Interm Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
Who we are made to be: that is up to God. How we use what God designed: that is up to us. We can use our talents in many ways. Some benefit the world. Some benefit only us. Some are of no benefit to anyone. Will Willimo
Joy of Stewardship – Talents
Dad came home from work mad because a deadline was moved up and the pressure of finishing his project was eating him up. He was going to have to work at least four hours after dinner. Mom also came home upset. She had overheard several her co-workers making some rude comments about other people in the office. Now she was worried what they said about her. Both Mom and Dad wanted a little sympathy from each other. Neither one got it. They sat down at the dinner table, cranky and grumpy. Emily, their five-year-old daughter, prayed for dinner “God, it's Emily. How are you? I'm fine, thank you. Mom and Dad are mad. I don't know why. We've got birds and toys and mashed potatoes and each other. Maybe you can get them to stop being mad? Please do, or it's just gonna be you and me having any fun tonight. Amen.”
A man made an appointment with his pastor. He came into the office and slumped down into a chair. “It used to be so easy to be joyful. When I first became a Christian joy just overflowed. I was always smiling and laughing. Now my faith seems so bland, my prayers are routine and my life is boring. Nothing is really wrong – I’ve just lost my joy. What should I do?”
Have you ever been there? There are times in life when joy is easy. It bubbles up inside of us. What do you do when joy becomes a struggle? I’m not talking about those times when you are in the midst of a crisis or going through grief. Those are different issues. I’m talking about ordinary life that just doesn’t seem exciting any more. It’s just boring. It’s ordinary.
Where do you find joy in a life that seems to be missing it? When you are bored or just feeling blah, what can you do to experience the joy of the Lord? That’s the question I want us to think about this morning.
Jesus told a parable about a man who went on a journey. Before the journey he called his servants together and gave them talents. The word “talent” is actually a Greek word and its meaning has changed. Today it means the ability to do something, but originally the word “talent” meant a balance, something used to weigh items. Over time it came to refer to a specific weight, usually a weight of metal, that was used on the balance. Depending on the type of metal – copper, silver, gold – it was worth different amounts.
Commentaries have a variety of opinions on how much the talent that Jesus mentions is worth. Some suggest that a talent is worth $1000, others say it might be worth $400,000, which means that the five talent servant received anywhere from $5,000 to $2,000,000. Either way it was a significant amount of money.
When the wealthy man gave the talents to his servants, he expected them to use the talents and grow them. Two of the servants used their talents and produced more. The third servant hid his talent in the ground. That was actually a fairly common practice at the time and was considered the safest way to keep money.
Just as the rich man gave talents to his servants, Jesus has given us talents, not only money, but especially our abilities. Until Jesus returns he expects us to use them. Paul, rather than talking about talents, talked about spiritual gifts. God gave to each one of us a gift, or a talent, to be used for the ministry of God’s kingdom.
I want to do something different this morning. Rather than challenging you to use your talents or inspiring you to use your gifts, I want you to hear the stories of some members of this church who have used their talents for ministry.
Family Promise Report
What you have heard is a story of people using their talents to share God’s love. How many of you can cook a meal for a group of people? How many people do we have here who can drive? Is there anyone here who can talk and visit with other people? How many of you can make a bed? How many of you can sleep on a mattress other than your own? We have the talents here to do a ministry like Family Promise. Other people have other talents that can be used to share God’s love.
Let me go back to the beginning, to where I started this sermon. Where do we find joy? What can we do to bring joy into our lives? Joy comes by being the person you were created to be and by doing what God has gifted you to do. When you use your talents joy will be part of your life.
In the Parable that Jesus told, do you remember how the master responded to the first two servants, the ones who used their talents to make more? He said, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave.” Hearing that you have done a good job will bring joy into your life.
On Facebook this week, there was a cartoon that caught my attention. It got the attention of a lot of pastors. The caption was “When pastors dream.” It had a picture of a pastor outside of his church, after worship. There was a big fist coming down from heaven – God gives a fist-bump to the pastor. As He gives the fist-bump, God says “Great sermon, Bill.” I appreciate it when people give me compliments and comments about my sermons. I hope no one is offended by this, but the best compliment you could give me would not bring me as much joy as hearing God say “Good sermon, Doug. Well done, good and faithful servant.”
On top of that, notice what the master said to the two servants after that. “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). Using our talents for ministry, to build the kingdom of God, will lead to entering into the joy of God.
Remember that man, at the beginning of my sermon, who made the appointment with his pastor to talk about joy? He was surprised by how his pastor responded.
“How have you given joy to someone else? Have you shared your faith with your family or with people at work? Have you invited anyone else to become a follower of Jesus? Have you served people in the community who are hurting? Where are you serving at our church? In what ways are you using the gifts that God has given to you?”
Joy is not something you can store up. We only keep joy by giving it away. Our joy grows as we share in the work of Christ in the world. You find joy by doing what God has created you to do, by using the talents you have been given and being the person that God made you to be.
I invite you to spend some time in prayer, asking God to lead you and guide your thoughts as you reflect on three questions:
Then close your prayer by asking God to open the doors that will enable you to use your talents and hear Jesus say to you: “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thought for Meditation:
God's foremost rule of finance is: We own nothing. We are managers, not owners. Stewards, not landlords. Maintenance people, not proprietors. Our money is not ours; it is his. Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name, p68
The Method of Miriam’s Madness
Those of you who were here last week heard me talk about the stewardship of our time. You also heard me say that today we are going to talk about stewardship of our money – and you still came to worship. Thank you! I want to spend some time this morning thinking about how to decide how much money to give. I’m not going to focus on how much you give to the church, though we certainly hope you will include the church. During worship next week we will ask you to turn in your pledge card, saying how much you are committing to the ministry of Sharon church. How will you decide what you put on the pledge card?
Three men were talking about how they decided how much money to give. The first one said that he drew a circle in the ground and took all the money he had made and threw it up in the air. Whatever landed in the circle he gave to God. Whatever was outside the circle he kept for himself. The second one also drew a circle and threw his money in the air. Whatever money landed in the circle he kept and whatever was outside the circle he gave to God. The third one said “I take all my money and throw it up into the air. I figure God can keep whatever he catches.”
Some people, during the offering, will open their wallet and look for the smallest bill they can find to put in the offering plate. These people are the ones who tend to pray, “O God, why does a $20 bill look so big at church and so small when I’m shopping.” Some people don’t think about what they give. They just give the same amount every year. “$10 a week was good enough in 1966. It ought to be good enough now.” Let me share with you two ways to decide how much to give. They come from our Bible passages.
The first option is to give a portion of whatever you earn. Out of whatever you receive as an income you give a percentage to the church, or where ever you give. This is the traditional method of deciding how much to give. It comes from the Old Testament. There are a variety of passages call the Israelites to tithe. In Deuteronomy Moses gave the law to Israel, showing them how they were to live as God’s faithful people. He told them to take a tithe of their crops and give that tithe to support the Levites and the work of the Temple and other religious organizations.
Now, I want to be very clear. The word tithe is a technical term. Some people use it to describe the amount that they give. The word tithe means 10%. If you give 2% or 3%, or 30%, you are not tithing. To tithe means that if your income is $10,000 you give $1,000. If you receive $100,000 you give $10,000. One way to decide how much to give is to give a portion, a percentage, of what we receive. The Biblical expectation is 10%.
I don’t know how much anyone here makes and I don’t know how much anyone gives. My assumption would be that most of us are in the middle class. In Allegheny County, middle class is defined as making between $34,438 and $102,800 per year. If we assumed that the average income in this church was $50,000, and if every family gave half of a tithe, 5% to Sharon Church, we would more than double our budget. One way for this church to reach its financial goals and dreams would be for every family to calculate the percentage you are giving to this church and increase it 1% per year, until every family gave at least 5% and maybe even 10% or more, to the Sharon Church.
A seminary professor was talking about this passage from Deuteronomy. The class was rather uptight about it. To many people 10% seems like an impossible amount. One student raised his hand and said, “Is the tithe still mandatory for Christians? Didn’t Jesus come to get rid of this type of legalism?” The professor agreed that tithing could become legalistic and that the Christian life did not demand a tithe. There was a collective sigh in the class as they felt the freedom that we have in Christ. But the professor went on to talk about the standard that Jesus set for giving and the example of Jesus’ life. Jesus demands everything.
Miriam was one such example. She was married to Howard for 31 years. They had four children who had all grown up and gotten married. They had 3 grandchildren and were expecting more. Then Howard died, leaving Miriam with a farm to run and incredible debts to pay. As she began working through her grief and putting her life back together Miriam never lost her faith in God. She claimed that the only way she survived was with God’s help. Every week she went to worship, gave an offering and praised God.
For several years she did okay. She hired out workers to plow the fields, plant and harvest the crops. She didn’t make a lot of money but made enough to pay the bills. Then she hit a bad streak. One year there was an early freeze. Two thirds of her crop was destroyed. The next year there were floods that ruined most of the crop. Her creditors demanded their money and Miriam didn’t have anything left in her bank. She looked in her wallet and all she had was $20. She went to the grocery store and bought as much food as she could. Her bill came to $19.98. She took the two pennies, went to the temple, and put them in the offering. She gave the last of her money to God.
That would have been the end of the story, except that Jesus was sitting there, watching people put money into the treasury. Lots of people came. Some of them were of average wealth and put in average amounts. Some were rich and put in average amounts. When Jesus saw Miriam put in her two pennies he pointed her out to his disciples, praising her with words that showed his respect and compassion. He said that she put in more than all the others. “They all gave a small portion of their abundant wealth. This poor widow gave everything. She gave out of her poverty – 100%.”
No one knows what happened to Miriam after that. Maybe nothing happened and she died of starvation. Somehow, I don't think so. Maybe she went to live with her kids. Maybe there was some sort of miracle that kept her food from ever running out. I like to think that Jesus found her and she became a disciple and lived in the Christian community until she died. Jesus lifted Miriam up as an example for us. She gave everything she had. It was crazy. It was madness. But we remember her story.
I’m not suggesting that Miriam’s method of giving is an example that we are supposed to follow. There are some people who are called to give away everything. There was a man out in our presbytery in Colorado whose goal in life was to give away one million dollars. He did it twice. He was a chemist and researcher. He built up two companies and sold them for a million dollars and gave it all away! If anyone here feels led to do that we won’t argue. I’m not suggesting that is what everyone is called to do. However, I do believe Miriam can teach us several lessons about our giving.
First, faithful giving is sacrificial. The amount of the gift is not as important as the cost to the giver. The size of the gift isn’t as important as the sacrifice that went into it. As I mentioned earlier, the tithe is the standard that has always been lifted up as what Christians ought to give. “If you give 10% you are being faithful.” I’m not going to reject that standard, but for many people 10% isn’t really a sacrifice.
Some of you are probably thinking “That’s not a sacrifice! He’s got to be kidding. There is no way we could give 10%.” Years ago Ted Turner, the cable TV mogul, gave away 1/3 of his wealth, 33%. That was impressive until you remember that he was worth $3 billion. He gave away $1 billion, that is great, , but there isn’t much sacrifice when you still have $2 billion. For most of us, giving 10% might mean that you have to sacrifice going out to eat as often as you would like, or not going on as many fancy vacations or buying all the things you want. I’m confident that most of us could give 10% without sacrificing meals or a warm home.
The story of this woman who gave everything, who sacrificed all that she had, challenges us to give sacrificially. For some of you that may mean shifting from giving 1% to 5%. For some it might mean shifting from 5% to 10%. For others it might mean shifting from 10% to 20%. We are all challenged to give sacrificially.
The second lesson is that faithful giving involves the recklessness of faith. Miriam could have kept one of the coins. It wouldn't have been much, but it would have been something. Yet she recklessly gave everything. She didn't hold anything back. She was able to do so because she trusted that God would provide her needs.
The Flying Roudellas were a group trapeze artists. As a kid I always loved watching the trapeze. It looked like a fun to go swinging back and forth, and then to let go and have someone catch you. On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of heights, so I doubt I would be very good at it.
In trapeze there is always a flyer, the one who lets go of the bar and flies through the air. There is also a catcher, the one who catches the flyer. The Flying Roudellas said this. “The flyer must never try to catch the catcher.” The flyer always has to wait and trust the catcher. When you are 40 or 50 feet in the air, letting go of a bar is a reckless act of faith. You have to trust that the catcher will catch you. That is the type of faith that Jesus commends when he sees Miriam put her two coins in the offering. Faithful giving means having a reckless faith that trusts in God to provide everything we need.
So, how much will you pledge to the ministry of Jesus Christ through the Sharon church for 2016? I invite you to spend some time this week praying, asking God to show you how much you are being called to give. Think about increasing the percentage that you are giving – from 2% to 6%, or even to 10% or more. Think about giving sacrificially, to the one who sacrificed everything for you. Above all, put your faith in Jesus, trusting that God will provide everything you need in your life.
I wasn’t originally going to include the Mission Statement of Sharon in this service, but as we pray and reflect on our giving to the Sharon Church, I thought it might be good to affirm what we are giving to – the mission of God’s love in Jesus Christ, through the Sharon church. Please stand and join with me in Confessing our Faith.
The mission of Sharon Community Presbyterian Church is to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, welcome and encourage all who want to grow in faith, care for those in need, and celebrate the glory of God in worship and in our daily lives.
Esther 4:1-14; Mark 1:14-20
Thought for Meditation:
Time constantly threatens to become our great enemy. In our contemporary society it often seems that not money but time enslaves us… Indeed, it seems that many people feel they no longer have time, but that time has them. Henri Nouwen Clowning In Rome p94-5
For Such a Time As This
Many of you have probably heard the story of the man who was talking with God. “God, isn’t it true that for you a thousand years is just like a second?” God said “Yes.” “Is it also true for you that a million dollars is just like a penny?” Again, God said “Yes.” “Well, God, could I have a million dollars?” God replied, “Sure, in a second!”
That old joke points to two of three resources that are part of stewardship – time and treasure. The third resource is our talents. Today is the first of three Sundays in which we are going to focus on stewardship. Today we are going to look at our time, next week at our treasure, and two weeks from now we will look at our talents. That third week, October 18th, is also the week that we are asking you to bring back your pledge cards, as part of your stewardship.
When it comes to our treasure, the money we have, there is a wide gap between how much the richest people have and how much the poorest have. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, but if we are honest, we probably have times when we wish we had more money. We get jealous of those who have multi-million, or even billion dollar incomes. Chances are that some of us even get jealous of the talents that other people have. There are certain gifts and abilities that I wish God had given to me. However, when it comes to time, everyone has exactly the same amount. No one has more, or less, than 24 hours a day and seven days a week. To help us think about our time I want us to look at two passages in the Bible.
Esther is not as well-known as some Old Testament stories, but it is a fascinating story. An interesting fact about this book is that God is never mentioned. There are enemies who are trying to destroy God’s people, but God doesn’t do anything in the story and the people who are being attacked don’t even pray to God. The word “God” is not even in the book. Some people call it a secular story. I would suggest that it is about the hidden work of God.
The story is set in Persia, modern day Iran, in the fifth century B.C. Esther was a young Jewish girl whose parents had died. She was raised by her cousin, Mordecai. Esther was a beautiful young woman who, through a series of events, became queen of Persia, the wife of King Xerxes.
There are three main characters in the story, Esther and Mordecai, and a man named Haman. He was an Amalekite who became one of the high servants of the king. Other people were expected to bow down to Haman and honor him. However, Mordecai refused to bow down to him. Haman was not at all happy with that lack of respect, so he set out to get revenge. He made plans not only to kill Mordecai, but to destroy the entire Jewish nation, the people of God. Haman laid out a subtle plot and took it to the king, and it was approved. That’s where we get to our passage in chapter four.
When Mordecai learned about the plan to kill all the Jews he was terrified and grief-stricken. He went to Esther and asked her to go talk to the king to see if he would do something. Esther was very understandably hesitant. The only time a person was allowed to see the king was when the king requested their presence. To go to the king without an invitation meant that you would probably be killed. When Mordecai heard her objection he responded with one of the best lines from the book of Esther. Essentially, what Mordecai said was this:
You are a Jew. Maybe, just maybe, you have become the queen, the king’s beloved wife, for such a time as this (Esther 4:14 – emphasis mine).
“For such a time as this.” In other words, God gives us time as an opportunity for ministry. Our passage in Mark has a similar message. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus says “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Through Jesus God has entered the world. Therefore it is time to act out our faith. It is time to live out what we believe. Jesus went on to call his first disciples, Simon and Andrew, James and John. He invited them to join his ministry. The time we have provides us with an opportunity for ministry, to honor God and to build the church.
Those of you who have been in my office know that I have an antique striking clock in there. I love clocks. We have five striking clocks at our house and someday I’ll inherit more from my parents. At one point they had fourteen or fifteen striking clocks.
If I had an unlimited amount of time I would love to study time. It is a topic that has always fascinated me. There are a number of themes that are connected with time: Sabbath – how we balance the rhythms of time; Busyness – which is filling our time with activities through which we hope to find meaning and purpose; Boredom – which is not from having too much time but from not finding any meaning in the activities we do in time; Procrastination – which is not recognizing the holiness of time.
Obviously, I can’t cover everything there is to say about time. Let me share with you one thought. The time we have is a gift from God. How we spend our time is part of our response to God’s grace. In other words, how you spend your time says a lot about your relationship with God. To be faithful stewards we need to spend our time in ways that honor God and build up the church.
That does not mean that everyone is called to spend twenty hours a week at the church. Some of us are called into full-time ministry, but not everyone. However, everyone is called to use some of their time for ministry.
There are probably a number of reasons people don’t use their time for ministry. One reason is that many people are not convinced that the things they do make any difference. Edward Kimball taught Sunday school at his church. He taught a class of teenage boys. Sometimes he actually went out to visit the boys where they lived or worked.
One Sunday a seventeen-year-old boy showed up to his class. His name was Dwight. He was rather rough around the edges. He wasn’t educated, and sometimes his anger would explode and he curse up a storm. Edward didn’t know how to build a relationship with Dwight and wondered if anything would help. Dwight worked for his uncle at a shoe store. Edward decided to go visit him at the store.
He walked to the store but didn’t go in. He wondered if it was worth his time. Finally he went in. Dwight was in the back wrapping shoes and putting them on shelves. Edward went up to him and put his hand on his shoulder. He mumbled a few words about Christ’s love and then left. He left thinking that he had probably wasted his time.
After Edward left, right there in the store, Dwight committed his life to Christ. Dwight’s last name was Moody. Dwight Moody was the most successful evangelist of the 19th century. Some people estimate that Dwight Moody preached to a hundred million people and travelled over a million miles, in the days before cars and planes.
In 1879 Moody preached a sermon that was heard by a young man named F.B. Meyer. Meyer committed his life to Christ and became a pastor. Later on, Meyer preached a sermon that was heard by a young man named J.W. Chapman. He also became a Christian and a preacher. Chapman started an outreach ministry to professional baseball players. One of those players was Billy Sunday. He became a Christian and eventually became one of the best known evangelists at the beginning of the 20th century.
Billy Sunday held revivals all over the country. One of those revivals was in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was so successful that leaders from the community of Charlotte invited Sunday to come back. He couldn’t go, but he sent one of his associates, Mordecai Ham, to preach at another evangelistic meeting. At that second revival in Charlotte a young teenager gave his life to Christ. His name was Billy Graham.
Edward Kimball didn’t do anything spectacular or out of the ordinary. He probably had moments in which he wondered if the time he spent teaching these teen-age boys and visiting them made any difference. Yet the time that Edward Kimball spent had a huge impact on the world and enabled millions of people to hear about Jesus.
For whatever reason, you are here today. Many of you are members of this church and come every week. Others heard that we are having free dessert and thought you’d check it out. Some of you are visitors and are trying to figure out if this is a place where you can worship God and a place that you can belong. Some of you are at home, watching on TV. For whatever reason, you have chosen to spend some of your time this morning in worship with us.
The reason you are here doesn’t really matter. God has brought you here for such a time as this. This church has a lot going on, lots of opportunities and needs. You’ll hear more about those over the next few weeks. If this church is going to become the place we want it to be, the place that God wants it to be, everyone needs to give some time to the ministry of this church, not only coming to worship when it’s convenient, but participating in the ministry to build the church and bring glory to God.
God has given you the gift of time. How you use that time, how you spend your time, is a reflection of your faith. You are here, as part of this church, for such a time as this.