The S Word

[During the week I sent out an email saying that I couldn’t reveal the topic for Sunday because it was a topic that made people uncomfortable when you talk about, it especially in church. The only hint was that it began with an S. When the service started I revealed the topic of the day was stewardship and that at our Community Meeting last week the financial report was better than we were expecting, given the state of the economy. So I said talking about stewardship when things are going better financially than expected, is not a bad idea.]

The S Word
June 21, 2009
Steve Hammond
2 Corinthians 9:6-12

While Ken Medema was here last month, he said something in passing that has stayed with me. We were at supper and talking about the money we had raised for him when he came here to perform. Normally Ken gets thousands of dollars for his performances. But these are tough economic times, of course, and the concerts are fewer and the churches and organizations aren’t able to pay as much as they used to.

So the fact that we had raised more than a $1000 for him surprised Ken as well as us, especially since Mary Meadows only had about ten days notice to raise the money.

Ken said that money, plus his CD sales here and from his concert in Toledo the day before, meant he would be able to pay his bills this month.

Now we know how much Ken has touched our lives both in person and through his music which we hear so much at church. But, of course, it’s not just us. He sings all over the world, for crowds of like the 60 or 70 we had here or the 20,000 Lutheran youth which Anna Ernst has been a part of. He shouldn’t have to be worried about having enough money to get the bills paid.

The money we raised helped Ken keep going, so he could continue his amazing ministry after he left here. That’s stewardship. Our money not only got Ken here so he could do that thing in our lives that he does, but so he could keep on doing it for us and others. It’s money well spent.

Shortly after Ken left I got an email from Dan Buttry. Some of you know Dan from the Baptist Peace Fellowship and may also remember when he preached here a couple of years ago.

Dan is the Peace and Justice Global Missionary for the American Baptist Churches. Dan has gone to places like Thailand, the Philippines, the Republic of Georgia, and all around the world to help Christians and other people of faith to take a leading role in making peace in their countries. The stories he tells are amazing. He truly has a global network of peacemakers who look to him and each other for support, training, and guidance.

Dan was at the Global Baptist Peace Conference Mary and I were at in Italy. There were people there from 59 different countries. A good many of those people knew Dan. I joked with Dan that he had been in most of their homes or churches. But I don’t think I was far off the mark. And a good many people at the conference were there because Dan was there.

Here’s another person touching lives, in the name of Jesus, all over the world including our own lives. There are literally people alive today who wouldn’t be if it weren’t for Dan. And this church financially supports Dan’s ministry. That’s what stewardship does.

Another way we are supporting Dan is by praying for him. Not just his ministry, but his recovery from cancer. Which seems to be going well, by the way.

What stewardship means at Peace Community Church is that we support the work of people like Ken Medema and Dan Buttry. Our dollars, the money we put in the offering plate, help make what they do possible. We are their partners in ministry.

But we also financially support organizations like the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists. I can’t begin to tell you what those organizations have meant in the lives of many, many people, including mine and others in this room. Gay and lesbian people have found a spiritual home, a place where they are welcomed and appreciated for the gifts the bring to the church rather than driven away. People who believe that peacemaking is integral to what it means to follow Jesus Christ have found support. If people didn’t support the Mennonite Central Committee, Beth Peachey couldn’t be in Guatemala City where she is doing ministry with the folk there. These are the things that stewardship makes happen. You see, stewardship is not such a bad word.

There’s the Alliance of Baptists and Every Church a Peace Church, two other organizations this congregation supports that would not be in existence if people didn’t take stewardship seriously. Our own church was welcomed into the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region when Ohio didn’t want us anymore. The Rochester/Genesee region is doing great things in the lives of many people, but it takes stewardship for it to happen. That’s not a bad thing, nor is it something that we shouldn’t be talking about because it might make people uncomfortable.

For most of us though, the most significant example of what stewardship means is this congregation. We have all heard the stories, and told them ourselves, of what this church and its people mean in our lives. We have found the power of God’s Spirit at work here. We are the people of Jesus Christ together in this place, even if we aren’t all here.

Just this week we have been praying for and encouraging Caleb Tkach out in Boulder who is recovering from surgery. We hear from former students and others all the time about what this church has done for their lives, and we still do their weddings, get pictures of their babies, and receive their prayer requests. Mary and I prayed on the phone with David Reese in Chicago right before a job interview he was having.

None of that happens without money. What this church means in our lives only happens because of that word, stewardship. We have salaries to pay. Mary and I like getting paid, and like having health insurance. And boy have we needed health insurance.

But there are electric and gas bills. The parking lot always needs attended to, not to mention the building with its roof and heating system and messy build up. We spent $70,000 on the Lift, but do you know how many people make use of it? A lot. And not just folk in our congregation. People use it for Peace Potlucks. Ten or 15 people needed it for the Grandparents luncheon we had a couple of weeks ago. There were people here for Troy Riggle’s Memorial Service who couldn’t have gotten in the building without the Lift.

And once people get in this building with or without the assistance of the Lift they get to participate in the marvelous worship we have right here in this sanctuary, or the events and activities that take place downstairs in the Community Room.

All of this. Ken Medema. Dan Buttry. The Baptist Peace Fellowship. The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists. The Rochester/Genesee Region. This church itself. Faithful stewardship is what makes it all happen. And we have been making it happen.

One of the issues that we always have to deal with when we talk about stewardship is that some people, obviously, are more able to meet the financial needs of people like Ken Medema, and Dan Buttry, or organizations like the Baptist Peace Fellowship or this church than others. But God has a way of working all of that out. We may be able to give little if any money, but there are other things we can give. Money is only one of the things a church needs. And I am always surprised by the loaves and fishes principle that we see so often at work here. Even a little seems to go a long way. It’s what the Holy Spirit does.

So stewardship, whether its offering the money we can, or becoming involved in the ministry we can, or signing the list that we can, or coming for the cleaning day we can, or offering the prayers and support we can, or making the visits we can, or coming to the activities or worship services we can–stewardship is not the negative or irritatingly necessary thing we often make of it, the thing we have to apologize for. Stewardship is why we are able to be here this morning. It’s why Ken Medema is able to be out singing somewhere today and bringing tears to some eyes or helping people reclaim or strengthen their faith. Stewardship is why Dan Buttry, even while he is sitting at home undergoing cancer treatments, can spend his time figuring out how to help people in who knows here make their lives and country more peaceful. He’s preparing the training, working on the sermons and Bible Studies, making the contacts even during his cancer treatments because of the faithful stewardship of others, including ourselves.

What we are learning about stewardship, I think, it that it means we are simply making an investment in God’s Realm, an investment in a different future that pays off in lives including our own. It’s a future we are seeing unfold here and churches in all kinds of places. But it doesn’t happen by magic. I want to close with these words from Ken Medema’s song Room at the Table that talks about the future, a future that happens because of the S word, our stewardship.

Can we cast a brave new vision as we face a frightening future, so when the sun comes up tomorrow, we will hardly recognize the place? Oh yes there’s room at the table for everyone, because it’s the only way to make tomorrow all that it can be. And though the vision leads to sacrifice, I know it will be worth the price to see those bridges reach across the rivers and the seas, see those bridges reach from me to you and you to me.