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Stewardship Reflection: Jim Sullivan

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November 19, 2017  — Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Guest Speaker: Jim Sullivan

Today’s Readings:

Judges 4:1-7
Psalm 123
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Matthew 25:14-30

 

Stewardship Reflection

Good morning.  I want to start by thanking Ryan Basten for asking me to share some words with you today.  The Bastens seem to have a “knack” for the “ask.” Ryan’s father Rod played a role in my coming to this place some 20 or so years ago – by simply asking me to come one Sunday and try it out. Ryan’s grandmother Frances was, perhaps, the queen of the ask.  Not long after I started attending CTK the phone rang: “Jim, this is Frances Basten. Could you please bring a dish to the church supper in two weeks?”

I must also thank Beth Vargas and Emily O’Keefe for their thought provoking and moving words on previous Sundays.

And today(at the 10), welcome home to Bethany and Steve Halloran, Xander and soon to be baptized Owen Rodney Halloran.  What a special day.  (I do not want to take too much time away from the celebration of this baptism and the Eucharist we are all here to celebrate as well.)

Growing in love….striving for justice.  Welcoming newcomers of all kinds with open arms.  Gratitude. Inclusion. Food. (Morning Prayer), Children. Wonderful music.  Giving.  Spiritual and emotional support. These are common themes and realities around here.  This is a very special place. There is so much that is right about Christ the King, including a willingness to examine what could be better.  We have been so blessed as a church community.

Which brings me to “talents” –

The one who had received the five

talents went off at once and traded

with them, and made five more

talents. In the same way, the one who

had the two talents made two more

talents. But the one who had received

the one talent went off and dug a

hole in the ground and hid his

master’s money.

-Matthew 25:16-18

Talents. It’s a word that we don’t usually hear in the biblical context of a measurement of weight or a monetary unit.  We usually think of it as a special ability or aptitude. “She’s got talent!” According to one dictionary, in ancient times, a talent was worth @3000 shekels or 6000 Greek drachmas.  Hey, let’s just call it $1000 bucks. So one servant turns 5K into 10, another 2K into 4.  That’s a high rate of return!

There has always been something about this parable though  that I didn’t like, or that upset me. Maybe it’s because I’m a lousy investor. Maybe it’s because I have passed up opportunities over and over during my life out of fear – fear of a bad grade, fear of a wrong note, fear that I wasn’t good enough, or would make an embarrassing mistake. Before she went off to college I tried to instill in my daughter Jenni a sense that she should be willing to take risks with her course choices and not fear getting a low grade.  Though she’s not here to defend herself, this may have led to a slight over emphasis on sports and partying.  But she also sought out the best professors in challenging and varied subject areas.  They challenged her and changed her profoundly and sometimes made her sweat to get a C. She didn’t shy away from a challenge.  She didn’t “bury her talent.”

A key turning point in my sense of belonging to this place came from these Stewardship reflections by members of the church.  As a rookie churchgoer, I was witnessing something very new.  A public expression of the speaker’s deep commitment to this church – of time and talent and very importantly treasure – and it made a deep impression on me.  In my early years here at Christ The King, it never really dawned on me that someone had to pay for electricity and heat, insurance, salaries, flowers, music, roofs, lawn mowing, and so on. I guess I thought it just happened.  It was “the Church!” after all. But it doesn’t just happen.  We all make it happen through our gifts of the three t’s- particularly the last one.

 

A tour of duty on the Vestry really brought this home to me.   The vestry is creating next year’s budget right now.  They will go through every line and question it. Rarely do they discover something we don’t need or could comfortably do without.  Often they discover there’s more we want to do, or that something needs to be repaired or upgraded now, before we have an emergency. Or maybe the price of oil goes up 30%  If so, how do we heat the place? Or that the time has come for a capital campaign. You can be certain that they are all waiting anxiously to see how pledges come in. That we all take the time to think about and make a financial commitment to the church allows the vestry to do its work with numbers in hand.  And the best way to make a contribution is with a pledge.

For many, many years, 19 to be exact, our friend and brother Jim Blair was the chair or co-chair of the stewardship committee.  Each year he would send us a letter with a chart. Then the following Sunday he would stand up and explain. On the left  (vertical axis) were household incomes from zero to $150,000 or so.  Going along the right line (horizontal) were percentages of income from 1% to 10% and in the boxes on the graph you could privately find your income and see how much a certain percentage of pledge would mean to you.  Then he would talk about the church goal of the 10% tithe and we would all look at that number – and I, and I suspect others would think “whoa! – that would be a radical change in my life.”  Just a few moments later he would add…. “but if every household would pledge just 3.5 or 4%, even though it’s less than we are supposed to pledge, we could make the budget we are trying to put together including our commitments to outreach.”  “Hmm” I would think – “I bet I can do that!” And thus started my journey toward a financial commitment.

Now, I don’t know if that percentage then corresponds to our needs now, but I suspect it does.  Alison has asked us to consider a 5% increase in our pledge from last year. Most of us can do that.  Some can do more and they can help support those who simply cannot. The key my friends is the pledge.  Only you know what you can afford and we must be careful not to overextend and pledge more than we can afford.  But no matter the amount you decide, having the number in hand as we start the new year helps a lot. If you can e-pledge, even better as it creates a predictable, steady monthly income that makes paying monthly bills a lot easier, especially salaries and utilities.

Perhaps another way to think of “talents” is to equate them with love – the love we have to give in the world.  Love is such a crazy thing.  We can’t always control it.  But in order to have it, we have to take risks – because those things which we love most can be lost -and we hurt when they are. But if we avoid expressing love, if we shy away from it, if we bury it, where does that leave us?

San Juan de la Cruz – Saint John of the Cross – a 16th Spanish mystic wrote: “al atardecer de la vida nos examinarán del amor” “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” Let’s acknowledge openly all that this church means to us and invest our love in it, and watch it double in value, again and again.

Amen

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