The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost – October 14, 2018
Scripture: Joel 2:21-24, 27
This Sunday, this morning, we formally kick-off our annual stewardship season. And we do it like we’ve done it every year, with little or no fanfare. No big thermometers in the Family Life Center, no balloons or pie charts or raffle tickets sold. The most dramatic thing we’ll do, I suppose, is walk forward with our pledge cards on November eleventh, Dedication Sunday, and place them publicly, together in a basket at the front of this sanctuary.
You’ve heard from two of our Ministry Teams this morning and for the rest of this month and part of next we look forward to hearing from the others. These Teams are vital to our health as a community and we hope you will become a part of one of them, or one of the ministries they support, if you’re not already. You will be receiving letters and other communications that will share with you the hopes and dreams we have and the practical measures we have discerned to not only ensure our future in ministry here in this part of the world, but enrich and enhance it, to the glory of God. And when November eleventh arrives, we’ll dedicate our pledges of money, of time and of talents to the service, ministry and mission of God at Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church and find out how closely our deeds will match our desires.
Every year I wonder if we should be bigger, flashier, and more full of ourselves in these weeks. This is a season of celebration for any congregation – of what has been, what is, and what can be. But every year, in conversation with your Elders and the members of our Finance Team we decide to enter, move through, and conclude this season with intention and passion, but also with humility and simplicity. So …
What’s to be said that hasn’t already been anticipated? What’s to be preached that hasn’t already been heard? What will you hear that you haven’t already heard. Let’s find out. Pray with me …
We begin this year with these words: Do not fear. It’s already here. Listen for the Word of God from the Prophet Joel … (not me, that other Joel): Read Joel 2:21-24, 27 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
After a call to repentance in chapter one and the first half of chapter two, the prophet shares God’s response and promise to those who trust in and are faithful to the full life that is intended for the whole earth. Do not fear, O soil … Do not fear, you animals of the field … Do not fear O children of Zion … God has (already) poured down for you abundant rain … Do not fear.
I want you to understand that this message is not the message most preachers begin with when they’re charged with raising money for the future of a church: “Do not fear.” In fact, it’s pretty opposite the message most preachers begin with when they’re charged with raising money for the future of the church. Fear is a powerful motivator. The prophet Joel has used it already in his writing, to get the attention of his congregation, his audience, you and I:
Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar … Sound the alarm on the holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants tremble …
But we begin this season after that, after those, fearful verses and those fear filled motivators. Which is not to say we aren’t aware of the consequences of complacency and self-indulgence. We are. Every year, even before we wonder how to engage our stewardship, we wonder if we should do it so formally. “All year is stewardship season, why set aside these weeks? Doesn’t that make ‘giving’ something special, rather than something foundational to our lives as members of this community?” Well, yes, but we do this “season” intentionally every year because we are profoundly aware of becoming complacent and self-centered.
But we are also profoundly aware of how much we are blessed with and how much is here in our midst already … always. “Abundant rain,” the prophet says – and the good kind! If you haven’t sensed it on some level around here, then you’ve haven’t hung around long enough! There has always been a lot of “dreaming and visioning” and a lot of responding and implementing going on here.
We’re closing in on ten full years of ministry together. In those years we have maintained some of the most beloved traditions of this community and we have seen some beautiful changes. We have faced some difficult decisions and enjoyed some new fellowships. The past decade has prepared the soil for years ahead. “God has given the early rain for our vindication.” Joel 2:23 Our soil has been nourished by the life and the love and the ministry and the relationships we have all shared. Timidly at first, but with growing confidence and trust we began again to dream and to vision; to ask, not “what have we done?” but “What can we do?”
So, where do we go from here? In this new season when we focus on being good stewards of all that we have received, we walk on, of course. Walk on, tired and frazzled as we may feel at times. We walk on, work on, because this is only the early rain! The visions and the hope, the newness and the potential is only the beginning of the promise that is for us and for our children. God has rained down upon us the early rain and now …
The threshing floors are full of grain, the vats overflow with wine and oil. Joel 2:24
We are blessed here in this congregation. I believe with all my heart that all we need is here already: the time, talents, and tithes are present among us. God has provided, we know that. If you look around as you gather and when you leave on Sunday morning, if you slow down a bit when you come throughout the week, you recognize that this church is profoundly blessed – with property and physical spaces, with ministries and a school, with people and their love. Our “threshing floors are full and our vats overflow.” God has provided, we must not doubt. The question of every stewardship campaign, of every effort in any church, during a season set aside for replying to God’s provisions is “How will we respond?”
In this past year, your staff has changed and grown again. Our pastoral staff – Walter, Matt and I – have been joined by a new Director of Youth Ministry, Ashia, and our passion and energy has ramped up because of hers. Shelly and Marie in our church office, along with our custodian Toby are meeting the growing challenges of increased building usage, space coordination, and events on our calendar. Our CDC school has a new Director, Brandi Mikesell, for the first time in seven years and we are working diligently on creating a childcare and preschool like no other in South Oldham County. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that, as excited as we are as a staff about what is, we are more excited about what can be. And we’re looking ahead.
In this past year, we have given to Habitat for Humanity and Living Waters for the World, travelled to Montreat with Youth, collected for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Lott’s Creek, added a new Adult Sunday School class, maintained and “regularized” our webpage, had another blowout picnic party outside these walls, set visions and goals for the future of the church, and much, much, more. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that, as excited as everyone is about all they have done, we are more excited about what can be. And we’re looking ahead.
“Tell your children about it,” our prophet says as in words that also precede our reading this morning. “And let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” Joel 1:3 This season is for that telling. We will remember what has happened to us and how we have responded in the year and years past because now, in this season, and in this coming year, we are expressing and experiencing a new deliverance: New opportunities, new obligations, new joy and hope and possibilities.
God has poured down for us abundant rain. Joel 2:23
How will we respond? With suspicion, skepticism and doubt? Or with generosity, confidence, and trust? These are the questions of our Stewardship Season this year. We will be replying to them in the weeks ahead and answering them on November 11. So, get ready. In the weeks ahead, we will prepare again for that day.
For this morning, let’s end a little “lightly.” Our denomination sends lots of resources to help its pastors during stewardship season designed, I suppose, to ease your pastor’s potential frustrations with the tension of the season. A few year back I received couple of lists that probably bring most of those things we experience during any Stewardship Season into play: guilt and duty, expectation and identity, obligation and opportunity. I’ve used these before many years back
The first list includes five reasons not to pledge your money this year.
- You will not have to say ‘no’ to your children or yourselves as frequently.
- You could buy a new car, get rid of the old one a year sooner.
- You can travel more, taking real vacations instead of just going to see the family.
- You can pay off some of those other bills that have been worrying you.
- When you do give to the church, you can choose where it goes and what it will fund. You won’t be bound by any unified budget that the church voted and those who pledge support.
And the second list includes five reasons you might consider pledging again this year.
- You will strengthen your church to do a better job in ministering to people locally, regionally, and even globally.
- The church lights stay on, the lawn mower gets gas, and those things that break get fixed!
- Your children will see your example and know you to be a dad or mom, a grandfather or grandmother, who practices your faith.
- You’ll feel great the next time I preach on money. You can sit back and enjoy it.
- You will strengthen your faith.
When it is all said and done, generous giving is, after all, faith-driven. It is not preacher-driven; not impulse-driven; not gain-driven, or emotion-driven, or even need-driven. What drives and propels our faithful giving is faith itself. A radical trust in God and God’s promise of abundant life; a deep-seated fidelity to our Christian identity and the word it has to speak to our needful and broken world; and an underlying confidence in your church, its mission, its ministry, and most important, its members.
It is with that trust, fidelity, and confidence that we will finally know that God is in our midst, and that the Lord, is our God and there is no other. Joel 2:27
God has given us abundant rain. How will we respond? Welcome everyone to one of the most exciting times of the year in our church. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 14, 2018