Tuesday, 13 March 2012

What return shall I make?

Lent 3 year B Sermon  ‘What return shall I make?’
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It’s fundamental to the Christian faith… that all you and I have…our life in all its fullness…the earth and all that sustains us… are a gift from God. A gift freely given to us in love…not earned…not a right…not even deserved…
but a gift of God’s grace.

And as you just heard…from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s …it’s fundamental to being the Church
that we respond to God’s grace… with gratitude. 

Henry Ward Beecher once said that
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gratitude is the fairest blossom that springs from the soul.

But did you know scientists have now discovered
that gratitude itself… is actually good for you?

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Whether you call what God has given you…a gift or a blessing or simply a grace…however you name it…
it turns out it’s healthy…. spiritually and emotionally and even physically… to practise being grateful.

Let’s try an experiment with this right now. With your neighbour, I want you to talk about the top three things you’re grateful to God for… in your life.

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I don’t know about you but I always feel better when I make a list of all the things I’m grateful for.

At a particularly bad time in my twenties…I carried around a list of all the things I had to be grateful for and I looked at it every day. It really helped.

Maybe Paul recognised this when he told the church in Thessalonika…

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give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Book cover slide
In his book the Happiness Advantage
Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor says he has evidence that happiness creates successnot the other way around.
And this is contrary to what our competitive culture
wants us to believe… that success will make us happy.

At first even the name of the book… made me sceptical,
but I found it gives clear scientific evidence…
to back up its claims.  And one of the most intriguing things the author discovered… is the link between gratitude and happiness.

In one study… every afternoon for just a few days…
a group of people were asked to write down the things in their life they were grateful for….

And the results were astounding.
Not only did participants report feeling much happier during the study… but they continued to feel happier
after …and this was compared to a control group…
who weren’t asked to write a gratitude list…

It seems the simple act of remembering their blessings
had a huge impact… on the lives of those who did.
So this Harvard professor concludes…

gratitude isn’t just a social nicety;
but it’s essential for our well-being and our happiness. Gratitude allows us to stop dwelling on the negative and begin to see the positive around us…that we easily miss.

Twelve step recovery groups talk about cultivating an attitude of gratitude…and a great spiritual discipline we can all begin is to write down our blessings at the end of each day. When you do you’re likely to notice your sense of wellbeing grow.

This isn’t just a meaningless ritual. God knows what’s good for us…when we’re positive…our brains are more motivated, energetic, resilient, and creative. This discovery’s been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in neuroscience and even management studies around the globe.

And this lines up perfectly with the biblical principles that shape our belonging to the Body of Christ…

Slide words
give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus.

in the Messianic Age…the age of the new covenant …as you heard in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s…gratitude
not regulation must be the motivation for all we do…
in response to God’s love

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And that’s great news isn’t it? As Christians no longer do we have a religious tax…what used to be called a tithe in the Old Testament…where every good Jew
was expected to give a tenth of what they had …

But if tithing is no longer expected then what is?
I find a lot of people are confused about what is expected of them in this regard. We know we should thank God in prayer and in service to the church and community…but just how are we supposed to express our gratitude to God financially

Well…I think the passage we heard from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian’s this morning…is a great guide for us. It sets out five principles for Christian giving to the church.

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First, Paul tells us… giving as an expression of gratitude should be done regularly. Paul writes…Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so when I come no collections have to be made.

Just as we might make a regular list of what we have to be grateful for…we’re to make a regular gift of gratitude for the support of the church…

And Paul was just being practical… because it’s easier to give small amounts frequently than large amounts
on a monthly or annual basis… and practical…
because every church has ongoing needs and financial obligations …that have to be paid for every week.

The second principle Paul sets down… is that our financial slide words
expression of gratitude to the church should be proportionate Reveal
As it says in our reading…
a sum of money in keeping with your income

Not be a fixed proportion, but a sliding scale depending on how much you have… no percentage is given.

Now this would’ve been an ideal place
for Paul to bring in tithing but he doesn’t mention it.
He only says that if anyone has prospered greatly
they should give back greatly. And if you’ve only prospered a little…then smaller gift is completely acceptable.

Thirdly, Paul says
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every believer is to give. Paul says "each of you" Corinthians should contribute to the collection. No matter how small your contribution may be…every Christian should steward their
resources… so they can give to support the work of the church. At least that’s how Paul saw it in the Messianic Age.

And we find principles 4 5 and 6 for Christian giving in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian’s …number four is

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Giving motivated by gratitude for the grace of God.

Paul writes…
since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you - see you also excel in this grace of giving.

And principle 5
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give of your own accord voluntarily
Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us
for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations

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And six…Christian giving is driven by loving relationship with God and on another
They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us…generous giving proves the genuineness of a Christian's love

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Finally Paul says he’s never going to insist…or order them to give…I’m not commanding you he tells the reluctant Corinthians… but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor,
so you through his poverty might become rich. [pause]

As we journey toward Easter through the season of Lent
the place we truly learn the art of Christian giving
is at the foot of the cross.

We each need to ask ourselves is our giving to the church based on the gratitude we feel to God or do we come at it with resentment and reluctance and even indifference. 

We have 110 families who say they want to be actively involved in our church. If everyone were to be just a cup of coffee a week more grateful…just a cup of coffee you might buy in a café…we wouldn’t be running a deficit of twenty five thousand dollars this year – even with the fund raising for the gala.

Now I think the main reason for this is that our congregation just didn’t know about how big the deficit is going to be. I think your hearts are in the right place and that you are cheerful givers…full of gratitude to God.

And let’s be clear about this…I’m not talking about our Family Connections Manager and her work…
because that’s funded by a grant from the Synod

and I’m not talking about our church extension either… because the lion’s share of that will be paid for
from the sale of property and another grant from Synod.

I’m talking about our being twenty five thousand dollars short in the day to day… best practise …
running of the church…I’m talking about the mission
I know you want our church to be doing
in the community…in the name of Jesus…

like my work with our teenagers to build their faith …at this stage we can’t even feed them after school from the church budget…we can’t fund the mentoring of students at Mount Aspiring College we’re committed to in partnership with the school and the Anglican Church… And we have no money to give to overseas emergency appeal hardship except what’s donated on Christmas Day or by the APW.

But because I know you actually care…I’m not going to hide the truth from you…instead I hope you’ll resolve to match your giving to your blessings…
in the full understanding of the situation of our church.

The Bible says that generous and willing giving occurs when the love is the motive. It’s my experience that this congregation is full of love for God for each other and for the community…and for the generations who will worship in this church…so let’s do it…lets show our gratitude by increasing our weekly giving in keeping with our incomes…Reg and I have… so I hope you will too.

Gratitude slide
Let’s count our blessings and name the things we’re grateful for and every day ask ourselves…what return can I make for all this…And through Jesus let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips
that give thanks to His name.