One of the fun realities of church life is sharing a building—sharing space, sharing dishes, sharing a kitchen. We love talking about sharing things, but it’s also difficult. Sometimes pastors will host meetings in their churches, and I always love to take a peek in the kitchen, to see just how many drawers are labeled, and to read the notes on the cabinet doors and closet doors, the laminated and food-spattered instructions for operating the appliances. Each note is evidence of some past tragedy or frustration.
And because I’m a terrible person, I laugh at these things—we’re not so full of grace when we have to clean up other people’s messes. I can walk into a church’s sanctuary and feel inspired by the desire of humans to stand before God and be the absolute best we can be, and I can walk into any church kitchen and confront the reality of humans really trying hard to not be the absolute worst they can be.
Years ago, I was helping to clean up at church after a dinner, and my co-worker and I were the last ones in the building, going around and turning out the lights. We heard the dishwasher running in the kitchen, which is typical after having served a meal—someone cleaned it up, yay! But when we went in the kitchen to turn out the light, we noticed bubbles pouring out of the bottom of the dishwasher. My co-worker said, “Can we pretend we were never here? Just turn out the light and walk away…” he said as he walked slowly backwards.
I said, of course we cannot do that! So we stopped the dishwasher cycle, cleaned out the dish detergent—which is different from dishWASHER detergent—and mopped up the bubbles that had already spilled onto the floor. I was kind of amazed that there was no label already printed on the dishwasher with instructions for this.
By the time we left that night, the dishwasher was turned off until the bubbles went down, and then the next day, it took hours of babysitting the dishwasher and running the wash cycle four more times to get all the liquid dish soap out. I have learned that liquid dish soap CAN be used in a dishwasher as a substitute for dishwasher detergent, but to do that you would fill the dishwasher’s soap reservoir with baking soda and only THREE DROPS of liquid dish soap.
In other words: a little bit goes a long way.
This is what we’re talking about in this year’s stewardship theme: 1, 2, 3—Count On Me! It’s simple, counting numbers like a little child can do, and offering to give whatever little you can of your time, your talent, and your treasure. Every little bit goes a long way, and every little bit counts.
Like knowing which kind of soap belongs in the dishwasher, there’s also something important about knowing the right place for your gifts. The Body of Christ needs every person sharing from their variety of gifts. As a church, we would never be able to serve as many people if everyone only gave money and never gave time. We would never be able to accomplish as much if everyone gave only their talents and not their treasure. And so on.
God gave to us a wealth of many different talents! Which is great because then I don’t have to be good at everything. And neither do you. Many hands make light work—if we all do our own part, nothing is too difficult for any of us. And together we can do a lot. Imagine trying to catch a fish with one rope—no fishhook, no line. How would you even do that? Lasso the fish? But if you tie a bunch of ropes together, strategically strong, you can create a net, to catch many fish. Or imagine a hammock made of one single rope—how could you possibly rest on that? But with a lot of ropes tied together, you can rest your entire weight and expect to be held up.
I’ve heard someone say a network is whatever makes your net work—all those connections in your social world create a net that can hold you up. You can’t rest everything on one person alone: you need support from many different places. Perhaps you have noticed this during the pandemic—perhaps your world has gotten smaller, you only see your immediate family while working from home. It might take some effort to re-establish and strengthen the ties in your network, to connect with people even if simply by telephone or sending a letter, to be reminded that we truly are connected with others, that our net works.
Jesus reminds us that whoever wishes to be great must be a servant—the goal is not greatness in the way of having power over others. Greatness is in having power with others, serving and looking out for the good of neighbors. Even Jesus himself, the one with the glory, didn’t live with the goal to obtain power for himself: he came to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
A ransom is what you pay to get something back that was taken from you. The one who pays the ransom is the redeemer. My Hebrew Bible professor said that in the Hebrew language, “redeemer” is the person who pays your debts. Like if you racked up a huge credit card debt, so large you could never pay it all off by yourself, the redeemer is the one who pays that debt and sets you free to live, unencumbered by the weight of that debt. And if you were kidnapped, the redeemer would be the one paying the ransom. To be redeemed is to know that your freedom comes from the one who sets you free.
As followers of Christ, we are set free from sin and death. Belonging to God is what it means to be redeemed. Our relationship with God is restored, and we are given the opportunity to worship. We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but we receive this freedom as a gift of love. We receive these gifts from God, and it’s natural to want to return something to God.
Mark Allan Powell, in his book about stewardship, acknowledges that Christians often think we take up an offering in worship just so the church can pay the bills and do some good things with its money. And yes, it’s true, those things happen with the money that is given in the offering, but that’s not why we collect an offering.
If collecting offering was only about paying bills, we wouldn’t make a big deal about this in the worship service. But instead, we give it some air-time during worship! In usual, non-pandemic times, we would pass around brightly colored brass plates and collect offerings here on the altar in the front of the sanctuary. We give something of ourselves because we have to give something to God as a sign of our devotion.
Think of a time you chose a special gift for someone you love—you weren’t trying to buy their favor, you just wanted to give a gift to show that you love them. Or think of people who have come through a difficult time and want to raise money for an organization that helped them—they’ll become supporters of a fund for people with cancer, or want to help a charity—because they’ve received a gift through that work, and they want to invite others to it, too.
For us, we want to give to God because this is an act of worship. And we’re not here to compare who gives what—we don’t give out awards to the people who give the most money or give trophies to the ones who give the most time. We all give from what we have, and we give what we can, out of love for God. A little bit goes a long way, and your gift to God blesses God.
And this devotion to God changes the world when we care for our neighbors the way God has cared for us. This congregation has long been devoted to social justice, to learning the needs of our neighbors and doing something about these things. There are so many needs, it can feel overwhelming, but guess what! You’re not doing that by yourself, either. We need to hear everyone’s testimony, to have compassion for people unlike ourselves, to advocate for the needs of people in our neighborhoods and beyond our neighborhoods. This is the beginning of healing.
Jesus says the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve—kind of like he’s saying “You can count on me.” Indeed, we can count on Jesus for our life and for our freedom, to live as redeemed children of God. Can Jesus count on us to love and care for one another, to love and care for our neighbors?