I have been told that the tried and true formula to use when writing a speech (or a sermon) is this:
Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.
So following that advice, let me begin here.
This morning I am going to talk about money and how we think about it and how we use it from two different perspectives. The first perspective draws upon our best understanding of the word stewardship which focuses on our responsibility to take care of and to manage responsibly that which has been entrusted to our care and keeping.
Our family. Our relationships. The environment. Our money.
Webster’s dictionary defines stewardship this way:
The individual’s responsibility to manage his or her life and property with proper regard to the rights of others.
Then, in addition, for those of us who name ourselves Christian, layered on top of Webster’s definition is what we believe about God and about our relationship to and responsibility for others.
That is perspective number one.
Perspective number two is more nuts and bolts.
It is about Bedford Presbyterian Church’s annual stewardship campaign.
Which is about budgets and bills and pledges and your participation.
And about what David Hardy shared with you this morning and the letter you received from him in the mail this past week.
So, having told you what I am going to tell you, on to telling you.
My guess is all of you have seen or heard commercials for the New York State Lottery.
How can you miss them?
Hey, you never know.
And, what about a little bit of luck.
Or, this one…
A woman walks out of a luxury department store carrying bags and bags of what she has bought to get in her car which is waiting by the curb. Or Manny, who walks right through the security check point at the airport with the agents all saying hello. Then, the voice for the New York lottery says something like, “No, not that kind of rich.” and the scene changes. This time the woman walks out of the store carrying her dog followed by a long line of people all carrying bags filled with what she has bought and instead of a car, they get on her bus. Or, Manny who walks through the airport check point on onto the plane with his name on the side.
The commercial ends with the announcer saying,
“Yeah, that kind of rich.”
If the commercials for the New York Lottery represent on way we think about money and what it is for and how we use it, the other end of the spectrum might be illustrated by this story from the Bible.
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, [Jesus] called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way – and some of them have come from great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread in the desert?” [Jesus] asked them, “How many loaves do you have?’ They said, “Seven.” Then [Jesus] ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They also had a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. (Mark 8:1-9)
The easy way to understand this story is to say it was a miracle, and to respond by clapping our hands and saying, “Yea, Jesus.” But, I think the story is more complicated than that and hits a bit closer to home than that. So, what if we thought about the story this way.
Most of the people at the time when Jesus lived and to whom he spoke were dirt poor.
Literally living from hand to mouth.
But, they weren’t stupid.
Yes, they wanted to hear and to be around Jesus.
But they weren’t going to spend three days in the desert without something to eat or without a way to feed their children. But it also was not a potluck where everyone brought something and set it out for all to share. You had so little so you watched out for yourself and your own first.
So, instead of the story having one miracle where Jesus suddenly and surprisingly turns seven loaves of bread into seven baskets of leftovers, this story actually has two miracles.
The first miracle takes place when Jesus takes what little he and his disciples have and says, “Thank you.” Surprising words among those who often feel there is little or nothing for which to be thankful.
And, then miracle number two.
Jesus begins to share what little he has with those around him. Suddenly there is enough.
Not because of some sleight of hand or hocus pocus, but because those who were there were moved and challenged to do what they had seen Jesus do. To say thank you and to share.
Yeah, that kind of rich.
So, those of us who stand in the tradition of Jesus are left to decide which end of the spectrum – lottery or Jesus – represents the rich we want to be.
Perspective number two.
This past week those of you who are members or friends of Bedford Presbyterian received a letter from David Hardy and the Stewardship Committee asking you to consider your financial support of the ministry and mission of this congregation for 2014. But before I say something about that, I want to make sure you hear me say this.
In many, many ways this congregation…
All of you…
Are incredibly generous.
And, even though I know that, there are moments when it catches me off guard.
Here are two examples, from many, of what I mean.
Each Sunday I watch as the children help with our offering.
Since they began having their own offering they have bought sheep and cows and goats through the Heifer Project. They have dug a well providing clean, safe drinking water in a community in Africa they will probably never visit. They have provided food for the food pantry. And, this year they are supporting the Children’s Center at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
But, sitting where I do each Sunday, this is what I see.
I see you adding your dollar bills to their baskets as well.
You don’t need to do that, but you do…for all the right reasons…and it is wonderful.
Last Sunday two middle school students – Peter DiBiasi and Mickey Paletta – took a moment to share with you their idea of selling bracelets to raise money for health initiatives in Nicaragua. They came up with this idea because they know about the work this congregation has done in Nicaragua and they wanted to be a part of it. I know all of you could not wait for worship to end so you could run out of the sanctuary to buy so you could wear a blue and white bracelet. But, my playful sarcasm aside, many of you did just that. Leaving worship you stopped by their table in Fellowship Hall and read their handmade sign and bought a bracelet from them.
And, it was and is wonderful.
Wonderful that their church…this church…is the place they turned to share and to put into place their idea.
And, wonderful that you supported them in their efforts.
The list can and does go on and on.
But, I think….
You get the idea.
I wanted make sure you heard me say that before turning back to the nuts and bolts of our annual stewardship campaign. One of the committee’s goals, besides meeting our budget needs and goals for next year, is to have every household in the congregation pledge some amount to support our ministry and mission. There are roughly 200 households within the circle of this community. Last year 139 of those households made a pledge. A few others contributed something during the year, but that leaves us well short of who we should and could be and what we might do, and well short of our goal of 100% participation. I know it is easier talking about the New York State lottery commercial and about Jesus than it is to talk about money in church.
Is a 2/3 church the way we want it to be?
So, here is what I tried to say.
Something important happens here.
Something important happens when, after being here, you walk out the doors and into the world.
And we do better when we do it together.
Your presence matters.
Your participation matters.
And, you financial support matters.
Our goal is to have that support be 100% of us.
And, maybe even more important than that…
As we think about what it means to be stewards responsible for that which has been entrusted to our care and keeping, we are left to decide in which end of the spectrum we value when we say to ourselves, “Yeah, that kind of rich.”