Sermons 2002

Sermons 2003

Stepping Out in Faith[1]

Psalm 104 & 1 Timothy 6: 6-19

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time/16th November 2003

© Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs
Catonsville Presbyterian Church
Catonsville,  Maryland

This morning we are here to celebrate what God is doing in our lives!
This morning we are here to rejoice and be glad for all the blessings we have in Christ!
This morning we are here to revel (can Presbyterians really revel?) in the fact that God provides for our every need and therefore we shall not fear.
We can cheer and be happy and take immense delight in the goodness of this amazing world!

This is the kind of life toward which Paul is calling us – a life of celebration in Christ.  We’re not sure the occasion for Paul’s epistle to Timothy.  But it’s clear there’s a problem with money in the church.  Or more correctly, there’s a problem with the Christians in his community who have trouble with money.  These folks aren’t content with what they have, so they reach out for more.  They’re not satisfied with the basic human needs, so they grasp for more.  They could be happy – very happy – if they focused all their energies on the love of God.  Instead, they have turned their energies toward the love of money and they need to stop.  Why?  Because “the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6: 10)”  Strong words, but true.  Here, Paul is simply being pastoral.  These are words they needed to hear.

Many folks in the church throughout the centuries have misread this verse to mean that money is evil.  As a result, many pastors, ministers, and priests get nervous around stewardship time, when they “have” to talk about money, as if it were something sinister, dark, and dirty.  This has led to a gross misunderstanding of money and finances in the Christian experience.  We’ve become embarrassed to talk about money in the church, for some reason.  We’re free to talk about everything else, it seems, but when it comes to money we’re silent, private.  Maybe we feel guilty for having money, having a lot of money.  But, there’s nothing inherently wrong or evil about money.  Money didn’t “do” anything to you.   It can be said that money, indeed all material things, because they are part of this glorious creation that God formed by God’s breath and pronounced “good,” is, as a result – good.  Money isn’t bad.  A whole lot of good is done with and through money when money is understood as a tool through which God achieves God’s purposes in this world.

Money needs to be pressed into the service of God.  This is what I want to stress this morning.  Money needs to become a servant of love, instead of love a servant of money.  This was the problem for these folks.  It’s the love of money that was the problem – and remains a problem in the world and in the church.  Money, wealth has become a powerful god, a powerful idol in our lives.  Last week, Jack Rogers was with us and talked at length on Saturday evening and Sunday morning during adult education, defining sin as idolatry.  Idolatry is one of the worse expressions of sin in human life.  Our first love must be God and God’s vision for our lives; everything else comes second.  Our love for God must be first and foremost in our lives – before our families, our children, and our spouses and loved ones, before our careers, and the plans we have for our lives.  This is what Paul calls “godliness,” desiring what God desires for our lives: faith, love, gentleness, commitment.  

You see, the problem in Timothy’s church was that these folks took the value and desire which was meant for God and placed it in a love for money, instead.  Instead of craving for God – and I mean craving for God – they’re craving after money and, not surprisingly, it’s leading them very far away from God – very far away.  And so he poses a warning to all those who are wealthy: beware.  Not because you’re going to be punished for your wealth, but because your desire for wealth is greater than your desire for God.  One of the central truths of the Bible is that you become what you worship.  That’s why idolatry is so dangerous.  If you want to be more God-like, then focus on God.  If you want wealth, money, then go ahead and worship it, crave it, desire it, sell your soul to it – but don’t expect to meet God that way.

For the truth of the matter is, God has already provided us everything we need in Jesus Christ.  God has already blessed us with the one for whom our souls truly crave and desire.  When we realize this we can give up this death-grip desire for wealth and security.  The trust that Paul has in God is extraordinary because Paul knows that God is trustworthy.  He knows the blessings he has received from this God “who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6: 17)” 

Did you hear that word – enjoy?   God has richly, extravagantly given us everything in this world to enjoy, to take delight in – which includes our money.  Because we are blessed, we are free to be a blessing to others, to the world.  Paul calls those who are rich – and that’s us, whether we like to admit it or not – to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous (1 Tim. 6:18).  Paul is calling us to a life of generosity and liberality – to live as a celebration where we take delight in God.  What a vision!

This morning we will offer our pledges for 2004, our commitments to Christ’s ministry in this place.  Your pledge helps to realize this vision.  The offering we make flows from an act of thankfulness and gratitude for what God has done in Christ and the manifold blessings in our lives.  In our offering we are asked by God to use our money for what it was created to do – not to make more money, but to be a blessing to God and to our neighbor.  In our offering we are asked by God to use our money for what it was created to do – to demonstrate God’s love in the world.

So, how much is God’s love worth to you?  What is an appropriate gift to the church?  I can’t tell you that. (But I can give you some suggestions, if you want.)  I once heard it said that one’s offering to the church each week should be what you pay to go to the movies.  (How do people come up with these crazy ideas?)   Let me tell you, first, that’s not enough; and second, worship is not part of the entertainment industry.  Someone else has said it should be equal to your club dues.  Not everyone can afford to be a member of a club, and some members of a club can afford to pay the church three or four times what they pay to a club and not even miss it.  The church is not a club.

Maybe we need to think of the church as person who means the world to us – your husband, your wife, a friend, a child.  When you’re in love and give in love, money is not an end in itself, but one means by which you express the depth of your love.  You give with a full heart.  Money is no object.  You seek to be generous.  You want to be seen as one who is generous.  What we offer to God is a love offering – and that’s what God wants from us.

It’s in love we do ministry and are a part of this congregation and this denomination.  It’s our love for Christ and his work in the world that has called us here.  It’s why we give of our time, our talents, and our resources – because we know the Gospel is priceless, a treasure above all else.  It’s all about love.

Catonsville Presbyterian is a community driven by love and in love we reach out to Catonsville and Baltimore and the wider world.  And I want us to celebrate this this morning.  We need more celebrations around here. We need to acknowledge all that we are doing and all that we have accomplished this past year.  We began the year with a $25,000 deficit, as you know.  But through your generosity, especially most recently, it looks like we will be able to finish the year in the black (at least that’s my hope).  Even as you have made additional contributions this year, folks have come forward to buy the shirts made in the Congo; you’re supporting the Heifer project, and Baltimore Presbytery’s work in Guatemala.  You’re supporting the Cold Weather Shelter.  Last week, we announced a need and you came forward, with gifts of cash and the offer to bake casseroles.  We’re reaching out to our youth and their families.  We’re improving the facilities, painting fellowship hall, and are heading towards a capital campaign to raise more funds to renovate this building.  We’re investing in the future.

I’m excited about the year to come, the plans we have to reach out in new ways to the community, of celebrating Christ’s love as we welcome the whole family of God.  We have exciting things planned for mission.  We’re about to join eleven other churches in Baltimore and begin work with Habitat for Humanity.  The deacons have done and are doing a fabulous job of reaching out with love and concern for all the members of the congregation, especially those who haven’t been here in many years.  This Advent and Christmas the deacons will be calling upon these folks – not to ask for money or to join a committee, but to simply invite them back into the fellowship of God’s people.  We’re working hard in the areas of worship, education, and mission.  As we grow, these are the areas that we have to invest all of our energies and we cannot accomplish what God desires for us without your generous help.  We cannot achieve our goals unless you “buy in” to this vision, unless you share in our joy and our hope for the difference this church is and can make in the world.

I don’t have anything to entice you to be generous to the work of this church, I wish I had.  I love National Public Radio.  But the downside, perhaps the most annoying part of NPR is when they have their “Pledge Week” every couple of months.  All the radio personalities beg you to give, tell you how wonderful NPR is and then entice you to give by offering gimmicks and gifts.  We don’t have neat premiums like coffee mugs or tote bags for you if you pledge a certain amount; we can’t give you tickets to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra or give out compact disc recordings of your favorite artist.[2]  I don’t have anything to give you to entire you to be generous (maybe we should).  My greatest treasure is Christ and the gift of his grace.  But he isn’t “mine” to give you.  All I can say is that when we are in Christ we learn that being generous is the gift – it is the satisfaction and joy which come when we are enjoying all that God has given us and hoping to share this joy with others.   Thanks be to God!

[1] “Stepping Out in Faith,” is the theme for this year’s stewardship campaign.

[2] I am grateful to my good friend, the Reverend David Douthett, pastor of Corinth Presbyterian Church, Dayton, OH, for this comparison between NPR and the church.