“Because of our church…(what?)” How might you complete that sentence? Because of our church, 40,000 meals have been delivered to many food pantries after our big packing event. Because of our church, mid-youth spent this weekend at a “Brag on Jesus” retreat. Because of our church, children learn to sing and youth – while also having fun – explore serious questions of faith. Because of our church, we all are able to live from an eternal perspective and know that we are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Knowing this helps us to live faithfully and fruitfully. How might you might complete that sentence? Because of our church...
We are in the midst of our stewardship emphasis, and Pastor Lauren and I, in all our services, want us to take a moment and review the special Stewardship Edition of the Witness. It will also come by email or mail this week, but we wanted to highlight a few things in worship, so we have given you a copy here as well.
On the first page, you will see a narrative budget. It a general outline of the budget, given in story form. In the top paragraph, note the amount of our budget. We have a budget of $1.2 million. That may be the first time you’ve heard that figure, so here’s what happens through our shared giving. In the next paragraph we learn about Missions and Shared Ministry. Here’s a line that puts that into perspective. “As a result of your tithes and offerings, a young person will graduate from seminary; a missionary will be supported; a youth director will be trained; people will be fed; schools will be built; and lives will be transformed. [And, here is a very important line] You are a part of it all!” You can say, “I’m a part of that. I helped make that happen.”
The next paragraph is under the title Program Ministries – worship, music, discipleship, children, mid-youth, youth, and more. This number includes our great program staff – Janet, Linda, Nick, Pam, Rod, Zach, Kisha, Colleen, plus assistants and interns. What an awesome job they do in cultivating an environment where we can grow in God’s love and come to know that we are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. It is the greatest gifts we can give to our children, and through them to the world. Again, you make all that happen.
There is a lot more on this page -- sections on Facilities and Sacred Space, Administration and Support, and Pastoral Staff. I hope you will take this and read it carefully and prayerfully.
Next, we see an update on our current capital campaign – Age to Age. Our current debt is just over $2 million. And we continue to fulfill some big capital dreams. This past year, we have replaced the Air Conditioning system in the Sanctuary Building and updated lighting through the buildings. We have also given a substantial interest-free loan to the Wesley Foundation to help renovate the Wesley house. If you are not currently involved in the Age to Age Capital Campaign, please pray about this, and perhaps come talk to us about it. Imagine the possibilities for ministry as we become debt-free as a congregation.
Next, I want to call your attention to this section on “Methodism and Money.” (In past years, we’ve had a Q and A on Giving in this section, so this is something new). This year we have been using John Wesley’s sermons as inspiration for worship, and today is no exception. Wesley wrote on this topic frequently, in part because Jesus talked as much about this topic. Our sermon from Wesley today is titled “The Use of Money.” You have a summary here, and there is a paraphrase on our website. It is worth reading. You’ll be happy to know that Wesley starts by saying that money is a good thing. It is not evil. In the hands of God’s children, it is an “excellent gift,” answering God’s great purposes. Then Wesley lays out three time-honored principles for how we are to use our money so that we might grow in God’s love and God’s glorious hopes for us and for the world.
1. Gain all you can
Some translate it as “earn,” but this can connote the gaining of wealth only. The rule suggested that we gain much more -- knowledge, relationships, fulfillment in life, resources -- all gained through diligences and work, and by practicing the higher ethical standard and not bringing harm to ourselves, others, or the world.
2. Save all you can
Here, Wesley is not talking about accumulating and keeping goods in reserve, as in a bank account. He is talking about not wasting anything, living more simply, and avoiding elaborate expenses. Be fragile! That’s the message. Following this rule helps to keep pride, lust, gluttony, envy, and all forms of vanity from growing within us and bringing harm to ourselves and others.
3. Give all you can
The first two principles lead to this third one. Organize your life so that you can give all you can and thus “lay up treasures in heaven,” as Jesus say. By giving we make room in our hearts for God to come in and give to us “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace.” If we don’t give, we are not leaving room by God’s blessings. By giving, we make it possible for God’s love to grow in the world. We get to give that kind of blessing.
In this sermon, Wesley cautions us from giving out of a legalistic obligation. He says, “Don’t confine yourself to this or that proportion.” Wesley, like Jesus, felt that it is unhealthy for us to compartmentalize our giving to the church from all other uses of our money. The principle is this: All of life is holy. Thus, we are to use all our money to the glory of God. With every purchase, expense, and act of giving we are to ask: Does this glorify God? Am I being a good steward of all that God has given me? Stewardship, in this way, is a daily act of faith. That’s how we are to use our money, according to Wesley, building upon the words of Jesus.
A key word for us as Methodists is “discipline.” As a part of our daily walk with God, it is a good thing to budget so that we can give first to God. Tithing is a time-honored biblical practice. I can testify to the blessings that come through this discipline. But, to quote the Apostle Paul, God does not want us to give “reluctantly or under compulsion”; God wants us to give cheerfully.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Each of us are to decide how we can follow these principles in a way that glorifies God and brings joy into the world.
So back to our question. “Because of our church...” How might you complete the sentence? God takes all of our gifts and writes so many stories of redemption and new life. Through our giving together we make this a place where love grows. What a blessing it is to be a part of this church! Amen.