The Message, November 21, 2021, "Blessed and Blessing"

The Message, November 21, 2021, "Blessed and Blessing"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
November 23, 2021

 

“Blessed and Blessing”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Matthew 6:25-34

            Well … here it is Consecration Sunday, so you know what that means. It is time for the pastor to give the “give until it hurts” stewardship sermon.

            Here comes the guilt trip about all of the comforts and extravagances that we all enjoy but should NOT enjoy … or should at least feel guilty about enjoying.

            Here comes that heavy, “it is our Christian obligation” to give message.

            There is a reason that many pastors do not like offering stewardship messages. Almost as many reasons as why church members to not want to HEAR those messages. The reality is that nobody enjoys taking about money or giving. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Some of you are probably feeling a little squirmy right now. But that is not what this message is all about this morning. This is a “give until it feels good” message!

            Yes … Jesus did say that we should practice sacrificial giving. We just heard the message about the widow that placed her two thin, copper coins into the treasury a couple of weeks ago. She gave all that she had to live on. That message is still fresh in our minds.

            But let us also remember the words of Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” [2 Corinthians9:7 (ESV)]

            God loves a cheerful giver. Giving should be a joy, not a burden.

            We should give because it feels good. Helping others feels good. Caring for our neighbors feels good.

            Yes … our giving supports all of the ministries of this church. But let us look at it from a purely self-centered perspective … giving makes us feel good. It gives us joy!

            We give of our resources because it is what we are called to do. Jesus was very clear about that. We give sacrificially, rather than out of our abundance.

            We give as an act of gratitude and thanksgiving for all of the blessings that we have received.

            And we give because it brings us joy!

            Our passage this morning is from the Sermon on the Mount. It is the foundational sermon for Jesus’ teaching and preaching ministry. And it is the foundation of our faith and practice. The passage that we just heard follows immediately after the verses about mammon … money. That is the passage in which Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters.

            So then, why not deliver a stewardship message using THAT passage?

            Is it because we know that Jesus really did not like talking about money either? Not really, because he talked about money and giving more that just about any other topic. Eleven of the thirty-nine parables that he told were about finances or giving.

            No, we are considering this passage about considering the flowers and the birds because Jesus also knew intimately about the love and caring providence of God. And he knew the joy of beauty.

            Jesus was also well aware of the school of philosophy that believed that the world was a corrupt, dark and evil place. He knew that practitioners of that school sought to remove themselves from it. And Jesus knew the truth about the world. The world is God-given, created by God and blessed by God. He knows that the world is full of love and beauty.

            Just like the flowers of the field and the birds of the air, God called us into existence as well. Therefore, God loves us just as much, if not more than those, and God will take care of us.

            The heart of Jesus’ message is that we should not allow worry to be the central focus of our lives. Jesus was not telling us that we should not work, or that we should adopt reckless or thoughtless attitudes toward life. Rather, he was telling us that we should not allow worry to remove the joy from our lives.

            This was not new teaching for those gathered on the hillside that day. It was familiar Jewish teaching. The great rabbis taught that one ought to meet life with a combination of prudence and serenity. Jesus was reinforcing this lesson. His point was not that the birds and the flowers do not work, it is that they do not worry.

            Again, it is not that work does not matter. It does not mean that providing for ourselves and our families does not matter. Of course, they do. It is a matter of priorities.

            If we focus our hearts and our minds upon the Kingdom of God, if we do the work of the Kingdom, we push worry to the side. The power of love is that it can drive out every other concern. Following God and the Way of God helps us eliminate worry in our lives. It brings us peace, and it bring us joy!

            We live in joy, work with joy, serve with joy.

            By “seeking first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness” we do not adopt an otherworldly view of economics and money, but we assess their usefulness in relation to more serious matters. (Douglas R. A. Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 76)

            Now, that does not mean that there will not be difficult days. It does not mean that there will not be pain or struggles. It does not mean that there will not be sadness. It DOES mean that God will see us through.

            Remember that Jesus sent his disciples forth and instructed them to take nothing with them. They were to rely upon the hospitality of the communities that they visited. Jesus knew that God and God’s people would provide. He knew that God cared for them and would care for their needs.

            This season always makes me reflect upon my life and the blessings that I have received. As I look back, I recognize that I have never had to worry about anything. I have never gone hungry. (Obviously.) I have never had to worry about having a roof over my head. I have never had to worry about where my next paycheck was coming from. I live in a warm and comfortable house. I have more clothes in my closet than I need. When I want to but something, I do not need to think of what I have to give up first. I do to have to decide between a bag of groceries or my car payment.

            However, when Renee was diagnosed with cancer … I worried. My life had never been touched by something as serious previously. But I was not consumed by my worry. The community of God provided for us and cared for us. The people of God wrapped us in prayer.

            After Renee’s surgery, this community supported us in love and prayer, and you BURIED us in food! We did not have to worry about what we would eat. We worried how we could possibly eat it all!

            We have been truly blessed. We have been blessed and we share our blessings with others.

            On Wednesday morning, I received a call from the General Assistance office about a woman in desperate need. She is a single mom with a four-year-old daughter. They had been evicted from their apartment and were faced with the prospect of living in their car until they could secure lodging.

            They came to the church to meet with me. The four-year-old ran around as carefree as the flowers of the field as the mom shared her story with trembling hands and tear-filled eyes. She worried. She worried about caring for her precious child.

            But God provided. YOU provided. I told her that there was no way that she was going to sleep in her car with her daughter. We helper her get into warm and safe lodging.

            You did not even realize that you were doing that. You did not even know that you offered care and shelter for this desperate mother and her beautiful daughter. But you did. She thanked you with tears in her eyes.

            Why do we give? We give because we are blessed. And we give because giving offers joy. Giving offers joy to the giver and to the recipient. We give so that we may bless others.

            We bless in the obvious ways: the story that I just shared is one example. We bless with all of our mission ministries: the diaper bank, the shoe ministry, our support for the Saco food pantry, Seeds of Hope, and Bon Appetit. We bless with the MLK, Jr. Day of Service, and Thanksgiving Baskets, and Christmas gifts. And so much more.

            When we give, we bless all of our wonderful Sunday school children. They learn about God’s love and the FEEL God’s love. They see it at work all around them.

            When we give, we bless the children that sing in the choir. They not only sing about ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ but they learn how, and are prepared to let it shine.

            When we give, we bless the youth that go through youth fellowship and Confirmation classes. They do not affirm their faith because mom and dad tell them to, they do it because their faith is an integral part of their lives. It is in their DNA.

            When we give, we bless through our worship services that comfort, encourage, inspire and nurture all who gather here and also all of those who watch online. We cannot possibly know all of the ways that our worship services touch the lives of others. But we do know how much it touches our lives.

            When we give, we bless the young couple that will stand in this spot and exchange their wedding vows. This church family will always be a part of their beautiful celebration.

            When we give, we bless the young family that gathers around the baptistry to dedicate their child to God. They feel the love and care of this church family.

            When we give, we bless that family that gathers here with broken hearts and wadded up tissues because they suffered the loss of someone precious. We embrace them with our care and our compassion.

            When we give, we bless the entire community through the use of our physical space. We make this space available as a gathering space. Girl Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous gather here. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is now using our building to train their dogs.

            It would be a wonderful thing if our giving enabled us to make this space available at no cost to the community. What an incredible gift that would be!

            Yes, we give because Jesus calls us to give in meaningful and sacrificial ways.

            We give because we are so grateful to God for all of the blessings that we have received.

            And we give because it makes us feel good. It brings joy! Serving God and serving in God’s name pushes away worry.

            Now, let me pause for a moment. The intent of this message is not to shame those who cannot give financially or cannot increase their giving. We give in many other ways. We give every time we lift someone up in our prayers, every time that we offer a prayer shawl, or deliver a meal to someone that has just had surgery. We give every time that we volunteer our time, make a phone call, write a card, or visit someone.

            In whatever way that we give, we give with joy. We give with thanksgiving for all of the blessings that we have received. And we bless others though our giving.

            May we live faithfully. May we live generously. And may we share the wonderful joy that we have received. Let us give until we feel good! Amen.


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