Oct 17, 2021 Stewardship – Overflowing Blessings by  Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                   

Acts 11:27-30


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our God.


Children are quick studies, taking in everything they see and hear, learning what we want them to learn and what we don’t. When they are around 2 years old, they begin to develop independence and the word “mine” becomes a favourite.


Alice Sterling Honig, professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University, assures worried parents that this “mine” stage is part of normal childhood development and in fact is a necessary step towards sharing. She writes, “Mine is often one of the first words toddlers learn and an intellectual milestone; once a child understands the feeling of ownership, [they are] on [their] way to learning to share… Identifying ownership isn’t a sign of selfishness — it’s a sign of knowledge. It demonstrates a desire to understand the world.”


By the time children reach kindergarten, they usually have a good sense of sharing—including that sticky candy they just took out of their mouth! How does this childhood education of sharing translate into adulthood?


We have good and bad news. Only 30% of Canadian families claimed a charitable deduction on their 2018 income tax. In Manitoba, we’re doing a little better than average with just over 35% of Manitoban families claiming a deduction. If charitable receipts are any indication, it seems like only a third of adults have remembered their kindergarten teaching of sharing. But those who remember are generous. In 2018, the average giving of these families was just over $2,000 in Canada and in Manitoba it was just over $2,300.


What happened when COVID hit? Do you think donations went up or down? Again, it’s a mixed bag. Donations to some sectors increased last year. The biggest increase in 2020 according to The Giving Report was to Indigenous organizations. Also increased were donations to the health sector that deals with COVID, and to the environment. How do you think the protests around racism, police brutality and colonization affected our givings? Did they increase? Decrease? Were they different amongst different age groups? The Giving Report tells us that they galvanized younger people to increase their givings to organizations dealing with these issues. Unfortunately, overall giving to international efforts decreased. Total givings in Canada in 2020 decreased by 10%.


So how does this compare to Westworth? We’re pretty similar. Total givings to our general fund to date for this year have decreased by just over 5% or $10,000. But our givings to the Mission & Service Fund have increased by just under 15%. Even more, our givings to West Broadway Community Ministry have increased by a whopping 321%! I was sure my math was wrong on this, so I had to ask Nancy to help me. But the figures remained the same. Incredible! The challenge for us, of course, is to keep our church going through donations to our general fund so that we can keep offering our strong, united ministry to West Broadway.


Today is the first of two Sundays dedicated to our Stewardship campaign. Our budget is based on your pledges, which determines what ministries we’ll be able to continue and even expand for next year. We ask you to carefully consider what you might be able to pledge for next year’s givings. The key word here is able. Some people can give more money than others because they are able to give more. What truly matters is not the amount, but giving according to our ability.


The Christian church has always considered the sharing of our resources to be one of our pillars of the faith. The first Christian churches were established in the midst of local famines. The Roman historian Josephus wrote about a series of bad harvests that particularly affected the region of Judea. Our reading from Acts refers to this famine and the Christians in the newly founded church in Antioch were asked to give according to their ability for relief in Judea.


Some organizations invite those who donate large amounts of money more voice in the direction of the organization, but church isn’t like that. Everyone has a voice regardless of the amount they give. What is crucial is for everyone to find their place in the church according to their interests and abilities—according to their spiritual gifts.


Other organizations ask everyone to pay a membership fee—everyone pays the same amount and receives the same amount of benefits. But the church isn’t like this, either. People are asked to give of their resources and their time according to their abilities to give and everyone receives the same benefits regardless of what they give. So how do you know much is enough to give?


The baptismal font might help us with this. The answer lies not in how much to give but in how much we’ve already received. (walk over to baptismal font with pitcher and glass)

I’m going to pour some water into this glass and ask you to imagine that every drop I pour represents a blessing that God has given to you. It may be a beloved partner, children, parents, a close friend, health, healing, home, job, community, a sunset, garden produce, fall colours reflected in a stream. It may be what you have received from this church: a baptism, a wedding, a funeral, a visit, a phone call, an email, a card, a group to belong to, to learn, to socialize, to sing, an opportunity to contribute to meaningful ministry. As you think about the various blessings in your life, offer God silent thanks for each one of them. In silence, let us now begin to name and give thanks for our multiple blessings (pour water).


The glass is now full. But I’m pretty sure that you have not exhausted naming all of the blessings in your life. This is the key to the Christian philosophy of giving. (pour more) As God overflows our cup with blessings, we are so moved that we offer our gifts back to the service of God. Out of our overflowing abundance, we humbly offer our hands and our feet as Christ’s. We pass on our resources of wealth and time to help others receive overflowing abundance of God’s grace. God says to us, “let the love that I pour into you, pour out of you.”


Out of gratitude for all that you have, you will know what God is calling you to give from your blessings. As you have received, go and do likewise. (scoop our water and let drip between fingers) We are baptized in Christ’s name that we may be Christ bearers of blessing to others.