Gratitude, Grace, Generosity: Practicing Stewardship

June 3, 2018 by Presbyterian Foundation

By Roy Howard

Editor’s note: Each month, we ask a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor to write about upcoming opportunities in the lectionary for discussing stewardship. For July 2018, Rev. Roy Howard, Pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Maryland, writes about
II Corinthians 8:7-15, which is part of the lectionary for July 1. Other texts from II Corinthians in July also address stewardship. Pastors might consider a series on stewardship beginning with this passage.

Roy Howard

Pastors know there are many ways a sermon can go wrong. That’s true on any given Sunday but especially when talking about faith and money. Stewardship is about much more than money; it’s about life.

We know that, yet, the majority of people in the pew equate stewardship with the management of money. And the most common way a sermon about money goes wrong is when people hear guilt and shame rather than grace and gratitude. Shame is not a helpful emotion; though, like weeds in spring, it always emerges when talking about money. The antidote to shame is courage.

So pastors, take a cue from Saint Paul, be courageous in speaking about money. Be clear: everything that is good in our life springs from the well of grace – God’s undeserved and unmerited favor – and the only appropriate response to this grace is gratitude. Karl Barth said it beautifully: Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightening.

Begging to give

Barth borrowed from Saint Paul who is emphatic about God’s goodness toward us. “God,” says Paul, “has given grace to the churches of Macedonia.” As a result of this grace, the churches were compelled to overflow with generosity toward others. Even though they were suffering what Paul described as “extreme poverty,” they were begging to give to others. Their generosity came from a deep well of joy. What is most remarkable is the utter absence of talk about “how much” money is available to give. That’s beside the point. And it can be beside the point for preachers/leaders today, too. Paul is talking about a desire to give that comes from joy. Increase the joy of the Lord, and people beg to give.

Can you imagine your congregation begging to give?

What most of us do is measure our resources against our expenses, then determine what we can do when faced with invitations to give. We conclude we are not rich and have little to give. Perhaps we long for the day when we could do more. Saint Paul says there is a different way. Paul begins with God’s extravagant giving, most emphatically in Jesus Christ, who gives everything that we may be rich.

A poor Haitian farmer told me this proverb “The one who never eats alone, will never go hungry.” It was his way of saying when you share what little you have you will always have enough for yourself. Saint Paul is saying the same: when our hearts are rooted in God, trusting in God’s faithfulness, you will always have enough to share. And notice what happens when we share: everyone has enough; no one suffers. (II Corinthians 8:15)

When you and I share what we have with others, it creates a groundswell of gratitude in the hearts of many, who in turn share what they have with others. Our sharing becomes part of a much larger work of God among people in the world.

Preachers, ask your people: don’t you want to be part of such a movement of God? There is no shame in sharing. It’s not about the amount you have, it’s about the joy of giving.