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Sun, Sep 10, 2017

Stewardship: Grace Alone

Duration:18 mins 28 secs

This morning we continue with our fall theme, “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation,” as we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday during this commemoration I will be lifting up a theme or theological ideal which grows from our Reformation roots as we remember that we are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us. This grace is a treasure known in our history which inspires us, for we know that God is not finished with us, with the church, or with this world yet, so we earnestly seek to live the Reformation.

Drawing from that Reformation theme, we also find today is the first day of our annual Stewardship Campaign. Throughout the campaign I will be lifting up the remaining four solas of the Reformation (grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory) as we move toward the celebration of Commitment Sunday on October 1st. Today we begin with “Grace Alone” and read from the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, verses 1-10. Listen in this Word of God for the great transformation of the gospel.

1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

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

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Throughout history there have been many ways to fund the work and ministry of local congregations and denominations. If you have been with us over the last several weeks you might have been reminded of “indulgences.” As Dominican friar John Tetzel declared, “every time a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” Yes by selling “get a soul out of purgatory” cards, the church financed several significant building projects in Rome. But after Martin Luther we don’t sell indulgences anymore.

There were others who funded operations through patronage. In the time of the Reformation, various princes or city governments would agree to fund the local congregation of believers. They had deep pockets and they saw the church as a way to bring glory to themselves. It’s happened here in the United States too. For example, oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller almost entirely financed the building of the gothic Riverside Church in New York City as a pulpit for his favor preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick. But we don’t have patrons at Reid Memorial.

During our vacation in Boston this summer I was reminded that for many years in this country churches funded their ministry through renting pews. The church would keep a record of pew numbers and sections and who paid the rent for each. It cost more to sit up front, not just to better hear the sermon but so that everyone behind you would know that you paid more to sit up front. Some churches even declared that paying your annual pew rent was not just a matter of convenience but the duty of every church member not excused by poverty. Now a few of you do have your names on the pews here at Reid Memorial through generous giving when the sanctuary was remodeled almost fifteen years ago. But we don’t assess annual pew rents here.

No, all the blessings of sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning, of attending a Bible Study or Sunday School class or the Young Women of Faith, of joining to serve a meal to the homeless at the Master’s Table or GAP Ministry, to working with Grow Augusta or Ice Box Ministries in Harrisburg, to being a chaperone on a Middle School ski weekend, to receiving a printed version of the new church directory, to finding a daily scripture reading and prayer focus in your inbox or on Facebook every morning at 4 AM – all this and more at Reid Memorial is … free.

Yes, it’s all free to you. It’s all grace.
That can’t be really true, can it? We know that nothing in life is free, right? When I was a student at Davidson College one of the things always highlighted on the tour for prospective students was that the college did our laundry for us. For free. I’m serious. As a student you took your clothes and sheets to the college laundry, made sure that everything had your personal laundry number on it (mine was 210 – I had it on everything I owned), and dropped them off. Three days later wrapped in brown paper were all your clothes and sheets, neatly folded, ready for you to pick up. For free. If you wanted a little more control there were washers and dryers in various dorms that you could use … for free. Yes, we had free laundry at Davidson. And yet, if you asked our parents, they would tell you that on the bill the college sent to them before each semester, there was laundry fee. Because nothing is really free, right?

When someone tries to convince us that we can get something for free, we might even get angry. My friend Lillian Daniel, pastor of First Congregational Church in Dubuque, Iowa, recently wrote that she received a coupon to her local movie theatre for 50% off the cost of a movie ticket with popcorn too. The only trouble was that she didn’t have much time to go to the movies and when she did, there was rarely a film she wanted to see.

But finally the stars aligned – a film being shown for only one night and she had the night off. She arrived at the theatre excited, but she got some distressing news. The movie was being sponsored by a community group and therefore her coupon did not apply. Why? Because the movie was going to be free. Free of charge.

Can you guess her reaction? Disappointment. Really. She had a pang of disappointment and even frustration because she was not going to be able to use her coupon. She felt cheated out of her deal somehow.

Never mind that the movie was free, as in FREE! Her coupon-craving creativity was crushed and she was actually disappointed. For about 20 seconds, which is how long it took her to realize that she was insane. She writes:

Material plans can be like that. Sometimes the quest for financial freedom just imprisons us. By getting a free ticket, I was being robbed of my chance to be the smartest coupon cutter in the room. Now I would just be on the receiving end of something free, beautiful and inspired — which is the very effect that art is meant to have on us.

It really was a good movie, by the way. And somehow it was created entirely without my help. It reached the screen for me to see without my financial backing. At the theater, nobody asked to see my crumpled-up, tightly-held little coupon. That movie that night was a gift. It was as simple and as complicated as that.

It’s a gift, it’s free. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

My friends, that’s why we don’t charge admission, sell indulgences, get a patron, or rent pews at Reid Memorial. Because salvation is free. It’s a gift. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians so many years ago, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

You were dead, like really dead dead, in sin. I was dead in sin. The whole world was dead in sin. The price of life was too high. You couldn’t pay. I couldn’t pay. The whole world couldn’t pay. There’s not one thing that we can do to earn, deserve, to pay for our salvation.

So God said, “It’s free. I’ll pick up the tab. I’ll pay it all. It’s going to cost me dearly, my son will die for you on a cross, but I’ll do it because I love you that much. I’ll pay it all - for you, it’s all free.”

For you, it’s grace alone. It is not of your own doing. It is the gift of God. And since that day on Golgotha 2000 years ago, those who believe and seek to follow Jesus have been trying to say thanks. When you receive a gift like that, you give God the glory.

Since 1879 the members and friends of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church have been trying to do the same thing: to say thanks to God for the amazing gift of grace. That’s what our ministry in this church is really about – giving God the glory for the amazing gift we have received in Jesus Christ through worship, education, mission, service, children and youth, fellowship, relationships, faith, hope, and most of all love. It’s all a response of gratitude. It’s all a small inadequate attempt to say thanks. Because the only gift that really matters – the gift of eternal life – is all free.

My friends, we believe it is going to take just over $1.1 million dollars for us to accomplish the ministry God is calling us to do in 2018. All those things to say thanks to God. I know $1.1 million is a big number. It is more than the budget this year. Yet, it is also $300,000 less than the income this church had in 2012, just six years ago.

So that you might see and know the ways in which our ministry will be saying thanks to God and giving the God the glory in 2018, you will receive Stewardship brochures and pledge cards in the mail by the end of the week. That mailing is going out this week, God and Hurricane Irma willing. Next Sunday I am going to share with you specifically why I as your pastor believe this is the budget to support the ministry God is calling us to do in the year ahead and invite you to join us in an act of faith.

But today, I want you to remember that all of that, all that ministry, all the budget talk, is a response, an act of gratitude, because the gift that really matters is free. “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” No one needs to see your crumpled-up, tightly-held little coupon.

To God be the Glory, now and forever.

Let us pray:

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