It’s time to talk about money – yours!
Jim Keenan and his canvass team like to call it ‘the sermon on the amount.’ The Gospel of James says, “Blessed are those who pledge early; blessed are those who pledge generously and responsibly.”
There’s a famous Biblical passage in the Gospel of Luke about the widow’s mite” “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
First of all, it is irresponsible to give away your food money or rent or mortgage money so that you wind up being dependent on others’ charity.
The story also raises the question about the religious leader’s role in the every-member canvass. How did Jesus know how much the poor widow put into the collection plate? How did he know how much money is appropriate for the rich contributors? What’s the clergy’s role with regard to raising the church’s annual budget?
There’s a popular belief that I’m not comfortable talking about money – it’s a myth, but like all good myths, there’s some truth in this one; maybe you’re not comfortable with me talking to you about money – about your money.
In her wonderful memoir Florida Scott-Maxwell writes: “A man once said to me, ‘I don’t mind your telling me my faults, they’re stale, but don’t tell me my virtues. When you tell me what I could be it terrifies me.’ I was surprised then, I understand now, because I believe we may be faced by the need of living our strengths.”
We’re faced with the need of living our strengths.
I’ve never had any illusions of grandeur, never wanted to have a mega church. Quite frankly I find it rather unbecoming of clergy and lay people alike.
But it is necessary to talk about money. Money makes the world go round. Money is a key ingredient to ‘what keeps this place going.’
So there’s some good news and bad news: the bad news is that we need more money; the good news is that we have it; the bad news is that it’s still in your pocket.
I should say ‘our pockets,’ since I, personally, make a responsible and generous pledge, practicing what I preach.
Money is not the root of all evil. That assertion is both a mis-quote and a mis-understanding.
The Biblical quote from Paul’s letter to Timothy says: ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have…pierced themselves with many griefs.’ Timothy 6:10
Charles Dickens created a character who personified it; Scrooge’s obsession with money and his need to hold on to as much as he could caused him to become what Dickens described as ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner…hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’
Scrooge’s stinginess with his money defines him, but he was also a responsible person with regard to his personal finances for which he deserves at least one, if not tow, cheers. He doesn’t deserve the third cheer though – the third cheer is not so much about money as it is about motive, not so much about the amount as the illusive thing we call ‘spirit.’
Jesus was judging the rich person’s motives, not, in this instance, practicing what he preached when he said, ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’
The positive part of the story of the widow’s mite is about that ingredient in one’s life that we call ‘generosity.’
Generosity is more than the willingness to give money, to share resources.
Generosity has a spiritual quality, if you will. It’s about the human potential for nobility. The French root of the word means ‘of noble birth.’
One kind of nobility is inherited, but another kind of nobility is born of caring – it’s about empathy, it’s about simple acts of kindness and compassion. It’s what makes us human; so it’s as close to a sacred ingredient as we can get.
I’m not saying these things to get you to give more money; I’m saying them because it’s the essence of what makes this a religious community…it’s the essence of us.
So my purpose is to praise that part of us – the development of character – the qualities that distinguish us as separate individuals, as moral and ethical agents in the world.
Avarice or greed is one of the seven deadly sins – deadly because they kill the human spirit: the other six are anger, sloth, lust, envy, gluttony and pride.
Money is not the root of all evil, but the lack of money is the root of lots of all kinds of difficulty and suffering. The lack of money is often the source of and despair – the lack of money is the root of all kinds of humiliation.
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil; the lack of money is the root of all kinds of suffering.
I’m not telling you something I think you don’t already know – I’m telling you so that you’ll know that I know; that I don’t live in an ivory tower, above it all.
What does it take to keep this place going? It takes money – yours and mine.
Jim Keenan and his canvass team have outlined the details about the money…the money that it takes to keep Ed, Perry, Jamie, Lily, Jan, John, David, Bobby and me on the staff.
If every member, or pledging unit, made an annual commitment of about $2,000 we’d be ship-shape. But many can’t, without taking it from mortgage money or the food budget.
But many who don’t could, and would, if they understood the need, if they knew that almost all of the money that it takes to keep this place going comes from annual pledges – about 3% comes from the weekly collection.
We pass the collection plate as a weekly reminder of our human need to share, a reminder of generosity that needs to be woven into the fabric of our lives. It matters!
I’ve suggested to Jim and his team that they avoid using words like donation or even contribution.
You probably know the fable about the cow, chicken and pig driving down the highway and they see a billboard with a picture of a balanced breakfast: bacon and eggs and a glass of milk.
The cow says, “I love seeing that picture,” and she smiles with pride. The chicken says, “Yes, it warms my heart.” The pig replies, “Easy for you two to say – for you it’s just a contribution, for me it’s total commitment!”
Now, of course, the old balanced breakfast picture would require proof that the eggs and milk came from a free-range chicken and a properly cared for cow — cut out the bacon altogether – too much cholesterol!
So, yes, it takes money to keep this place going. It takes more than money, however. It takes commitment to keep this place going. We are fortunate to have a committed staff.
It takes the commitment of volunteers doing all sorts of jobs, from singing in one or more of the choirs, or playing bells in the bell choir, to teaching and helping with the religious education program to serving on the Board; from working with the social justice programs to participating in the small group ministry program and the organization of our circles of care.
Commitment also involves attending Sunday services, and helping to create the lay-led summer services.
Commitment sometimes involves putting together a 25th anniversary celebration…
Speaking of which, one of my favorite numbers that night was when Vincent Simboli did his Elvis impersonation and sang at me: “You ain’t nuthin but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time…you ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine…they said you was high classed, but that was just a lie…”
As your senior minister I play an important part in what it takes to keep this place going, and I didn’t really need Vincent to remind me that there’s not unanimity about my work, my effectiveness, my ongoing tenure. I know that, and I’ve always known it. Opinions vary and different people take turns singing the hound-dog song.
At the beginning of my second year here I said, “Last year when the vote was taken there were four people who voted against my becoming the minister, and so far I’ve found sixteen of you.”
Of course it takes more than money to keep this place going. It takes energy and enthusiasm.
The etymology of the word enthusiasm is from the Greek word for god, theos; entheos. Enthusiasm is about a particular kind of human energy – the creative drive in us — it’s about creativity and originality.
For the Greeks, enthusiasm was a religious word – it’s about the spark of the divine in every person – the thing in us that moves us to care about other people…empathy and sympathy.
It’s also about the willingness to question old assumptions, to risk new ideas, the way folks fifty years ago risked when they came up with this creative architectural expression of our faith.
It takes a lot to keep this place going. It takes a lot of energy and hard work to go with that enthusiasm – it takes a lot of energizer bunnies!
It requires a degree of trust – trust in the process, trust in the people, trust in that which is beyond our knowing, beyond any money-back guarantees.
That brings us to another key ingredient; faith.
Not faith in the sense that the word is commonly used, meaning a belief system, but faith in the sense that acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers, now; faith is the ability to live the questions without being certain of outcomes or answers, or whether there are answers to the big questions. We have to have trust in the process, trust in the freedoms we cherish; trust in the use of reason, which we cherish; trust in the acceptance of one another’s ideas, beliefs and opinions.
In spite of the shallow notion that this is an easy religious path, a lot is required of us, including the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
While that’s not an easy thing to describe, we all know it when we see it.
And, since we fail from time to time, another ingredient that’s required to keep this place going is forgiveness.
To paraphrase Paul’s famous letter, we can speak all kinds of nice words, in our affirmation, our purposes and principles, our words of welcome and so forth, but if we don’t have love, it’s all for nothing.
We can contribute financially and in other ways, but if we lack that certain spirit, we become just ‘a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’
So it takes a certain kind of commitment summarized by 19th century Universalist minister Hosea Ballou: “Where there is love, no disagreement will do us harm; where there is not love no agreement will do us any good.”
It’s not easy being a responsible member or friend of this congregation for the same reason that it’s not easy being a person in any kind of meaningful relationship.
Thomas Gordon summarizes it nicely in a statement he calls ‘A Credo For My Relationships With Others’
“You and I are in a relationship, which I value and want to keep. Yet each of us is a separate person with unique needs and the right to meet those needs.
“When you are having problems meeting your needs I will listen with genuine acceptance so as to facilitate your finding your own solutions instead of depending on mine. I also will respect your right to choose your own beliefs and develop your own values, different though they may be from mine.
“However, when your behavior interferes with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly and honestly how your behavior affects me, trusting that you respect my needs and feelings enough to try to change the behavior that is unacceptable to me. Also, whenever some behavior of mine is unacceptable to you, I hope you will tell me openly and honestly so I can change my behavior.
“At those times when one of us cannot change to meet the other’s needs, let us acknowledge that we have a conflict and commit ourselves to resolve each such conflict without either of us resorting to the use of power to win at the expense of the other’s losing. I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own. So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us. Your needs will be met, and so will mine – neither will lose, both will win.
“In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs, and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.”
Yes, it takes money to keep this place going, but it takes more than money.
I’ll close with the story about Mr. McGregor, who owned a vineyard that produced great wines and brandies.
The minister of his church was a teetotaler who was always preaching about the evils of alcohol, which McGregor endured week after week without cutting his pledge!
When McGregor’s daughter was married there was a big reception at his home which the teetotaler minister attended. He mistakenly sipped some of McGregor’s prize cherry brandy and found he enjoyed it, so he whispered to McGregor a request to have some brought to the parsonage. McGregor was pleased and agreed, on one condition, he said – that the good reverend thank him for it in the church newsletter, to which he agreed, so McGregor sent a case of cherry brandy to the parsonage.
In the next issue of the newsletter the minister wrote: I want to thank McGregor for the delicious gift of fruit and the spirit in which it was delivered.
Thank you for your generous pledge to fully fund next year’s budget, and the spirit in which it has been, or will be, delivered!