Nut$ and Bolt$
Church Finance and Stewardship
I love the image of this story. The part that I was impressed with this time was the very first verse, “Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money.” What I liked about that is that Jesus sat down and watched people worship. It is a nice reminder that the Holy Spirit is here, in our worship today, right now, watching us worship. I say this not to impose guilt. I am not using this like we do with our children telling them that “Jesus is always watching.” I find comfort in knowing God is here in this place. I find support knowing that the Holy Spirit is here in our midst. I find grace knowing that our poor attempts to do praise God will actually be turned into something to honor him. God is here, smiling as he watches his children offer worship up to him.
Today we offer up our worship in the form of our Estimate of Giving cards. At the end of my sermon today I will ask the ushers to pass these cards out and I would like you to fill them out and then bring them forward and lay them on the prayer rail. I hope you took time this week to pray about the question I have been asking the last two weeks, “What percentage of my income is God calling me to give in 2013.” Today as we lay those answers down on the prayer rail I hope you will time to kneel and offer your gifts up to him today as well.
This has been a rough sermon series for me because it is a tough topic but also we are in tough times. But it is in these tough times that we as a church need to stand up for what is right and be the Church for the people of God. Just because money is tight doesn’t mean God’s love is any different. Just because we have to refigure how we live doesn’t wash away the gift God gave on the cross. Just because our nation is in still divided and facing a fiscal cliff soon doesn’t mean God’s peace is any less affective. We stand here today, to proclaim what we do every week, that our God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Almighty and the Everlasting. We proclaim that in our worship today and in the gifts we bring.
The important part to know about this piece of scripture today is the perspective of Jesus. Jesus is watching the giving but his eyes are not drawn to the amount of zeros in the checks but the manner in which the gift is given. Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice, is looking for the one who is sacrificing the most. All the other rich people in the temple were placing huge amounts of money in the offering but Jesus’ attention was drawn to a widow.
Now a widow in that time and place was looked down upon because she did not have a husband anymore. Widows were people that Jesus was calling others to take care of because their provider was gone. This sounds very sexist for us now but it is the truth for that time. With their husbands gone the widow was left to live off the care of others which means she didn’t have much. Yet, this poor widow comes to the temple to give thanks and praise her God. She brings two copper coins, not even worth a penny and places it in the offering. Jesus sees her gift and tells us that is who we should be like.
There is a story about Peter Marshall who was the chaplain for the US Senate. Yes, the Senate actually does have a chaplain. One day a senator came up to him and said that he needed some counsel. They went off to a quiet place to talk and the senator started to confess his problem. He said he was having problems tithing. He said he had no problem tithing when he was making $20,000 but now that he is making $500,000, the $50,000 he is supposed to give just seems too much. Rev. Marshall consoled the Senator and said, “Yes you are right, this is a problem.” Do mind if we pray about it. The senator agreed and there in the hallows of Washington, Rev. Marshall put his arm around the senator and they prayed. He prayed, “Lord, we understand this man is going through a rough time and is struggling. We pray that you might bring his salary down to a place where is comfortable tithing again.”
Now Jesus is not telling us that we should all be poor. The story of the Widow’s Mite is not a call to poverty but it is a call to extravagant generosity. Extravagant generosity is when one realizes that what you earn belongs to God, what you spend belongs to God, what you save belongs to God, and what you give belongs to God. It all belongs to God. The widow that day was walking into worship to give thanks for all she had. She gave her fraction of a penny because everything she had was from God and she knew that. She is a model of extravagant generosity.
Today, as we profess our commitment to God, this is not a financial issue, today is a spiritual issue. What you are willing to give away is one way God knows your commitment to him. The fact is our willingness to be extravagant givers correlates to our relationship with the one who gives it to us. History has had a lot of extravagant givers and some of them have passed down their wisdom to us. Mother Theresa gave her life to the poor and sick. She spent her days with Calcutta ministering to the people no one wanted to deal with she said this about giving, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving” It is giving God that chewed up brown apple core, if you remember from last week. C.S. Lewis who captivated our imaginations through his Chronicles of Narnia and feeds our souls through his other books like Mere Christianity and Surprised by Joy, said this, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.”
I cannot stand up here and tell you what you should give. What you and your family write on these cards today is between you and God. None of us know what that number means to the percentage of your income, that is between you and God. Whether it is something leftover or a widow’s offering only God knows. The amount does not matter to God, it is the motivation.
Here is what I can tell you though. I can tell you that your money will be put to good use. Every dollar you give to Indian Trail will be used in some way to do God’s will in this world. When we publish the 2013 budget you will see that the majority of it goes to maintenance and administration. But in those items is ministry. Yes we have to pay our utilities but without them we could not have a kitchen. In our kitchen meals are offered not only to us but to the seniors in this community. Without our kitchen there are many elderly who may go hungry each day. This kitchen also feeds us during Meet and Greet, special meals, Homecomings, Thanksgiving celebrations, Fall Festivals, Vacation Bible School, and many more. The Kitchen is also a gathering place where fellowship happens every week after worship. God smiles when he thinks about his children gathering around a pot of cooking food sharing their lives with one another, sharing their joys, their worries, their hopes. This is all because we pay our utilities and they enable us to offer ministry, fellowship, outreach and share God’s love with others.
Yes, we have to pay for our heat and air conditioning but without it we could not sit and concentrate on what we learn in Sunday School or Bible Study groups. You want to know what it would be like to not have heat, go to my office. We have been without heat all week, it is FREEZING! Our HVAC allows us to meet in comfort in our educational spaces to learn and focus our lives on God. There have been hundreds of children, and almost three generations nurtured in the rooms just down the hall way here. It is in those rooms that they learned about Jonah and the big fish, Noah and his Ark, Moses and the Red Sea, the baby in the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb. It is in those heated and cooled rooms that children and adults are deepening their faith and learning to love the God who loves them.
Another big chunk of our budget is our Conference Askings. These are broken up into three sections; Pension, Healthcare, and Apportionments. Let’s start off with Pension and Healthcare because they are really tied together. The United Methodist Denomination is a connectional system. What this means is that we are joined together as a denomination. There are other denominations out there, like Baptists, where each church is autonomous. First Baptist Church has their rules, regulations, theological stances which could be completely different than the Hartis Grove Baptist Church. In the United Methodist Denomination we all have the same basic structure and core theology. We are governed by the Book of Discipline which only the General Conference is allowed to change. We are connected through our core structure and theology but we also share each other’s burdens and carry each other through the Conference Askings. We are linked together in this connectional system through our pastors, districts, conferences, jurisdictions, missions, UMW, UMM, UMYF, about everything you can think of. The reason that 100% of all your donation to UMCOR will go to help with Recovery from Super Storm Sandy is because all over our denomination we hold one Sunday a year to take a special offering to cover our overhead expenses with UMCOR. We are connected and are able to do some wonderful good in horrible.
I say this all about being connectional because one way this is lived out is through the appointment process of clergy. As an ordained elder my membership is held at the Conference level. This is done so I can float to whatever church I am appointed to by the Bishop, which is called the itinerant system. Other denominations like Baptists and Presbyterians are on a called system which means they interview and higher their own clergy. When we ministers agree to the itinerate system we do so with some understanding and there is some understanding by the local church to what type of clergy you will receive. Here are some of the promises we make to one another in this system. If the Conference sends you an ordained elder that means that person has received a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s of Divinity degree. He or she will have gone through the Conference Committee on Ordained Ministry twice, once as a Probationer or Commissioned member and once to receive his or her ordination. They will have their callings verified, ethics and psychological health checked. They will be interviewed and prayed over. They will verify that this person has the gifts and graces for ministry. We clergy promise to go where we are sent and serve faithful in the congregations we are appointed to.
The local church also makes some promises. You all promise to receive who the Cabinet sends, and provide adequate housing whether through a parsonage or housing allowance, pay healthcare and put into the minister’s pension plan. You do this to provide to help the pastor that is sent to you and all of us in the conference. *Warning I am about to step up on my soapbox* The reason the healthcare costs are so high in our conference is because we pay for what we receive. Every year the insurance company tells us how much it will be to insure all the clergy in our conference and that is what we have to pay. We have seen in increase in our healthcare almost 10% a year. It was actually only an 8% increase this year. I now pay a small fraction of my own healthcare and my family can choose to be on the conference plan or on their own. *off soapbox* The local church also allows to pay for clergy pensions which is formulated on time served within the conference. We do this once again because we are a connectional system, we are taking care of our pastors all over the conference. You payments not only go to me but help Mark Mashburn who stayed in ICU for six months before he passed away. You help Keith Auman who almost died a couple times after a massive blood infection recover. We are linked together as the Body of Christ but also as the members of the cross and flame.
It is in this obligation though that we are behind. As of March of 2011, Indian Trail UMC hasn’t paid towards the pension and healthcare costs of their pastor. We were just under $18,000 behind at the end of 2011. In 2012 we hadn’t paid anything when I arrived. These last two months though we have been able to pay $2,000 towards our Pension and Healthcare costs which has stopped the bleeding. But we owe that every month and our current debt to the conference is around $34,000. This is something we will HAVE to pay back but the good news it is interest free at the moment.
The other part of Conference Askings is wehre we find a good church of missions and ministry. This is called our Apportionments. Through a long drawn out formula the conference takes a three year average of our spending and plugs that in to get what we owe for Apportionments. This money goes all around the world and helps people in our district, in our state, in our country and almost every continent. Our apportionments help fund the only Seminary in Africa, on the WHOLE CONTINENT. It also helps people through UMCOR and Volunteer in Mission teams. It helps people go through college and seminary and helps provide a salary to clergy where churches cannot afford it. When we pay we are also doing global missions. We are helping provide for the Mission Response Center of our conference in Mooresville, NC. There flood buckets are collected and sent to areas in need. Food is packaged and sent to Eastern Europe to help with ministries like Project AGAPE. It also helps with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR, which is as we speak in Texas and New Orleans cleaning up after hurricanes. They are also in the country of Georgia helping with that crisis. They are in Liberia, Haiti, Myanmar, and many other countries. Through the World Service Fund we give food and water to those who don’t have it all over the world. We help give medical care to those in need and bed nets for families to sleep under so that they can simply live.
I am telling you all this today because none of this is possible without you. Think how amazing it is to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. The dollar you put in the offering plate makes all that possible and more. There is no place in the world that offers so much for so little. The Red Cross, the United Way, the YMCA and all of those other very worth wild agencies and organizations do great work in this world but I wanted to remind you of what God is doing through the United Methodist Church, your Church. Through the connectionalism of the United Methodist Church we reach the entire world and we celebrate the ministry and missions that happens in our congregation and all over because of what we are able to give to God.
Martin Luther said, “I have tried to keep things in my hands and lost them all, but what I have given into God’s hands I still possess.” Jesus is asking us today to place all we have into his hands. He is asking us to step out in faith and give up control in our lives in order to live out the mission he is calling us to do. When the widow walked up and placed her two copper coins in the treasury, God used that moment to teach all of us something. When you write down your Estimate of Giving for 2013, I hope are praying that God will use your offering to transform lives as well. If we do it with right motivations, with right attitudes and with gracious hearts, the world will be transformed through the one who is transforming us.
I ask the ushers to get ready to pass out these cards. When you receive your card, don’t write anything down for a minute. Take a moment and pray, hold the hand of your spouse or other family members and pray that God directs you in a way that can change the world. After your prayer, fill out your card, and when you are done walk up here and place it in the offering plate that will be up here. Then take time if you want to pray once again at the prayer rail. Take your time, be in prayer, and know God loves you.
And all God’s people said…Amen.