We’re in the middle of our stewardship campaign, where we’re taking some time to remember and to be thankful for all of the resources that God has given to us, and talking together about some ways that we as a community can increase our giving as we seek to be faithful stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us.
Generosity isn’t about obligation; it’s about a way of being in the world - it’s about having an attitude of gratitude, and living out of God’s abundance for us. It’s a matter of the heart - responding to the outpouring of God’s blessings upon us and wanting to be able to bless others. And one of the ways we develop that attitude is through practice and by continuing to find ways to step out in faith...and by understanding that what we have - our time, our talents, our treasure - aren’t ultimately ours to do with as we please. We use what we have been entrusted with knowing that it all belongs to God.
That’s what we talked about last week with our introduction to Stewardship and the story of the One Speckled Hen. A brief synopsis - in case you don’t remember - is that a father and his daughter happen across a speckled hen one day. They try to find her owners, but no one in the neighborhood laid claim. So they decide to take care of her for her rightful owner. In the process, the hen lays eggs, which get traded for chicken feed, a cow, and a sheep - and because the hen doesn’t belong to them, they decide the eggs don’t either...and neither does the cow and the sheep.
The hen’s owner eventually comes back - and when offered the rest of the animals, let the father and daughter keep everything else, taking back only his chicken - Matilda.
The father and daughter acted to take care of the hen - and the rest of the animals - knowing that none of it belonged to them.
Stewardship in the church is the same - we take care of our time, talents, and treasure - knowing that none of it belongs to us.
We’ll talk about how that relates to our finances next week.
This week we’ll talk a bit about our time and how God wants us to use it through this church for the building up of God’s kingdom.
James 2:14-26 (The Message)
14-17Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
19-20Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with something lifeless on your hands?
21-24Wasn't our ancestor Abraham "made right with God by works" when he placed his son Isaac on the sacrificial altar? Isn't it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are "works of faith"? The full meaning of "believe" in the Scripture sentence, "Abraham believed God and was set right with God," includes his action. It's that mesh of believing and acting that got Abraham named "God's friend." Is it not evident that a person is made right with God not by a barren faith but by faith fruitful in works?
25-26The same with Rahab, the Jericho harlot. Wasn't her action in hiding God's spies and helping them escape—that seamless unity of believing and doing—what counted with God? The very moment you separate body and spirit, you end up lifeless. Separating faith and works makes you lifeless.
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
How much time does it take to follow Jesus?
Time. It’s the one thing we all have to manage - we all have the same 24/7 to work with - but it’s also the one thing that many of us seem to have not quite enough of. I’m feeling that pretty keenly right now as I try to get back in the flow of work and home with Genevieve (who all I want to do sometimes is stare at), and Michael (who craves attention and playtime) and balancing the bare minimum of housework with other to-do list items and time quickly runs out.
And this is how much of the world works, right? We live in a world with competing priorities - there are always demands on us and on our time between family and work and friends and our own needs. We are under pressure to attend to this need here, that event there with our schedules full up to overflowing with tasks and projects and meetings that sometimes, it’s a blessing that we can just sit and stare at Netflix for a couple hours. It’s easy to find ourselves with more things to do than we have time to spare, and so we prioritize - making time for the things that are most important to us.
With this way of thinking, it’s very easy to treat following Jesus the same way; it becomes something that we fit in to our busy schedules. We make time to go to church on Sunday, we may find an hour to study the Bible with others, we may even make time to pray each day or intentionally be with God. We may even - sit on a church committee. I mean - isn’t that the ultimate expression of discipleship? (Actually, I take back the slight sarcasm there, because sometimes there is true sacrifice involved with that).
But really, how much time does it take to follow Jesus?
Following Jesus isn’t something we give up an hour or two a week to do. It isn’t something that can be contained into any sort of time frame. It’s not something we can tick off our checklist of things to-do. Following Jesus is a lifestyle, not something we fit into our busy schedules. it’s something that permeates everything we do, something that’s part of every moment, that takes the 24/7 we are given and transforms it into God’s work in the world.
Because following Jesus encompasses all of our life, what we do with our time reflects how important following Jesus is to us.
Now this isn’t to say that you have to give up your job or your family to follow Jesus in some far off place or that you need to go home and read your Bible for six hours each day (but if that’s what you are feeling called to, more power to you) -- but it is to say that each moment we are given is an opportunity for us to live in a way that reflects what God wants for us and for this world. It encompasses how we act when we’re at home, when we’re with our families, when we’re on the ferry, when we’re at work or wherever we are - and it especially encompasses how we are as a church together and the work God has for us to do through this church to be in ministry with others.
If we say we follow Jesus, then that needs to be true in what we do.
I’m particularly struck by the passage we heard from James this morning. It’s the way Eugene Peterson articulates the famous “faith without works is dead” passage. Verse 19 and 20 go like this:
Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That's just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with something lifeless on your hands?
We say “yes” to God, we come to church and sit back and profess that we’ve done our duty, that we’ve given our time to God. But saying “yes” to God, believing in what God has to offer us through Jesus -- it isn’t enough. God wants all of us, time, money, gifts - all of it. And when we fail to express our faith through the way we live and the way we spend our time, we end up with something dead - a faith that is not alive...a faith that isn’t real at all, that barely exists, a faith that, as James puts it, even the demons have.
Faith is made to be put into action. It demands to be seen and lived out. Faith can’t be seen just by going to church every Sunday or by sitting on a church committee. Faith can’t been seen just by putting a few bucks in the offering plate when it comes around, or by planning the next church fundraiser. Faith must translate into works - in to how we live, how we treat other people, how we spend our time working for God’s dreams for this community and for this world. That’s something we do as individuals -- and as a church community together. If we as a church community say that we have faith, but that doesn’t translate into ministry to and with our community....then what we do together doesn’t matter...then we are dead and lifeless.
As we think about how we use our time in service to God’s kingdom, part of stewardship then becomes about how we use that time in service to God’s kingdom through this church - not just about what we do in our day to day lives.
This week, you all should have received your Stewardship Commitment Card and Stewardship letter - and if you didn’t, we have extra copies for you here. On it is a line about supporting the church with your time. How is God inviting you to be a faithful steward of your time - how can you be a part of making God’s hopes and dreams real for this island through the work of this church? How can this congregation be a part of making this island a place of greater peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, mercy - a place that lives and breathes the redemptive work of God that we find made known to us in the love of Christ?
Perhaps it’s an invitation to work more closely with the kids who are part of this church. Perhaps it’s an invitation to start a meal train ministry through this church for new families or people who are going through a difficult time. Perhaps it’s an invitation for the church to educate others on this island about the impact of climate change and what we can do to be faithful stewards of God’s Creation - this beautiful place in which we live. Perhaps it’s a ministry centered around how we have hard conversations with our friends and family. Perhaps it’s even about ministering as a church to those who can’t rake their leaves. Free community meals. Making mittens and hats for those who don’t have them. Support groups for people who are grieving. Working for affordable housing on the island. There’s so much that we can be about here as a church - and I know that many of us here on the island give so much of ourselves to so many different groups and non-profits...but if we here as a congregation are about following Jesus - striving to live as he taught and lived - then having a collective witness to that fact is important...in the words of James, Separating faith and works makes you lifeless.
Be in prayer these next couple of weeks about the ways God is calling you to give of yourself through this church - your talents, your treasure, and your time. For this is the way that we will show the life that we have together in Christ - a faith that is alive and growing - a faith that is known by what we do together to serve our community and our greater world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and almost 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.