it comes to how practice and understand giving:

That story they were a part of,
that story about God repairing and restoring the universe,
that story about God bringing everything and everyone back together in love is still being told.

Its being told through people like us.

The genealogies remind us that in the grand scheme of the universe, we each have an important role to play.

We give and share because what we do matters and what we do counts.
It matters and counts because it keeps the story going and it is a story that needs to be told.

//
//

So why give? Why give your time, presence, or hard earned money?

Because Pot lucks and genealogies.

Its what we do as spiritual beings. Its part of the generosity we’re called to embody.

Its how we keep the story going. Its how we remind the world that God is still with us.

Amen.

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