How we find a relationship with Jesus presents itself in today's reading. Blind Bartimaeus is a good representation of you and me. We are generally unenlightened until we are called forth by Jesus to a new life of discipleship.
Of course, this doesn't apply nearly as well when a person has been raised knowing Jesus within a church culture. It is hard to repent of a lifestyle if that lifestyle has always included elements of worship, study, prayer, service and repentance. Can you be blind if you have always known Jesus?
Sometimes, we can be so comfortable with our faith that it is no longer challenging and we adapt Christianity to mirror our lives. In the old days, churches would hold revivals so as to wake people up (or let them see again). Often, someone other than the regular pastor would be brought in to preach - likely so the preacher could assume the role of the prophet rather than the priest.
Within these roles, the priest is often the one that brings comfort to the listener while the prophet is the one who seeks to bring transformation. Of course, no one likes change. The prophet is likely as not to step on some toes.
My particular role dips back and forth between the two hopefully in a way that moves the congregation forward while keeping the majority from deciding that my style is not too abrasive. It can be a bit of a tightrope at times.
As we remind ourselves of our vows to give, this is an area where we may all need some movement. I know of plenty of examples where pastors have flubbed the stewardship message. It is not too difficult to offend people by talking about money. And so, many pastors ignore the subject all together because they may decide that it is too risky. However, Jesus talks quite a bit about money. If I am to be faithful, it needs to be addressed.
Giving is about our priorities. When we talk about our priorities in life, we usually rank God first (at least when we're talking in Sunday school). Then comes family and maybe country or work or school depending upon the person. But if God were really first in our lives, wouldn't our spending better reflect this? As we pledge, there may be too many years where our pledge remains the same. Occasionally, our income may go down and so keeping it the same is a sacrifice as we are giving a greater percentage of our income. It may be that our resources have largely remained the same in which case, this might also be appropriate. Most people grow in their earning capacity and so our giving capacity should also reflect this.
One of the most common reasons for a lack of increase has to do with whether or not one likes the pastor. If the pastor is well-liked, the giving may increase. If the pastor is not appreciated, sometimes people begin to withhold their money. Their hopes may be that if the church begins to tank, this will put pressure on the powers that be to send a new pastor. Unfortunately, people are confusing their gifts to God with gifts to the pastor. If you go to a restaurant, you may skimp on the tip if the service was bad but you still have to take care of the bill. And so, if you withhold your gift, it is kind of like giving God a bad tip.
I believe that our gift to God should not be influenced by the likeability of the pastor. If this is the case, there are always things to be upset about. The length of the sermon, the color of the carpet, the new programming - all of these variables may or may not please. God's faithfulness is eternal and deserves better than our gift changing with our mood.
These last few paragraphs were an example of prophetic writing. As I shift back into the priestly role, I do want to praise our congregation on how we have moved forward in our giving. Our percentage of e-giving likely leads our conference if not our denomination. Our percentage of active members who pledge is also outstanding!
This Sunday, I'll finish our stewardship series as we examine our love of our neighbors, ourselves and God. We've already covered neighbor and self and so this Sunday we'll examine our love of God. Blind Bartimaeus gives us a clue on grace and our response. I hope you'll join us on Sunday and I'll do my best not to tromp on any of your toes!
Photo by Mike Schmid via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.