Staying in the Building – Stewardship Dave Rogalsky
Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 121:4-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Theme: We love having a place to gather to worship, fellowship, learn, socialize and serve. But such places need to be managed, kept up, restored, cleaned . . . We need to manage them. We need to practice stewardship (management) using our talents, time, and treasures (money).
Last Sunday we looked at this building as a holy place. We also saw that it is holy because good people have come here to meet God for many years. The sense of their reverence for the place, and for God, permeates this place. We are thankful to God, and to them, for the hard work, dedication, and the attitudes of love, justice and righteousness with which they built, used and ran this congregation, and its building. We are thankful for their stewardship. They used their time, their skills and their resources to make the congregation a place where the love and acceptance of God in Jesus could be learned and experienced. They used their time, talents and treasures to make this church a place where people could come and meet God. They were faithful stewards – an old word for managers.
This week we want to look at “Staying in the Building – stewardship.” We want to manage this inheritance from the past for the present, and for the future.
I put some passages from the book of Exodus into the week’s readings. They were about the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert. Since they moved they decided that they needed a mobile temple in which to worship. In this tent were a number of things, most important of which was the Ark of the Covenant, a box in which special religious objects were kept, and over which they supposed the Spirit of God would hover. To make the tent, the Ark, and the other special religious objects they needed a number of things. They needed the wood, precious stones, and metals to make the objects. They needed people who had skills to turn those raw materials into the objects. And they needed time in which to do this. These things may seem kind of obvious but it is important to realize that throughout time the creation and upkeep of a place of worship has required that the people need to contribute treasure, talents and time.
We can go on down through the Jew’s history and see this. David wanted to build temple and began to stockpile materials to do so. (See 1 Chronicles 22). When David didn’t build the temple, his son Solomon did, gathering more material, and harnessing the artisans of the Jews, as well as the workers among them, to do the work. They were required to do so at royal decree. (See 1 Kings 5). When the temple fell into disrepair, years later King Josiah told the priests to use the money in the temple coffers to repair the temple. When folks would come there to worship they would bring with them offerings of food, animals to sacrifice, and precious objects and money to keep the place going. (See 2 Kings 22:3-7).
Eventually that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians (See 2 Kings 25) and rebuilt after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. (See Ezra 3 and following). Years later, at least in part to keep his throne since he was only part Jewish, King Herod built a new and glorious temple in Jerusalem, much enlarged from the old one. This was where Jesus worshipped.
Having a location to worship God takes materials, human time, skills and labour. Every location takes this. These things come from the worshippers, considering this to be important enough to give of their time, talents and treasures. It has been so through time. It is so today.
Many congregations in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand – the so-called ‘West’ – are finding it more and more difficult to keep their buildings. Zion and Trinity United, both uptown Kitchener, have sold their properties. Zion is gone and Trinity is “hoping” that the developer of the land they have sold will provide them with a room where they can worship.1 No denomination is immune to this. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of London closed many buildings across Southwestern Ontario about ten years ago. Many rural churches were deconsecrated and sold. Mennonites, Lutherans, Presbyterians and on and on, all are in the same leaky boat. Not enough money. Not enough people. Not enough skills, time and energy.
In some ways this is not a bad thing. In the past there was significant external pressure on people to belong to a church, attend, and contribute. Some of this was a kind of spiritual abuse – come to church or go to hell. We’ve lost that pressure in our culture – this is good. A year ago about now Annemarie and I made a trip to Ottawa, Montreal, Sherbrooke and Québec City. It was a work trip as I was interviewing people for articles, and attending two events to write about them. One man I interviewed had been a Mennonite Church planter in Montreal in the middle 1950s. I asked him, “Were you aware of the massive secularization happening in Québec as the Roman Catholic Church lost its control over schools and hospitals, and its influence in society?” Québec went from around 95% church attendance in the 1940’s to less than 10% by the 1990’s.2 He didn’t answer me directly but told me that after about 15 years of trying to plant a church he became a prison chaplain. There was a small, struggling church, which is still there today. But it wasn’t the success for which he had hoped. Priests had ruled in villages, towns and cities. In the “Quiet Revolution” they lost their power and the church shrank. It happened all over the West.
Somehow we haven’t taught the good reasons for choosing to come to church – community, worship with others, learning, serving on your own and with others, a chance to have my little bit multiplied by adding it to the little bits others bring of time, talents and treasures, and the practice of spirituality alone and with others. From my conversations with you folk, I know that these are the reasons you come here. And you want this place to continue. It can. It`s going to take the very real efforts which every place of worship has always taken – time, talents and treasures. You`re doing it already. You need to do it more.
So, I’m going to get very particular, and hopefully practical. The effort to give more time, talents and treasures – the alliteration is supposed to help you remember – giving more is not a one-time thing like a GoFundMe project. This is a week in, week out, month in, month out, year in, year out, work of love and attention. Fundraisers will tell you that it is actually not too hard to raise money for a new library at a school. It’s harder to get people to give money to buy the books, but still not too hard. What is hard is to get people to donate to pay for the librarian, the heat, and the upkeep. The one time gift is easier than the regular giving necessary to keep any institution going. Many of you are doing this. I don’t know who or how much, but I put the offering plates on the altar every Sunday and I know you are giving. But, as we’ll see later downstairs, it’s not enough.
This is probably tough to hear. It’s tough to say too.
But there is no “you have to” in this. You are each completely free to make your own decisions about this. But, if this church is important to you, you need to hear it.
This is where the passage that Grace read becomes important. Paul was writing to the Corinthians about an offering project on which he was working. He didn’t want anyone to give to it, feeling like they had to. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). He told them that each of them should plan what they wanted to give, save that bit by bit, and give it. A modern equivalent would be to sit with your pay cheque when you get it, plan how much you want to give to charities and the church, write those cheques or make the credit card donations, and then go about the time between then and the next pay when you repeat the process. Paul didn’t want folk to remember his project when he arrived and give what they might have left over. Giving to the church and charities means coming to the end of the pay period and saying, “I gave to the church and charity, now I can’t afford that dinner out, or the book, or piece of clothing etc.” It means planning, giving, and living. If you gave too much one period you can probably make it to the next and give less.
The Bible teaches that giving 10% of what we earn is a good amount to have as a goal. (See Deuteronomy 14:23; Malachi 3:10). If you do it already great! If you don’t and want to, figure out what you gave this year as a percentage and boost it by 1% year by year. If you really can’t give more, bless you, and don’t sweat it. But don’t give up too easily! Jesus said, “38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."(Luke 6:38 (NRSV)). Many who have taken on the spiritual discipline of giving have found that God provides enough, and more than enough.
But if you really can’t give money, then there are time, and skills. I see that happening here all the time – things get fixed, cleaned, painted, cleared out, sorted, served, worship gets enriched by music and art, and on and on and on. There are many gifts the Spirit gives to folk in the family of God. You folk give! Thanks be to God. As a congregation, we need us all to give more.