A country preacher was preaching very pointedly to his congregation one Sunday morning.
He said, Now, let the church walk!"
Deacon Jones said, "AMEN, let it walk!"
The preacher then said, "Let the church run!"
Deacon Jones said, "AMEN, Parson, let it run!"
"Let the church fly!" shouted the preacher.
"AMEN, brother, let it fly!" shouted Deacon Jones.
"Now it's going to take a lot of money to let it fly, brother," shouted the preacher.
"Let it walk, then," said Deacon Jones, "let it walk."
The story goes that while Robert Smith was taking his afternoon walk as part of his therapy in recovering from a massive heart attack, the phone rang and his wife Delores answered. The call was from the Reader's Digest Association Sweepstakes in New York. They were calling to inform the Smith family that Robert had just on $1,500,000 and that in a few days the certified check would be arriving. Well, as you can imagine, Delores was absolutely ecstatic. Now all those dreams would come true!
But then she remembered, her husband was just getting over his massive heart attack and the doctor had said no excitement over anything. Delores was afraid that if she told him they had just won such a large sum, he would have another heart attack and die. What should she do? After some thought, she decided to call their pastor and ask his advice because he had had some experience in breaking difficult news to families.
Delores dialed, "Hello, Pastor Baldwin . . . this is Delores Smith."
The pastor replied, "Hi, Delores. How are you? And how is Bob?"
"I'm fine, thank you. And so is Bob. He's recovering nicely. But, I've got a problem and I need your advice."
"Sure, if I can help, I'll be glad to," the pastor replied.
"Well, Pastor, I just got a call from The reader's digest Sweepstakes informing me that Bob has just won $1,500,000!"
"That's great!" said the pastor, "But what's the problem?"
"Well, I'm afraid that if I tell Bob, he'll get so excited that he will have another heart attack and drop dead. Can you help me?"
"Well, Delores, I think I can. Hold on, I'll be right over."
So in about an hour, Bob is not back from his walk and he and Delores and Pastor Baldwin are in the den having a nice chat. The pastor leans in toward Bob and says, "Bob, I've got a problem and need your advice."
"Sure, Pastor, if I can help, I'll be glad to," Bob said.
The pastor takes a deep breath and goes on, "It's a theoretical situation regarding Christian stewardship. What would a person – take you for instance – do if all of a sudden you found out you had won $1,500,00? What would do with all that money?"
"That's easy," Bill replied, "I'd start by giving $750,000 to the church."
Whereupon, Pastor Baldwin had a heart attack and dropped dead! (Ibid, Day 3)
She was just a little girl, one of those non-persons. Nothing to make her stand out from other little girl. She was not from a wealthy family. In fact she was from a poor family. Fifty-seven pennies were found under her pillow the night she died and this simple act made an indelible mark on the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This little girl had mad an attempt to become part of a Sunday School in Phailadelphia years ago wand was told she could not come because there was no room for her. She began saving her pennies in order to "help the Sunday school have more room."
Two years later she became sick and in a couple of weeks, died. Beneath her pillow they found a small, tattered book with the 57 pennies and a piece of paper on which she had printed clearly: "To help build the Little Temple bigger, so more children can to go Sunday school."
This little story and the purse with the 57 pennies were brought to the pastor, and if my serves correctly, this was the Rev. Russel H. Conwell, and he told this humble story to his congregation. Then, the newspapers picked up the story and took it across the country. This triggered a spontaneous wave of gifts and giving. Soon the pennies grew and grew and today the final outcome of the humble 57 pennies offering can still be seen in Philadelphia today.
The "Little Temple" church had been replaced by a church which seats 3,300 people with lots of room for Sunday school. There is also a "Temple University" which accommodates and educates thousands of students. And there is also a "Temple Hospital" dedicated to humanity. And it all began with a nameless little girl who set out to do something about a need. Her beautiful, unselfish, dedicated attitude is what started this project. All it really takes in life to begin making a difference is one person with concern and dedication followed by an action. Let's add one more ingredient to this mix and call it love. Little people, in fact, all people are important to the future of the kingdom of God. Don't be discouraged with your little contribution. God can take your action and turn it into something big for His kingdom. Don't give up! I think of the little boy and his simple lunch ... but in the Master's hands it was about to feed thousands and there was some left over. God needs a willing person first and watch it happen, again! (Robert strand, Moments for Pastors, Day 8)
So, in the end, understanding stewardship is a spiritual matter. Many of our people have lost the all-encompassing vision that everything belongs to God. We have been seduced into thinking that what we have is ours, and that we need more.
Stewardship is not making the budget--it is a way of life for all of life. Stewardship is thanksgiving.
There was an old man on the isle of Crete and during his lifetime he loved many things. He loved his wife, his children, and his job, but most of all he loved the land. He loved the very ground he walked on, worked and fought for. When it as time for him to die he had his sons bring him outside his stone cottage and lay him on the hard earth. He reached down, grabbed a handful of Crete's soil and was gone.
He arrived at the gates of heaven and Lord came out dressed in the long robes of a judge and said to him, "Old man, come in."
As the old man moved towards the gates the Lord noticed something in his hand and said, "What are you clutching in your hand?"
He said, "It is Crete. I go nowhere without it."
The Lord said, "Leave it, or you will not be allowed in."
The old man held his clenched fist up and said, "Never!" And he went and sat beside the outside wall of the heavenly city.
After a week had passed, the gates opened again and the Lord appeared a second time, in the guise of a man wearing a hat, looking like some of the old man's buddies down in Crete. He sat down next to the old man, threw his arm around his shoulder and said, "My friend, dust belongs in the wind. Drop that piece of earth and come inside."
But the old man was still adamant. He said, "Never!"
During the third week the old man looked down at the earth he was clutching and saw that it had begun to cake and crumble. All of the moisture of the earth had gone out of it. Also, his fingers were arthritic and could not handle it. The earth began to trickle through his fingers.
Out came the Lord, this time as a small child. He came up to the old man and sat next to him and said, "Grandfather, the gates only open those with open hands."
The old man thought about this, finally stood up, and did not even look as his hand opened and the crumbled dirt of Crete fell through the sky. The child took his hand and led him toward the glorious gates, and as the gates swung open he walked in. Inside was all of Crete.
Now don't build a theology on this story for that is what it is – a story that illustrates a point that many of us must be reminded us now and then. There is nothing here that is worth missing heaven in order to keep. (Robert strand, Moments for Pastors, Day 12)
Our sermon text from Deuteronomy tells how the ancient Israelites did their stewardship dedication.
"When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you, ... then you shall bring everything that I command you to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name: ... your tithes and your donations, ... and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 12:10-12)
Today we bring our tithes and donations to the Lord our God. And we shall rejoice before the Lord our God. We shall open our hands and let go of whatever it is that is holding us back, and we shall enter into the kingdom of God this very day. We will use our money to further Christ's kingdom on earth and not let our money use us!
The Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Deuteronomy 12:10-12 at St. John's Presbyterian Church on November 1, 2009 / Stewardship Dedication Sunday / OT32B