Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…

Thank you for reading, for sending me emails, for your kind words, and for your gentle reminders that I don’t have all the answers. I read every letter, email, and text. I enjoy conversations that are sparked by the power of the written and spoken word. On occasion, I also get anonymous letters in the mail. I really don’t understand the rational behind anonymous letters. If one takes the time to write a letter, address an envelope, and buy a stamp, why would they want to do so under a cloak of invisibility? I can tell you from my own experience that anonymous letters rarely contain words of encouragement. I received an anonymous letter a couple of weeks ago. Here it is:

“Pastor Jim, please consider this regarding posters in the foyer. Matthew 6:1-4. Thank you.”

Matthew 6 contains the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The posters referred to in the anonymous letter are the big checks that are on display in the narthex. After reading the letter a few times I walked into the narthex and took a moment to reflect on the words of Jesus and upon the criticism of our letter writer. Why do we display these checks? Should we not just offer these charitable gifts without drawing any attention to ourselves? Carefully reading the words of Jesus, you could certainly make a case for my hypocrisy. However, earlier in that same Sermon on the Mount Jesus said,

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16.

So, which is it? Are we hypocritical to display the checks or are we simply letting our light shine? How do we understand the words of the preacher? How is it that we let our light shine? How might our gifts inspire the generous giving of others? How is it that the seemingly contradictory words of Jesus in Matthew 5 and Matthew 6 can both ring true? Leave it to a preacher to leave us a little confused.

Most congregations have annual fall stewardship drives. The church leadership spends a month or more educating their membership about Christian stewardship. There are sermons, temple talks, letters and emails, home visits and pledge cards. The annual fall stewardship campaign then culminates in the rendering of pledge cards and a celebration of some kind. I have taken part in such campaigns and have been asked to help lead stewardship campaigns at other congregations. At TLC we have adopted another stewardship model. There are no fall campaigns, no home visits, no pledge cards, no keeping score of anyone’s giving. I choose to focus year-round on the good that we are doing at home and across the globe. I believe that people want to be generous, but they want to be sure that their gifts are being used wisely. The big checks are a form of communication, encouraging people by showing them what their money is doing. We are blessed, but we are never blessed in isolation! We are blessed to be a blessing to others. I am a cheerleader on behalf of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven!”

The words of Jesus come to us across thousands of years, they come from a time and culture that is unrecognizable to us. I believe the key to understanding the seemingly contradictory statements of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount is to be found in the hearts of those who give. If we offer our gifts to earn God’s favor, then we are misguided. If we offer gifts to enhance our egos or to be recognized in our community then our intentions are less than pure. The gifts we offer to God should flow from grateful hearts, all that we do as Christian people should be in response to what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Christian giving should not be motivated by fear or shame. There is a saying, “Christianity is caught not taught.” Intellectual arguments will rarely convince someone to become a follower of Jesus. It is by observing the authentic lifestyles of Christian people, that others are inspired to join in. When Christian gatherings are joyful, when the good works of their community are observable, then others will be inspired to join the Jesus movement.

Blessed to be a Blessing! “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” The big checks will continue grace our narthex, to light a pathway to generosity, to bear witness to the work that God has entrusted to us.

Anonymous letters. I never really liked anonymous letters. My office is open, I answer emails, I enjoy theological conversations, I am one beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread. I am your

Pastor Jim

Contact Pastor Jim if you have questions at [email protected]