Summary: A challenge to our congregation to make a covenant with God for next years’ giving.
For those who are guests and visitors this morning, I need to start our by apologizing to you. Every church has to take care of business from time to time, and the next few minutes are our turn. I need to speak to our members and regular attenders. This morning not only are we bringing our offerings for the Heifer Project, we are also bringing our Estimates of Giving for next year. These estimates serve a very practical purpose. They give the finance committee a basis for budgeting our expenses for 1999. I ask you to consider letting these estimates serve a more important purpose, a spiritual purpose.
To be honest, the term Estimate of Giving has been bothering me lately. To me, it doesn’t ring true to the spiritual side of stewardship. “Estimate of Giving” doesn’t imply any commitment, any sense of ownership. It’s a symptom of “easy Christianity” – being a “Christian” without having to show any evidence of it in our lives. Estimate of Giving has been used around so many churches for so long, I’m beginning to think it’s responsible for the difficulties many mainline denominations are facing today. Instead of an estimate, I want you to consider making this a covenant with God regarding your finances for the next year.
Before you make this choice, let me explain a covenant. Throughout history, covenants have been a serious and sacred matter. In biblical times, when a covenant was made between two people, there was a ritual associated with it. First, an animal was sacrificed and cut in half. The two parties would then walk in a figure eight around the bloody pieces, reminding them of the seriousness of the agreement they were making. Next, a cut was made on the hand or forearm of each party. The hands were joined, allowing the blood to mingle, symbolizing that the two parties had become one in this covenant. Then dirt or ashes were rubbed into the wound to stop the bleeding. This left a scar to be a constant reminder to each party of the covenant. The parties would then exchange their coats, symbolizing that all that they owned was available for the other, and their belts, symbolizing that they would use their strength for each other. They would then sit down and tell the other party everything they owned, a complete accounting of their assets. Sharing a meal together completed the ritual.
In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram. At the end of the chapter, God passes between the pieces of sacrificed animals to seal the covenant. The new covenant, the covenant we are living under today, is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. This covenant was fulfilled in Jesus. He sealed the covenant by sharing a meal with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. In a few moments, we will recall that covenant by sharing communion, a divine meal, together. This is what I mean by covenant.
Someone here this morning needs to take a step of faith and make a covenant with God for their financial stewardship. God doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need this church. What He wants is your heart. Your full and complete commitment to Him. If you are ready for that commitment, don’t make an Estimate of Giving. Make a covenant with God for how much you are going to give this year. Change your estimate of giving into a covenant of giving.
If you are ready to make this covenant, I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand or stand up. What I ask you to do is this: Put that slip of paper with your estimate of giving into the offering plate as it is passed. Then, when we recall God’s gracious covenant with us by sharing communion, take a moment and kneel at the altar rail and make your estimate of giving a covenant with God. Finally, after the service seek out a trusted friend and tell that person of your covenant. Ask them to support you in prayer right then and throughout the coming year. Ask them to remind you each week or month of your covenant, to hold you accountable to God.
This is also the time to caution you. Since God’s first covenant in Genesis until now, we have broken every covenant God made with us. When that happens to you – and my friends it will happen – do not be discouraged. Go to your trusted friend, and with their support, confess your failure to God, accept His divine forgiveness, and recommit yourself to your covenant. Don’t dwell on it, don’t beat yourself up over it, just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. God loves you no matter what.
The same goes if you are not ready to make this covenant. It’s nothing to be discouraged or ashamed about. You are not failing if you choose not to make a covenant right now. In fact, you may be showing more discernment than someone who makes a covenant they are not called to make. This challenge is not for everyone, but I’m confident that it is for someone here today.