938) Advice from Aunt Agnes

This is the time of year for Stewardship sermons.  This is from one I gave a couple years ago.

     Whenever I have to give a Stewardship sermon I think about my grandmother’s oldest sister, Aunt Agnes.  She was a kind old lady, and I only once remember her having a stern word for anyone, and that was for me.  I was still in seminary, and she was proud that I was going to be a minister.  But she wanted to set me straight on one thing right from the start.  She one day said to me very firmly, “Now Leon, when you get out of school and into a church, don’t be one of those ministers that is always talking about money.  I just hate those money sermons.”

     Well, I thought that was cute and I liked Aunt Agnes, so I didn’t mind that she gave me a piece of her mind like that.  But I did remember it, and when I got a little older and Aunt Agnes was long gone, I wondered what might have been behind that comment.  Aunt Agnes was a good Christian lady, she loved Jesus, and she served the church in whatever ways she could.  But she was also really poor, and only much later did it occur to me how poor she was.  She never married and never had a job, but spent her life taking care of others.  First, she helped her parents with eight younger brothers and sisters.  Then, as her siblings got married, she would help with their families as needed.  For example, one of her sisters gave birth to premature triplets right at the start of the depression, and those three small, frail children took turns being sick most the time for the next ten years.  Agnes was always there to help, often staying for months at a time.  Then, for several years she cared for her elderly parents.  When they died, the farm went to the youngest brother and his new wife.  Agnes and a bachelor brother, who had a good job, moved to a little house in town.  And then her brother was killed in a car accident.  From then on, she had very little to live on.  She worked all her life, but never had a job for social security.  Any inheritance from the farm had to be split nine ways, and in those years, even that little bit became worthless in no time due to inflation.  I once asked my mother what Agnes lived on, and she didn’t know.  It had never even occurred to her to ask her mother, because Aunt Agnes never complained about anything.  She was just always there, ready to help as needed, and always pleasant.

     Therefore, being the committed Christian that she was, I would imagine that Stewardship sermons were hard on her.  It probably made her feel bad to hear the minister talk about giving more money, knowing that she could not do any more than the meager little amount she was already giving.  So I have always kept Aunt Agnes in mind when I speak about stewardship; and somewhere along the line I try to say that the admonishion to evaluate your financial stewardship and try to be more generous is not for everyone.  Some of you really are doing all you can, and I want to acknowledge that.  Sometimes in sermons, or in any kind of advice, those that need it the least take it the hardest, and those who need it the most let it go in one ear and out the other.  Aunt Agnes was a tender soul who wanted to do what was right.  She could not bring much money for the Sunday morning offering, but she did know all about being generous. She spent her life being generous with her time serving others.

     Most of us here this morning are not as poor as my old Aunt Agnes, and we all need the occasional reminder to be more generous; just like we need to be reminded again and again of all of God’s commands.  Some of you may not mind that too much, and some of you may not like it at all.  But when Jesus was on this earth he talked about money six times as much as he talked about prayer, so no one should get too upset if a preacher wants to mention it every once in a while.   And, if you ever served on the church council you know that there are bills each month that need to be paid, so I have found that council members usually don’t mind the usual word of encouragement.

     Paul wrote II Corinthians just 20 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, so the center of the early church was still in Jerusalem where those incredible events had occurred.  The Jerusalem church at the time was facing some tough times due to persecution and famine.  Along with that, there was the financial burden of being the center of the church, and having to support all sorts of teachers, students, missionaries, seekers, and other guests.  So in his travels Paul would ask for support on their behalf.  In this letter, he is making an appeal to the church in Corinth.  As he makes his request, he tells the Corinthians about the Macedonians, who even though they were facing their own financial difficulties, responded with rich generosity. Paul wrote (8:1-8):

Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.  In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people.  And they exceeded our expectations… (So) since you excel in everything– in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you— see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

     A few verses later, Paul addressed the concern I have every time I preach on Stewardship and think about Aunt Agnes, and how some people are far more able to respond than others.  That has always been the case, in every time and place including ancient Corinth, so Paul added (vv. 12-14):

If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.  

     God did not bless Aunt Agnes with much money, but he did bless her with the gift of time.  And she used that abundance of time to help others who were in Paul’s words, “hard pressed” in that area.  To others, God gives an abundance of financial resources, so as Paul says, “each can give according to what they have.”  So as Paul puts it so well, “your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need.”

STEWARDSHIP PRAYER (from the Archdiocese of Chicago website):

Oh Lord, giver of life and source of our freedom, we are reminded that yours is “the earth in its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.”  We know that it is from your hand that we have received all we have and are and will be.  Gracious and loving God, we understand that you call us to be the stewards of your abundance, the caretakers of all you have entrusted to us.  Help us always to use your gifts wisely and teach us to share them generously.  May our faithful stewardship bear witness to the love of Christ in our lives.  We pray this with grateful hearts in Jesus’ name.  Amen.