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tomorrow's sermon--Acts 20:32-35

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity. Amen.
* * *
Welcome to week two of stewardship at Good Shepherd.
There are a ton of illustrations for sermons available online
for stewardship season
—object lessons that show you simply and clearly
why tithing is important and doable,
illustrations which would bring every one of you to your knees
with the blinding truth of God’s love,
illustrations which would have you opening your wallets and
handing over everything for the work of the Kingdom! A-men?
Or, at least, that’s what they’d have you think.
There are jokes about ministers and horses and desert islands,
there are prop-related illustrations
that involve things like a mason jar with a few Ping-Pong balls
and some sand which, when I saw it done,
was cheesy but effective.
There are thousands of these things available,
because we in the church have realized
how difficult it is to talk about money in an engaging way.
We’re all a bit jealous of our time and our money.
I know I have a hard time thinking Leighton and I will be able
to cover our bills and things
if we give more money to the church.
And, if you don’t have the experience of Good Shepherd
as a joy-filled place that feeds your soul
for ministry in the world,
no sermon illustration ever will make you open your wallet.
Before Leighton and I had our delightful daughter Abby,
before we were even considering having kids, we had a pretty good life.
We worked and we made art and we gardened
and we went out with friends.
We watched movies and TV, we talked politics,
and there never seemed to be enough time
for everything we wanted to do.
As we considered having a child,
we became fearful of how much time we would lose.
Children, wonderful creatures that they are,
take a lot of time to care for and play with.
Where would that time come from?
How would we continue doing all the things we had come to love
and still take care of this child?
Those of you who are parents know well how much your focus shifts
when you hold that baby in your arms
—often, we can’t even remember what we did
to fill the hours we now spend with Abby.
Some of the stuff you did before stays around,
but much of it gets put in your spiritual attic
and, while you miss it, you don’t miss it much,
because you have this amazing, overwhelmingly beautiful,
intriguing, endlessly changing
new relationship in your life.
The sacrifice of something you love
brings to town an even deeper love.
Do you get it?
This is so much bigger than the annual stewardship campaign.
This is the heart of the Gospel that Peter speaks of in today’s Acts reading,
that Jesus spent his life getting folks to see
—that this faith we profess is about a joyful relationship
which is so much better than we can imagine
when standing outside of it.
Clinging to our stuff or our time leads only
to a narrower, more pinched life,
but holding it all loosely,
offering our stuff, our time, our selves to one another in the church
expands our lives, allows us room to breathe in,
allows space for the Spirit to transform us.
Last week we talked about how we see the world
through a lens of scarcity
while God sees the world through a lens of abundance.
We talked about how this faith we profess is about celebration,
about how church should be and is a party.
Let me give you some examples:
Way back in the day,
when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem,
the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Law of God
given to Moses
and which was so wonderfully holy that it might indeed
have melted Nazi faces (Raiders of the Lost Ark, right?),
the Ark of the Covenant which was to be placed
in the brand-new Temple as a footstool for God,
when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem,
all the Jews partied and David, greatest King of Israel,
stripped down to just his shorts, and danced.
He danced so passionately, with such devotion and love,
that his wife was embarrassed. He was that happy.
And even farther back in the day,
when the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea
after fleeing slavery in Egypt,
when the Israelites had made it safely
between two enormous, terrifying walls of water,
when the Israelites truly saw the mighty, freeing power
of their God,
one of their leaders, Moses’ sister Miriam,
sang her relief and joy to have survived the crossing,
she and the women took tambourines and lyres
and danced around the camp in exultation.
Brother Paul wrote his gratitude and pleasure in God
even while still in prison.
In Hebrews 12, he all but shouts,
“Do you see what we've got? An unshakable kingdom!
And do you see how thankful we must be?
Not only thankful, but brimming with worship,
deeply reverent before God.”
And Jesus exclaimed over God’s generosity,
shouting his joy that the meek and persecuted
and peacemakers would receive abundant life!
All because they saw the depth and power and good news
of God our Maker.
And so we at Good Shepherd are asking something small of you
we are asking for a 1% increase in your current pledge out of joy
My husband Leighton and I have increased our pledge
We’re now giving a huge 6%!
That’s not very big, is it?
On the other hand, it’s only been recently
that we’ve made a regular pledge at all
a few years ago
I did a little math and was embarrassed to discover
Our pledge was less than 1% of our income
And I thought we were so close to a tithe, 10%
So I figured out 2% and sent in the card
this year, 5%, next year, 6%, and after, maybe as high as 7%
I mean this in all seriousness
Increasing a pledge to the church can seem huge,
Even by a single, small percentage point
like that time before you have a kid
and you can’t imagine how you’ll manage
But ask yourself
Why does Good Shepherd matter?
Why does this community, here and now, matter to you and to the world?
What life of celebration have you discovered here?
What makes you want to dance with joy?
Have you made friends and connections here
you couldn’t somewhere else?
Have you reached out to someone who needed it?
Have you had someone from the Stephen Ministry
or the food-making ministry show up at your door?
Or received a card in the mail?
Have you talked with someone very different than yourself?
Has this community made an impact on your life?
Why does Good Shepherd matter to you?
Last week, we heard the prophet Ecclesiastes say that
we “will scarcely brood over the days of [our] lives
because God keeps [us] occupied with the joy of [our] hearts.”
And this week, Luke writes in the book of Acts that
the Gospel is “a message that is able to build you up.”
The heart of our community is celebration.
The center of our practice is thanksgiving.
The focus of our lives is love.
later, we’re going to sing a song called “When Love Comes to Town”
—it’s about deep joy in the midst of a broken life,
it’s about God being present in the craziest places
and about love winning out every time.
When love comes to town—when God comes to town—
he won’t be looking for your excuses,
he won’t be wondering how often you’ve been praised
for helping out your fellows
or how well you’ve avoided them,
he won’t be wondering if your theology’s kosher
—mm-umm, no, sir, when love comes to town,
when God comes to town,
he’ll be looking for how we’ve used the gifts we’ve been given,
he’ll be looking for how generously we’ve treated the abused
and the abusers,
he’ll be looking for how we’ve lived out this image of God
we were created in
—mm-hum, yes, sir
love comes to town every day,
God comes to town in every moment
—so you better dance like David and sing like Miriam,
you better write like Paul and shout like Jesus.
And give yourself away like it’s going out of style!