Rev. Sabrina Ingram
1 Corinthians 3: 1 – 16; Matthew 6: 19 – 21

Money is a topic which some ministers, including myself, dislike talking about. Many people mistakenly have the impression the Church is always asking for money and, worse yet, it’s the only thing we want. To dispel such myths let me say clearly: this Church, St. Stephen’s, wants you. We want your presence, your fellowship, and your participation. We want to share in your story and your life journey. We want to encourage you with the love and grace of God. We want you to receive the gift of abundant and eternal life, to support you in your trials and to inspire your spiritual growth. We want you to have a relationship with the Triune God. We want to pray for and with you. We want to worship along side of you. We want to give you opportunities to use your gifts, share your self and make a difference in the lives of others. And we want you to do the same things for us. In fact, in the Church, there is no “we” and “you”; we’re all part of one community created to be a blessing. At St. Stephen’s as soon as you walk through the door, you’re part of the family. With or without money, we are all welcome and important, both to God and to one another. We are, as Paul puts it, “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:6)

That raises the question: if the Church is concerned about people, why do we are about money at all? We can’t answer that question without first understanding the concept of stewardship. Stewards are people entrusted to care for and tend another person’s property, business or investments. They keep things healthy, growing and functioning on behalf of the owner. Since everything belongs to God and God has given it to humanity to tend, we are God’s stewards. We’re care-takers of all that belongs to God, starting with the natural world. God has given us a planetary home. Humanity is in a symbiotic relationship with the earth; as we care for it, it cares for us; the earth is our life support system. We are stewards of God’s eco-systems, waters, plants and animals. In a similar way, we’re stewards of the bodies God gives to each human soul; as we each care for our body, our body repays us with a good quality of life. We also care for our body because as Paul asks, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). We do what we can to give the Spirit a healthy dwelling place. Eventually, of course, our bodies wear out, even so, we treat our bodies with love, respect and gratitude. God also gives us many gifts, starting with the gift of time. We use our days on earth for his kingdom. God gives us skills and abilities, as well as spiritual gifts. The gifts we have are unique to each of us as individuals. As Christian stewards we use our gifts to build up the body of Christ, welcoming and including people who are searching for meaning and hope and encouraging one another to grow in spiritual maturity. We use our personal gifts to make positive contributions in our work, our homes and our community. What’s more we understand the people in our lives belong first to God. We’re stewards of our children, spouses and families loving one another, forgiving one another and creating a safe atmosphere in which each person can grow. Our stewardship extends beyond our own small spheres of existence into the world where we’re called to create peace, justice, beauty and wholeness and to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Along with all these, we’re given, to one degree or another, financial blessings. Like everything else, what we consider our money, belongings and property belong to God so we’re to use it ethically, generously and responsibly. We’re to use it to provide for ourselves and our families, to enjoy God’s gift of life, to care for those in need and to fulfill the mission and calling of the Church, which is: to build up the kingdom of God by the transformation of people’s lives and souls through Jesus Christ, who alone has “the words of eternal life” (John 6: 68) To sum up, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s creation, we live to glorify the Triune God. To do all that, the Church, like every other earth-bound institution, needs many things, including money.

Many think the Church should be the exception to that rule – while others need money, the Church should run on vapours. After all isn’t money the root of evil? First, scripture doesn’t say money is the root of evil. It says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (2 Timothy 6:10). Anyone who doubts that should hang around when there’s an estate to be settled. In and of itself, money is neither good nor bad. It’s our attachment to money that causes us to be greedy, to cheat others, to betray family, to be self-serving and blind to the needs of others. So much so that Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). What we do with our money, tells us what we value and love the most. What we hoard, reveals our insecurity and lack of trust in God. What we invest in exposes what we think is important. For the Church, money is simply a tool that supports our work and mission. We can’t worship God, run programs to help children, youth and adults grow in faith, feed people, or do outreach without money. The larger Church, of which we’re a part, can’t share the good news globally, plant churches, start schools, fund hospitals, create relief and sustainability programs, or bring healing and reconciliation without money. It takes resources, buildings and people to be an effective Church and a blessing to our community and our world.

Many Christians are quick to give money to other organizations. To a degree, there’s wisdom in this. Other groups offer services much more effectively than we can. We don’t have the resources to do everything and so one avenue of participation is to partner with other not-for-profit corporations. However, sometimes we do that because it doesn’t ask much of us; it’s easier to write a cheque than to interact with people. What’s worse is: sometimes we do it because we don’t believe the work of the Church is valuable or effective. We look for another way to do “mission” because we don’t understand that: The Church of Jesus Christ IS the mission. Throughout the world Churches have founded and support schools, hospitals, orphanages and sustainable life improvement programs like clean water, farming, natal care and local businesses. Churches are involved in reconciliation. In every place, mature Christians give back to their communities. A few years ago, a news reporter was doing research on Ptbo churches and told me she was amazed at how many of the volunteers in our community were Christian; she worried about what would happen to other organizations as churches decline in size. According to Statistics Canada, Christians donate 3 ½ times the amount to charity than “non-religious” people (a portion of whom would declare with an air of superiority “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual”). Our own congregation supports Brock Mission, Cameron House and YES as well as doing Pasta Supper where we feed and provide meals for about 75 of our neighbours each month and we Feed the Hungry several times a year. Not only does the Church build up the kingdom of heaven here on earth, what we do also has an eternal impact on the fate of people. No matter how much progress is made in medicine, people will die. While other organizations may meet the physical or temporal needs of people, the Church invests not only in the betterment of people’s lives on earth but in the spiritual and eternal souls of people. The Church’s sphere of influence includes enduring and eternal things like: worship, love, kindness, character building, salvation… This past week, we grieved the death of Rev. Billy Graham. Another minister, William Willimon reflected on a time when his ministry intersected with that of the Graham’s. A woman had been found guilty of serial killings and given the death sentence. Willimon led protests against what he believed was an unchristian response to criminal behaviour. The Graham’s responded to the situation by writing the woman to tell her about the God who forgives our sin and gives us second chances and eternal life. The woman gave her life to Christ. In the end, the Governor did not stay the execution. Willimon’s efforts bore no immediate fruit but they did raise up an important issue; the Graham’s efforts led to repentance and eternal life as one lost sheep was found and carried home. The Church is often accused of being a useless institution and sometimes we start to believe that, but the Church is in the business of transformation. We contribute to the world as we fight for justice. We change the world one heart at a time and we make an everlasting difference in people’s lives.

The Church should never hold a gun to people’s heads and say, “your money or your life”. We do not coerse people to give, publish your givings or reward those who give the most. What you give is between you and God. Our congregation will never manipulate people into giving. I recall several years ago Oral Roberts making a plea for money. His congregation was in financial trouble and couldn’t afford to continue their television program. Instead of simply telling people that, Roberts claimed that unless his audience gave enough money, he would die. Guess what? He’s dead now and many of the effective ministries he started are still running. He didn’t need to manipulate people or make it about himself – he simply needed to believe that what his congregation was doing was valuable enough to invest in. It’s not wrong to ask for money – money is a factor in mission and if you don’t ask you don’t receive (which is why many other organizations spend a huge portion of their budget in fundraising). Most of the time we simply give you the opportunity to offer what you choose to give. Our needs are brought to light, so we can discern how God wants us, as a congregation and as individuals, to respond. (Whatever you do, I’m sure God won’t strike me dead because, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” 1 Cor 3: 7.) Basically, we trust you and moreover, God trusts you, to be good stewards.

As stewards we’re called to give as God has prospered us in order to contribute to God’s kingdom through the mission of the Church. God has laid a foundation and “that foundation is Jesus Christ”. “Each builder must choose with care how to build on it – with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw…” (1 Cor 3: 10 – 12). I pray that our hearts will be in the mission of Christ and that as stewards of God’s riches we will give cheerfully and generously so that what we build on that foundation will survive for many years to come.