“Giving Toward God’s Vision”

Pentecost 26

November 13, 2016


Text:  Isaiah 65:17-25


    Today’s Scripture from Isaiah chapter 65 focuses on God’s vision for the world.  It is a vision given in the wake of terrible times for the people Israel, including years of exile in Babylon following years of trouble that had come as a result of unfaithfulness to God.  

    This vision was not a small vision. It was so big that it was described as being a new heaven and a new earth, a vision so grand and glorious that the old reality would be forgotten.  God’s people would be a source of joy and gladness.  There would be no more sadness or pain, no more infant mortality, no more premature death.  People’s work would benefit the ones actually doing the work, not only the ones forcing them to do the work.  It is also a vision of peace--even animals that are enemies in nature would live and eat side by side without harming each other. “They won’t hurt or destroy at any place on my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

    I find this to be a very relevant vision for our time. We certainly live in a world where this vision remains unfulfilled.  There is much suffering and sadness in our world, caused both by natural causes and by human beings treating other human beings badly.  Far too many people derive little or no benefit from their work, doing it under conditions that amount to slavery. There is still infant mortality, more so among the poor of our world. Diseases, accidents, and violence take lives far too soon.  And our world certainly is not at peace.  People do violence to each other and to the created order, and too many either seem not to care that this is happening or think this is a good thing.  And far too often those who identify as God’s people are not seen as a source of joy and gladness, but rather as a major part of the problem.  The aftermath of this past week’s election only has served to remind us of how badly broken this world is, and that we have a lot of working and praying to do if God’s vision is to be fulfilled.

    As God’s people called the church, we are called to work toward the fulfillment of God’s vision.  We are called to devote our lives and our common ministry toward helping move our world toward God’s vision of shalom, of peace and well-being for all people, that Isaiah describes.  Some of the things we do in our common ministry require money to pay for them.  What funds that common ministry?  Our giving.

    If you don’t realize how much your financial giving contributes to God’s vision, consider this.  A study released in September of this year by Brian Grim, a scholar at Georgetown University, finds that churches and religious institutions contribute $1.2 trillion to the U.S. economy every year.  Grim looked at religious congregations and programs they run, such as schools, soup kitchens, and addiction recovery efforts, and their impact on local economies.  Most of the spending by congregations is local, employing hundreds of thousands of people and purchasing a wide variety of goods and services.  Grim also cited a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing that religious people are more likely to volunteer to help others and on average give more to charity than non-religious people.  Grim’s study notes that congregations and religiously oriented charities are responsible for:

  • 130,000 alcohol and drug abuse recovery programs

  • 94,000 programs to support veterans and their families

  • 26,000 programs to prevent HIV/AIDS and to support people living with the disease

  • 121,000 programs to train and support people who are unemployed

    In the local church, it is easy to become focused on paying for salaries, utilities, and building maintenance.  Sometimes local churches lose sight of the bigger picture.  Our giving is not only for the purpose of maintaining the local expression of the church.  It is also toward a vision of God’s shalom described in Isaiah, a vision that seeks the well-being of all people, a vision that many local churches working together strive toward in their mission work.  The United Methodist Church is a connectional church.  While each congregation has its own ministries in its local community, we are also connected in ministry and mission to do ministry together that we never could do alone in places where we may never personally have the opportunity to go.  That is one of the reasons we are asked to pay apportionments, which is our portion, our fair share, of the financial cost of the ministry that our churches do together.  And of course, we also give to causes beyond what apportionments pay for.  Our giving has helped reduce the number of cases of malaria in Africa by at least half.  Our giving helped build a university in Zimbabwe that is now educating Africa's future leaders.  Our giving helps fund missionaries who share the good news of Christ in word and deed in many places around the world.  Our giving helps people throughout the world in times of disaster.  Our giving funds a prison congregation in Mitchellville where incarcerated women come to know and trust the love of God in Jesus Christ.  And there is so much more.

    In a few moments we will be coming forward to place our pledge cards on the altar and dedicate them to God.  As you do so, I invite you to think about them as more than your contribution towards keeping the lights on and paying salaries.  I invite you to think about how your gifts contribute to the accomplishment of God’s vision of shalom in our world.  I also invite you to consider how you can dedicate your life, even in the places where you are daily, to helping bring about God’s vision of a world that seeks the well-being of all people and of creation, and where all seek to live in harmony with one another.  Amen.

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