Berthold von Schenk's Kindgom Plan - A Sermon Series on "Giving'
The Rev. Dr. Berthold von Schenk is probably most famous in Lutheran circles for being one of the key catalysts for liturgical renewal among 20th century American Lutherans. But if you were to ask him, what his greatest legacy was as a parish pastor, he would likely reply that it was his “Kingdom Plan.” The Kingdom Plan was based on this simple rule: every parish must be the Church. Word and Sacrament were to be the content of every official meeting of the congregation... To address the topic of tithing and its role within his Kingdom Plan von Schenk preached a 6-part sermon series on offering and giving. Over the next six Wednesdays, Lutheranforum.org will be reprinting each of von Schenk’s Kingdom Plan sermons. Though the illustrations are at times a bit dated, nevertheless his approach to the dreaded topic of “stewardship” remains valuable...
The Rev. Dr. Berthold von Schenk is probably most famous in Lutheran circles for being one of the key catalysts for liturgical renewal among 20th century American Lutherans. But if you were to ask him, what his greatest legacy was as a parish pastor, he would likely reply that it was his “Kingdom Plan.” The Kingdom Plan was based on this simple rule: every parish must be the Church. Word and Sacrament were to be the content of every official meeting of the congregation. In short:
God would bless the congregation if the members worshipped faithfully by listening to the Word and Receiving the Sacrament every Sunday. He would bless the congregation if the members adopted tithing as a way of life and brought their offering. God would bless the congregation if they prayed daily for the parish and members, and if the members of the congregation evangelized, God would also bless them.[i]
To address the topic of tithing and its role within his Kingdom Plan von Schenk preached a 6-part sermon series on offering and giving. Over the next six Wednesdays, Lutheranforum.org will be reprinting each of von Schenk’s Kingdom Plan sermons. Though the illustrations are at times a bit dated, nevertheless his approach to the dreaded topic of “stewardship” remains valuable.
Sermon 1: The Grace of Giving
During the next five weeks, we will base our sermons on the subject of giving.
In this day and age the word giving lies in disrepute, especially in our parish lives. By preaching on giving, or to announce this subject may not be the best way to draw a crowd. However, this emphasis on giving can become a very intriguing series. What are the reasons for this disreputed subject of giving? When we speak of giving parish attitudes and individual ideas make it subjective. Suddenly in late autumn church councils must discuss this subject seriously. This question becomes basic - Should we make special efforts to raise more money for the churches treasure? Should there be an every member visitation, send out synodically inspired literature and culminate the whole business with observing a loyalty Sunday? We do not under-estimate this approach to work some good. However, in many of our parishes this method has tired out.
This year we present a different approach and we hope one with influence for years to come. The general subject is The Grace of Giving. To state it simply: We give to the work of the Church and the promoting of the Kingdom of God, not because the church needs our money; not because we want to meet the budget for the coining year, but because giving Is living! Giving is fun when we have the proper attitude. We accept giving as a grace, a grace caught up in the involvement of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
When one speaks of grace one usually connects it exclusively with the redemptive work of grace by God for us and our salvation. Grace’s category is greater, however, since Scripture does not limit its meaning to one area. So often preachers and theologians limit grace to what St. Paul calls "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," misunderstanding St. Paul and even the insight of Luther. Grace means only the forgiveness of sins in such an interpretation. However, St, Paul and Luther do not limit grace only to the forgiveness of sins. To be sure, the Reformation fathers made justification by grace alone the big issue - the sola gratia. They had to in their day. Because of indulgences they played down good works, but many churches went too far, even to the extreme of omitting the collection during the service, since a collection would be a good work interfering with God's grace in Christ alone. Every age has its exaggerations.
Now, we do not disagree with the Augsburg Confession when it states, "It is necessary that the chief article of the Gospel be preserved, to wit, that we obtain grace freely by faith in Christ, and not for certain observances or acts of worship devised by man." (28:52) We also cannot question the words of Luther in the Large Catechism (Creed, 1.23) "...It is Good who gives and does all these things, that therein we sense and see the paternal heart, and his transcendent love toward us." One commentator notes that Luther uses the word Love to define the divine motivation for creation and preservation, He notes that a difference in emphasis exists between the words love and grace. He really means and says this, "I believe in the love of God who created me, preserves me and provides for me,” speaking of the I Article and of the II Article, which treats of redemption, has us confess, “I believe that Jesus Christ made me free, and brought me again into the favor and grace of the Father, and takes me as his own property under His shelter and protection, that He may govern me by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life and blessedness.,"' What we say in all this is that grace cannot be analyzed in a laboratory or limited in any manner Beneath the word grace stands a deeper meaning, something beyond limitation. We cannot define the word grace, since grace embraces the whole of man from the cradle to the grave, and not limiting God as a Father of the few people who have been baptized:, instructed, confirmed and joined a church by repeating a creed. Grace works in mysterious ways. It embraces the whole of life.
We conclude that everything a Christians life exists by grace. No self-made men exist in the Kingdom of grace, since all is grace. Over a certain pastor’s work table hangs this saying in German:
Wachseinde Pfade Life is a changing pathway-
Schattan und Licht Shadows and Light
Alles is Gnade All is grace-
Furerchte Dich night. Don't be afraid.’
All is grace "I am what I am by the grace of God," St. Paul states. Grace is not cheap, since it cost God much, the greatest price. His Son, Man makes grace cheap when he does not want to be involved in God’s grace. Religion becomes cheap and easy when God does something for me, apart from me, leaving me uninvolved, not included. But God is not cheap in His grace. God's grace involves us completely, since God's grace is not one-sided. Grace remains free, a truth which stands forever, But we as man become involved as children of God.
Our difficulty comes not in knowing the grace of God, since that comes easily. God is my life and my salvation. "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling," we sing. This nothing has been greatly misunderstood, for that nothing is really everything. The everything comes through in this: I know that God has created me, I know that I am unworthy of my humanity, unworthy of God's creating me in His own image. He did not make me a god, but a man. Through sin man became unworthy of the dignity of his humanity, since men wanted to be God - like God - knowing good and evil. He wanted to step out of his order of creation. He thought God had cheated him out of something. However, God became man in Christ to restore me to my humanity Since Scripture says, “The word became flesh," I know that God totally became a man, a man that I should be, one with my humanity. God again makes me a child of God, an heir of salvation, a royal priest.. And my problem remains that I do not really want this image returned. I fight God instead of surrendering to Him. My problem is how to accept the grace of God and become involved once again. No hocus-pocus exists when we think of grace in this manner. I am born in sin.. Even some theologians fall so low in their estimate of self that they insist that the sexual act which conceived me in the womb of my mother was ‘sin.” I know that I am a miserable no good. Now comes the Gospel: “God was in Christ reconciling the world with himself – not reckoning our sinful peccadilloes.” I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and confess, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses me from all sin.” Now I am saved by grace freely. However, this concept can become dangerous, or at least be misunderstood, making grace meaningless, because this kind of grace is uninvolved.
Well, grace is not that simple, easy and cheap, that is, merely to give intellectual assent to what God does for us and our salvation. Such an attitude can develop into an all-sufficient creedalism, an adherence to a mere formulation of words. Our difficulty with grace remains at the point of accepting it from God and yet at the same time to become involved in it. This involvement means a happening - the old passes away and all becomes new. We really do not want this now. We can love that man, Jesus, on the cross, even our dying with Him, but we hate the Christ who lives. He is the "hound of heaven," the one for whom we are to be doing and living. However, by accepting the grace of God I am in unison with Christ and this is a living relationship with Him. St. Paul knew of no cheap grace: "Know you not," he writes in Romans, "that you were baptized ("the greatest sacrament of grace", Luther), into Christ - into the whole Christ, his life, his death, his resurrection." To accept grace means to die daily to self, "by daily repentance.”
This kind of faith overcomes, I like what Luther said about faith; "...that it is mighty and effective. It does not ask, what should be done?, but before one has been asked it is done already." To be sure, it is no cheap grace. Yet, you cannot buy it with money or price. Just take grace freely, and when you take it you are a different person, a new man. You belong to God. He owns you. With Christ we are daily condemned and say; "I die daily.” "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; and the life I now live I live by faith in God who loved me and gave himself for me."
I must realize this and never forget it for a moment: "What ever is in my Christian life I have by the grace of God." This even applies to people who have not made a commitment to Jesus Christ, since God’s grace falls on the ungodly also, we are told. Wonderful sacramental things exist in life for all: For example, our birth, a Christian education, friendships, membership in a Christian Congregation, a good marriage and good health. Even a sorrow may turn into a grace by those who accept life as grace and we can boldly come to God, our loving Father, and say, “Our Father.” We did it in the first prayer we learned, “Abba, dear Father.’
To be born and live in a Christian home is grace. It is grace, and should not be considered a moral duty that you and I are here this morning, participating in our Liturgy, listening to the instruction of the Apostles, in the fellowship of collective living, in the breaking of bread, the communion, and praising God from whom all blessings flow.
It is grace that you can bring your offering, not primarily motivated by what God gives you, not because of the need of giving, no because of the blessings that come through giving, but that God accepts your offering as the symbol of the offering of one’s whole self. Other motives may have value, but they can be exchange motives. “I’ll do something because God or someone did something for me.” The purest way is grace, and it is grace at its best when we make our offering.
What I want to say is that there is a vast difference between a dutiful obligatory, forced giving, and the giving of one who is baptized into Christ and participates in the Liturgy of which the offering is the high point. Since here grace comes through at its purest, that is, when we can give freely as new men, restored in our humanity, a humanity created for giving. We see this type of offering in the Good Samaritan, the giving of the Magdalene, the giving of Christ upon the cross, the giving of St. Paul who said, “For me to live is Christ.” “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
In my following sermons I intend to motivate you with the grandeur of giving, the joy of giving, the adventure of giving. May the Holy Spirit give me wisdom and courage to take you out of the dark cellar of giving to the glorious adventure of giving, to the grandeur of giving. In a word, to direct you to the involved grace of giving” Grace which involves you!