Sermon - October 11, 2015 “Loving Giving, Giving Loving”
Mark 12:38-44 and Luke 21:1-4
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal
I love this story… and the woman Jesus tells us about in the story. I don’t feel sorry for her. I feel great compassion for her, but more than that, I feel great respect for who she is, and the choices she makes. She is my teacher today. This woman is not a person who lets her circumstances define her. She, who had lost her husband was destitute. She was not allowed to inherit anything from her husband’s wealth or property. She could remain in her husband’s family, only if his next of kin would marry her. And who’s to say she would have chosen that for herself? She would very likely be left without any financial support. This is still true for widows in many parts of the world today. They are left destitute, often with children to support, and with no means whatsoever. Isaiah cries out, “… cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Widows in the time of Christ were at the mercy of the church… the church was to protect and care for the widows among them.
This widow chose to give. Within the limitations of her life, she chose to give. She could have held tightly to what she had. No one would have thought less of her. She was already ‘the least of these’. It was the unexpected choice she made that brought her into scripture… Jesus was stunned to see her at the Treasury – not begging for money, but offering it.
Giving is a choice – no matter what we have to give. Our time, our energy, our money, our life. The rich people in the story chose to give large sums. The widow chose to give her two coins. The choice to give is much easier when you have more, rather than less. But Jesus seems to be saying, the outcome of giving is the same, or even greater when you struggle with it a bit. When you think about it. When you make a choice. When you are giving because you want to, and not just because you can.
Our giving matters to First Friends. If everyone stopped giving today, there would be no First Friends Meeting. The building would be here, but the Meeting would not. Unless you write a note on your check, saying what your money goes to; ‘Vacation Bible School’ or ‘Friends United Meeting’ etc, your money goes straight into our Operating Budget. It pays for pencils and paper, curriculum for our children, bulletins and ink, heat, lights, salaries, and much, much more. When we run out of money, we run out of money, and we have to ask for more. And that’s just as it should be.
Years ago some very, very smart people decided that they would make an investment in our Meeting for the future. Because of that decision, we are not responsible – we don’t have to worry – if we have to pave the parking lot, or if the roof leaks. We don’t have to raise extra funds if a storm comes and lifts the roofs off. Because years and years and years ago, some very wise Quakers decided to put some money aside to cover those concerns, and let it grow. It is called the Trustees Fund. And that is separate from our Operating Budget. And I am very thankful for that. There are many churches that go broke when the boiler blows up. Not First Friends.
I received a letter this past week that included an incredible set of old, brittle papers. The document is from the Finance Committee of Indianapolis Monthly Meeting, dated ‘2nd Month, 1895’. You’ll get to see copies of it when you enjoy Fellowship Hour today, hosted by the 2015 Finance Committee! The papers mention West Indianapolis Preparative Meeting, Indianapolis Preparative Meeting, the Alabama Street property – where we were before building on Kessler, and Delaware Street Meeting – where we first met. It’s obviously a working paper, with pencil markings all over it, updating the 1895 figures for 1896. The Finance Committee was determining the budget for the coming year. The janitor would be paid $120/year, or $10/month. They estimated they’d spend more for funerals than they would for fuel. And there was no paving – of anything. It cost $26.23 to “sweep and sprinkle” Delaware Street that year. How would they cover their costs?
The third and fourth pages of the document list 108 names – presumably members of the Meeting. The Finance Committee submitted an assessment for each person. Only two persons are asked to pay a tithe, or 10%, and one of them is William R. Evans – the Clerk of the Finance Committee. Most are asked to pay ½ to 1% of their income. Linton A. Cox is listed at 2%, but is penciled in at 3%. Robert Rees was asked to pay 1%, but he’s chosen to pay 1 ½%.
Included in the envelope was a little ‘subscription’ card… I’ve made a copy for you to see, and put it in your bulletins. “I subscribe and agree to pay to Friends Church of Indianapolis…” I don’t know if the subscriptions were based on the assessments, or if the assessments were based on the subscriptions. They may have been two separate, complementary tools for fundraising.
The Meeting was less than 50 years old, it had outgrown its Delaware Street gathering place, moved to 13th and Alabama and had more than 100 members. And the Finance Committee asked everyone – each one of its members – to participate financially in the work of the Meeting. They did not ask the same from each person… they asked them to make a choice. Some said they would give more, like Linton and Robert. Some may not have been able to give at all. We don’t know the outcome of the request. But we do know the outcome of giving… when you’re giving because you want to, and not just because you can. When your ½% matters just as much as another person’s 10%. Because… here we are. We do know what happened.
I don’t know how many persons in this Meeting give financially to the work and witness of this Meeting. I know approximately, but I don’t know specifically, and I certainly don’t know how much any one person gives. Except me and Jon. I just assume you all give, as you are led by God to do so, and as you can, because you want to. We probably should make a bigger deal about giving when people become members! Anytime you join a Fitness Club, or Costco, you have to pay a membership fee. I can’t shop at Costco without paying to be a Member! I’ve learned that there are some churches and synagogues where new members are interviewed as they join, and finances are discussed, and a determination is made regarding their support of the church. You won’t find that at First Friends. The Meeting does not take on that responsibility. That’s your work to do. That’s your decision to make. That’s your choice. Your joy!
This is our Meeting. This is our expression of God in us, and God in the world through us. I heard recently about another Meeting that kinda sorta belonged to one guy. He was really, really, really, rich. He gave an endowment to his Meeting. In addition to the endowment, he also gave a certain amount, in the thousands, every month. And after awhile, the meeting realized they didn’t need to support itself because “Mr. X” was doing that for them. So, instead of using the monies to build the meeting and do more for God, they just started sitting back. We can’t afford to sit back. We don’t have a ‘Mr. X”. That meeting died. We are very much alive. Because some of you give ½ %. Some of you give 3%, and some of you give 5%, and some of you give 20%.
I’m just going to say, that some of our dear givers are gone now, and so the rest of us have got to pick up the slack! We won’t be able to give as much as Howard Taylor. But maybe 3, or 4, or twelve of us could, together. We’ll do that because, we want to. Because we love the meeting. It wasn’t Howard’s meeting. It wasn’t Duffy’s meeting. It’s our Meeting. It’s my meeting. It’s your meeting. We love our meeting.
And we have the joy and responsibility of supporting it, sharing it, and caring for it. It’s such an adventure to see what God does with who we are, and what we have to offer! And people are watching us. What we do, and who we are matters. Not just to ourselves, but to those around us, and to those who are growing up with us…
Listen to this great article from Christianity Today. It’s called “Why I Won’t Give To Your Church.” Do you think this young person would feel the same way about First Friends?
I am a 23-year-old who refuses to give to your church. My parents made me attend your Christmas program. I have to admit, it was quite a spectacle: real animals, fake snow, and lights that bathed the actors in red, green, and gold. The production cost thousands of dollars. (Has this person ever been to our Christmas pageant?)And gee-whiz, it was worth every penny! By the way, if you're going to understand anything about our generation, it should be that we love sarcasm. The truth is, I could not have been more put off by what you put on. It was gaudy and awkward. Your jokes were not funny, your script was predictable, and the only lights that mattered were the ones coming from the exit signs.
My generation loves technology yet we're minimalists. We're highly educated; we don't like to read. We're comfortable with uncertainty, I think. We're skeptical of corporations, and we're pretty much an expert on everything because of Google and Wikipedia. We realize we're arrogant, and in many ways, contradictory. We're OK with that, but we're not OK with you being unwilling to admit to the same.
More than half of us will leave the church at some point. Those of us still here find it increasingly difficult to stay. So what is it that we're looking for? What's the magic answer? There is none. What will satisfy one person my age may not satisfy me, and vice versa. But for what it's worth, here are my ideas, frustrations, and yes, a little advice.
We're not a "target demographic"
We've been "marketed to" since childhood, and we can smell it a mile away. When we step into a church and sense it, it's patronizing and offensive. Your "Young Adult Outreach" may be well intentioned, but it comes off as phony. When we sense you're preoccupied with attendance among our demographic, we feel like you're making us into a number, or even a dollar sign. We want to be known and valued as individuals. We may be the same age, but we have a diverse array of passions, dreams, and callings. Until the church recognizes this, like the rest of the world has, we will continue to be absent from your pews and our giving from your offering plates.
Use your money wisely
In politics it is common to criticize spending. People passionately debate spending on education, welfare, campaigning, and the military—and complain how the government is wasting our precious tax dollars. Government spending is always under scrutiny. The same applies to churches. Where exactly is our money going? Is it helping others? Or is it being spent on elaborate Christmas pageants? Are you building the kingdom? Or are you building your kingdom? Millennials are extremely conscious of how our money is spent. We are the generation that demands fair trade coffee and supports eco-friendly companies, but will dump them just as quickly if they're caught "greenwashing."
Impact your community and the world
What are you doing in your community? Are you feeding and clothing the homeless? Are you hosting support groups for addicts? Are you finding childcare for single parents? These are things my generation respects. We want to help the people around us. You'll win us over if you do the same. What are you doing abroad? Organizations like Compassion International and World Vision make it so easy to care for God's children. There are too many people living in poverty, and far too many churches doing nothing about it. In America alone, there are approximately 315,000 Protestant houses of worship. If each church sponsored at least one beautiful child of God, perhaps we would begin to see the kind of global impact God desires the church to have.
Let us lead
Contrary to popular perception, we aren't allergic to responsibility. We just want to make sure what we commit to really matters. Let us partner with you in making an impact for Christ. Please don't conclude that my refusal to give means I'm indifferent to the church. I have always believed that Christ holds the answer to what is wrong with the world—that Jesus is the key to truly experiencing life. I am only critical of your efforts because I refuse to give up. I desperately want my generation to see authentic Christianity. Let's make it happen together.
The woman who came to the Treasury, gave out of authenticity. Our meeting gives, because we are authentic. Yesterday when I paid my bills I sat down and thought, “What am I doing with my money?” When you sit down to respond to the Finance Committee letter you will receive, think about First Friends, and how authentic it rings in your life. And then decide as they did so long ago, “How do I want to fill out this little card from 1895… “I subscribe and agree to pay to Friends Church of Indianapolis…” Amen.
From the silence…
Ruthie was talking about the widow this morning. It made me think of my mother who became a widow at the age of 31, with three small children to take of. I wouldn’t say we were destitute, but we were pretty close, since my father had just begun his career as a teacher six months before. And even in that first couple of years when her only income was taking in ironing for the neighbors, she put money in the offering plate every Sunday.’