“TAKING HOLD OF LIFE THAT IS REALLY LIFE”
Stewardship Consecration Sunday
Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
November 15, 2015
Rev. Ashton Edwin (“Ed”) Ayers, Jr.
1st Timothy 6:6-19
It is an honor and a blessing for me to be with you. I have enjoyed seeing some old friends on Tuesday evening with some of your leaders and this morning. It has been a joy renewing the old friendships but also to continue ongoing ones. One of those in particular is with your pastor, Jeff Garrison, whom I have come to know and appreciate though our work in Savannah Presbytery.
The most significant reason that I am glad to be here is that this is a day of renewal. Certainly, there is a focus on stewardship and a financial commitment to God’s work here. But, even more, it is an opportunity for total renewal and dedication as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Key for Today
A key for this day and what we are about can be found in our scripture text for today. It is from the First Epistle to Timothy. First and Second Timothy – along with Titus – are referred to as the “Pastoral Epistles” for they were written with a deep pastoral concern for a young pastor, Timothy. The writer, whom most believe to be the Apostle Paul, has confidence in young Timothy; but, he seems to feel that Timothy might need some guidance and support in order for his ministry to be successful. One reason for this is some of the false teaching being presented. Therefore, the words of admonition here are certainly for pastors, elders, and leaders in the church. Yet, they are for the congregation – then and now. They are words for all Christians, those who not only bear the name of Christ but who are charged to bear not only the name of Jesus Christ but characteristics of Christ. All of these, then, working toward the goal of purity and holiness in all of life.
One of the most significant areas this letter addresses is that of “Money Matters.” For instance, a most familiar statement in this chapter is that “we bring nothing into this life and we take nothing out of this life.” Or, as one of the most generous Christian friends I’ve ever known put it: “I’ve never seen a baby born that was fully clothed and I have never seen a U-Haul trailer behind a funeral hearse.” God knew us before we were born and God receives those who have faith in Him once we leave this life. In the meantime, what have in this life is temporary and fleeting; but, to be used for God’s glory.
A second famous and significant statement is that “The love of money is the root of al evil.” There is much confusion about this verse. The most common misconception is the misquoting of this verse in saying “Money is the root of all evil.” That is incorrect. Money is not a bad thing, an evil thing. In fact, money is a good thing and the church needs money as much as you and I need money in our home lives. It is when the balance of understanding about money becomes eschewed and money becomes the goal of life rather than a tool in life. It changes our attitude in a myriad of ways.
For example, I heard a story attributed to Billy Graham long before I entered ministry which has proven itself over 35 years of ministry. As the story goes, a carnival came to a small town and had in its sideshow a strong man demonstration. The huge man would lift stunning weights, he would rip phone books in half, bend things, breaking things and put on an astonishing display of human strength. For his final presentation he would take a fresh orange in one hand and squeeze juice from it until it was nearly pulverized. The side show barker would then exclaim: “I have $500 for any person who can come up and squeeze even one more drop out of this orange. Everyone stood back except for one small gentleman who began to move toward the front of the crowd. He was frail, weak looking, and extremely pail. But he accepted the challenge and after a few seconds of squeezing he produce almost a half a cup of juice. The barker was astounded and could hardly believe his eyes. “No one has ever done that,” he declared. “How in the world did you do that?” “Quite simple” replied the slight old man. “You see, for the last 40 years I have been a Church Treasurer!!”
I see you have a good understanding of this silly joke as it touches a familiar but painful truth. Stewardship Season, as it is most commonly known, is viewed as the church, the pastor, or in this case a guest preacher coming and trying to squeeze all the money possible out of the church members. Let me be very clear. That is the farthest thing from the truth. Neither your session nor pastor, and certainly not I, are here to put the squeeze on you in any way. For this day is not about any type of external manipulation. It is solely about an internal inspiration: God calling each of you to a renewed participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
Our purpose may be best understood in the title of this day: Consecration Sunday. We talk about stewardship at this time of year in many ways: commitment, dedication, pledges, etc. This day, however, is referred to as CONSECRATION SUNDAY. It certainly involves a financial commitment, a promise, a pledge dedicated to the work of the church in God’s mission. Yet, that is only a portion of consecration as I understand it. Consecration involves a complete life devotion. Giving our all in a renewal of our faith and commitment to Jesus Christ. My favorite definition of consecration sums it up well for me and hopefully for you.
“Consecration is radical devotion or setting apart of anything to the worship or service of God.”
As simply as I can put it, Consecration Sunday is about giving all that we have and all that we are in praise and honor of the God who, in Jesus Christ has given us His all.
To understand consecration also helps us understand the meaning and understanding of STEWARDSHIP, which also has much misunderstanding. The misunderstanding stems from the belief and practice that stewardship is synonymous with “money”. The truth is, it has to do with so much more than money. It also includes how we handle and deal with money. Something many Christian institutions simply do not grasp.
As a primary example, too many of our Christian institutions view stewardship as simply a matter of EXPENSE MANAGEMENT. Those exact words may not be used in the way the process is spoken of and certainly not in the way the process is viewed conceptually. But, more often than not, it is exactly the way the concept is worked out and practiced in the ongoing, day to day work.
I would suggest to you today that far more than Expense Management, the accurate understanding of stewardship is found in INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT. This, by far, is the greater Biblical understanding of stewardship. As directly as I can state it, Biblical stewardship is defined as
“the effective investment of all that has been placed in our trust as Christians in order to bring the
greatest return for the Master.” Or, to put it in Jesus’ terms, it is foundationally a matter of “loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.” Or, considering our text for today: being ”Ready to share … by taking hold of the life that is really life.” That is the fullness of Stewardship Consecration.
Tithe / Percentage Giving
Today, on this Stewardship Consecration Sunday, the encouraging challenge is to present a tithe to God or a percentage increase in giving for God’s work in 2016. Incidentally, the “tithe” seems to be most often viewed as the ultimate goal in our giving. In essence, it is more the beginning point in Biblical history. It is the “First Fruits” given but with many, many more giving opportunities to follow.
Today we come to consecrate ourselves; to come as close as possible to a total and complete commitment to Jesus Christ and the work of His Kingdom. Those who are “ready to share”, as we read in Timothy, understand this. It is a radical devotion to be a part of doing good, to be rich in good works, to be generous in the sharing of the work and wonder of Jesus Christ. For those who are “in Christ” as Paul puts it elsewhere in his Corinthians letter, those who are “new creations in Christ”, there is a beloved understanding of this. For those who do not know Christ, it is something totally different all together
For example, to use another reference from Billy Graham who spoke of two of the greatest indicators of the focus in our lives and what is important can be found in two theological documents:
our CHECKBOOKS and our CALENDARS.
By way of example let me share something of those with an opposite view of consecrated stewardship. I asked Jeff if he had purchased a particular item for Halloween; an item for his dog. I have a dog also whom I love dearly; but, neither Jeff nor I purchased a Halloween costume for our dogs. Still, there were many in this country who did. In fact, Americans bought Halloween costumes for their pets this year to the tune of $350 million dollars!!
In another area of spending, you may know the name Curt Cobain, a member of the rock and roll band Nirvana and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At an auction last week, one of Curt Cobain’s sweaters was sold. It was a ratty green cardigan sweater, faded, dirty, missing a button and a burn hole in the front of it. The winning bid was a mere $137,000.00. A very different kind of stewardship wouldn’t you say?
Another item was a prescription bottle (an empty one) with a prescription for Valium given to Elvis Presley with the ominous instructions: “Take only as prescribed.” The bottle sold for $6,500.00!
Stewardship is about the life lived by those who are Christian, disciples of Jesus Christ, witnesses for Him. It is part of our witness as well as our service as followers of Christ. I have said on many occasions and still believe it that if we are associated with the name of Christ as His followers, everything we do, everything we say, everything we don’t say or don’t do is a witness to what we believe. We are in essence billboards for our faith in the Son of God. Stewardship is essential to that witness. Those who are not “in Christ” simply do not understand.
Let me share a definition of stewardship that has proven itself over and over during my ministry. It is not original with me but it has become a standard. That definition is this:STEWARDSHIP is what a person does with his or her intellect, abilities, achievements,social status, time, energy and finances once that person has said: “Yes, Lord, I believe!”
My feeling, which goes along with that definition, is that if someone has given their heart, soul, mind and strength to Jesus Christ, no one has to ask them to give. We simply need to remind them of what God is calling us to do in order to serve Him. With that thought in mind, let me close this morning with two, possibly three, reminders about our task, who we are as Christians and what we do as consecrated stewards.
Skidaway Presbyterian Church
My first reminder is about who you are; you, the faithful congregation of Skidaway Presbyterian Church. I have known you and known of your ministry for over 10 years as a member of Savannah Presbytery. If you want a vivid reminder of ministry, care and giving, I would encourage you to simply look around this room. It is filled with people who love the Lord and who love and care for each other. Many of you know the ministry of those in this room. Many of you have known the blessing of caring for others in this congregation and in giving … as the song we sang with children states it … You ended up having more when you gave that ministry away. I have seen it in getting to know your pastor, Jeff Garrison, as one committed to serving Christ by carrying on this great ministry within this congregation and outside these walls. A consecrated stewardship assures this ministry will continue.
Also, if you would allow me a personal moment, I have also known myself the care and ministry of this congregation. There are people in this congregation – some of whom are now in glory – who have blessed me with consecrated stewardship of God’s love and grace. Many of you may not even be aware of that as it is simply what you do. But, I am deeply grateful and thank you for it.
Corporate, Connectional Ministry
Another reminder has to do with the work of this congregation and your support of and participation in the work of the greater church. Today we are shocked and we mourn with the people of Paris, concerning the godless attacks on the people there. We wonder what we can do, how we can help? We feel frustrated at not being able to provide some type of hands on ministry. What we can do, however, is the work of ministry right where we are. We can give and participate to the work of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace; and, as we are consecrated to his ministry it radiates, expands from where we are. That is our consecrated ministry of the stewardship of all that we are and have.
I would share just one example. One of my responsibilities in Savannah Presbytery is that of I am the leader of the Discipleship Renewal and Transformation Team. DRT for short … which makes me a “Dirt Leader”. One of the joys that falls under our responsibility and oversight is that of what our denomination now terms “1001 New Worshiping Communities.” They are communities which serve Jesus Christ and are reaching out to people whom our established congregations are not reaching: the homeless, downtrodden, addicts, and many others in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.
One of those communities in our presbytery is a community in Brunswick which has been named “Crosswalk”. It is led by Rev. Tripp McKinnon who works half time as the pastor at the Altama Presbyterian Church and the other half as the pastor of this new worshiping community. A vivid example of consecrated stewardship happened there not long ago. The “Crosswalk” group, ministering to a family near them who was in desperate need, took clothes for the children of a young mother. The clothes they took fit the children. However, they also took some larger sizes in order for the children to have clothes to grow into.
In a short time they went back to check on the family to see how things were going for them. The mother was deeply grateful; but, she told them that she had given the larger clothes to another needy family. The reason for doing that, as the mother put it, was that they were so blessed. But, they had never been able to do something for someone else. Remember Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to received.” This young mother and children were blessed in both directions. That is a life that is grasping real life and ready to share. This and many more ministries are made possible, in large part, by the consecrated stewardship efforts of congregations like you.
Your Hear Is Where Treasure Is
One final thing I would share with you about the reason for committing to a consecrated stewardship. Jesus Christ made a very pointed statement when he said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Those who treasure Christ and the relationship with him are the ones who understand this concept. They are the ones “ready to share”. The ones who understand that stewardship consecration is about a financial promise. Yet, they know it is also about a renewal of one’s heart’s focus; a consecration of your percentage gift to God. But, it is also an opportunity to rededicate our lives to the treasure that is the abundant, eternal life as disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the area of treasure I would ask you this. Have you ever wondered what God in Jesus Christ treasures? If you look around again you will see the treasure of God. Even more specifically, I would ask you to think back to the first time after you awoke this morning that you went to the mirror. (For me, this becomes a little more difficult to face as I get older!) But remembering the person you see in the mirror is to remember the treasure of God. You and the body of Christ, his church, are treasured in God’s heart not only as his beloved children. You are treasured as his servants and as his consecrated stewards.
Today, our love and treasure are offered to God in response to God’s unconditional, everlasting love for us. Today, we renew our consecration to God as his children and as his consecrated stewards.
In the name of God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . .
Our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.