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Sun, Sep 17, 2017

Stewardship - Faith Alone

Duration:21 mins 25 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 continue with our annual Stewardship Campaign. The sermons in this campaign are drawn from four of the solas of the Reformation (grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, to God alone be the glory). We are moving toward the celebration of Commitment Sunday on October 1st. Last week we remembered that all we have is by God’s grace alone and all the ministry we do is a response of gratitude. Today we consider a second sola, “Faith Alone,” and read from the 2nd chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, verses 15-21. Listen in this Word of God for the great transformation of the gospel.

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17 But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20 and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

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 a rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

As Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church today we face a great temptation. We look around and see the state of our life together, the new members joining almost every month, the love and care we extend to those in distress, and all the ministry we do well. Many of you remember the struggles of the not too distant past, but now the spirit is good and strong. So the temptation is to look at the many blessings God has given and say “We are doing just fine, thank you. Let's keep things just the way they are.”

Now there is no doubt that we have much to celebrate. And yet, the Christian faith is not about maintaining the status quo. It is not about holding on to what we have. It is not about doing just enough to accomplish what we have always done. No, to do that is to attempt to save ourselves by our “works,” by what we can accomplish with a little effort on our own. Yes, that is the temptation.

The apostle Paul knew this temptation as he wrote to the Galatians in our text for today. He knew that he was a Jew by birth. He could have satisfied with maintaining the status quo and performing the works of the law. And yet, he wrote, “We know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” Our restored relationship with God does not depend on the works that we do. No, we are justified through faith in Jesus Christ.

Now it is important to note that this verse can also be translated that we are justified by the “faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” Both are true translations. Christ’s faithfulness to the point of death on the cross makes it possible for us to respond with faith in him. So do you see that faith not just an intellectual understanding of the truth? It's more than that. Faith is the heartfelt, deep in your soul, down in your bones kind of trust that God is in control; that God is on our side; that God has great plans for us. This faith is not just a decision that we make, it is a gift we receive by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our church. Such is the transformation in our lives that Paul can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Christ lives in you and in me. So there is a boldness that comes with this kind of faith - Christ lives in you and in me!

Now I know embracing that kind of faith is hard. In last year's stewardship campaign we knew there was great uncertainty and division in our country around the presidential election. We worried about our own congregation as we discerned God's direction around marriage. So we decided to play it safe. Our stewardship goal for 2017 was a ZERO increase in pledges over 2016. And that is exactly how we as a church responded. We sought pledges of $930,000 and we received pledges for $930,000. We met our goal but we were afraid, so we played it safe.

Now, last year that might have been the right decision and campaign, but we must readily admit it was not a step of faith for our church or for us as individuals. Instead of faith, fear limited our vision and our grateful response.

This year we have come out of the summer with a larger deficit than we’ve seen in recent years, $100,000 in the hole at the end of August. Reason and prudence would suggest that we need to reduce our spending and the budget for 2018. But my friends, I am convinced that this is a new day and a new time in the life of this congregation. We will not be faithful followers of Jesus Christ if fear motivates us more than faith. So I as your pastor invite you to join in a leap of faith as we prepare for 2018. I ask you to join me in a mission to transform the lives of our members and our community in ways that bring Glory to God.

If you respond to this request, what concretely will this vision look like? Let’s begin with mission. I asked our mission committee to be bold in their request to follow God into our community and around the world in 2018. And when they sent me the request, I said, “Wow that's a little bolder than I anticipated!” But, my friends we live by faith alone and I know this is the right request.

For the last five years this congregation has sent a medical and construction mission team to Haiti. Partnering with a North Carolina church, our medical folks see more than 2,500 patients in a week. Our construction folks build a house and put roofs on more than a dozen homes. Each year the Reid Memorial Foundation has significantly subsidized the trip and for that we are grateful. But the Foundation realizes their primary task is to provide funding for new ministries and programs outside the church budget. As we prepare for our 6th trip to Haiti, it is time for us, the members of Reid Memorial, to fully embrace this ministry with our prayers and with our dollars. If we do not first give and then go, fathers and mothers and children in Haiti will literally die. It is as simple as that. So the 2018 budget request includes new money for the Haiti mission trip.

In the same way that we send not only money but also our people to Haiti, over the last 3 years our congregation has sought to identify mission partners among our neighbors in Harrisburg. It is not good enough for us just to give, we must also go. Thus, we have created mentorships, we have installed and planted over a hundred raised garden beds at the request of Grow Augusta, we have supported children in their quest for an education, and we have participated in the building of homes. We have done all of this with a small investment of funds. But I am convinced that we are called to go all in to help our sisters and brothers in Harrisburg. For we have much to learn from them about what it means to be the church, what it means to live a diverse community, what it means to be a people of faith. So the 2018 budget request includes a significant increase to build upon our existing relationships and partnerships, to transform our understanding of ourselves as the church, and to literally change lives just a few hundred yards down the Hill. These are our neighbors, an even more than that; they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Now, someone once told me that Reid Memorial is not a mission congregation. My friends, that is simply not true. Mission is part of our DNA as a congregation and it continues to grow. Let’s take a leap of faith and build on that fine legacy in the year ahead in ways that bring Glory to God.

A second area where I see need for transformation in 2018 is with our children and youth. Did you know there are more than 150 children and youth in our congregation from the nursery through 12th grade? And that number is growing. There are some ways in which we will seek to invest more dollars in our ministry with children and youth in 2018. But more important that just giving, we need to take a leap of faith and invest ourselves. We need you to get involved with our children and youth. Together we have before us a great opportunity to prepare the next generation of disciples of Jesus Christ. No matter how much money we budget, it won't make a difference if you do not invest your time. So, I ask you to take a leap of faith and get to know the children and youth of this congregation by name. We need your help as Sunday school teachers and Confirmation mentors and youth group advisors, and chaperones for trips. Our children and youth need to see how Christ is living in you. This is a vital need and I as your pastor personally ask you to invest yourself in this ministry.

A final area of ministry is to support the leadership of our congregation. Just before I arrived almost four and a half years ago, the decision was made in light of congregational size and budget concerns, to move from three full-time pastors to two. For much of my ministry among you, we have actually operated with one full time pastor and some part time pastors. Honestly, that is insufficient for this growing congregation and the ministry to which God is calling us. I know that you are praying daily for the associate pastor nominating committee, but I suspect that I might be praying just a little harder. We do not know when the Holy Spirit will bring that person to us, so the budget request for 2018 includes a full year of salary and benefits as well as moving expenses for an Associate Pastor. It may be that the Holy Spirit says wait but I pray that in 2018, with God's amazing grace, a full-time associate pastor will join our ministry team sooner rather later.

Yet, even when our Associate Pastor arrives it is my firm conviction that we cannot provide the pastoral care necessary for our growing congregation with just two full-time pastors. In February of this last year, Bob Hunt rejoined our ministry team as part-time Parish Associate. This was not a budgeted position, but became possible by the transition. Just as we knew he would, Bob has been an immense gift to our congregation with his love, concern, and pastoral care. Having him on our team is a huge assistance for me. So, we need to take a leap of faith and give so that we can keep Bob with us for as long as he is willing and able.

In addition to our clergy, we have an amazing staff. They do good and faithful ministry every day and we need to support them as well. In 2018 we are requesting a small cost of living salary increase and to continue to fully cover rising health insurance premiums for our full-time staff. You know as well as I do that health insurance is not cheap. But it is a vital commitment we as a congregation make to our staff as a part of our support for them.

My friends, to do all of this to the Glory of God, we are all going to need to increase our pledges and our giving. The estimate is a 9% increase, roughly $100,000 more than last year. That is our goal for this campaign. As I said before, some might think it crazy to make such an ask of you. But this is not a status quo, just do what we’ve always done, kind of vision. No, we are saved and we live by faith alone. So, I ask you to prayerfully consider this vision to give God the Glory as we transform lives with gospel near and far, nurture our children and youth, and support for our church staff.

We are at a crucial, exciting, and vital moment in our congregation’s life and history. Christ lives in you and in me. So, I ask you to cast aside fear, to refuse to play it safe, and to make a pledge for 2018 with faith.

To God be the Glory now and forever.

Let us pray:

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