TEXT: Luke 10:25-37
It’s a story that we all know. Or at least we’ve heard in various ways. The story of the Good Samaritan. We’ve even use the term “Good Samaritan” as a moniker for someone who goes above and beyond to help another. Which is why this story is excellent for a stewardship sermon. Though I’ll admit, when I first looked at the text prescribed for this week – I was a little confused as to how this could be a stewardship sermon. I didn’t even think this text was about money. But as I began to look more closely into the details of the story, I saw elements of biblical stewardship in ways that I never noticed before.
First of all this text addresses stewardship not in terms of WHAT we give but WHY we give it. Because the story gives us three different attitudes about stewardship that are prevalent in our society. In fact, these attitudes were first mentioned in a sermon on this text by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. back in 1966 – and these attitudes not only fill our society, but our church pews as well.
The first attitude is: What’s yours is mine, and I’m going to take it. This is the attitude of the robbers on the road. Now this attitude is one that nobody in the church, even in our society, would ever openly approve of. Yet a small minority of people – both in society and in the church – quietly possess such an attitude. We find the people of God holding such an attitude in the Old Testament. The Prophet Malachi speaks God’s words to Israel, saying that God will return to the people once the people return to God. To which the people reply, “But how do we return?” And God replies through the prophet: “Begin by being honest. Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day.” The people reply: “How have we robbed you” To which God answers through Malachi: “The tithe and the offering—that’s how! And now you’re under a curse—the whole lot of you—because you’re robbing me. Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don’t open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams…“You’ll be voted ‘Happiest Nation.’ You’ll experience what it’s like to be a country of grace.”
In biblical times, the tithe of 10% was a commandment, a requirement of the people who had the means, and was used to help care for the most economically vulnerable in society. Yet the people have failed to offer their tithe to God, and so the vulnerable are suffering. Nothing makes God more angry than to see the vulnerable suffer while those with the means to help look the other way. So God declares he will pronounce judgment against those who withhold their tithe because they cause harm to those who are economically vulnerable. And so God’s judgement comes upon, “those who exploit workers, those who take advantage of widows and orphans, those who are inhospitable to the homeless foreigner – anyone who doesn’t honor me.” In scripture, the one’s guilty of the attitude of “What yours is mine, and I’m going to take it.” are NOT the people who are dependent upon the welfare of others, but those who deny others welfare when they have the means to provide it. In Malachi, and in many interpretations of the Good Samaritan parable, to withhold such funds is not only to steal from the vulnerable, but to steal from God. So for Christians, while the tithe is not required of us, as it was in the Old Testament, the tithe is a powerful testimony to how much gratitude we have towards God for all that God has done for us.
The second attitude shown in the parable is: What’s yours is yours. What’s mine is mine, and I’m going to keep mine.” This is the attitude of the priest and the Levite in the story. Even though these men have been trained to give of their time, their resources, and even of their own personal comfort for the sake of others, they cross to the other side of the road when faced with the opportunity to walk the talk. This is the attitude most common in our American culture, and therefore, the attitude most common within the church when it comes to stewardship. Yet such an attitude is not an attitude of stewardship.
I’ve told you the story about the experiment done on seminary students who were assigned to write a sermon on the Good Samaritan, and then had to get across campus to preach the sermon. They were told it was part of a scholarship contest. Some students were given adequate time to write, get across campus, and preach. Others were purposefully given less time. As each student made their way across campus, an actor played a man in distress, and asked the students for help. Not surprisingly, those with more time stopped to help. And those who were pressed for time passed by on the other side – pretending they didn’t see the man because they didn’t want to feel guilty.
Now it’s not that the group pressed for time were bad people. They knew that this man needed help. However, they all counted on someone else to help the man. Someone perceived to have more time. And this is where this parable hits the majority of people in our culture and in our churches. We all WANT to give. We all feel guilty when we DO NOT give. But so many of us feel that we are so pressed for time and so short on money that we hope that the next person will handle it for us. And we all leave the situation saying, “I will help one day when I have more time or when I have more money.” We all have good intentions, but we are also dependent upon others to do the giving of time, talent, and treasure for us.
And luckily we do have those other people among us. To put some concrete numbers on things, 10 people supply 42% of the church’s budget. But that means the remaining 60 people worshiping on Sunday mornings have make up the remaining 58%. Someone else has already come along to help that man in distress. The reality is, there are still other people along the path that need our help. And the rest of us have to make the conscious decision to sacrifice and share of our time, talents, and treasure to help the other 58%.
Which leads us to the third attitude in the story: “What’s mine is yours, and I’ll share it with you.” This is the attitude of the Samaritan. The Samaritan was not a seminary trained pastor. In fact, the Samaritan was an outsider to the Jewish culture that first heard this story. The very fact that it is a Samaritan who is the hero of this story made this parable of Jesus highly offensive to those who heard it. It went against everything they believed to be decent and appropriate. Jesus insulted those around him by telling this story. The Samaritan is the hero of the story NOT because of his social status, his economic status, his race, or his religion. The Samaritan is the hero of the story because of his attitude – an attitude that reflects that allows him to return to God just as God commanded through the prophet Malachi. This is an attitude of gratitude. This is the attitude of true stewardship.
The Samaritan’s attitude allows him to overcome his prejudices – because the man he helps most likely would not have helped him if the situation was reversed. His attitude allows him to ignore the inconvenience of the situation – even if there was a more pressing issue, he takes the time to show empathy for this injured man. His attitude also allows him to sacrificially give up of his own money to help care for this man, giving the innkeeper TWO DENARII – equivalent to two days salary – to care for the injured man. In terms of our working world today, where most people work Monday through Friday, we work about 20 days a month. So two days salary is 10% – a tithe – of our income.
What could happen through the Mission of God here at Grace if we ALL had the attitude of the Samaritan? What could happen here in our community if we all made an effort to give more sacrificially, to tithe – even when we are pressed for time, pressed for money? What if we actually believed in God’s faith in us – that we each have a God-given talent that is worth sharing for God’s Mission here at Grace – instead of saying, “I can’t do that! I wouldn’t know how to begin!” How would our congregation be transformed? How would our community be transformed? How would your faith in God be transformed? (And if you think that your faith doesn’t need transforming, then you are the one who needs it the most.)
Last year we had a dramatic growth in our stewardship. We had 15 people who pledged for the first time ever. We had 34 additional people who increased their pledges from the previous year. And the total increase in overall financial stewardship was over $37,000! That’s an amazing leap of faith, and growth in discipleship.
Plus, our new Seasonal Team program has dramatically increased participation within the congregation. Back when we had our old committee structure, where people volunteered year-round, we were down to around 16 total people participating on the three committees. Now with our Seasonal Team structure, we had 64 people serve on the teams. That a 400% increase in participation from our congregation. Plus, the Seasonal Teams have brought some exciting opportunities for Worshiping, Sharing, and Serving together.
In Worshiping together, the Seasonal Teams brought creative ideas to help make our worship more meaning for all generations. From the dramatic presentation of scriptures during Epiphany, to the moving Good Friday by the Lent Team (which the Ministerial Alliance is still talking about), to the music and the Healing service of the Easter Season, the Children’s Sunday and outdoor worship service during Pentecost 1, the use of the screen and contemporary praise music in Pentecost 2, the hospitality offered during worship by the Peace Team, to the Veteran’s day service by the Harvest team. All of these worship experiences were so much greater than anything I could have come up with on my own. I’m so grateful for risks all the Seasonal Teams took with worship which helped us all to grow in our faith. And your increased stewardship can help make it even better. Just wait to next week when the Advent/Christmas team kicks off their season!
In Sharing together, we’ve had excellent Christian education programs this past year that your generous stewardship has helped to provide. From “Learning to Love our Jewish and Muslim Neighbor” to the “Journey through Holy Week” to “Bringing Families Together” to Vacation Bible School to “Making Sense of the Bible” (which had over 30 people in attendance) to “Clyde’s Buddies” to our current “Where True Love Is” study (which has people from 5 different churches attending), our Christian Ed participation has grown by 100%. Plus, Sally’s Sunday morning bible study is growing because so many of us have been moved this year to learn more about the bible. We are growing in the ways we are sharing with one another. And we will continue that into 2019 as the Session has challenged us to create new small groups to help build deeper relationships between all of us in the congregation. Your increased stewardship can help make that happen.
In Serving together we continue to become more and more generous with our time, talent, and treasure – which means we are growing as Disciples of Christ. We took risks this year – some of which were wildly successful, and some of which failed. Through Souper Bowl Sunday, we generously donated soup to the UMC food pantry. We gave our local Kindergarten teachers a much needed break by hosting the Crystal City Kindergarten Easter Egg Hunt. We supported the efforts of one of our youngest Disciples as Kadence Beuchting helped us collect an amazing amount of women’s hygiene products for the Homeless Youth in our community. We also teamed up with an organization to try and make sure that children in our community are fed during the summer. While almost no children came to the site here at our building, we were still helping to feed almost 300 children a day in the county. Even if you see that program as a failure – that NEVER means that we give up. Failure means that we must work harder and become more generous with our time, talent, and treasure. And so in the later seasons we were back out in our community, serving breakfast to the Crystal City School teachers and handing out coffee to tired parents on the first day of school. We offered refreshments to the local students during the Homecoming Parade, and we collected 421 items for the new food pantry at Jefferson College! As a result of our increased generosity, the response from the community is starting to shift. When I first got here, people described Grace as being “stuck-up”, “selfish”, and “thinking they are better than everyone else.” Now I hear people in the community saying things like, “How can we help?” “When do you have worship?” “That’s the church that welcomes everyone.”
Imagine if everyone here had the attitude of the Samaritan. Imagine if everyone here made an effort to sacrifice of their own time, talent, and treasure, and gave just a little more so that we could perform even greater acts of service for the Mission of God. Just imagine how we could help so many people in our community who feel beaten up and half-dead on the side of the road. How we could help them to “experience grace” in ways they never expected of this church.
All it takes is a shifting of attitudes. The first two attitudes have faith in the myth of scarcity. They believe in the lies our culture tells us – that there isn’t enough to go around, so you better hold on to what’s yours, even take what’s someone else’s. Otherwise, you may be the one who ends up in a ditch. Meanwhile, the Samaritan’s attitude has faith in the Abundance of God. This attitude knows that there is plenty for everyone’s need, just not enough for everyone’s greed. And while you may not have everything you want, you will always have “your daily bread.” But even your “daily bread” doesn’t belong to you. It was given to you as a gift from God, and God calls you to be a good steward of that gift – and share it generously. Because you never know when you’ll be the one in the ditch praying for another’s generosity.
So how is your attitude? What do you really put your faith in: The myth of scarcity? Or the Abundance of God? Rev. Billy Graham once said that if you want to know what you really worship, look at your check book, log into your bank account, check your credit card statements – because how we spend our money is an act of faith. We spend money on those things which we feel are valuable, which we feel align with our values. And sometimes, the things that you value require risks. Risks like the one the Samaritan took when he helped nurse an injured Jewish enemy and spent 10% of his salary on the man’s continued care. And the Samaritan did that because he valued the man’s life over his own financial security.
Stewardship is not about paying bills – this church can and will survive without a building. Stewardship is about participating in God’s Mission – of getting the opportunity to be a part of the work that God is doing in the world. Stewardship is not about paying for what you prefer. Stewardship is about offering life to others. Stewardship is not about the church you want, but the church the next generation needs – which will be completely different. Stewardship is giving back a portion of what God has already given you because you believe God is doing good things here through this community of faith – and you want to see that good continue and grow so that all people may experience God’s grace. An attitude of stewardship is knowing who your neighbor is and offering them compassion through your time, talent, and treasure. The Samaritan did it. Jesus does it. “Now go, and do likewise.”