A $40,000 Sermon

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I remember sitting in church as a new Christian. It was a fairly large building on a fairly large piece of property. On this particular Sunday it was announced that the leaders of the church had decided we needed to build an entirely new facility on an entirely new piece of property. We were told that this would require our church to raise millions of dollars. This campaign had a logo and a name, “Forward by Faith”. After the announcement was over our worship leader began singing a song he’d written for this building project called…you guessed it, “Forward by Faith”. I still remember the tune and if you ask after the service I might even sing it for you.

I had grown up in a church, but not as a Christian and not with any understanding of its inner workings. I had certainly never considered what it took from a physical or financial standpoint to maintain and operate a church. This was the first time I’d ever even considered such a thing. I honestly don’t know whether the situation was handled well or not, but I do know that my main take away from that first Sunday was that it felt awfully awkward and a bit off. Some of that could have been because I was a new Christian and some could have been because there was something off in the approach. Either way, that experience has made me a bit sensitive to this morning’s sermon and application. It’s inexpressibly humbling to know that there are literally hundreds of ways to get this sermon wrong and only a few ways to get it right.

Several weeks ago as a congregation we voted overwhelmingly to move forward with the building project knowing that doing so would require us to come up with an additional $40,000 to fund it. We are now at the point where, as part of the final push to complete our building project, we need to raise that money. We mean to do so in a manner that honors the terms of our congregational vote, practices good stewardship of God’s resources, and allows us to move forward in a timely manner.

My aim in the sermon this morning, therefore, is to help you see the rightness and goodness of the building project, and consequently, of the call to give prayerfully, generously, and joyfully toward it. I also mean to briefly explain on a practical level how we’d like things to work. With that, please pray that this sermon and this building project would honor God by better enabling us to reflect his glory and bless everyone around us.

Before I get into the heart of this sermon, I’d like to briefly say three things to any guests who are here this morning. First, we are not asking you for your money. Please don’t feel the slightest pressure to give toward this building project or guilt for not. Our request for funds is family business. And yet, I’m truly glad you’re here and get to hear this sermon. If it lands the way I mean it to, you’ll hear of the glory of God and our love for him above all things. You’ll hear how that’s really good news for you. And you’ll hear how our aim in this building project is nothing other than to enhance our ability to share God’s great glory with one another, you, and even people on the other side of the earth whom we’ve never even met. That’s the first thing I want you to hear.

Second, you’ve come on an unusual morning. It’s unusual because you’re going to hear a very different style of sermon than you’d hear on most other Sundays at Grace, and it’s unusual because we almost never talk about or ask for money in this way. According to my recollection, not since I first came to Grace Church, nearly 10 years ago, have we asked for money for anything internal. We’ve asked for money to bless the less fortunate, care for orphans, and send missionaries, but not in many years for ourselves or our building. Again, guest, in some ways at least this is not a typical Sunday morning at Grace.

And finally, third, while the Church should be known for its generosity and giving, tragically, it’s more known for its asking and taking. If I’m not careful this morning, this service might feed into that stereotype. If this sermon comes across the way I mean it to, however, you’ll see that our building project and request for funds are not meant to end with us. The building project is not meant to make our lives more comfortable or allow us to compete better with our “competition”. We have no interest in storing up cushiness for ourselves. Instead, our aim in asking and taking is only to enable us to better offer and give. That is, our aim in asking for money is to enable us to be even more generous (to people like you). Guest, if you listen carefully you’ll hear how sincerely we mean this, and if you stick around long enough you’ll see it and experience it for yourself.

With that, let’s consider our text for this morning and the manner in which it drives our building project and request for funds for it.

I’ve already said that our aim in having a building in the first place, and in looking to expand it in the second, is to better enable us to reflect God’s glory and blessing to everyone around us. If it doesn’t serve that purpose, emphatically, we want no part of it. It’s important, therefore, that this (along with everything we do) is grounded in God’s word. Now, then, I’d like to show you the kind of passage in the bible (and there are many of them) which gives us warrant for having a building, expanding it, and asking you for money for it. Simply, our building project stems from a desire to obey Jesus’ words in passages like Matthew 5:14-16.

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Make no mistake; Jesus was not talking about building buildings in this passage. I’ve heard more people hijack passages like this to justify building projects than I care to count. Can you see it now? “Give generously to Grace Church’s ‘City on a Hill’ building campaign. Jesus told us to build and so we must!” You can probably even picture the logo. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m not suggesting that Jesus means us to build an actual city on a hill. Instead, I mean to draw your attention to what Jesus is getting at because I believe that when it is properly understood and applied, it does give warrant to our building and building project. Let me try to explain what I mean.

The great reality that underlies Jesus’ declarations and command in Matthew 5, is that God is glorious beyond measure. Grace and guest, rest here for a minute. Do your best to bring to mind the most glorious picture of God you possibly can, the most magnificent being imaginable, that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Got it? The key to understanding Christianity and the world we live in is that God is infinitely greater still, but that we’re born without the ability to see and experience that.

Jesus, the son of God, understood this because he, along with the Spirit, shares in it—that is, in the glory of the godhead. His primary point in the passage is to explain what it looks like for the people of God, those who have tasted and seen this glory, to live in a world that has not. That is, Jesus uses a few metaphors (light of the world, city on a hill, lamp on a stand) to describe how Christians ought to live in the light of God’s infinite glory in the midst of a people of great darkness.

His answer in most straight forward terms is this: Christians, who are by definition, a people who have seen and been amazed by the glory of God, are meant to 1) gather together and 2) live in such a way that we stand out 3) by living lives compatible with the glory of God and by subsequently blessing the world around us. Let’s quickly consider each of these three clauses and their implications for our building project.

First, Jesus calls God’s people to gather together because of his glory. It’s not obvious in English, because we have the same word for “you” in the singular and plural (which is why Southerners say “y’all” and Midwesterners say “you guys”), but the yous (and yours) of this passage are plural. Jesus is talking, not to an individual, but to a crowd of believers. We can (and must) certainly honor God as individuals, but that is not what Jesus has in mind here. His point is that there is a special and unique way in which the people of God bring glory to God collectively and so we must gather. We are not called a bunch of houses scattered throughout a land. We’re called a city on a hill—a people defined by our gathering and reason for gathering.

The obvious implication here is that we need an actual place to do this. We need a place to gather and worship God, to tell of his marvelous works, to share with one another the glories that we’ve seen in God’s word and creation and in our lives, to tell stories of God’s grace, to train our children and disciple one another, and to form lasting friendships around the gospel.

Because we must be able to gather together as a whole we need a place big enough to do so. As silly as this may sound, because we live in Minnesota we need a building. Because no one has a home big enough for us to gather it must be a separate building. Because we live in an ordered society it needs to be up to certain codes. You get the picture… in our culture gathering as a people requires a building much like this one.

What’s more, as we continue to develop this building, it provides a greater sense of permanence. Though this world is not our home and, and though we ought not, therefore, store up treasures on earth, this is where God has placed us for now in order to be a light to this city (and the nations from this city) until he calls us home. People come and go, but rightly used, this building will be a fixture in this community well after we’re all gone. Establishing a secure home base communicates our commitment to this city and to our children and our children’s children; our commitment not to flicker, but to burn brightly for as long as God has for us.

Our building, enhanced by the addition, is meant to be a place where the glory of God is prized and shared by the gathered people of God. Again, Grace, the first thing to see is that Jesus calls us to gather, and in our culture that typically means in a physical church building.

Second, Jesus calls God’s people to stand out. We’re not meant to merely gather and delight in God’s glory behind closed doors. We’re meant to gather in such a way that the world around us sees a difference.

It’s possible to miss a city in a valley and easy to miss a lamp in a closet, but it’s almost impossible to miss a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand—that’s Jesus’ point. In the same way, God’s gathered people must look different than any other gatherings that take place.

Have you ever driven north toward Minneapolis on 35W at night? If you start far enough south, as you approach the city, you’ll first catch a glimpse of the downtown from the top of a hill. It’s beautiful. Indeed, it’s really unmistakable. It stands out—as cities do, especially at night. But again, that’s not what Jesus is talking about. I’m not trying to apply this passage to our situation by suggesting we need to build a large or ornate enough building to stand out in that way. I don’t think that’s at all what Jesus was getting at. What kind of standing out, then, did Jesus have in mind?

There are countless ways in which we do this and the third (and final) clause helps us to understand how. As I’ve already mentioned, gathered Christians are to stand out ultimately because the glory of God overwhelms us. It will overwhelm us in private, but it will always spill out into public as well. No one can truly have tasted and seen the glory of God and not declare it. Like Moses whose face shone on account of his time in the presence of God’s glory, so will we. By placing our faith in Jesus we are united to Jesus and his light becomes ours. We give light to the world only because we are in Christ, the true light of the world. Like the moon, we have no light of our own. We’re only able to reflect the light of another, Jesus Christ. What’s more, we can’t not and onlookers can’t not take notice. That’s at the heart of what it means to be the light of the world.

But Grace, not only do we stand out because we’re amazed by the glory of God in public, we also stand out because the gathered people of God are compelled by the glory of God to live lives of holiness. The good works Jesus mentions in v.16 are always first and foremost the natural and necessary response to experiencing the light of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. And yet, they never end there. When we experience the glory of God we will live lives of holiness. And when we live lives of holiness we will also, always stand out as lights in the darkness. That’s what Jesus means by “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Practically, we do this in all kinds of ways; but the essence of them all, and the essence of Matthew 5:14-16, is that we do so by delighting in Jesus above all things, telling others of the delightfulness of Jesus and all he’s accomplished on our behalf, and spending our lives doing the good works that the light produces in us. When we do these things we bless others, ultimately with the words of eternal life, but also with countless other blessings as well.

Our building, enhanced by the addition, is meant to be a place where the glory of God is lifted up and taught and proclaimed to our community. We certainly go out with the good news, but our building allows us to serve others by letting them know there’s always a place where they can come to hear it.

Our building, enhanced by the addition, is meant to provide us with the opportunity to more helpfully express our love to our neighbors. Our homes work well for this in some ways, but our building allows us to go even further by hosting funerals, blood drives, food distribution, play groups, VBS, community cookouts, etc.

Our building, enhanced by the addition, is meant to provide us with the opportunity to show even greater hospitality. Each culture has different expressions of hospitality. I’ve never felt more welcomed than I did in Africa in the home of a family with dirt floors and block walls. A nice building can never make up for unloving hearts, but unkempt facilities can keep people from being able to ever experience our love. In order to serve people in our building, they need to be willing to come to it. That doesn’t require anything fancy, but it does typically require certain basic things like cleanness, safety, and a look of thoughtfulness.

Again, the reason for the building project and our request that you to give toward it, flow primarily from the belief that the addition will help us delight in and shine the glory of God in a more effective way.

When Jesus told his listeners to “let [their] light shine before others, so that they may see [their] good works and give glory to [their] Father who is in heaven,” he most certainly was not telling them to build buildings. He was telling them to get together, love God, and live like it in front of others for the glory of God and the good of others. And yet, this was not a purely spiritual lesson, never meant to become incarnate. Jesus certainly meant them to actually do it in real life, in their real cities, with real people. That requires certain things to make happen. And in our culture a common gathering point—a church building—is typically one of those things. Fixing up our building, therefore, must never be an end in itself. Rather, if it’s to honor God, it must be a means to the end of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5. And that’s exactly what we mean it to be here at Grace.

Again, this is just one example of one passage that we believe gives warrant for what we’re after here this morning. I’d like to spend just a few minutes now on the very practical side of all of this. That is, I’d like to directly answer the question of how we think we can best accomplish this in the coming days and weeks.

It looks like the bank and contractors will be ready to go by the end of next week. As I mentioned in the beginning, the final hurdle, then, is for us to raise the remaining $40,000. There are approximately 50 families at Grace. In simplest terms, that means that each family would need to pledge $800. Obviously some are able to give more and some less. I’m certain there are people in this church who could give four times that without much effort and people in this church who couldn’t give a quarter of that without serious cutbacks. More realistically, perhaps, the numbers also work out if one person/family were to give $10,000, one were to give $5,000, 20 give $1,000, and 10 give $500. You get the idea.

Understanding that many of you may want to give more towards this than you’re able in the next three weeks, here’s how we mean to do it: We’d like to ask each person or family who calls Grace their home (guests, again, please do not feel any pressure to give) to prayerfully consider an amount that you can give (above your regular giving) over the next three months. If you haven’t already, please ask God to help you determine a specific dollar amount that you can joyfully and generously and sacrificially give. Once you have that number we’d like you to write it on your pledge card and turn it in, in the offering. You’ll also be receiving an email later today with a link to a digital pledge card. Over the next three weeks we are going to continue to call for pledges. Once we hit the $40,000 in pledges we’ll green light the closing and begin work almost immediately.

To be clear, please don’t pledge an amount that you mean to give if they discover oil in your back yard. Please only pledge the amount that you will give over the next 90 days.

Let me close by quickly offering a few practical suggestions as you consider your pledge.

  1. Insofar as this will truly make Grace Church a more effective home base for sharing the light of the gospel, it ought to give you overwhelming joy to give towards it. You and I have a historic opportunity to give toward maintaining a gospel witness in Wyoming (and even to the ends of the earth) for decades. We didn’t inherit a well-cared for building. But if we handle this rightly, we will be able to set our kids and grandkids up well to be generous in new and greater ways. If all of this doesn’t produce joy in you, spend some time rooting around in your heart to find out why. We want you to give, and give with great generosity, but we want you to give with equally great joy.
  2. Insofar as this will truly make Grace Church a more effective home base for sharing the light of the gospel, we ought to be willing to prioritize giving toward it above luxury items and even above other good things. Let me give you a simple for instance: if you are married and you and your spouse each spend $5/day on coffee, that’s $900 over the next three months. If you were willing to give up coffee shop coffee over that time, it’d allow you to give $800 toward the building, and still leave you with $100 to spend on a new coffee pot from Target and plenty of tins of Folgers. If by merely cutting out coffee shop coffee we’re able to come up with $900, just imagine what we could do if we really took seriously the charge to give sacrificially over the next few months. For others it might be determining to eat out far less over the next three months. Cutting out two $15 lunches and a $40 dinner each week gets you to $840. Maybe you decide not to take a trip until later in the year. Maybe you delay a purchase. The point is that there are lots of ways that we can cut good things out of our lives in the short term to make a big difference in making this building project happen.
  3. Insofar as this will truly make Grace Church a more effective home base for sharing the light of the gospel, we ought to be willing to prioritize giving toward it in by working harder for a few months. You might, for instance, consider adding another shift each month at work. Not everyone has a job like this, but the one thing I really liked about working construction was that I could almost always work an extra day when we needed more money. Others may be able to pick up some overtime. Perhaps you could sell something you create or list your baseball card collection on Craigslist. Gerri and I (largely because we have a pile of kids) typically get a larger tax return. That’s likely going to allow us to give generously even though we’ve been hit with a few larger unexpected expenses. Kids, if your parents will let you, maybe you could help too by offering to do extra chores around your house. Older kids, perhaps you could get some babysitting jobs in your neighborhood. Again, the point is that with a little creativity and hard work we can all likely be exceptionally generous.
  4. Finally, insofar as this will truly make Grace Church a more effective home base for sharing the light of the gospel, we ought to know that it is God who ultimately will provide. This frees us up to be hopeful. It frees us up to give beyond what we think we can. It frees us up to know that what we bind on earth has already been bound up in heaven. And it frees us up to know that in our letting go of our earthly treasures we are storing up for ourselves eternal treasures in heaven.

My genuine prayer is that God would bring in all $40,000 in pledges by next week. I believe this is not only possible, but likely. You’ve all already shown amazing support to this project. I have no doubt that God will continue work that way in us and in some ways we never even expected.

If you have any questions about any of this, Matt, Kyle, and I are eager to talk with you after the service. Please find one of us. We’ll stay until all your questions are answered.

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells us that the people of God, having seen and been amazed by the glory of God,are meant to 1) gather together and 2) live in such a way that we stand out 3) by living lives compatible with the glory of God and by subsequently blessing the world around us. It is our earnest belief that our building, enhanced by the addition, will allow us to do all of that in greater ways for generations to come. Would you consider now how you might be a part of it?