God has a plan for us. We have to face the future with hope. A sermon for All Saints Day 1999.
God's Plan, Our Future, Our Hope
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen.
Three boys were talking about their dads and what they did for a living. The first boy says, "My dad writes a few things on a piece of paper, calls it a poem and they give him 50 bucks."
The second boy says, "My Dad writes a few things on a piece of paper, calls it a song and they give him a 100 bucks."
The third boy says, "My Dad writes a few things on a piece of paper, calls it a sermon and it takes eight people to collect the money."
The text I'd like to use for my sermon this morning is from Jeremiah 29:10-11: "For thus says the LORD: 'Only when Babylon's 70 years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you,' says the LORD, 'plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.'"
This morning we begin a two-week stewardship emphasis in the life of this congregation and I have the opportunity to preach the first of two stewardship sermons. It is a little strange for me to be here this Sunday as I am usually sitting in a tree in northern Minnesota dressed in blaze orange and you are listening to Pastor Langness question why anyone would want to do such a thing.
I'm sure he will have something to say about it next Sunday when I am sitting in a tree.
Our theme for this year's stewardship program -- God's Plan, Our Future, Our Hope -- comes from this text in Jeremiah.
The context of this reading from Jeremiah provides for us an interesting setting in which to speak about giving and stewardship. Israel is in exile -- they were conquered by the Babylonians. Jerusalem, including the temple, is destroyed and the people are deported into Babylon. It is a fearful, uncertain time for the people of Israel with a clear sense that their future as a nation is over. But God tells them when they arrive in Babylon to build houses, plant gardens and raise families because they are going to be there for a while -- 70 years, to be exact.
And then God tells these people, the chosen people, who are in a strange land, far from home and uncertain about the future, not to worry because He is in control: "'For surely I know the plans I have for you,' says the LORD, 'plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.'"
"I know the plans I have for you," He says.
What would happen to us if we, who worry so much about the future, allowed that promise to soak into every part of our lives -- including our pocketbooks? How would it transform our lives if we approached decisions about stewardship and giving with that promise at the heart and center of those decisions?
In the midst of our fear over whether we will have enough, in the midst of our fear of letting go, in the midst of our fear of whether or not we should get involved, in the midst of the uncertainty in all our lives, God speaks a word to us: "I know the plans I have for you."
God has a plan for you and for me. God knows what that plan is and it is for our welfare and not for harm, to give us a future with hope. For the Aunes it began in Saginaw, Mich., while I was on my internship. My supervisor and a young couple in the congregation shared their own stewardship journey with my wife and I and they spoke to us about tithing and the joy of giving. My wife and I for the first time began to understand what God's plan was for us as it relates to our giving.
We had the opportunity to put a plan into action when I took my first call at United Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Minn., a struggling parish on the Iron Range. When I interviewed with the call committee the second time and the time to talk about salary arrived, the chair of the committee said to me, "Your salary will be $15,000 a year" and then the next thing out of his mouth was, "But we don't know if we can pay you." I took the call anyway, because I knew that was part of God's plan for us.
At stewardship time that fall, Janis and I had to decide what our pledge was going to be. How would we handle it in this struggling parish where dollars were tight and the previous pastor had at times gone without a check? What would we do? We were uncertain -- and more than a little afraid. Would there be enough for us? Would we make it financially in this struggling parish? And the biggest hurdle for us was not knowing. We had never done this before. I was a new pastor and it is so hard to trust in God's promises when we don't know, when we are afraid, when we are uncertain.
But when God says, "I have a plan for you," it is a promise.
We heard it and we trusted in it and we made the decision to start tithing -- giving 10 percent of our gross income right off the top to the mission and ministry of the church. And we haven't looked back. I can tell you, 13 years later, that God makes good on God's promises and each year we have been able to increase our giving to the mission and ministry of the church and next year will be the same.
We will increase our giving by $50 a month and we will continue to give to organizations beyond the church as well. And we will do it with joy and thanksgiving because of God's promise in our lives.
What is God's plan for you and how will you respond to that plan? Do you believe that God has a plan for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope? Do you believe that God has a plan for Augustana?
I believe God has a plan for you and me. The people of God here at Augustana can step out in faith by listening to God's plan for our lives as we give of our time, talents and money. We are trusting in God's plan for this place and the mission we share together.
It is about the future -- a future with hope. A future that contains the promise of a God who will not forsake us or desert us. A future that contains the promise of a God who will use each one of us in ways both great and small to make a difference in our communities as we share the love of God through what we do.
Let me tell you a short story about Rose. She is a member of Augustana and I have her permission to share this story with you. Rose is one of our shut-ins and she is a steward, although I would venture to say that she would not think of herself as a steward.
Rose lives in a nursing home and has for a number of years. She has some health struggles and life has been difficult for her, especially as she has struggled with these health issues the last few years.
Rose is a steward. She cannot afford to make a pledge. Nursing homes are very expensive -- $5,000 a month in 1999. Yet Rose is a steward. God has a plan for her -- a future with hope.
As pastors we see Rose once a month, she is always happy to see us and it is always a pleasant visit.
Rose croquets and for the 10 years that I have been visiting her I have always noticed that she is continually working on a blanket or a throw or something to either share in a bazaar or give to a family member or whatever. Last year, as I visited Rose I began to notice dolls on her little cabinet in her small room.
I asked Rose about her dolls and she said, "Pastor, I heard about an organization called TLC Toys. They supply toys for needy children and I thought to myself, maybe I can help. "
So Rose found someone to supply her with dolls and she found someone to get her the yarn and Rose croquets clothes and dresses dolls that are given to needy children through TLC Toys.
I asked her, "Rose how many dolls did you dress in 1998?" She said, "Well, I got started late and did 50." Then I asked, "How many have you done so far in 1999?" She said, "I got started in February and so far this year I've dressed 143 dolls."
I have a little girl who loves her dolls and she doesn't lack for dolls. But many children do. God's plan for Rose as a steward is to make sure that more children do not lack for a doll to love and dress and play with. It may not seem like much to some of us but I suspect that God smiles every time Rose dresses another doll.
Every time I bring Rose communion and I see the small shelf in her room filled with the dolls she is dressing I am reminded that she is a steward. Every time she writes out a check, God's plan for her is being realized. It is a future filled with hope.
God says, "I know the plans I have for you -- plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."
Friends, keep that promise in mind when you fill out your time and talent sheet next Sunday. Keep that promise in mind when you pray about stretching in your financial pledge and increasing you're giving by 1 percent or more.
Don't be afraid of the future; rather, think about how God will use this faith community as we share the wondrous love of God revealed in Jesus Christ, for that is our future. That is our hope. That is what we are called to do.
In Jesus' name and for his sake. Amen.
Pastor Mark Aune is the Senior Pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church, West St. Paul, MN.