Faith, Excuses and Giving

October 6, 2019 (17th Sunday after Pentecost)

World Communion Sunday

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Lamentations 1:1–6

Psalm 137

Luke 17:5–10

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” (Luke 17:5-10, NRSV)

Let us pray: God, you are the refuge of all wanderers and exiles, you are the mother and father of the homeless, you weep with those who are uprooted from their homeland, and you suffer with those who are forced to exist without shelter and security. Grant that we your faithful – may reach out. We ask this through Jesus, your Son, our savior. Amen.

As Nancy began her sermon last week telling how she and her husband Rodger enjoy movies, especially the high intellectual art house type films and that they look for the redemption in the film.  I must confess that Monnie and I also enjoy Movies, however, Monnie might join Nancy and Rodger for the arthouse films, I on the other hand — go for the lowbrow, slapstick, silly comedies, the Dumb and Dumber, the more mindless and sophomoric the humor the better.

Sometimes with all the problems of the world, all the pain and suffering, fear and hate, constantly bombarding us I go for the escape.  And sometimes I would choose slapstick humor over the truth of scripture.   But we don’t get to choose what scripture says to us and we must pay attention to all of it.  And there are some topics that aren’t as enjoyable as others to preach about— leave it to the light and easy and comfortable.  But faith doesn’t offer an escape from reality.  Also, we have entered that dreaded time of the church year, Stewardship Season.  Run, hide your wallets, and your checkbooks. But we can’t do that because stewardship is a vital component of faith. 

The lectionary does us no favors, because it left out the important lead into this passage. In the verse preceding our passages, (Chapter 17) verses 1-4; Jesus says to the disciples that they should forgive a sinner who repents. Then adds, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”[1] No wonder the disciples want Jesus to give them more faith.   It is hard to forgive, even once, much less seven times.

So, Jesus is talking to his disciples, about faith.

What is faith? 

Faith is trust, belief, conviction, relationship.  For example, “I have faith that this roof will hold while we sit here in worship.”  I am saying that I trust, I have faith, I believe.

Likewise, if I can say, “I have faith that Jesus Christ is living son of God and the embodiment of God,” that is faith.   Christians believe that faith is not a personal, intellectual achievement, or the result of being an especially good or spiritually proficient person.  Instead it’s a gift from God.  God gives us faith so that we may be in relationship with God.

But the disciples want more.  They want more faith, which presents a difficult situation as the disciple’s demand Jesus to “Increase our faith.”  They assumed they only had a small amount; because they were literally following him.  But they yearned for more.  They wanted more trust, surer belief, stronger conviction, deeper relationship, that is, more faith than they currently had.[2]

Faith is like grace it is a gift. This is what Jesus meant. Jesus knew the disciples had all the faith they need.  What they didn’t have was an understanding of what it means to have faith.

So, Jesus responds to their demand, by saying that they had every bit of faith that they need.  If they would only use what they already had.  In other words, what they need is not more faith but fewer excuses.[3]Let that sink in… Excuses.

Excuses, everybody has got them.  I do, you do, we all do.  I would love to stand up here and simply say we need to raise $725,000 and go on with worship. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is how it works. For some reason we have a stewardship committee that will write letters, make calls, more calls and follow up and we may make our goal of $725,000 if each of you decide to give more than you did last year.  How much more, approximately, 4% more. 

If I was you, I would want to know what that money was going for.  Let me tell you.  As you heard last week from Alison Zimmerman, we have spent some money this year on Air Conditioning, an upgraded Audio-Visual System for Guild Hall and various other improvements to the building and grounds. We have also hired some new staff members, Tyler Eckert, our Administrative Assistant and Communications Director and Amy Clark, Youth Director and Assistant Music Director.  The staff is the most important part of our church.  We have made changes in our Episcopal leadership and that is costing more money than had been budgeted.

We have added new programs, Young Family Worship Service on the Third Sunday of each month at 9:30, we have added a Wednesday evening fellowship dinner and worship on the Third Wednesday of each month at 6:00 PM and Messy Church on the first Monday of each month at noon.  These new worship opportunities have opened our church to the community in ways that Sunday Mornings cannot.  We have asked how and why young families have come, and they say everything from we got the postcard in the mail, we saw it on the sign out in front of the church and we were invited by friends.  We have added great new music opportunities, like the Youth Choir and Jazz band.  We don’t pay them to sing or play but we do feed them, and we have purchased a new drum set.  My point in all of this is to let you know that we are growing, and we have added new and exciting programs and people, but it isn’t cheap.  Because we still must maintain this beautiful building and grounds and keep the lights on.  By the way, our utility bill is nearly $40,000.

I believe one of the most important aspects of faith is serving others and we have tried to maintain our support to wonderful ministry partners such as, IPM, IHN, Vince on Vine, Transforming Jail Ministries, 20/20 juvenile jail ministry, Matthew 25: Ministries, MEAC, Maslow’s Army and others…. Unfortunately, when the budget gets tight it is the help for others that is the first to be cut.  Years ago, this church made it a goal to spend at least 20% of the total budget on outreach and now we are less than 5%. It is a shame, but it is true.

Here is another way to look at it, this is awkward.  It is awkward because God does not need your money, but Indian Hill Church does.  It is also awkward for me because you pay my salary, you put a roof over my family’s heads, your giving feeds us and sends my children to school and college and I am eternally grateful.  So, take me out of it and think about what excites you about Indian Hill Church?  What is it about this place that you will gladly give your money to support?

Simple math, we currently have an operating budget of $952,600 which is great, however, our pledges are for $702,000 so you see we have a gap.  A $227,600 gap that we are blessed to receive from the interest from our endowment accounts. Don’t worry we are not touching the principle, but we are dependent on the endowment to operate.  I have recently been talked off the ledge by people much smarter than me who explained that people who have gone before us loved this church and left this church in their Estate plans so this church can use the money they left in their death. But I have faith that we can do better…call me naïve, if you want, but I truly believe we raise more money by increasing our pledges and use less of our interest from the endowment.

We have 278 giving units, that is families and individuals that are potential givers to the church. Our average pledge is roughly $3500, which is less than Knox Presbyterian in Hyde Park and Church of the Redeemer Episcopal also in Hyde Park. I tell you this as a point of reference and to engage your competitive nature, everybody likes to compete, don’t we?  So, if each of you 277 pledging units will join me in giving 4% more this year, we will not only meet our goal, raise our average pledge but also be able to do so much more in our church, our community and the world.

I offered these questions to the Vestry Session at our September meeting. What gets in the way of your connection to God?  What gets in the way of your coming to church on Sunday morning?   What gets in the way of your faith formation, spiritual practice, and exploring new ways to connect with God and neighbor?  Why not have a little faith and give 4% more this year? After all it is a gift from God.  If not, what is your excuse?[4]

We have all the faith we need.  We have all the gifts we need.  We are all blessed beyond measure.  So, I invite you to take a step-in faith this year and give more to support God’s work in this place at this time by supporting Indian Hill Church.  Our challenge is not to ask God to increase our faith, but our challenge is to respond to God’s gift of faith and be more generous.

Let us pray:


[1] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Podcast.

[2] Reverend Dr. Will Willimon, Doing Faith Until You Have It. Faith (being in loving relationship with God) is a gift of God: How does God increase our faith in God?  September 29, 2013

[3] Reverend Dr. Scott Hoezee, https://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-22c-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel

[4] Reverend Dr. Robin J. Steinke, President, Luther Seminary, www.luthersem.edu/elerts/article.aspx?article_id=1438&elert_id=166