Once a year, it is my task to stand before you and preach the Good News that it is Stewardship Season.
While you might hear “Fall Fundraising Campaign” and perhaps already tuned me out, what I want you to hear, what I hope you’ll hear, is the Good News part. For it is Good News. It is Very Good News.
It is Good News for many reasons.
It is Good News first because we have a community for whom we care at all.
While we might grumble about building repairs and utility costs, what an incredible thing that generations of people have handed us this place at this time to steward, care for and love.
I know others who are not so blessed; Others who wander searching for a community; have no place to call their spiritual home.
That we have a community for whom we are responsible is Good News. It is very Good News.
The second reason the beginning of the Stewardship Season is Good News is because it is not just any community of which we are stewards, but this particular community, with all of its incredible gifts and blessings, its flaws and challenges.
It is not a perfect community, just as none of us are perfect. But we strive to be more of who God made us to be as a community, just as we each yearn to be more of who God made each of us to be as individuals.
It is easy to look around and see all the things we aren’t doing, or things we could be doing better. But the fact that we want to be doing more and doing it better is a healthy sign, however exhausting.
It means we believe that God is not finished with us, and the fullness of the Kingdom of God remains just beyond our grasp. The hopes and yearnings in this place is a sign that we are committed to keep reaching. And that is good News. That is very Good News.
That it is Stewardship Season is Good News because much of what we are doing here is working. It is working for the organizations who receive 10% of our budget, that’s 10% of your pledge, through Ministry Outside the Parish. It is working for the twelve step groups who meet here six days a week. It is working for the seven hundred or so families served by the Food Pantry we host. It is working for the many, many recipients of the mission and outreach ministries we support.
And it is working for the people who come in through those doors each Sunday morning seeking a relationship with something greater than themselves, whether they call that community, God or Jesus Christ.
Let me share an email with you I received just two weeks ago. I share it with permission.
“A few years ago I came to St. Paul’s and brought my kids....became a member. But then we moved and for 2 years I've still enjoyed the emails … But I wanted to say a formal thank you. First, I hadn't gone to church in over a decade. I married outside the faith and it was just difficult. But St. Paul’s was so welcoming and loving and made me realize that I needed to come back, and raise my children with the joys of Sunday School and church gatherings. And I remembered how important it is to have Christ in my life […] Somehow I had lost that element of myself and it was hard to get it back.
I'm sending this email because I […] wanted to let you know that I appreciate and love St. Paul's so much .... .
It's a bit dramatic to say, but I think St. Paul's saved me.”
Some version of “I didn’t know church could be like this” is a refrain I hear almost every week in this place. Even as I listen to the stories of those of you who have been here for decades, the theme is the same. You found something new here, and you have committed yourself to seeing it continue.
That we are here makes a difference in people’s lives. Maybe not for everyone, every day, but if it only happened once, as it has for the writer of that email, wouldn’t it all have been worth it?
And it matters that we are here as a community of faith, preaching, teaching, sharing and living out the Love of God as we know it, in contrast to the version of church or Christianity we see on the news.
It matters that we are here, and that is Good News. That is very Good News.
Finally, and most importantly this morning, the reason that the beginning of Stewardship Season is good News is because it invites us to consider thoughtfully, and with the support of this beloved community, how we might, through our financial support of this place, reflect God’s generosity in our lives.
We get to take stock of all the many blessings God has showered upon us; joy, family, health, community, creation, laughter, food in our stomachs and a roof over our heads. We get to take stock of all of that and wonder what it would be like to be just as generous to God as God has been to us.
Of course, it is an impossible task, to be as generous as God is, but it sure is fun to imagine.
The talk of pledging in our house is probably not so different than in many of yours.
We have to remind ourselves that pledging is not about how much St. Paul’s needs us to give, but how much we are able to give.
We have to figure out our pledge in the context of many other obligations and organizations we support financially while remembering that our pledge to St. Paul’s is not simply a donation to a good cause, but a part of the transformation of our lives, putting our money where our hearts long to be.
We have to negotiate our life experiences of church and stewardship. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and began pledging at a young age. Paul grew up in another tradition in which the money came from the top down. We started pledging, many years ago now, with what seemed possible. For the past fifteen years or so, we have tried to increase our pledge by ten percent over the previous year’s pledge.
This year, the stewardship committee is asking all of us to consider proportional giving. So Paul and I sat down and figured out what percentage of our income we were pledging. And, after much conversation and budget analysis, Paul and I are committing to raising our pledge by one percent of our income.
It wasn’t an easy conversation. But we believe in what is happening here, and we are so grateful to God for all that God has given us. We are happy to have the chance to reflect a glimpse of God’s generosity.
Getting to pledge gives us the chance to reflect god’s generosity in a place we love, a place that works, a place that transforms lives, including our own. And that is Good News. That is very Good News.
So today is a day full of Good News.
Good News that we have a community for which to care.
Good News that our community is this community.
Good News that what we are doing in this place is working.
And Good News because we have the chance to reflect on God’s Generosity and then to reflect God’s generosity to the world.
And that is very Good News, indeed.
© 2015 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello