I often use humor in my stewardship sermons. I use it unashamedly. I say that there are lots of humorous stories and jokes about stewardship in the life of the church. Some talk about how churches divide up the offering. Some talk make light of the amount of offering persons put in as the plates pass them by. Still others talk about church budgets. One my favorites, that I used this past week, is about the influence of money on the church and how we often seem hard-wired to get recognition from our gifts.
The passage I was preaching on was on Matthew 6, where we find the following:
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
And the joke I used — one I heard long ago and have remembered ever since — was this:
Edna, the elderly church secretary, (she never considered herself an “administrative assistant” no matter what her job description said) was sitting in the church office working on folding bulletins for the week while Pastor John finished up a Bible study in the church library. The phone rang and she picked it up, answering in her usual, cheerful tone, “Hello, you’ve reached First Church Podunk, this is Edna, how can I help you?”
The gruff voice on the other end of the line said, “I’d like to speak to the head hog at the trough.”
“Excuse me, sir?” said Edna.
“I said I’d like to speak to the head hog at the trough.”
“Sir, if you are referring to our Pastor, he will be in the office shortly, but I don’t think that’s any way to refer to the spiritual shepherd of our church.”
“Ma’am this is about a donation to your beloved church.”
Edna heard footsteps down the hall. “Regardless, sir, I wish you’d be more respectful to our pastor and not call him ‘the head hog’.”
The voice paused and said, “It’s about a five figure donation.”
Edna paused as her door opened, “Well here comes the fat pig now!”
I like that joke. And from there I moved into how we are to give humbly and sacrificially and, as in Philippians 2, we’re to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That’s “the SAME mind” that was in Christ Jesus. EVEN in our giving. That’s much different than the hypocrites in the synagogue. And it’s much different than the donor in the joke.
But, more than that joke, it’s the use of humor that I want to talk about. See, I think there are so many jokes about stewardship and giving because it’s something that makes a whole lot of people feel uncomfortable. Tithing, giving, trusting in God’s provision are all counter-cultural notions. It’s not what we see in our media. It’s not what we get from our political leaders. And it’s definitely not what we get from the thousands of advertisers who bombard us with their messages in every way shape and form. And so, when we’re reaching back into Genesis 14 to Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek or moving to Matthew 6:24 and Jesus saying we can’t love both God and money, persons are going to feel uncomfortable. And, frankly, I think it can cause preachers to feel uncomfortable as well. This is indicative of how ingrained consumerism, love of money, and possessions are in our lives.
For all of this, it’s not a laughing matter. Jesus talked more about money and the love of money than he did about anything else except the Kingdom of God. Eleven out of Jesus’ thirty-nine parables are about money in some way. And, as we look at the early church, money and giving and stewardship were a big part of their life together. It matters. It’s a matter of heart. Sure we like talking about sin and grace and discipleship. And we need to see that money–and our relationship with it–is about sin and grace and discipleship.
So if using some humor gets folks thinking about the important, but culturally challenging notion, of stewardship it’s well worth it. The punch line isn’t the point of joke. The point of the joke is to move the conversation forward.
And I hope Edna, the church secretary above, would agree.