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Sermon (2) and Liturgy for Ordinary 29 - Proper 24 - Year A
I Thessalonians 1:1-10 and Matthew 22:15-22
"Giving To God"


READING:  I Thessalonians 1:1-10 and Matthew 22:15-22 
SERMON :  "Giving To God"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or29sn 694000
                  
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC. 

   Sources: Both the children's time and the sermon are based on
   materials from King Duncan: "What Belongs To God - Matthew 22:15-
   21" in Dynamic Preaching, October 1996 and study material from
   the Whole People of God for, 1996 this Sunday.  Much of the
   illustrative materials and the point structure in the sermon are
   chiefly that of King Duncan - though there are jokes and many
   other materials collected from elsewhere. 

   Note that the structure of the service is a bit different than
   usual.  For this "stewardship sermon" I wanted to be sure that
   the offering had already been received - and that much music had
   been enjoyed.  Kind of like sugar coating the medicine.


GATHERING AND MUSICAL PRELUDE                            (* = please stand)


* WORDS OF WELCOME AND CALL TO WORSHIP
L    Good Morning 
P    Good Morning
L    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, 
     and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
P    And also with you.
L    Our God is a mighty God.
P    The Lord loves what is fair and sees that justice is done.
L    Our God is merciful and kind.
P    The Lord answers the prayers of his people and forgives their sins.
L    Our God invites all to come to him and to dwell in his presence.
P    The Lord answers our prayers and forgives our sins.
L    Our God reaches out to take our burdens and remove our fears.
P    Great is the Lord, who brings down the proud
     and exalts those who are of low degree.


* PRAYER OF INVOCATION
Holy and Loving God - we give you thanks and praise this day for being able
to come here and stand before you in this place of worship.  We thank you
for your love and for your forgiveness, for how you reach out your hand to
help us and all those who call upon your name.  You know, O God, the
weights that we carry - the concerns that we have - you know our waking and
our sleeping - our every thought and every deed - you know everything about
us.  We pray, precious Lord, minister to us in this time as we worship you. 
lift our burdens from us as we lift up our hands and our voices in your
praise, grant us peace as we bless your wonderful Name, and by the power of
your Holy Spirit make us more perfectly yours as we hear your word and seek
to do your will.  We ask it through Christ Jesus our Lord -- Amen


* HYMN:  "I Heard The Voice of Jesus Say"                          - VU 626

* HYMN:  "Come, Let Us Sing of A Wonderful Love"                    - VU 574


A READING FROM I THESSALONIANS 1:1-10
     (NIV)  Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in
     God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. 

     We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We
     continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by
     faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by
     hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  For we know, brothers and sisters
     loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you
     not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and
     with deep conviction.

     You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators
     of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the
     message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.  And so you became a
     model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord's
     message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia - your
     faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to
     say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of
     reception you gave us.  They tell how you turned to God from idols to
     serve the living and true God,  and to wait for his Son from heaven,
     whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming
     wrath.

L    This is the Word of the Lord
P    Thanks be to God.


HYMN:  "If You're Happy and You Know It"                    Blue Booklet 4b

HYMN:  "God is Like"                                        Blue Booklet 6a


CHILDREN'S TIME:  "Trick Questions"

     Good morning.....   I've got a puzzle question for you this morning:
     "A Farmer had 20 sick sheep.  If one of those sheep wandered off and
     got lost, how many sheep would be left (most will answer 25 having
     heard 26 sheep... repeat the question slowly until someone gets it
     right = 19)  I played a bit of a trick on you there didn't I.  I hope
     you didn't mind - it was a bit of a fun trick.

     Do you ever play tricks on people?  Do they play them on you. 
     Tricks are not always good -- like pulling the chair out from
     someone when they are about to sit down.  Has anyone ever played
     a mean trick on you??  How does a mean trick feel??  Did you know
     that some people tried to trick Jesus in very mean ways??  They
     asked him questions so that he would get into trouble with one
     group or another no matter how he answered.  

     One day they came to him and asked him a question that may seem a
     bit strange to us - they asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to
     Caesar - who was the king of land.  Jesus knew that they where
     tyring to get him into to trouble - so he asked them to show him
     the kind of coins that they would use to pay the taxes with.

     Have you ever taken a good look at the pictures on a coin?  Our
     coins have the pictures of our queen on them.  They also have
     other pictures and words on them.  Do you know how do they get
     those pictures on the coins?  Well, coins are just chunks of soft
     metal.  They are put in a machine and then smashed very hard with
     a thing called a die.  The die has pictures and words on it. 
     When the die smashes into the coin, the picture on the die goes
     over to the coin.  So now the coins have the same picture, the
     same image, as the die.  Ever since coins first started being
     made, there were pictures of different people on them.  In Jesus'
     day, many of the coins had the picture of the Roman king, Caesar
     Augustus, on them.  Now Caesar was king in those days, but the
     Jewish people really hated Caesar.  He did not treat the Jewish
     people well.  He made them pay all kinds of taxes to him.  The
     Jewish people didn't want to pay taxes to Caesar, so they asked
     Jesus about it - knowing that if he said they shouldn't pay taxes
     - that he would get into trouble with the government, and that if
     he said they should pay taxes - nobody would like him.

     Jesus answered them = Give to Caesar what was Caesar's, and give
     to God what was God's.  What did He mean?  Well, the money had
     Caesar's picture or image on it, so the money belonged to Caesar. 
     But you know what?  The Bible says we are made in the image of
     God.  Just like money was made with the image of Caesar, we are
     made in the image of God.  That means that we belong to God.  And
     if we belong to God, then everything we have, everything we do,
     belongs to God.  Jesus was reminding the Jewish people that what
     they did with their money wasn't as important as what they did
     with their lives.


PRAYER AND THE LORD'S PRAYER
     Let us pray...  Dear Lord God - Help us to give you what is yours
     - help us to spend our hours in acts of love - and our days in
     doing kindness.  - May we always obey you - and give you praise. 
     Amen

And in the word's of Jesus who taught us to pray together...

     Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom
     come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us
     this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we
     forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into
     temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom,
     the power and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen


* HYMN: "Jesus, Teacher and Friend"                               - SFGP 16

* HYMN     "Grab Another Hand"
          Verse 1) Grab another hand...  2) Shake another hand... 
           3) Clap another hand...   4) Raise another hand...  5)
          Hug another friend...


SHARING JOYS AND CONCERNS: ANNOUNCEMENTS AND SPECIAL MATTERS
- Birthdays and Anniversaries     
- Announcements
- Special Matters      
- Sharing Joys and Concerns


* SHARING GOD'S BLESSINGS:  As the Offering is presented all stand for the
Doxology (Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow - VU 541) and Prayer of
Dedication

     Most gracious and giving God, you are our maker and our redeemer,
     our only hope in life and in death.  Through your love - all that
     we call good comes to us.  By your mercy - we live and breath and
     have our being.  We thank you, O God, with these tithes and
     offerings, and with our vow to live as your faithful people.  By
     the power of your Holy Spirit help us to always acknowledge your
     goodness and to serve you willingly and joyfully through your
     Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen


* GREETING ONE ANOTHER WITH A SIGN OF PEACE


A READING FROM MATTHEW 22:15-22:
     (NIV)  Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap Jesus in his
     words.  They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians.

     "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you
     teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  You aren't swayed
     by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then,
     what is your opinion?  Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" 

     But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are
     you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax." 

     They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is
     this? And whose inscription?" 

     "Caesar's," they replied. 

     Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God
     what is God's." 

     When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went
     away.

L    This is the Gospel of our Risen Lord
P    Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ


SERMON: "Giving To God"

We have done a few things a bit differently today.  Lots more music.  The
offering early in the service.  No Psalm reading.  And now we come to the
sermon.  It is a bit different today.  In part it is because it's structure
and many of the illustrations are not mine - they belong to a well known
preacher by the name of King Duncan - and I have changed and adapted them
and added to them - and in part because I want to talk to you about giving
to God today - not about giving thanks to God as we did last week for
Thanksgiving.  But rather about giving money to God.  But first, let us
pray.
          
     O Lord, we pray, speak in the calming of our minds and in the
     longings of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the
     thoughts that we form.  Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. 
Amen.     

Jesus said:    Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, 
               and give to God what belongs to God.

Throughout history most commentators and preachers spend a great deal time
over this passage - mostly talking about either how Jesus avoided the trap
set for him by his enemies, or about what things are Caesar's, and which
are God's.

But this is not what today's gospel story is primarily all about.  

Rather it is about the attitudes and the actions of those who refused to
believe in Jesus
   and about giving - or -  as the old English version of the bible puts
   it - about rendering.

          "Render unto Caesar," said Jesus, "the things that are
          Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." 

Now, in doing the calculations involved in that statement you can be sure
that the Tax Department will calculate how much we owe to Caesar.  The
question I want to pose for you today is this - What do you and I have that
belongs to God? 

And I want to get very personal about this morning - and talk specifically
about money and what it is that we owe to God.

Why would I do this?  

Because Jesus talks about money not just here in this passage but in many
other places; and because talking about Christian discipleship without
talking about one of the prime manifestations of that discipleship is
absurd.

Some pastors try to find creative ways of dealing with this subject of
money.  

     In one church, the minister announced that if his congregation
     reached a certain fund-raising goal, he would permit them to
     place a clock on the pulpit.  If they exceeded the goal by $1000,
     he would let them plug the clock in.  If they exceeded the goal
     by $2000, he agreed to look at it!  

That's one way of dealing with money. 
     
It's better than one church I heard about.  James Hatch said he robbed a
Salt Lake City bank of $2,500 in order to donate more money to the Lord's
Covenant Church.  This particular church teaches that the Federal Reserve
System is causing the collapse of the American economy.  Hatch claimed that
after he donated $7,000, a church member called to thank him and urged him
to rob a bank. (2) 

That may be going a bit far.  I would like to find a middle ground.  

"Render unto Caesar," said Jesus, "the things that are Caesar's; 
and unto God the things that are God's."  

What are the things we owe to God?

Well, FIRST OF ALL notice that our Gifts to God are a payment on a debt, a
kind of "paying it forward" as I mentioned last week, and not a bribe.

We don't give our gifts to God in order to get something back. 
We don't give to God because we hope to receive special favours in return.  
We give out of gratitude for what God has already done in our behalf. 

There is a trend among believer today, especially here in North America, 
to be self-indulgent.  Many of the so called 'successful' churches are
packaging Christianity to fit people's wants, not their real needs.  

For example, there are some churches that foster the idea that if we give a
lot to the church, then God will make us prosperous in our homes.  In
short, thinking again of last week's message, if we sow lots of money, we
will get lots of money back.  This is the standard pitch of some of the
more notorious televangelists - but it can be heard in many churches
throughout Canada and the United States.

In order to see how ludicrous such theology is all we have to do is look at
what happened to the Disciples.  Surely if a group of Christians deserved
to prosper because of their devotion, it is them.  Every one of them
deserved a new chariot in front of their homes, a swimming pool in their
back yard,  and solid gold trinkets hanging from both arms. 

Is that how the story turned out? No!  Here is how their story ended

Matthew suffered martyrdom by the sword in Ethiopia. 
     Mark died at Alexandria after being dragged through the streets of
     that city. 
Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece. 
     John was put into a caldron of boiling oil, but escaped death and was
     banished to Patmos. 
Peter was crucified at Rome with his head downward. 
     James was beheaded at Jerusalem.  
James the Lesser was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple and beaten to
death below. 
     Philip was hanged against a pillar in Phrygia. 
Bartholomew was flayed alive. 
     Andrew was bound to a cross, from whence he preached to his
     persecutors until he died.  
Thomas was impaled on a stake at Coromandel, India. 
     Jude was shot to death with arrows. 
Matthias was first stoned and then beheaded. 
     Barnabas was stoned to death at Salonica. 
And while John lived until he was very old - it was in exile.

When the Disciples talked about stocks and bonds, they weren't talking
about General Motors and Government issues.  They were talking about the
stocks and bonds that prisoners wear.  When  they talked of chains, they
were not talking about the golden variety but heavy chains of cast iron. 
They offered their prayers of thanksgiving not from the decks of their
yachts but from prison cells.

If I were say to you that God will prosper you because you give your
offerings to this church - or to any other church or charity - , I would be
guilty of the worst kind of self-serving blasphemy.  Our gifts are a debt
not a bribe - A debt of gratitude - of recognition that in the end
everything we have comes from God and belongs to God.. 

SECOND - We need to recognize that God doesn't need our money.  But we need
to give.
     
There is an old story that goes like this:

     There once was a wealthy man who was determined to take it with
     him when he died.  He prayed and prayed until he convinced the
     Lord to let him bring his wealth inside the pearly gates.  There
     was one condition:  He could only bring one suitcase of his
     wealth with him. Therefore, the rich man filled his suitcase with
     gold bullion. 

     Then one day, he died. St. Peter greeted him at the gate and told
     him he could come in, but his suitcase would have to be left. 
     "But I have an agreement with God," said the man, "to bring one
     suitcase in heaven." 

     "That's very unusual," replied St. Peter. "Let me look inside
     that suitcase." 
    
     The man opened the suitcase to reveal the shining gold bullion. 
     St. Peter was amazed.  He asked, "Why in the world would you
     bring more pavement to heaven?" 
     
There is nothing we have that God needs!  
Our gold is as asphalt to God. 
Our diamonds like water. 
God doesn't need our money.

It's easy for us to have the misconception that God must have our resources
to fulfill God's plan.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  When we
give our gifts to God it is not because God needs anything.  It is we who
need to give! 
     
WHY DO WE NEED TO GIVE?  
In order to combat the power of materialism in our lives.  

     There was a young man who was desperately in need of a job.  He
     asked God to help him find employment, and when he secured a job
     that paid $10 a week, the young man was so overjoyed that he
     promised God that he would always give 10 percent of his income
     to the church.  He began by giving $1 a week, 10% of his $10
     income.  

     As time passed, the young man moved on to a higher paying job. 
     Now he was making $100 a week, and he dutifully put $10 in the
     plate each Sunday.  Eventually, he earned $1,000 a week, and
     while he still put $100 in the plate, it had become a grudging
     duty.  

     Finally, he hit the big time -- earning $10,000 a week.  He could
     not bear the thought of putting $1,000 into the plate each
     Sunday, so he sought out the pastor.  "When I made that promise,
     I only earned $10 a week," he said.  "My promise made sense back
     then, but now things are different.  Would you please release me
     from my promise to give 10% of my income to the church?"

     The pastor thought about it for awhile and then replied, "My son,
     I cannot release you from a promise you made before God.  But I
     would be happy to pray that your income be reduced back to the
     original $10 a week!" 

There is no more deceptive and deadly power on this earth than the power of
materialism.   It is an addiction as strong as heroin and cocaine combined. 

Here's how the deadly power of materialism works:  The more goods of the
earth we have, the more we feel we need. Luxuries become necessities; what
was once extravagance becomes and essential. And, even worse, the more we
have, the more we feel we deserve until the power of materialism separates
us from our neighbour and ultimately from God.  That is why Jesus had more
to say about money than any other subject - not because God needs our money
but because we need to give.  It is the only way to break materialism's
hold. 

And, friends, never has materialism been stronger than it is right now. 
Mammon reigns triumphant and all of us are affected by it. 

     Just consider:  The percentage of Americans who say they want to
     earn "a lot of money" grew from 38 percent in 1975 to 63 percent
     in 1994.  

     In a massive annual survey by the Higher Education Research
     Institute at UCLA, the number of college freshmen who said it was
     essential or very important to be very well off financially grew
     from 41 percent in 1968 to 74 percent in 1995.  At the same time,
     the percentage who said "developing a meaningful philosophy of
     life" was a top priority fell from 83 percent to 41 percent. 

     This information is detailed in an article titled "The State of
     Greed," in  U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT. (5)  

     Meanwhile in 1968, the typical church member gave 3.14 percent of
     his income. By 1992, it was 2.52 percent. 

     "The State of Greed" is a good title. 

Our gift to God is not a bribe but a debt.  
We give not because God needs it but because we need to give. 
We need to show that it is God who rules our lives, not greed. 

AND THERE'S ONE THING MORE that needs to be said:  Our giving to god is
supposed to come off the top, not from what we have left over. 

The person who believes in God but does not have faith in God says,  
"Don't ask me to pledge to God's work.  I will give as I am able." 

The idea is that I will give if I have enough left over after satisfying my
needs and desires.

There are many Christians who practice this kind of giving - who give from
what is left over rather than from what they first receive  - and so their
offering is but a token gift - a token gift grows out of a token faith. 

There is a story that has been repeated in many places over the years - a
true story I am told...

It seems that there was a church who need a new treasurer, so they asked
the local grain elevator manager to take the position.  He agreed under two
conditions.

     One, that no treasurer's report would be given for the first
     year, and two, that no questions be asked about finances during
     that year. 

     The people were surprised, but finally agreed since most of them
     did business with him and he was a trusted man.  At the end of
     the year he gave his report: 

     * The church mortgage of some $68,000 has been paid. 
     * The minister's salary has been increased by 10%. 
     * The congregations pledge to the Mission Work of the
     denomination has been paid twice over.  
     * There are not outstanding bills.  
     * And there is a cash balance of $11,252!

     Immediately the shocked congregation asked, "How did you do it? 
     Where did the money come from?" 

     He quietly answered:  "Most of you bring your grain to my
     elevator.  Throughout the year I simply withheld ten percent on
     your behalf and gave it to the church in your name.  You didn't
     even miss it!" 

Can you imagine what we could do for the Lord if we were all willing to
give at least the tithe to God, who really owns it? 

The person who gives to God only what is left over will never be a cheerful
giver.  He or she will always give out of a resentful heart.  

But the man or woman who gives God the first fruits will know the joy and
the satisfaction that comes with truly trusting God. 
     
Our gifts are a debt, not a bribe.  

We give not because God needs our gifts but because we need to give them in
order to fight the power of materialism in our lives. 

We give off the top not from what's left over. 

FINALLY, let me say this so that you do not go away thinking that this in
nothing but a pitch for increased giving to this church -- it is not.

I don't care whether or not you give a dime to this church.  

What I do care about is whether or not you give yourself to God -
whether or not you regard God as the source of your life and your living
and live accordingly as a people of gratitude - a people of faith -


LET US PRAY
Help us get our priorities in this life right, O God
- to work at what is eternal rather than that which is passing
- to store up treasures in heaven rather than here on earth where rust
corrodes and moth consumes and thieves break in to steal
;... Lord, hear our prayer...

Help us, Lord, to give ourselves to you completely 
- not only in for a few minutes on Sunday morning
- not only with a few dollars to satisfy our feeble conscience
but to seek to give you every minute of every day
to use what you have granted us to bring joy and hope to those who are in
need and to obey your laws and commandments as you have meant for them to
obeyed.
.... Lord, hear our prayer.

Father, you have promised that those who trust in you will not be
disappointed.  Grant that we may always act as if we trusted you.  Help us
render what is due to our nation as we render what is due to you. And bless
this congregation and meet its needs, and bless those within it for whom we
pray at this time, as well as those in our families and among our friends
and throughout our Community whom we name before you...  (BIDDING PRAYER)

Lord, we ask all these things through Christ Jesus, he who gave all of
himself to you for our sakes, and who taught us to pray to you in all
things and for all things.  Amen


* DEPARTING HYMN: "Teach Me, God, To Wonder"                       - VU 299


* COMMISSIONING (Unison): In the power of the Holy Spirit we now go forth
     into the world, to fulfil our calling as the people of God, the body
     of Christ.
 
 
* BENEDICTION AND THREEFOLD AMEN
Go in peace,  
- and may God's love surround you and fill you; 
- may the Spirits power support and guide you, 
- and may the grace of Christ our Lord shine in all that you say and do,
both now and forevermore.  Amen


* CHORAL BLESSING:  "Go Now In Peace"                              - VU 964


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2002 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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