What if people were inspired by love at the thought of stewardship, instead of sighing with exasperation? After all, isn’t stewardship ultimately about God’s love for us and the ways we might respond in the world God loves? This week, Megan Torgerson reveals the concrete nature of that connection, saying love grounds our vocation -- stewardship included.
Pounding on the Pulpit
Pastor Megan Torgerson
Movies depict fiery preachers shaking the rafters during sermons about eternal damnation, but the only time I have actually pounded on the pulpit while preaching came in the middle of a sermon about love.
And I know I’m not alone.
Love As Gospel
People in ministry are often accused of being lovemongers, often by those who confuse faith with naivete. I am passionate about love, and it provides insight. When things make me angry, I recognize they stem from a lack of love. If I’m going to pound a pulpit about anything; yeah, it’s gonna be about love!
One of my favorite passages of scripture is 1 John 4:7; “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” While this verse has a catchy song that’s been stuck in my head since Sunday School, through the years it has been especially memorable for its meaning.
1 John 4 preaches the Christ to me, especially when paired with Jesus’ reminders in each gospel that we fulfill the law when we love God and love our neighbor. When I need to recenter my faith, debating if something is both necessary and good, I ask myself: does it show love? Guided by this question, my financial giving ultimately reflects my love for God and others.
Teaching Love Through Giving
During orientation meetings with soon-to-be new members in our congregation, I am sure to address financial giving. Our congregational identity is built on ridiculous generosity, the bedrock principle that we are abundantly, even absurdly, generous because of God’s enormously overflowing gifts. We can never pay God back, and the point is not equal exchange. In understanding that God’s love comes to and through us for the sake of the world, we recognize how sharing that love is the most precious gift of all.
While this outlook ignites curiosity, when introduced to ridiculous generosity new members still have pragmatic questions: how much is enough? What is the right amount, exactly? Sure, I can point to the challenge of tithing and offer the 10-10-80 formula (save 10%, share 10%, pay your expenses with 80%), but that doesn’t begin to address the common inclination to find a precise amount that will be “enough to give in order to alleviate guilt without actually affecting my life.” I can provide details, but they need the transformative truth.
The Tough Truth About Love
To start telling the truth, I remind new members (in addition to our longtime members, and oftentimes myself) about the generous dimension of love. We give not out of legalism and obligation but out of love, and love requires sacrifice. To tell that story, I have to back up a bit from the flowery language of 1 John 4 into the tough boundaries of 1 John 3. Verses 17 through 18 wonder: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
The passage goes on to remind us that whenever our hearts condemn us -- for instance, if we’re feeling a little guilty for not displaying generosity that’s more ridiculous -- we need to figure out if that assessment is fair, and address why. We shake off the dust to read into our bank accounts and study our own hearts. We must ask honestly if we have cared for our neighbor in love, how we have loved God with our whole selves, and whether we have given God’s gift of love freely and abundantly. There is no fear in love, and your abundant financial giving lives that truth. When God’s love abides in you, rewriting patterns of fear and guilt with directions of truth and action, that’s when you’ve got the right formula.
Does it show love? My words, my actions, my worship, my spiritual disciplines, my relationships -- all of it can be applied to this great question of discipleship. Does it show love? Financial stewardship is an act of ridiculous, radical love, an extension of our discipleship -- our dedication to God’s love that never fails!
That’s a truth worth pounding on the pulpit over.
About the Author
Megan serves as associate pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, MN. She can often be found immersed in a variety of writing and speaking gigs, planning camping trips, and cutting her kids’ toast.