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Gratitude, Giving, and the Essence of the Church

what is the churchThis sermon explores how we can take a step in gratitude by getting back to the basics. The church is a group of people gathered around the Good News that we have been set free through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The reality of the Gospel sparks an attitude of gratitude that overflows in generosity.

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This has been an interesting week in the life of Grace Lutheran Church, and in my own life. Last Saturday Mary Jo Andrusko died. Pastor Mark left on Tuesday for a two week trip to Africa. That meant I preached Mary Jo’s funeral on Friday. The grief of Mary Jo’s death gets mixed in with some ongoing family turmoil in my own life and the devastation brought by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti and the political turmoil of our country on the big scale. Combine all of that with the fact that I am faced with the task, this weekend, to preach on taking a step in Gratitude.

Well, I have to confess. Sometimes I don’t feel grateful. I look at the junk and think, “Thank you, Jesus…not”

My guess is that you have felt that way from time to time in your life.

Again, it has been an interesting week, because, I have to preach about being grateful in the midst of all this stuff.

Here’s something that I find fascinating. You know we have been showing these video interviews each week. The video that you will see today is with Ann Lange. Three and a half years ago I had a similar experience with Ann. Pastor Mark was out of the country and her husband Jay, who was a friend of mine, died suddenly of a massive heart attack, and I had to do his funeral.

As we were interviewing Ann, her meditation on gratitude about how it helped her process her grief. I had this video edited and ready to go before Mary Jo died. That just blows my mind how God works like that.

So, today, we need to talk about taking a step in gratitude.

Really, this whole series is about taking a step to give. Pastor Mark and the stewardship team have put this whole month together, and today is the first time that I have entered into the conversation.

I want to be really honest with you again. I find it really uncomfortable to preach about giving for two reasons. First, because the church in our culture has a really negative reputation for constantly begging for money, I don’t want to feed that stereotype. Second, my paycheck comes from your giving, so it feels really icky to me, because I’m basically saying, “if you don’t give, I don’t get paid.” That’s awkward.

I’m just trying to really honest.

So, I thought the best way to approach this would be to look at the big picture and get back to the basics. Every once in a while, we need to be reminded about what it means to be the church.

So, what is the church?

At its most basic level, the church is a voluntary association. In our country, you have the choice whether you want to be part of a church, or not.

In fact, our whole society is comprised of voluntary associations. People gather for all kinds of reasons. They might join the PTA, the YMCA, the United Way, or gather at the local sports bar to route for the Vikings.

What all of these voluntary associations have in common is that they gather around a central purpose.

The church gathers around Jesus Christ. Why? Because the human being named Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago to a woman named Mary, is the Word of God made flesh. Jesus brings God the creator into focus.

The physical body of Jesus is not longer on the earth, so we can’t literally gather around it. But, the powerful symbol of Jesus’ body is the bread and the wine, and we gather around it and eat the bread and drink the wine as a physical participation in the body of Christ and the relationship we have with God through it.

This, my friends, is the Gospel. This is the good news that God has forgiven us for our sin, has restored us into relationship, and invites us to participate in this healing process with the whole world. You have been set free, and this freedom is a free gift from God.

That is GOOD NEWS. That is the Gospel!

What makes this possible is the power of the Holy Spirit who endwells us and empowers us and binds us together in bond of peace.

The powerful symbol of the Holy Spirit is water that gives life, and cleanses, and connects us all together. This is symbolized in baptism.

What happens in you when you think about the church like this? We are gathered around the most important news that the world can ever hear.

No matter how bad your life may seem right now, when you dwell in this reality, I don’t know about you, but my heart bursts with gratitude!

Thank you, Jesus!

We see this in our Gospel story. This woman is so grateful for the mercy that Jesus showed her that she gushes tears and gifts on his feet. And Jesus says,

Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Luke 7:47 (NRSV)

Our reading from Deuteronomy teaches the same thing.

Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is        doing today.

Deuteronomy 8:17–18 (NRSV)

We see this same message throughout the scripture.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth,

You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

2 Corinthians 9:11–12 (NRSV)

And then he writes to his friend, Timothy,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.

1 Timothy 4:4–5 (NRSV)

So, our response to God’s gift is and attitude of Gratitude.

That’s fine, you might say, but, why does the church need money? Let’s get down to the real issue of this series.

The truth is that the church doesn’t need money.

The church happens anywhere that people gather around the Gospel. It can happen in homes, at coffee shops, at the local pub. Jesus said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there.

In fact, I actually tried this. In 2002 I walked away from a really big church with a huge building and staff and a comfortable salary.

We started a house church and I started my freelance business because I didn’t want the church to have to pay my salary.

Here’s what we learned. I spent so much time working on leading the church and preparing the teaching materials that I couldn’t focus the attention on my business that I needed. I had to choose between working or leading the church, and they ended up hiring me.

When a church chooses to gather inside of a building…

…it takes money.

When a church chooses to hire a staff to cultivate and facilitate spaces in which worship and education and service can take place, then…it takes money.

Sometimes the financial burden that comes with mortgages, and utility bills, and staff salaries and insurance policies can stifle a church and send it into a season of panic.

That’s why we need to remember what the church is all about. We gather around the Good News and we want to share this Good News with EVERYONE.

So, how can you take a step in gratitude this month?

I direct your attention to the Big Idea insert. There are a bunch of practical ways that you can turn your giving from something that seems like and obligation to something that is the natural expression of Gratitude.

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