God Doesn’t Want Your Money but God Does Want Your Worship
I hope you noticed in the bulletin and Interface that our October sermon series is called “God doesn’t want your money, but we are asking for it anyway”.
We had thought to name it just “God Doesn’t Want Your Money”, but then thought better of it.
Because while God does not need your money, JMPC does.
And this is the time or year where we ask for it.
Why do we need your money?
Because ther are financial costs to do what we do.
What do we do?
We – as in everyone here along with everyone who financially supports JMPC – use that money to change lives for the better.
And as I have said in prior years, we are allowed to ask, “Are we doing that?”
Here is my answer.
If changing lives is what we at JMPC want, if people see that we are successful, they are likely to give us more money so that we can change more lives.
And that is what is happening here.
Folks must be seeing changed lives because financial support for JMPC has been going up over the last few years.
In fact, this year, JMPC has been able to take the money given to us to expand the funding for our missions and ministries to the highest levels since I have been your pastor.
I think that is awesome!
Now the bylaws of JMPC don’t permit me to know who gives what to the church, so I can’t write each of you a thank you note, though I would like to.
So instead, I want to take the time to offer you my personal thanks for giving JMPC the ability to be salt and light in a world that is often tasteless and dark.
But there are other people I need to thank who are known to me, and everyone else at JMPC.
The people who show up and give their time and talents.
A couple years ago I went on and on about “doing just one thing” here at JMPC, and telling you that doing one thing might change the world, or at least a little part of it.
Those “one things” have included everything from stuffing envelopes to staying overnight at Family Promise, to cooking a meal for Duquesne Kids Club, to teaching Children’s church, to leading Bible study, to setting up and tearing down the Christmas affair, to gardening, tree planting, to singing in the choir, to just showing up for worship.
You get the picture.
All of us are doing our part to make people’s lives better.
And maybe changing the world, just a little bit at a time.
All this giving is sometimes hard.
Sometimes it even feels sacrificial.
So why do we do it?
What makes us want to change lives?
Because God did it for us.
And we do give of our money, time and abilities as a response to what God has done for us.
And we do as much as we can because God has been generous and we want to be as generous as we can, too.
This is the Jesus way.
The word that summarizes our response to God is “gratitude”.
I am grateful to God.
I am grateful to you.
And maybe we should thank each other by giving ourselves a hand for all this generous gratitude.
Recently, I read Diana Butler Bass’ book “Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks.
It turns out that we actually need to learn how to express our gratitude.
She tells the story about how she hated writing thank you notes when she was a little girl.
Her mom made her, but she did not like it.
Yet she knew it was the right thing to do.
So she tried to teach her own daughter to write thank you notes.
Her daughter did not like it either.
Surveys show that not many people do.
But we need to, right?
We need to express our gratitude, right?
But sometimes we just don’t know how.
It has always been this way.
The Roman Christians in Paul’s day had a bit of trouble with this gratitude thing.
Sure, they were grateful that Jesus had died for them and that they were promised entry into the Kingdom of God, but they really didn’t know how to express it.
So, Paul tells them how.
Paul says that we demonstrate our gratitude through worship.
Here is what Paul tells the Roman Christians.
Roman 12: 1-8
12I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
But Jeff, you say, that doesn’t sound much like worship.
But what Paul is saying is that worship is more than showing up to church on Sunday, though that is part of it.
Worship is so much more.
Paul is describing worship to the Roman Christian community.
What should worship be like?
It should be done in community.
The “followers of the Way” were to gather in someone’s home, take part in a communal meal much like the last supper, sing psalms, hear a “prophetic message”, and share what they have with those who were in need.
That is what Paul is describing in our text.
In response to all God has done, the people were to worship.
They were to be grateful.
They were to present their bodies as living sacrifices.
They were to come not to die for God, though many would, but to live for God.
And to live for God meant that they were to reject the philosophy of the world that ignored God.
Their minds would then be renewed.
They would be transformed!
That is how they were to respond to God’s great mercies.
But there is something else.
Paul tells the Romans that they should not think too much of themselves as individuals.
They should not think that worship is something they can do alone adequately.
Each of us must recognize our limitations.
No individual can do all that worship requires alone.
But as a community, there are fewer limitations.
Paul teaches that when each member of the congregation offers their individual gift to the worship experience, worship is the full expression of gratitude.
So, worship is a community event.
Sure, we can glorify God individually.
We can meditate on God and scripture all by ourselves and feel connected to God.
Personal devotions are good.
But worship requires community.
Here is what I mean:
Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass wrote an article for the book “Practicing our Faith”.
In that article they tell a story about a man who attended the funeral of his father who was a Methodist minister.
The man was distraught in grief and could not bring himself to sing the hymns offered at the service to accompany his father into the presence of God.
Later, the man realized that the congregation sang those hymns not only for themselves in their grief, but for him who could not.
The worshiping community filled the gap of his inability to fully participate caused by his grief.
Which is why I love this story Lutheran Pastor Nadia Boltz Weber tells.
A woman came to her and said she could not recite the Apostle’s Creed.
The woman said:
… I don’t know if I believe this. … I can’t say the Creed because I don’t know if I believe every line in the Creed.
Boltz Weber responded:
… oh, my God. Nobody believes every line of the Creed. But in a room of people, for each line of the Creed, somebody believes it. So, we’re covered, right?
Some might find that heretical, but I find it comforting.
Robert Emmons, in his book “Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”, says this:
Gratitude takes us outside ourselves where we see ourselves part of a larger, intricate network of sustaining relationships, relationships that are mutually reciprocal.
Paul calls all of this communal worship.
It is our grateful response to God as best we can offer it.
That’s what it’s like here at JMPC.
None of us can do everything, but in a congregation of people, for each part of worship, somebody steps up to fill all the gaps.
That is what Paul is talking about.
We have preachers.
This year we have had Matt, me, John Welsh, Debbie Evanovich, Jenn Frayer, Leann Fuller and Silas Ncozana.
We have all kinds of ministry, from gardening, to flood relief, to birthing babies, to supporting mothers in rehab, to comforting the bereaved, to praying our joys and concerns … you get the picture.
We have teachers in Children’s church, Bible study and youth groups.
We have enthusiastic leaders on our Session, Deacons and various ministry teams.
And, as I said at the outset, we have generous financial supporters.
All this, Paul says, is how we respond to God with gratitude for all God has done for us.
We are a grateful community.
We are transformed.
We are renewed.
So, what does all this have to do with financial support?
None of this happens without it.
Just like the Roman Christians, Paul tells us we have to share what we have so that the community we call JMPC can do what it is called to do.
Some give a lot.
Some not so much.
But we all need to give something.
Our goal this year is that everyone give some financial support.
If you have not given in the past, give something this year.
If you have given in the past, we are asking that we increase our gifts by 3%.
So, think about that as we come to this table.
This is the table that symbolizes the great gift we received from God through his son.
The gift for which we need to say, “thank you”.
If we do that, we can respond even more emphatically to God’s great gift in 2020.
It is an act of worship to the living and giving God.