“I want my life to matter. I want to know that when my life is over, that I somehow made a difference.”
I’ve lost track of the number of times that someone sitting across the table from me, with a cup of coffee in their hand, has spoken those words. There is something within us that wants to know that the things we are doing day by day will add up to a life that matters, that we will somehow make a difference in this world, or at least our part of it.
It seems to me that there’s not a stage of life where that question doesn’t become part of the conversation. I’ve heard it down in our preschool classrooms during the week, as our teachers attempt to teach more than just the alphabet.
I’ve heard it in conversations during Confirmation classes here, when our young people explore what impact their faith will have on their lives.
I’ve talked with new parents, or with parents bringing children to the baptismal font, and they want to know that what they are doing as parents matters deeply.
I’ve heard the question raised by folks adjusting to the new sense of normal that ordinary aging means to all of us, and I’ve heard people near death look back at their life and tick off the ways they’ve come to believe that their life did have profound meaning.
There’s something within us that wants to know that we matter, that we made a difference. And, truth be told, many of our days are spent in pursuit of an answer to that question of meaning and value.
When you stop to think about it, congregations are driven by the same question. Aside from our primary purpose of worshiping God, we want to know that what we do together as a community of faith is making some difference in the world. This congregation wants to know that the time we give and the dollars we offer and the talent we use through the ministry of this congregation will be used by God to make a difference in the world. And with every dollar becoming more significant at home, we want to know that the money we are giving to God through our ministry together matters.
So let me say it as plainly as I know how: What you give to Massanutten matters and God is doing amazing things with our offerings. Lives are being changed because of what we are doing together here, and I hope that you find your own life transformed as well.
In just a few minutes, you will be invited to complete an estimate of giving card which will reflect what you plan to give to God through this congregation in 2008. Obviously, many of us support a lot of worthwhile organizations and give to other causes and I hope that you will continue to give in many ways. But today, as you consider your gift to God through Massanutten for 2008, I want to invite you to make your first and best gift to God through this congregation. And I ask you that unapologetically, because I am convinced that our ministry plan for 2008 will enable God to continue to use us to make a difference in the world.
In the next few weeks, our Stewardship and Finance Ministry will take the estimates of giving that we will be offering today, and they will share with the Session the dollars available to fund our ministry together in 2008. And then, with much prayer and visioning work, our Session will approve a ministry budget.
And, though the specifics aren’t there yet—because we haven’t made our estimates of giving—I can tell you that it will look a lot like other budgets with a lot of numbers on it. And, if you’re like most, you may be tempted to simply look at the bottom line. But to do that is to miss the stories that those numbers tell, those amazing stories of what we are doing to fulfill what we sense God calling us to do together through the ministry of this congregation.
If you listen carefully, you can hear those stories when you consider the numbers. The camp and conferences number for our children and youth make life-transforming experiences possible for these young people at critical times in their lives.
The dollars reflected for our giving to the presbytery and to the denomination don’t just support institutional structures. No, they help to support missionaries around the world and they provide resources to local congregations to help them in their ministry.
There’s so much more to the budget than numbers. What you give to God through this congregation is used in ministry throughout the county—sometimes through the use of our building for community activities; other times through programming like the Food Pantry; and sometimes through cooperative ministries like our area campus ministry at the local colleges, or Mercy House, or People Helping People. And your giving has supported mission trips to the gulf coast and to Africa and to Mexico.
And, of course, it should be obvious that without your gifts, Massanutten couldn’t provide the quality worship, music, education, fellowship, and care, and service that we do together. Your gifts matter to your church.
I could go on for a long time talking about all the ways your gifts matter to the church, but that’s stating the obvious. And, as important as your gifts are to the ministry we do together, that question really goes down the wrong track. When it comes to giving, the question in your mind shouldn’t be “how much of my money does the church need this year?” but rather, “how do I feel God is calling me to respond to the many ways God has blessed my life?”
So, if I were to tell you that just last week an anonymous donor wrote a check to Massanutten to cover the entire budget for 2008, would your estimate of giving that you will offer in just a few minutes matter? If all the wonderful ministries of this congregation were funded would your gift matter to you? I’m asking now not would your gift matter to this church, but would it matter to you?
In this strange story we read today, David was going to make an offering to God. There was a man named Araunah who offered David not only the threshing floor, which is the place to make the offering, but the offering itself—the oxen, and the wood to build the fire to make the sacrifice. David offers to buy these things but Araunah wants to give them to him.
In a sense, Araunah wants to make it as easy as possible for David. All David would have to do is go through the motions—say the prayer, lift his hands, nod to the priests to light the fire. No pain, no strain. No cost or sacrifice. No need to give his offering much thought or effort. No adjustment of lifestyle; no change of priorities; no giving up anything.
Can you see why David said no to Aranauh’s offer? He refused to make an offering to God that didn’t cost him anything. He wants what he gives to matter to him. As one commentator says about this text: “(The gift) is a part of himself. He wants it to cost something. He wants what he gives to make a difference in the way he lives. He wants his offering to express his love, his joy, his hope, even his suffering. He wants to make a sacrifice….”
I think this is related to the reason that in the Gospels Jesus refuses to give the rich young ruler a user-friendly version of discipleship. I think that’s why you keep hearing things in the Bible like, “Those who would be my disciples must deny self, take up the cross and follow me.” Things like, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
In the scriptures, we keep coming across this kind of seemingly unreasonable demand, that we offer a huge portion of our time and our talents and our finances. And I think it’s because God knows that what we need most is to make a gift that costs us something because only such a gift is an offering of ourselves. It is, after all, our very selves that finally we want and need to give to God, and that is exactly what God wants from us—an undivided heart.
When you consider what you will give to God through this church next year, you will have two ways of looking at it. You could look at the church’s need to receive, or you could like at it like David, who knew that his gift mattered to him because it was an offering of himself to God. He needed to give the gift that cost him something because he had given his life to God and was living it in response to the ways that God had blessed his life.
Your gift matters to Massanutten and what you give to God here will change lives. But I can’t say it any more directly than this: What you give matters to you as well. May God continue to bless our lives in countless ways, and may our lives show that we are giving ourselves in response to what God has done, is doing, and yet will do to save the world.