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Monday, October 13, 2008

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings- Whose money is it anyway?

For Sunday, October 19, 2008

Exodus 33:12-23
Psalm 99:1-99
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

In this Sunday’s readings, Moses talks about seeing the glory of God.   The letter to the church in Thessaloniki offers prayers and some insight into what is ahead.  And Jesus in Matthew?  It’s time to render unto Cesar what is Caesar’s.


How are you handling stewardship this year?  The market was up 11% today, down much more last week. 

It’s tricky, isn’t it?  On the one hand, when the economy is struggling the church is needed more than ever.  The food pantries where I live are struggling Much more than usual to keep up with demand.   We’re trying to find ways to give more, help more.


On the other, many in the congregation can’t afford to give as much, much less more.  Some of them are on fixed incomes.  Others are newly unemployed.


On still another hand, most of us still have a way to go on tithing.  What is the average person of faith in the United States giving away?  3%?


 Consider Richard Semmler:

Semmler, a 59-year-old mathematician, teaches calculus and algebra at Northern Virginia Community College. He can explain how to find the derivative of a polynomial… [and all sorts of complicated equations].  But in his private life, Semmler has reduced his existence to the simplest equation. In the last 35 years, by working part-time jobs and forgoing such everyday comforts as a home telephone and vacations, by living in an efficiency apartment and driving an old car, Semmler has donated as much as half of his annual income or more to charity.  His goal: $1 million before he retires.

‘If I didn't do all of the things I was doing, I would probably have a new car every two years and I would have a huge house with a huge pool,’ Semmler said this week as he took a break from pounding nails on a Habitat for Humanity house in Vienna. He donated $100,000 to this house, most of the money required to build it. He stared determinedly up at the half-finished house, his T-shirt streaked with sweat and sawdust. ‘But I would not do it that way,’ he said. ‘I want to do it this way.’

Percentage-wise, Semmler's generosity is exceedingly rare among the middle-class -- or the rich, for that matter, say those who study philanthropy. Each year, U.S. households give away an average of 2 percent of their income to nonprofit and religious organizations, according to Giving USA, which tracks donation trends. A household with Semmler's annual income, $100,000, donates an average of $2,000 annually to charity.

Last year, Semmler gave away $60,000.  ‘Life isn't always about multiplying what you get, he explained. Sometimes, it's about subtraction.’”

Jacqueline L. Salmon.  “The Washington Post.” Professor Finds Fulfillment in Emptying His Pockets. Saturday, June 11, 2005.



So.   Is it stewardship season where you are? 

What word do you have that comforts, challenges, and encourages, all at the same time?


  1. I'm up to preach this week. I'm very excited by having such a meaty Gospel text, but not quite sure how I want to approach it.

    To me the Pharisees and Herodians, two mutually antagonistic groups, nonetheless tag-teaming Jesus with a "gotcha" game is so analogous to the political atmosphere in the U.S. that the parallel cries out to be recognized. And I keep coming back to the "render unto God the things that are God's." We know that Jesus' antagonists really didn't care about paying taxes to Caesar, that that wasn't their real motivation in posing their question -- but Jesus seems to be obliquely pointing out that, similarly, in their own ways, they're not really serious about "rendering unto God" either. His response to them is not only a clever riposte to their trap, but also a reality check about who's really in charge. And perhaps in these politically polarized times we need to remind ourselves that God, not Caesar, is ultimately in control and in whom we must ultimately place our radical trust.

  2. I read during our Bible in 90 Days class that this particular rhetorical device that Jesus is using is called an enthymeme. If you wikipedia it, you'll find this as an example of a suppressed extra premise enthymeme. the usual example of an enthymeme is "humans are mortal, so Socrates is mortal" with the suppressed premise being that socrates is human. but sometimes, as with Jesus, there is an extra premise, in this case that we are stamped with the image of God, that is only known because of the conclusion (give to God what is God's). Intriguing.

    I am only preaching one of our three services this week--the other two we have a Colombian pastor preaching. But I think I'm going with the idea that we are made in God's image and therefore our whole selves, not just our money or our one hour (or less!) on Sunday morning or whatever. Your basic decompartmentalization, shalom-type sermon. We'll see, though...

  3. I'm not sure whether I will preach the gospel or Exodus this week. I promised my congregation that I wouldn't use the "render unto Caesar" text to talk about stewardship. This is the Sunday we will have our dinner and program for Stewardship and I also am doing the talk at another church tomorrow night.
    I pulled my sermon from three years ago, though, and still like my basic premise - we don't really believe that everything we have, everything there is comes from God. We think we can limit God's involvement in our lives or our involvement with God. Setting aside time to pray isn't a bad thing but if we have that time blocked out on our calendars and treat it as something to cross off or just another meeting, then we are in deep spiritual trouble.
    Sunday I talked about remembering that we are given our wedding garments at baptism, that we are supposed to wear it all the time. This week is an extension of that, I suppose. So maybe I'll go back and talk about Moses' desire to see the One he so diligently serves and ask where we see God.

  4. We are celebrating Anniversary Sunday here. So I am using Deteronomy 30 on choosing life in conjunction with "render unto ceasar".

    In a setting where hard choices may soon need to be made (the congregation is not financially supporting full-time ministry, I have personal wonderings about the long-term viability--both in energy and in money--of the congregation) trying to determine which choice leads to life is not always apparent.

    Unfortunately I am out of town for 3 days this week so time to bring theses thoughts to a close will be limited

  5. Oh and it is election day in Canada today. Please hold u in prayer

  6. It's a complicated week for preaching on these lessons - we have the retirment celebration of our organist, after 13 years with us....and we have an Archbishop visiting from Africa who will preside at our two services while I preach. It's going to be weird....but hopefully it will also be joyous.

    now, what to say?

  7. 2 notes:
    first, I wonder if Professor Semler has met his goal yet? Or how he's been doing on it for the last 3 years? Just a curiousity, I suppose.
    second, I'm thinking about the idea of the "Tithe of Life"-- moving beyond thinking about giving money (not that we do so great on it, but . . .) to giving God what is in God's image-- ourselves. And what exactly would that mean? We don't do our financial Stewardship campaign until the springtime, so I'm not thinking so much about that right now.

  8. We're honoring International Children's Sabbath here this coming Sunday, and, providentially, the last time I did this in my former church was 3 years ago. For the first time I am recycling a sermon and I'm not feeling the least bit worried about it. I am looking forward to a little sermon writing breather after my stressful week of it last week!

    Of course, that sermon is saved on another computer, so I need to go pull it out tonight from home, but I remember working with the idea that all people, but particularly on this Children's Sabbath Sunday, the children of the world, are stamped with the image of God. Then lifting up how we are to give the children to God which, practically speaking, means caring for them as God cares for them, advocating for them, working for justice in their lives and their communities. That's the jist of what I remember, but I'll find more about it tonight.

  9. Semmler - inspiring.

    I am convinced - credit crunch or not - most of us could live VERY well on an awful lot less and give away a LOT more - me included ...

  10. This Sunday oughta be fun for me: we're going to do our first ever Stewardship Sunday in campus ministry. The challenge? Commit to some sort of regular offering, even as little as $1/week.

    It all starts somewhere, right? Most of my students haven't clue #1 what "tithing" means or how to do it.

  11. AAAwweee teri!!!
    I was anxious to see how the worship enhancemnet group would handle the Exodus text with God's backside...
    Prayers for Canada Gord!!!
    I am still on exodus, but trying to figure a cool approach to bring it all to a close once with get our milk and honey!

  12. Uh, Scott,...
    I have some congregants that are like that.

  13. I'm working on the Matthew text. I like the story, Listing Straight. Not sure I'll use it this week, but I may tuck it somewhere to use in a few weeks. Our stewardship season is beginning, but it's pretty low-key. I may touch on it, but I'm convinced (at this point in the week, anyway), that Jesus is saying, "give God everything, because everything is God's."

    Other than that, not much tumbling around here yet.

  14. I have a story and a title, and that's about it! The title just hit me...WWJD with a W2?

    And, here's the story in case anyone finds it useful in your ponderings. It seems to represnet a good understanding of how our money can be a danger to us.

    Last week, I attended a clergy conference at Christmount. Our leader was Johnny Wray. Johnny has been the Director of Week of Compassion for the last sixteen years, and he spent two days talking to us about his travels and what he learned about the life of compassion. He told us about a trip to Haiti. From his description, I do not believe we can imagine the conditions in Haiti, but Johnny said that Week of Compassion had given seed money for loans for local projects. One group of women got a $200 loan – to put that in perspective, most people in Haiti live on less than $1 a day. So, $200 was like a windfall. They started this chicken business – they raised chickens to sell at market. When Johnny visited Haiti, he asked those women how this chicken business had impacted their lives – and most of the answers had to do with feeding their children. But, then he met the big cheese of the chicken business – an old woman, and everyone called her the Grand Dame – but she told Johnny that just meant Big Mama. She said that this money meant that she could tithe. That’s what it gave to her, and she invited Johnny to her home which was a one-room cinder block structure. They sat down, and she took a dusty wooden box out from under her bed, opened it, and pulled out two Pepsi-colas that she had been saving for a special occasion. They talked and drank Pepsi, and when he left, Johnny thanked her and told her that he would certainly be praying for her. She said, “I will pray for you too because I know it is more dangerous to have too much than to have too little.”

  15. In the United Church of Canada, the third Sunday in October is set aside to mark World Food Sunday.

    I haven't a clue what I'm doing with the theme yet, but it will have something to do with nourishment in its various forms - physical, emotional, spiritual.

    I need some time to let it percolate a bit, but that's the start of it.

  16. We're easing into Stewardship, and I'm going to reflect on the coin. How do we decide where we spend what? Do we think it through? Or do we just flip a coin? Where do you "render" your loyalty--in other words, who is the modern-day Caesar on the coins you spend?
    Our Stewardship letter (in the mail today for those who did not receive it in person on Sunday) addresses the complexity of asking for money when people are worried but stresses the value of the community particularly in times of trial. I'm going to echo that theme in the sermon, I do believe, reading both Matthew and 1 Thessalonians.

  17. I'm still thinking...
    got to finsih Bible Study (wrestling with Jacob, wrestling with God)..
    then more wrestling with the Exodus text.

  18. 1-4--I too would like to see what worship enhancement would have done with God's backside! Maybe next time...

    We are in the second week of stewardship--people should be getting the letter/brochure this week. On Sundays we are doing something called "stand up for stewardship" where "voices from the pew" (pre-arranged) stand up during the stewardship moment to talk about "what in the life of our congregation touches my heart." (the theme for stewardship, not surprisingly, is "where you treasure is, there your heart will be also") Each program area is, in theory, covered by a voice from the pew. In reality we have some gaps, like, for instance, music, but we are hoping that those gaps speak for themselves. We'll see. We're also asking people to answer the same question in writing each week, and the responses are being posted on a wall in a big heart shape for everyone to see.

    Now to figure out how to incorporate this whole idea with the give-to-god-what-is-god's thing. And in such a way that I'm not bitter that only 30 people will hear it rather than 200 since we have guest preachers for the second and third services....(sigh)

  19. I get to preach--first time in over a year! I am using the Exodus passage. My theme is that God will renew God's covenant with God's people because of grace. I will focus on the story, focus on the community the passage was written to (in exile), focus on the Christian message, and focus on God's grace in our uncertain present time.

    I need a good story, so I am in the process of doing a little creative writing.

    I have a 24 hour on-call for my CPE on Friday, so I am hoping this sermon comes together before then. I may be too sleepy to join the Saturday preacher party.

    The church I am preaching at called a woman my age (early 30s) as their pastor. It is a baptist church in NC, so it was an interesting story. I met this pastor back in the summer and told her my story--noting some similarities in our call and education. She is out of town and asked me to preach for her. I am so blessed to do this. I also feel pressure to do a really good job. Networking is good, too. :)


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