Almost every autumn, pastors in some churches feel a push to preach about giving. This year we wanted to do more than focus attention on the church budget. We wanted to set the tone for a positive and “big picture” conversation about stewardship.
Encouraged by our deacons, I planned a sermon series that placed the spiritual discipline of giving within a hearty and wholesome biblical context. This became an opportunity to highlight some of the core teachings of Scripture with respect to God’s generosity, which is so evident both in creation and in redemption. Interestingly, while we were being taught about giving, we were also being taughtabout receiving!
The series is shaped by the familiar rhythm of God’s giving, our receiving, and then the invitation “Take, eat and drink!”—a celebration of God’s gracious provision for life. To honor that rhythm, consider celebrating the Lord’s Supper each Sunday during this series, or at least at the final service.
This rhythm is not peculiar to the New Testament’s revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact, what is revealed so powerfully in Jesus resonates throughout Scripture. If this rhythm leans us forward with anticipation of the great day of our Lord’s return, it also stretches back to the very beginning, to the story of creation. It puts us in touch with the impulse of God’s life-giving heart.
The themes of the first two sermons speak in the voice of God: “It’s all mine” and “It’s all yours.” The themes of the third and fourth sermons speak in the human voice: “It’s all mine” but “It’s all yours.” The last sermon may be imagined as the voice of God saying, “Enjoy!” and the human voice answering with a toast: “Amen!” as we then commune at the table of the Lord.
As much as possible, we reinforce the theme of the preaching series by repeating some elements during each of these Sundays. Song selections vary, though a few are recommended for repetition each week of the series. Responsive readings stay the same, and the flow of the service remains consistent.
God: It’s All Mine
Scripture: Psalm 24, Psalm 50
Settings of Psalm 24 (“The Earth and the Riches,” PsH 24)
“You Are Mine” (by David Haas, in Gather Comprehensive, also available as an anthem, GIA 3656)
“O Worship the King” CH 104, PH 476, PsH 428, TH 2, WR 2
“For the Beauty of the Earth” CH 182, PH 473, PsH 432, SWM 54, TH 116, WR 40
“This Is My Father’s World” CH 143, PH 293, PsH 436, SWM 62, SFL 95, TH 111, WR 21
“We Sing the Mighty Power of God” PsH 430
“Our World Belongs to God” PsH 459
Ownership seems rather important to us. We are quite accustomed to hearing ourselves and others make claims of ownership—but what we must imagine is the sound of these words “Mine. All mine!” coming from the mouth of God. This is nothing less than what the writer of Psalm 24 means to convey when he says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
The story told in Genesis 1 underlines this essential truth: God is the Creator and Owner of everything. Sometimes God speaks of his ownership pointedly, as in Psalm 50 when he proclaims that every animal of the forest and the cattle of a thousand hills belong to him. But mostly it’s just self-evident: when God says “It’s all mine!” he refers to anything and everything:
Every piece of clothing at the Gap, every Lego block, every beaver dam and wasp nest, every ounce of toothpaste you can squeeze from a tube, every paycheck and every allowance, every inch of your waist, every lung and every leaf of tobacco, every artery and every puff pastry, every syringe and every poppy, Mount Everest and Lake Mead: “It’s all mine,” says God.
North Americans belong to God. So do Pakistanis, North Koreans, Palestinians, Israelis, Congolese, Sudanese. . . . Presidents, presidential hopefuls, and your little sister and big brother. “All mine,” says God.
God’s ownership has always been characterized by a genuine delight and love for all that he created, and a longing for all his creatures to flourish. The devil twisted things early on by posing Adam and Eve as competitors of God, with God intent on his own well-being first of all. The devil gets right in Jesus’ face one day to say, “The world is mine!”
Whose world is it?
“It’s mine” says God, “all mine!”
But hear him say those words with the love that led him to send Jesus.
God: It’s All Yours
Scripture: Genesis 1:26-29; 2:15; Psalm 8
Call to confession: 1 Timothy 6:3-10
Gospel: 2 Corinthians 8:9
God’s will for us: 1 Timothy 6:11-21
Settings of Psalm 8: “Lord, Our Lord, Your Glorious Name” PsH 8, SFL 15 or “How Majestic Is Your Name” CH 121, SNC 24, SWM 30, WR 42
“In an Age of Twisted Values” SNC 61
“Let All Creation Bless the Lord” SNC 34, WR 25
“Creation Sings! Each Plant and Tree” SNC 36
“For the Music of Creation” SNC 37, WR 641
“We Bow Down” CH 154, SNC 42
“All Creatures of Our God and King” CH 63, PH 455, PsH 431, SWM 14, SFL 86, TH 115, WR 23
Owners, especially owners of vast enterprises, appoint managers. Good owners give managers room to make decisions and use their abilities. And good managers remember who the owner is. They keep in mind the desires and designs of the owner, and they treat things as if they were their own, knowing full well that they are not!
When someone lends you something of worth, there is a sense of privilege involved, a sense of honor—because lending something of worth implies a wonderful level of trust. It implies that the lender has confidence in your character. “Use our cabin. Use my chainsaw. Borrow my vehicle. Wear this dress. Go ahead!” The lender wants the gift to be used, to bless and help the borrower flourish.
Consider your utility bills. They represent God’s resources and how much we’ve used. Is our first thought the bottom-line cost? When you open that envelope—better yet, when you flip a switch and there is light, or turn up the thermostat and feel warmth, do you feel a sense of privilege at God’s provision and a responsibility to use his gifts wisely?
The Owner of all things wants us to flourish so deeply that even when his servant-kings rejected him, he went out of his way to reveal the truth of his goodness and the depth of his love and the wonder of his generosity.
“What’s mine is yours,” says God the Father. And he gives us Jesus. His love is written in blood.
Early on, God placed Adam in the garden and said, “It’s all yours.” And then, in Jesus, God makes it personal: “I’m all yours!”
Us: It’s All Mine
Scripture: Genesis 2:4-3:7
Settings of Psalm 136: “Give Thanks to God, for Good Is He” PsH 182, or “We Give Thanks Unto You” SNC 26, SFL 204
“Let All Things Now Living” CH 794, PH 554, PsH 453, TH 125, WR 22
“Now Thank We All Our God” CH 788, PH 555, PsH 454, SNC 228, SWM 230, SFL 33, TH 98, WR 14
“Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” SNC 216
This message honors the lavishness of God’s giving. Adam and Eve entered life as guests and friends of God. When God gives, he doesn’t skimp or cut corners. Look at how the writer describes Eden! Imagine the smells and sights, the colors and the flowing waters. . . . Adam and Eve were given a place beyond compare: Paradise.
They were also given a purpose: they were given the blessing of work! They were to use energy and ability and time and desire to do something useful on behalf of God.
And they were given each other: a partner, as Adam sang, “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”
It was good. All of it. So good. They had it all.
But apparently it wasn’t enough. Because there was that one tree. . . .
At the heart of what was wrong with Adam and Eve’s action was this: they no longer received life as a gift. They started seeing God as a withholder. Adam and Eve began to concentrate not on what they had, but on what they did not have. They began to view themselves as takers, not receivers.
When we focus on what we do not have, our eyes cloud over and our hearts become hard.
Thankfulness, on the other hand, is our testimony that God is the most generous of givers and we are the most blessed of receivers. Our thanksgiving is a delightful sign of the fruit of the Spirit.
Us: It’s All Yours!
Scripture: Malachi 1:6-14; 3:6-12
Settings of Psalm 116: “What Shall I Render to the Lord” PsH 178
“As Saints of Old Their Firstfruits Brought” PH 414, PsH 294, WR 570
“Take My Life and Let It Be” CH 597, PH 391, PsH 288, TH 585, WR 466
“I Offer My Life” CH 663, SNC 218
“In the Lord, I’ll Be Ever Thankful” SNC 220, WR 448
“Now Thank We All Our God” CH 788, PH 555, PsH 454, SWM 230, SFL 33, TH 98, WR 14
“May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” CH 568, PsH 291, SWM 211, SFL 72, TH 644, WR 464
The focus for this message falls squarely on financial giving as one significant aspect of stewardship. Stewardship is not only about money, but it includes money.
As a deep and vital testimony of our faith in the lordship of Jesus, believers are called to give. The Old Testament speaks frequently about tithing, which enabled the priests and Levites to do the work required of them in the house of God.
Sin turns us into tight-fisted withholders who share reluctantly.
God calls his people to profess their faith by presenting their full tithe—to “put their money where their mouth is” and trust that God will bless their faithfulness.
It’s interesting to note that tithing (giving an actual 10 percent) is an Old Testament concept. Whenever you translate an Old Testament law or reality into New Testament language through the work and ministry of Jesus, things work out to be more. More demanding. More encompassing. More everything. The ante goes up! So instead of one day being holy, every day is holy to the Lord. Instead of one tribe out of twelve serving as priests, we have the priesthood of all believers. Instead of a limited focus such as “committing adultery,” Jesus says, “whoever looks at another lustfully!”
Just so, we cannot use New Testament language, which does not speak of giving a specific percentage, to justify giving less. To talk and think about limits and minimums betrays an attitude of reluctant giving. That’s why God says, “Return to me.”
That means giving our best, our firstfruits, to God.
The Ten-Percent Party
Scripture: Deuteronomy 14:22-15:11
Settings of Psalm 34: see “Taste and See” SNC 255
“We Give You But Your Own” PH 428, PsH 296, TH 432, WR 688
“Father, I Adore You” CH 191, PsH 284, SFL 28, WR 143
“O Jesus, I Have Promised” CH 676, PsH 285
“We Are an Offering” SNC 230
“Here I Am, Lord” SNC 268
After reading from Deuteronomy, it’s clear that we didn’t invent the long weekend. God did! Two years out of every three, Israelite families packed up a tenth of their income and took it to the place of worship, there to enjoy it in the presence of God.
God didn’t intend that to be a migraine moment, so if the fields had produced well and the family had a long way to travel, then 10 percent of one’s produce might be sold in exchange for silver. Families could take the money to the place of worship and spend it there on food and wine. God told them, “Take and eat. Take and drink. Enjoy! And provide for the stranger, the orphans and widows.”
God’s intent is that such joyful feasting will help his people learn reverence. As a visible and real testimony of God’s ownership, we are called to share of and in his generosity. This call to spend freely and enjoy liberally is a call to revel in God’s generosity by learning to receive!
It’s as though God is coloring outside the lines of his law. Ten percent is not a legal requirement. For some folks it may be too much, for others, not nearly enough. The spirit of the passage is lavishness. There’s nothing about creative ways to make giving seem easier by figuring it out monthly, or weekly, or even daily. They brought their tenth in a lump sum—without any hint of “ouch,” and with every hope of “Wow! Look at how the Lord has blessed us!”
And then they (and we) enjoy God’s generosity together. The gifts of God for the people of God.
Song: “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” CH 815, PH 591, PsH 638, SFL 11, TH 731, WR 34
(This traditional closing doxology can set the tone at the beginning of the service during this series.)
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it!
The world and all who live in it belong to the Lord! (Psalm 24:1)
Health and strength and all that sustains life
we receive as gifts from the God who created heaven and earth.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Song of praise
Prayer of thanksgiving for God’s gifts in creation
(One way to encourage involvement across the generations is to solicit a list of things for which we may give thanks. We’ve had great fun building lists grouped by colors, letters of the alphabet, or certain categories.)
Call to Confession: Matthew 6:24-33; 1 Timothy 6:6-10 (The Matthew passage could also be a sung call to confession. See “Look and Learn,” SNC 186. This Korean song could serve as a call to confession throughout the series.)
Prayer of Confession
Loving Father, we confess that sometimes we think we can do things all by ourselves, and sometimes we are worried about things. We forget that you give us everything we have and that you make us who we are. Please forgive us for thinking about ourselves first. Please forgive us for not trusting you to take care of us. Thank you for always loving us, even when we forget that we need you. In Jesus’ name, Amen. [The Worship Sourcebook, B.2.2.2]
Call to holy living: 1 Timothy 6:11-19
Hymn of dedication
Prayer for illumination
Hymn of response
Profession of Faith: Use one of the ecumenical creeds, or stanzas 1-6 of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony (Faith Alive, 1987)
Offertory hymn: “Take, O Take Me as I Am” SNC 215, SWM 227
(This lovely song with its unresolved ending lends itself to being sung a number of times over, reminding us that our response to the Word is an unending challenge. Consider teaching the following motions to your children and have them lead you in your singing each week throughout the series):
- Take, O take me as I am; [hold hands out, palms up]
- summon out what I will be; [raise hands in forward circular motions]
- set your seal upon my heart [touch fingers of left hand to forehead (on the word set), mouth (on the word seal), then heart (on the word heart)]
- and live in me. [stretch right arm straight up, then bring right hand down with open palm facing left, forming a cross over left hand, which is still over the heart]
The Lord’s Supper
During communion, sing “You Are Mine” (by David Haas, in Gather Comprehensive, also available as an anthem: GIA-3656); settings of Psalm 103, such as the Taizé setting “Bless the Lord, My Soul” (SNC 256); “Eat This Bread” (SNC 254)
Look at your hands, see the touch and the tenderness,
God’s own for the world.
Look at your feet, see the path and the direction,
God’s own for the world.
Look at your heart, see the fire and the love,
God’s own for the world.
Look at the cross, see God’s Son and our Savior,
God’s own for the world.
This is God’s world,
and we will serve God in it.
May God bless you, may God keep you always, and lead your lives with love.
—from Iona Community Worship Book, 1991