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What's in it for me?

Stewardship Campaign - Week 5

Matthew 19:23-30

October 23, 2022

What’s in it for us?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We have reached the final Sunday in our 5 week Stewardship themed season but this not the end of Stewardship discussions. We are by no means putting this topic to bed, but our season of focus does end today. Today is final week of intergenerational Sunday school which I have really loved doing and participating in. Next week we return to the lectionary and will commemorate the Reformation. So, to commemorate the final week of intense stewardship focus, we will focus on the most important topic around stewardship: discipleship. How many of you all thought I was going to say “money”?

I mean, I am not going to lie, money plays a big part in discipleship. Jesus talked about money more than any other subject matter in the Bible and this passage from Matthew is an example of that. But the reason for that is because Money often stifles discipleship.

How often do we say around the church, “We just don’t have the money for that” or “we can’t do that at this time?” Now a days, I think we have the opposite problem: We have no short supply of people willing to donate something around here such as youth ministry or hospitality…but to come and participate…yeah, nobody has time for that.

Elsewhere in scripture, in Matthew chapter 6, Jesus says a servant cannot serve two masters because they will either love the one and hate the other. One of the things that Matthew does well is his ability to flush out complex theological asserts such as wealth and discipleship. Today’s text is a continuation in that discussion—How do we serve God while also be a citizen of the world?

Should we recluse ourselves and not engage the world around us? As a guy who serious gave some thought around entering a monastery, that is possibility but if we all did that, who would tell others about Jesus? Because according Matthew 28, the mission that we are called to do is the preaching of the good news of Jesus to all nations and baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In order to successfully participate in our mission, we need to go out to all the nations, not hide in mountains and monasteries and engage the world around us. So, how do we engage the world but not forget that our primary focus is that of being disciples of Christ? When Jesus says, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” I believe that Jesus is addressing that very issue: how do we handle situations when wealth becomes and impediment to discipleship.

For a long time, my wife and I faced this kind of impediment but not in the way that you might normally think. It was the reverse. We were so far in debt that we didn’t even know how much debt we were in. We called some debt, good debt and some debt bad debt. We weren’t in any “bad debt” we just had one good debt. And it happened so easily. When Pastor Diane graduated college, she had zero student loan debt thanks in part to her parents and the the PA in-state tuition program. I graduated with less than 10,000 and it would have been 3000 less if I would not have been an idiot and stayed at CCBC another year. Throughout college, in order to afford the tuition, I lived at home and worked a number of part-time jobs. I eventually secured a job at St. Joe’s Medical Center that offer to pay part of my tuition. I cut back on my course load to four classes a semester instead of five to be able to work more at the hospital and to make up for the smaller class load, I would picked up classes in the summer and J-term. If the classes were at night, I worked at the hospital during the day. If the classes were in the morning, I picked up night shifts. But when we went to seminary, the tuition was a lot more than both of undergrad, instate tuitions. And of course, there was this mantra that sometimes you just need to spend money to make money. So, we both went into debt. And throughout the years, we took on more and more debt thinking that it was okay. You need a car but you don’t want to just a clunker, get a good car and just take out the loan. Oh a little credit card debt never hurt anyone. You need to build up that credit score to buy a house whereby you get more in debt. By the time August 2018 rolled around, we found ourselves in about 90,000 in debt and only about 5 grand to our name that we could dip into if something happened but nothing else. We got the point where no matter how hard we both worked, we were stuck. I worried that if I lost my job, what would we do? How would I put food on the table? Could I find another job that paid as much as we needed to make all the payments because let’s be honest, there aren’t too many jobs that a masters in divinity and Bachelors in Sociology will get you.

St. Thomas, Pastor Diane’s congregation, was offering a financial peace class and I told Diane that it was time we go. It wasn’t until we took the class and started adding it all up, that we realized how much in debt we truly were in. The biggest fights in our our marriage up to that point were over money. The biggest fights we both had with our congregations were involving money. And it wasn’t that we didn’t have it, it was the fact that our wealth was dictating our response and not our faith in Jesus Christ dictating the response.

It took a lot of determined work, a generous synod who at helped with student loan debt, and those Covid relief checks that we were able to pay down all that debt in 2.5 years. When we came here, we had just paid off our last student loan payment. And I got to tell you, It was the best feeling in the world knowing that the only person I owed my life to was Jesus. Not a bank. But something else happened during those 2.5 years. We also figured out how to tithe. For the first 6 years of our marriage and careers, we kept finding it impossible to tithe due to the fact that it was because our wealth was dictating our response, not our faith. Because we had a credit card bill, a van payment, student loan payments, all those payments took precedence over giving to God. It is really hard to think about giving your life to God when you are also worrying about putting food on the table and a roof over your head. So, the first thing we did in our journey to put discipleship before wealth was to first pray and then establish a budget.

You know, budgets usually get a bad rap, especially among my generation but who really likes budgets? In popular culture especially around government and business, the word and concept of a budget is used negatively. “We just don’t have the budget for that.” “We got to balance the budget.” In reality, that is really not the case. Our budget gave us the permission to spend our resources, not the other way around. We finally were able to see where our money was going and once we saw it, we were able to make changes so that our own priorities, especially priorities around faith, were now the only priorities that matter, not the banks’ priorities.

When the shut down happened 3 years ago, we just had Isaiah and we were both worried that one or both of us would lose our income, but we didn’t panic. We, instead, turned to our budget and looked at what was necessary to care for our growing family and what was not necessary. We got really good at not wasting any food and found food that was cheap, healthy, and could feed us a few times over. Those secondary concerns such as maximum debt payments took a back seat for a time, and we instead saved as much as we could. Once it became clear that our income would not be cut, we returned to paying off our debt as quickly as possible. Not once did we worry about food, shelter or finances. We worried about a whole lot of other things, but our wealth was not the stumbling block it use to be in our discipleship.

A few weeks ago in council, we passed a budget that was prepared by the finance committee. In council, as we discussed and debate the question around the passage of the budget, there was a lot of hope but also a lot of fear and uncertainty in those conversations. We are roughly 2/3’s the size of what we used to be yet the mission remains the same. But here is the thing, when the finance committee created our budget, fear was not the driving force behind any of it but rather our mission and commitment to discipleship was the focus: how are we sharing Christ's love, growing in faith, and serving others through this budget. Our budget isn’t designed or meant to restrict our mission, but gives us permission to spend our resources on areas and ventures that allow to share Christ love, grow in faith and serve others. Our budget mirrors our mission. However, I have seen many times when the budget becomes a stumbling block and is used as an an excuse not to act when we have the funds and resources to do so. The budget, just like it is in your family’s life, is an important tool in our mission.

Zion is a sleeping giant with more resources than those earlier German settlers in 1776 ever imagined. The thing that I

Learned and realized over the past few weeks of budget discussions and our focus on stewardship is that we got the people, the funds, the space, the passion and zeal to carry out this impossible mission of sharing Christ's love, growing in faith, and serving others. We got the tools to do it and most importantly, we got a God who makes the impossible, possible.

But we got to get out of the mindset of “what’s in it for me.” We gotta stop looking at what others are doing and instead, look at what is needed. We got to stop allowing our own personal missions to take over the real mission of the gospel. Church is not a product that you buy into, but it is a community of people who gather around God’s word and holy sacraments so that we can out into the world and tell others that there is something better than just acquiring wealth and possessions.

God does impossible things, my brothers and sisters. I have experienced that time and time again throughout my life. What impossible things is God doing in your life? Where do your priorities lie at today? Are they rooted in your faith or in someplace else? Make today the day you reorient your self. There is no such thing as a hopeless situation and today can be that day that you say, “no more” to the past. You know, we cannot serve God and money, but what you can do is use the gifts God has given each and every one us: our time, talents, and treasures to share Christ's love, grow in faith, and serve others. Let’s have that conversation and let today be the day that you stop allowing the world to dictate your priorities and begin to align you priorities with God. That we put an end to viewing the impossible tasks of mission as a hinderance but view them as a mountain that we can overcome through the help of the Holy Spirit.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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