Today, I need to lift up two church changing events on the nearby horizon of our future together. First, on October 23rd, just two Sundays from now at 10:00 a.m., you are all invited (members and friends) to come to the sanctuary for a congregational meeting on our Long Range Plan. Throughout the last eight months, under the leadership of Tom Stewart and the Long Range Planning Committee, listeners from this congregation were trained and availed themselves to you to listen to your joys and concerns; your dreams and visions for your beloved First Church. They listened to thousands of great insights and ideas from hundreds of members. Then they boiled the thousands of ideas into eight goals for your consideration - an amazing task in itself.
They completed what the Lord told the prophet Habakkuk to do in 2:2-3; Write the vision: make it plain on tables, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time, it speaks of the end and does not lied. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come. It will not delay.
Members received a mailing about this the week of September 25th. Everyone else can read these on our website, www.First-Church.org or in the "First Church News" newsletter which was mailed October 5 and is available in the information rack by the 9th St. exit.
These goals are a road map for the future. Through yet developing objectives to meet these goals, you will provide the street maps and house addresses and the meal plans for future development. Thanks be to God for your insights garnered through the summer fo 2005 by careful listening. Thanks be to God for Tom Stewart and the Long Range Planning Committee! While other congregations may flounder, bicker, and toil with no seeming direction, we are blessed with these goals which are harnessing a future of hope for First Church!
The second great event is our Consecration Sunday, October 30th at both services of worship. With the theme: It's a new day, grow in your giving, our Stewardship Committee, under the joyful, patient, and loving leadership of Judy Smith has put together an incredible program - which now includes an exciting video on this congregation and your thoughts about Stewardship and faith. Last week, I signed and mailed a letter to all members and friends homes in this congregation. The theme couldn't say it better. As individuals, families, and as a congregation - we need to grow in our giving.
Because we have been blessed with steady membership growth, we have not felt the total effects of losing some of our greatest stewards in the last 18 months. Truthfully, we have lost over $40,000 of pledges through death in the past 18 months. The range of pledges of those saints who have entered glory were somewhere between $2,500 - $10,000+. In other words, every one of them was a greater than average giver (the average is around $2,200).
Some of you, having recognized this, have sent in extra dollars on your pledges. One family added a fund-raising challenge goal of $3,000 which we have met. Thank you so much! One member, in his early 60's asked me shortly after the loss of his friend Herb Cook Sr., how much we lost in Herb's pledge. When I told him it was a five figure pledge, without flinching he said, "I will step forward to help. It is on me and my generation to step up and keep this church strong and growing." I am deeply grateful for this man's thinking and his actual commitment to this congregation and our mission and ministry. However, I must tell you it is rare. Most of us have done nothing to step up and make a difference. That is why our 2005 budget was the same as our 2004 budget. Our vision is growing, but our giving is not growing.
Leaders lead. In our Congregational tradition, congregational leaders and members must carry their churches. We have no one else but use to take the reins of leadership and pledge contributions that make a difference. We must give until it helps! Pledged contributions are one of the most important ways we show positive leadership.
In 2006 we need every household in our membership to increase their giving. If you pledge nothing, remember, the average pledge is $2,200 or 42.00/week. Think about the percentage of your budget you spend on movies, candy, lunches and dinners out, and other forms of entertainment. Based on that alone, how does your giving to church stack up? If you give nothing and can start beyond the average, do it. If you have limited household income, do not hurt yourself with a pledge out of your range. Clearly, that is not helpful to us or the church.
If you are giving at the average ask yourself: "Why?" My guess is that many of us have greater ability to give than we are currently attaining and we never think twice about it. We worry about purchasing new cars, new furniture and furnishing, but we never think twice about increasing our giving to the ministry and mission of the church. I say this because I have witnessed five years in the cycle of giving at First Church. In those five years, I have seen many family incomes grow, while the percentage of pledge support has not grown much, if at all from households capable of giving more. In the mailing coming to your homes the week of October 23rd, you will receive a calculator which asks you to increase your giving as a percentage gift giver. Please pray about this. Fill out the calculator and come ready to grow in your giving for 2006.
One last word - if you are a great giver - giving 5% or 6% or a tither at 10% - you inspire me! Thanks be to God for the joy you know and share in your giving. As a leading giver in this congregation, you too can step forward and invest even more in our future. You, of all people, know that. And I am deeply grateful for your passion for this place and your giving which makes us all grow as givers. It is a new day. We can grow in our giving.
Two church changing events on the nearby horizon of our future together. One calls for a blessed plan to shape our future life together in Christ. The other calls for you to invest in that plan so that our future together is bright! I realize this is not a typical sermon today in which the focus is scripture and theology. But, today, I felt a need to address these significant church changing events.
Three thoughts in closing. Sarah Garbe brought me excerpts from a book on John Frederic Oberlin (1740-1826), the namesake of Oberlin College. Oberlin was the pastor of the Ban de la Roche, a remote severely underdeveloped valley in the Vosges mountains of northeast France. For 59 years he guided this pastorate - transforming barren slopes to hillside farming, banishing illiteracy, sloth and disease in the parish, creating the world's first infant schools, and he was the first educator anywhere to train and employ women as teachers. Although he stayed in this valley most all of his days, his name and works were known throughout Europe and America. Ironically, Oberlin never saw the town or the college named for him.
Oberlin was an amazing steward. Drawing from his interpretation of the Pentateuch, Oberlin gave exactly two tenths play one 30% of his total income away each year. He considered this the irreducible minimum for his annual giving. Rather than give 10% and then 30% every third year, as suggested in Deuteronomy 14, he calculated a double tithe each year with 1% on top to ease the pain of a 30% tithe in the third year. Is it any wonder, he changed the world in which he lived and the college named for him continues to do the same? Consider John Frederic Oberlin when calculating your giving this fall. What an inspiration!
Finally, I lift up our texts today from Philippians and Exodus. In Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle lifts up the need for unity in the church. He highlights the work of Euodia and Syntyche, two women of faith who are leaders in the Philippian community. He lifts up joy in the Lord and the need for gentleness among Christians. He lifts up the need for prayer which alleviates the need to worry. In all these things, Paul says, the peace of God which passes understanding will guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
As in Paul's time, I see too much lying, dishonor, injustice, impurity, unkindness, unpleasantness, un-commendable behavior, below average approaches to life and faith, and putdowns in our times. Each one of us must banish this from our pathway. Instead, live into Paul's qualities of life and love as guides for your life: truth, honor, justice, purity, what is pleasing and commendable, excellence and praiseworthiness. MY brothers and sisters in Christ, take these lessons home and apply them to your personal life, your work life, your family life.
In Exodus, Moses goes up to the mountaintop to talk with God. As the saying goes, "While the cat's away, the mice will play." Aaron leads the people to make golden calves to worship. Seeing this, God wants to destroy the people. "Get out of my way Moses," says the Lord. "let me at them! I shall destroy them, but of you I will make a great nation." Moses intercedes and mediates on behalf of his stiff-necked people. He talks God off the edge - of the mountain. Exodus 32:14 tells us that "Yahweh changed his mind...."
God is not indecisive. Rather, God's justice is tempered with mercy. So, as you consider your life, and the future of this church, which you love, I ask you to change your minds, too. If you have already decided what (if anything) you are planning to pledge, be open to change. If God can change God's mind, certainly it is possible for you to do the same. Amen.
Copyright 2005, The First Congregational Church