Pastor Chris Matthis
Epiphany Lutheran Church, Castle Rock, Colorado
Stewardship Series Kickoff
Saturday, November 9th, 2013
Sunday, November 10th, 2013
Sermon: “What Shall I Render?”
Text: Psalm 116:12-19
Focus: The greatest gift God gives us is salvation in his Son Jesus.
Function: That in joyful and grateful response, they would steward God’s gifts.
Locus: “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him” (SC, 1st Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. The basis of my sermon today is Psalm 116, a “free” text:
“What shall I render to the LORD
for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people” (Ps. 116:12-14, ESV).1
“What shall I render to the Lord?” The New International Version reads, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (Ps. 116:12, NIV 1984). The short answer is you can’t! You will never be able to “pay back” God for all his grace and gifts because you can’t out-give God! We have a heavenly Father who loves to give his children gifts. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (Jas. 1:17).
You can’t out-give God. He is the greatest Giver of all! Everything we have is a gift from God. In the Small Catechism, Luther affirms that God “gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily
1 All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
provides me with all that I need to support this body and life” (SC, 1st Article of Apostles’ Creed).
Yet the greatest gift of all is God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who gave up everything to save us from our sins. Jesus gave up his throne in heaven, the power and the glory—indeed, his very life!—when he poured out his blood on the cross and took the punishment of death that we deserve because of all our sin and selfishness. Jesus Christ is the greatest Giver and the greatest Gift in the history of the world. You will never be able to repay God for that kind of kindness! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give.
Today is the kickoff for Epiphany’s 5-week stewardship emphasis in worship. I’m not preaching a stewardship sermon every week, but we will have special stewardship messaging each week. I must admit that I feel a little uncomfortable every time I am called upon to preach about stewardship. For a pastor, it can have the feeling of singing for your supper! At my previous congregation, I sometimes scheduled myself to be out of town on Stewardship Sunday so I wouldn’t have to talk about it!
But I’m not singing for my supper. Stewardship is about much more than money. Christian stewardship is worship. We give in response to God’s grace and gifts. We give time, talents, treasures—indeed, our very selves! And, as Christian stewards, we give to God, not merely to the pastor and church. “What shall I render to the Lord…?” (Ps. 116:12).
But before we answer the question, “What will I give?”, we must first answer “Why do we give?” and “How do we give?”
Why do we give?
We give back to God because he gave everything to us. The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We forgive because he first forgave us. And so also we
give because he first gave to us. Above all, he gave us his Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God gives to us because of his great love for his children.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave…” Giving is an expression of love. It reflects the kind of relationship you have with someone. What if you told your spouse or children “I love you” every day, but you never gave them a hug or kiss, gave them food and shelter, gave them gifts and little trinkets as tokens of your love? Gentlemen, what would happen if all you did on your wedding anniversary was to tell your wife you love her—but not do anything more? Would the words be enough? Would they believe that you love them without gifts and service? Maybe for a while. But eventually the words would wear out, and your love would be empty. They wouldn’t believe you anymore. The lover must give to the beloved!
God’s Word is powerful. But God is not just talk. He puts his love into action. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Did you catch that? God shows his love. God gives his Son.
And that is why we give our gifts to God: tithes, offerings, and joyful service. We do not give in order to earn God’s favor, buy our way into heaven, or control the church’s agenda. We give because that’s one of the important ways we show God that we love him. Through our prayers and praise in worship we say, “God, I love you!” But through our time, talents, and treasures, we prove our love. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
God loves; we love. God forgives; we forgive. God gives; so we give.
How do we give?
It is not enough to just “go through the motions” when we give to God. God is not looking for your leftovers. An occasional $20 bill dropped in the plate does not look like love (unless that’s what you prayerfully decided you can afford). So also, we learn from the widow’s mite, that large sums given by rich people can still be just a drop in the bucket (Mark 12:41-44). The poor widow put in two tiny copper coins, but out of her poverty she gave all that she had.
So how do we give? We must give joyfully, humbly, and intentionally.
The Bible says, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7b). God loves a cheerful giver, a joyful giver—a hilarious giver!2 But God also loves a grumpy giver. But which would you rather be? God loves both, but he accepted Abel’s offering instead of Cain’s because Abel offered his offering by faith (Heb. 11:4; Gen. 4:4-5). Remember: your giving is a reflection of your love for God and your gratitude for his grace and gifts. So why would you give grudgingly—or not at all? “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Your gift should also be given with great humility. I am disgusted whenever I hear someone boast of their giving or insist on having their way around the church simply because they’re “a good giver” or give thousands of dollars to the church. What does that say about the rest of us—that we’re “bad” givers?! Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:
“When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do…. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:2-4).
Your giving is between you and God. (I think many people are surprised to learn that I, as the pastor, don’t know what anyone gives for their offerings. Frankly, I don’t want to know what you give; I just want to know that you give!) So don’t make a scene when you put your offering
2 The Greek adjective translated as “cheerful” is hilaros, from which we derive the English word “hilarious.”
in the plate. Don’t serve in the church because you are looking for applause. You have an audience of One. His name is Jesus.
Our gift must also be intentional, not careless, prayer-less, or haphazard. The Apostle Paul instructs us: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). In other words, pick a day, choose an amount, and give it!
Earlier this year, one of our young members gave public testimony to the way that he and his wife sit down together and pray over God’s Word to decide how much to give to the church. That sounds like a prayerful, careful way to do it. Every November, when Lisa and I sit down to budget for the coming year, we place our 10% tithe to the church and our gifts to other charities at the very top of our list of expenses. We give our firstfruits and best fruits because that is what God requires (Mal. 3:8-10). As King Solomon instructs: “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov. 3:9-10).
What will you give?
Why do we give? We give because God loves us and gives us everything. We give because we love God? And how do we give? We give joyfully, humbly, and intentionally. Now we come back to the psalmist’s question: “What shall I render to the Lord, for all his benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12). What shall I render to the Lord? What will I give? What will you give?
My family believes that the 10% tithe is the baseline of the kind of giving God expects. In the Old Testament, God commands a ten percent tithe of the harvest (or your gross income) in order to support the work of the priests and the needs of the poor. So we start with a 10% gift to
our congregation and then give above and beyond that to other charities and causes that we believe in. But I don’t want to stand up here and sell you on the tithe today.
When I was a vicar on my ministry internship in Iowa, somebody asked me after a stewardship sermon, “Vicar, do I really have to give 10% to the church?”
“No,” I replied, “You don’t have to give ten percent. You can give more!”
The Bible says, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6). I know what my family is going to give next year. Already we have decided in our hearts what to give to God to support the mission and ministry of Epiphany “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And, as the psalmist sings, “I will pay my vows to the Lord, in the presence of all his people” (Ps. 116:14). We will follow through on our commitment to God.
What about your family? God has given everything to you. “For God so loved the world”—God so loved you!—“that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16a). God gave you his Son. Now you must decide in your heart: What will you give to God? What will you render to the Lord for all his benefits to you? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Chris Matthis