Scripture: Psalm 50
“Gather before me my loyal followers,
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”
This verse from our Psalm today gives a glimpse into what God has promised us, and what we give in return. God has made a covenant with us, which we read in Jeremiah 31:31–34 and which was accomplished by Jesus
on the cross, and we offer a sacrifice to God in response to his blessings in our lives.
I am Craig Gustafson, I was born in Fort Frances, Ontario, which is half-way between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay on the Ontario-Minnesota border. My family and I lived there until I attended the University of Manitoba, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English and History. Following graduation, I moved back home for a time until coming to Toronto in 2001. I have 2 older brothers, one who lives in Toronto, and the other lives in Fort Frances. Our parents also live in Fort Frances, and have come to services at Grace Church when they come to visit.
When I came to Toronto, I became of member of St. John the Baptist, Norway. In 2013 I decided I needed to start looking for a new parish home. I made a list of 3 churches to consider, and visited each for a month. I had
known Lois Reid and Bob & Grace Mills for several years through the Diocesan prayer ministry, and I had heard from them the amalgamation of Grace and the exciting possibilities here. Therefore, Grace Church was one
of the 3 churches on my list, and over Advent and Christmas that year, I decided that Grace would be my new parish home.
Since then, I have participated in the worship of Grace as a reader, intercessor, chalice bearer, and lay leader. I have also become involved in the life of Grace as newsletter editor, children’s ministry assistant, advisory board member, lay member of Diocesan Synod, and stewardship committee member.
We attended Sunday School growing up, and I remember that each class had a tin bank, and each Sunday the teacher passed around the tin bank, and each of us dropped in our loose change. In our family, our parents did not give us an allowance. They would give us some coins in the car on our way to church to drop into the tin bank. Even though the coins went from our parents, to our hands, into the tin bank in a matter of minutes, to me this was nevertheless a strong demonstration of our offering to God.
After coming to Toronto, I obtained my first real job, and began making an offering to the church, without really thinking what was the suitable amount to offer to God and to his church. A few years later, we had our first stewardship campaign at St. John, where the leadership encouraged us to think about the amount we give to God and his church. The focus on this campaign was only the money we offer.
For the first time I began to think about God’s blessings to me, including the church which offered a great deal
to our members as well as to the community. The church had been a source of encouragement and support as I moved to a new city and began to build a new life. The church offered an opportunity to become involved in the life
of the parish, and to grow in my relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
Like many people, I struggled with the “right amount” to give the church. Before this first stewardship campaign I certainly gave an amount that was very small in proportion to the blessings God had provided through my pay
cheque. At one time, however, I found that I gave the church too much and I had a hard time paying for necessities, let alone having money for luxuries, such as a movie at the theatre.
Over time, I came to the balance of 5% of my net pay for the church, and 5% to other Christian organisations and
charities whose objectives match my core values. It is a sacrifice, but a sacrifice I do willingly and joyfully. Where possible, I give through pre-authorized giving through my bank account so that I do not forget my
promises to myself to give to others. When I receive a raise, I adjust my offerings in thanksgiving in response to the additional blessings I have received.
Money or treasure, however, is not the only offering we can make to God. I have experienced times of unemployment, but I continued to offer my gifts of time and talent, because even in my times of hardship, God always provided enough for me to survive. Even then I continued to participate in the various ministries of the church, and in Bible studies and other programmes to deepen and enrich my faith. I try to be open to God’s call to participate in an existing ministry, or to begin a new ministry.
My parents’ generosity to the church served as an example. Between them, they have served the church in almost every capacity, including choir, churchwarden, Sunday school teacher, treasurer, and secretary.
Why do we make sacrificial offerings to God? This question is best answered through the prayer following the offertory in the Holy Communion liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, which comes from I Chronicles 29. In today’s
language, the prayer would be:
Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, for ever and
ever. For all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours. For all
things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
God has given me a loving family. He has blessed me with friends. God has supplied me with a job that I love, and colleagues that enrich my work. He showed me the way to Grace Church, where I have found many kindred
spirits, to quote Anne of Green Gables. I am incredibly blessed, and I am thankful for God’s blessings to me, which are too many to count.
Over the next 4 weeks, I invite you to reflect upon the blessings God has given to you, to our church, and to our community. I encourage you to ponder the ways in which you offer gifts of time, talent, and treasure to your family, friends, church, and community. Evaluate if you are able to increase the amount of your gifts of time, talent, and treasure, so that Grace Church and other organisations you support will continue to offer the programmes you value, and will able to offer additional programmes to help you and to help others. I will do the same reflecting.
In closing I would like to read a verse from our Psalm today that was not included in our reading. In verse 24, we are reminded that in serving God, we make a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and strive to walk in his ways, as given in Jeremiah 31. Let us read verse 24 together, and then say the concluding Psalm prayer.
“ . . . Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me;
but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.”
Blessed are you, God of glory; you call us to give up all our vain attempts to reach you, and to come before you in thanksgiving for your great salvation, shown to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.