Message—The Episcopal Church of the Cross
Sunday, October 7, 2014
Text: Matthew 6:19-34
Jesus said, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Good morning, friends. Peace be with you.
I’d like to talk for a few minutes this morning about money and our common life. It’s not something we’ve talked about very often in worship. But it is something to talk about…because money is part of life; and because here and other places Jesus talks about the power of money and wealth. Jesus talked a lot about money.
Now I know that people often get nervous when pastors start talking about money and the Church. I think that’s because money is not one of those polite, distant topics. We all have a money story.
I also think it’s because too often pastors have used a lot of guilt, and shame, and scarcity-talk when it comes to talk about money and church.
I hope you experience these words a little differently than that.
Over the next little while, we’ll be asking one another to make a prayerful commitment to support financially the life of the ECC in 2019.
It’s called a pledge. For some of us, that’s a familiar term; for others, not so much. A pledge is an estimate of what each of us will give from what God has given us to support our common life in 2019. That’s what a pledge is.
Now there’s a reality here. The Church exists in the world. As such, we have expenses. For example, the Lake Travis ISD is very gracious to allow us to be in these spaces every Sunday. I think they kind of like that we’re here, and I know for a fact that there are people in the Serene Hills community grateful we’re praying for them every week.
Nevertheless, they still want us to pay the rent. They’re grateful that we pray for them, but they still want us to pay our bill; and it costs about $33,000 a year to be in these spaces; which, considering leasing costs in this part of Austin, is exceptionally reasonable.
Now the bishops and people of the Diocese of Texas, as you know, support us financially. They recognize we’re a baby church, and it takes time to grow up. We are grateful for their generosity.
We also recognize that part of maturing as a people is to move towards supporting ourselves. Babies are beautiful, but aren’t supposed to stay babies their entire life. They grow up; they mature; they become adults; and part of being an adult is supporting one’s self financially.
So…doing that is something we work towards as a people. And when we get there…it’s going to feel really, really good.
Now we ask one another to make a pledge for a couple reasons:
The less important reason is to help us, as a community, plan some…which sounds like the opposite of what Jesus is saying today, but not necessarily. You can still live in God’s moment and trust in God’s Providence and make plans. You just hold the plans loosely, and laugh along with the Lord when God decides to do something different than we expected.
We don’t plan out of anxiety; or out of worry; or out of fear; or out of scarcity. We trust in Jesus, not our own might or power or plans.
But there is fine line between trusting God and testing God. We seek the former, not the latter. So we ask one another for our estimated commitment so that we can imagine our godly future responsibly.
That’s the less important reason. Here’s the more important reason:
A financial pledge is a way we invest emotionally in our common life. It’s a way to say “I’m here; I’m in; this is my people.”
It’s not the only way to say those things. We say the same thing when we’re here to worship; when we serve; and pray for one another; and meet one another for a meal or cup of coffee or in Bible study. It’s not the only way.
But it is one way, and it is one way that is just as important as all the others.
Jesus says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It’s his way of saying that our heart is formed by what we do. We do not give because our heart is moved, Jesus teaches. We give so that it can be moved. The heart follows the action, as it is in any other spiritual practice.
So next week, we have a bishop coming. We’ll have some fun. Sign up to bring something for lunch. Bishop Duncan is excited about being here. Before becoming a bishop, he spent twenty years serving in a new church that started in a school. He knows cafeterias, and I’ve told him we have the best school cafeteria in town.
And then later in the month, we’ll have a little family conversation. We’ll share a draft of a spending plan for 2019; a “current best guess” of what we think it’s going to cost to live into our godly purposes next year.
It’s not the final version. It’s a draft, around which to have some godly conversation. We’ll have a chance to see what it looks like; ask questions; make suggestions. And then after we’ve had a chance to connect around it for a little bit, we’ll do a couple things…
We’ll change the draft as we need to before we go into the new year…
And we will ask each of us to consider prayerfully how God is calling us to support financially the future we envision; and invite one another to make a commitment in November.
Now here are a couple thoughts…
One makes this commitment in conversation with God and one’s household. With God and those we love, we consider prayerfully what God is asking of us to so that we’re doing our part to support our common life. The Lord never asks us to do someone else’s part. Just our own.
More importantly, we’re considering what we need to give away so that we grow in our faith and trust in God.
The wealth we have each been given is a spiritual tool—like worship, and prayer, and study, and service, and fellowship—to help us grow in our walk with Jesus.
Jesus calls us to trust him…not abstractly; not theoretically; but in real life. The Lord teaches that if God takes care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, certainly God will take care of us. The Lord promises there will be daily bread; and that there will be enough; and that we don’t have to be afraid that there won’t; that we can live generously, because the Lord is good, and merciful, and gracious, and kind, and abundantly generous.
As I was pondering these words today, I found myself being taken back to a time in my life when all my thinking about money was scarcity thinking. There was a mortgage, and kids to get through college, and the cars were old, and the economy was in a really rough place. There were numbers that didn’t add up the way I wanted them to add up.
Maybe you’ve had moments like that in your life…
I was pretty anxious; as well, there was a fair hunk of shame for me because I’m a pastor, and while we’re all supposed to trust God, I’m really supposed to trust God.
Well, in the middle of that fear, let me tell you what God did in my life…a little witness; and I’m just a friend talking with friends…
First, the Lord convicted me that the way out of the fear wasn’t to hold on tighter, but to open my hands; and let go; and give more away. The more I clutched, the more anxious I would become. The path of salvation was letting go, not holding on. Release led to trust. Holding on led to fear.
And secondly, none of the things I was afraid would happen ever happened. I was more in the palm of God’s hand than I ever realized, to quote Isaiah…
The promises of God are true and sure. The world says “not enough.” God says “enough, and even more than enough.” And the act of giving of our wealth is one of the ways we practice trust in these promises.
When it comes to the actual amount that we each pledge to our common ministry, that’s between you, God, and your household. You decide.
I have one suggestion as we make this decision: find the sweet spot where stretching and joy intersect. Find that place where what we give away affects, in some small way, our lives and where we give ourselves the opportunity to let go a bit, and trust, and let God work on us; and where our giving is an act of joy and grace. Giving is always intended to be a release, not a burden.
Whatever it is we commit to give to what we’re doing together, we celebrate. We always celebrate, and give thanks, and live in gratitude.
Because whatever God does through each one of us will be enough for all of us. God’s provision is always perfect. And the act of giving is a joy, and a grace, and one small way we get to be a little bit more like the One who is the great Giver; who always has, and always will, give to us and all the world…healing, and restoration, and hope, and salvation, and life eternal.
It is a good future the Lord is giving us; we have received, grace upon grace; and it is a good purpose to which the Lord is calling us; and y’all are heroes. Among the really, really, really, really important things each of us have done in our lives, being part of this new, baby church…doing our part in word and deed and giving so we can walk into what the Lord has in store for us…is one of those things.
There’ll be more to say about this over the next little bit. But that’s enough for today.
It’s a grace to be on the adventure with you. God bless you.