A Seat at the Table

You have most likely heard the old story about the preacher who was preaching on giving. Now, he was obviously not from a Presbyterian tradition, but from a tradition where, if you ask a rhetorical question, the congregation will answer you. The minister was at the crescendo of his sermon on giving—the culmination of a season of teaching on stewardship. He was also at the height of his oratory skills. People were excited, the vision was clear; it was time to cut to the chase and give the big challenge. He said this: “The church is like a cripple, but she’s got to get up and walk.” The congregation answered—Let her walk! “The church is like Elijah on Mt. Carmel, she’s got to get up and run.”—Let her run! “The church is like a bird, she’s got to mount up on wings like an eagle and fly.”—Let her fly! “If the church is going to fly, it’s going to take some money!” And the congregation said—Let her walk!

I spent last week on a retreat with about thirty church planters from our denomination. Our purpose was simple—to encourage these church planters as they set about establishing thriving congregations in the places God calls them. I love this. I love seeing God do a new thing. When we come to a retreat like this once a year and ask church planters what their biggest struggles are, one of the primary ones we hear year after year is, “How do we raise money for this church plant?” And, almost to a person, they confess that it is hard for them to ask people for money to invest in God’s future kingdom. Tom Ricks is the head of our denomination’s Church Planting team, and this past Sunday he was relaying this story to his congregation in St. Louis and he said this…

In my sermon, I said to my congregation, “how sad that our fellow disciples are fearful to talk to us about investing in God’s kingdom!”  Then I invited them to help one of our church planters become more trusting of God’s provision by sending them a gift that wasn’t requested.  I said everyone could participate because the size of the gift  could be $5 to $5,000.  Lastly, I told my folks this was completely voluntary and to email me if they wanted in.  If they did, I’d send them the name of a planter and how they could donate.

I thought I may get 5-10 people to take me up on this. I’m literally swamped with dozens of emails asking to help.  I know some will be $5 sized gifts and others larger, but I am blown away by the generosity of God’s people. One guy wrote, “I was going to buy a new driver (golf club) but this is way more important.  Thanks for letting me help!”

I have found when talking about money at St. Patrick that we have people very much like that. I can’t tell you how many times a situation has been made known to me of someone in need and people in our congregation have been very thankful that they had the opportunity to be a blessing to the people of God. On November 12, we are doing the same thing at St. Patrick: we are asking you to pledge generously, above what you normally give, so that St. Patrick can be a bigger blessing to our friends and neighbors. And yes, we are asking you to ponder and pray about putting off large purchases, to look over your budgets and maybe cut out some creature comforts, to see what you can give in faith, trusting God will bless your generosity.

If you missed the Fall Festival, you missed a chance to see how your generosity can be a game changer for our church and the people who live around us. After the food was served and people were sitting around or chasing children or getting second helpings, something amazing happened. At least fifty people I had never seen before started showing up—our neighbors who saw a large party taking place and just dropped in! I had one gentlemen, over 90 years old, drive up and say, “I heard there was smoked BBQ here and wondered if I could come.” I asked another young family how they heard about it and the father said, “Well, we were just driving by and saw all the children and the bouncy things and then followed our noses to the back of the church.”  It was beautiful!

Imagine the feast we will be able to throw with a kitchen and pavilion? Imagine the neighbors we will meet with a nice and safe place for their children to play? Imagine having the facilities to invite our friends and strangers to come and join us at the table? If we were only building this for our own congregation, there wouldn’t be reason enough to put off a large purchase, or to actively look at and scour your budget, so that you could make a generous pledge. But the truth is, all of us have a seat at the table because someone before us said, “Jesus is worth it. I am rich because Jesus became poor, I want to be part of what God is doing in history—right here and right now!”

I was pondering what I was doing, adopting a child in my old age, when a thought hit me––well, several thoughts actually. The first was, I have never heard anyone say, “Man, I wish I hadn’t had so many children.” Or another one, “Boy, I wish I had not been so generous.” Or this, “Man, I wish, when I was really hurting, I had just isolated myself from people and been all alone in my pain.” The thing that all these thoughts have in common is this—the cross! We are saved by the generosity of God, and we are instruments in the hand of God when we are generous—whether it is with our money or our time, as we invest in people who just need the blessing of our friendship.

The cross is a paradox—because Jesus didn’t save himself, he saved us. And yet here is the paradox. Jesus was not diminished by his sacrifice—he did it for joy! “For the joy set before him, he endured the shame of the cross.” Heaven will be a party because Jesus, our elder brother, by his generosity provided a seat at the table for folk like us. That is what this season of giving at St. Patrick is all about.