It must have seemed like it was not enough. No matter what she did, Jean MacNevin must have felt like it was not enough. Each year, through countless inquiries, Jean would prevail upon Mr. Barnard and music ministry leaders of this church to do all that she could to keep the Kimball organ operational, beautiful and sound. Each year, Jean wrote checks to cover the cost of upkeep. Like the proverbial finger in the dike of the small Dutch boy, Jean's gifts kept the flood waters back and kept the Kimball limping along. Throughout her lifetime, she refused to pull her finger from the dike and allow her beloved Kimball organ to fade away. Still, it was never enough.
What became "enough" was the result of Jean's "sound theology." Realizing in her lifetime she could not fully sustain the Kimball, Jean did an amazing thing. In her last will and testament, Jean MacNevin left an immensely generous and significant gift to First Church for the purpose of fully restoring the Kimball Organ. As the will declared, (echoing Jean's clear intent), "If this gift is not enough to restore the Kimball organ, it should be used to enhance the worship of life of First Church."
Following Jean's death and the receiving of this gift, the excellent and dedicated lay leaders of this church embarked on a process to decide if Jean's gift was enough to make her dream come true. We went through several years of study, all the time seeking sound legal and financial advice, and solid investing of Jean's legacy. Finally, after this lengthy and extensive visionary process of discernment and planning, our leaders committed to engage both the Kimball and the Beckerath organs for teaching, nurturing, and sustaining generations of organists to come. Together, we made a prayerful and faithful decision to restore the Kimball through the technical virtuosity of the Peebles-Herzog Organ Company. We launched into the 2 ½ year project that has brought us to this day. Five years later, we have discovered and clearly proven what Jean knew in her heart of hearts - her gift was "enough."
I have called Jean's gift the result of "sound theology" for three reasons. First, Jean she made a clear decision to make a difference at First Church through the faithful living of her life. Second, she invested her money and shared it creatively and generously through the stewardship of her giving. Finally, Jean left us a legacy of love. (Summarize: 1)A life lived lovingly and faithfully. 2) Investments shared creatively and generously. 3) A legacy of love that will live on long after Jean has gone. This is sound theology!).
There is a story about Andrew Carnegie. One Friday, The New York Times published a story that Carnegie had given a huge gift to a church in New York City. By Saturday morning his pastor was on the phone with him. The conversation eventually came around to the gift given to another congregation. Carnegie's pastor asked why he had not given to the gift to his home church. Carnegie replied simply: "Because you never asked me for a gift."
I do not want to miss this opportunity. Today, I ask each one of you to give a gift as large and as creative, within each of your means, as you are able, to sustain and build-up this church. In essence, I implore to become a planned giving steward for First Church!
The Good Samaritan Fund, The Alma Keeler Fund, the Barnard Fund for Music, the Anonymous Major Projects Fund, the MacNevin Fund and many more funds at First Church have all grown out of a sound theology. In each case, one person, like Jean MacNevin - or a family - has stepped forward and shared a major gift that has left a lasting imprint on our ministry and our life together. These, and other exceptionally generous gifts have meant that money to serve the poor, to serve children and youth ministries, and to serve the musical ministry of First Church (to name a few) are here and will last - depending on the care and stewardship of the Trustees and Church Council. I can tell you, people in this church work hard to manage and grow these legacies of Love!
We still have tremendous ongoing needs in this church. We need money to pay tomorrow's bills. We can do that if every one of us meets our annual pledge commitments. We also need visionary and exceptional gift-givers who can sustain the building and then sustain and build up the mission and ministries of First Church.
Let me give share some examples of places we need visionary gift-giving. First, the Jeffrey Windows behind me and the Rose Window behind you on Broad St. each need significant work done on them in the coming years. Our beloved Beckerath Organ (which is resting today for the first time in thirty-four years) is in need of major repairs and improvements. Moreover, I have dreams and we have dreams and visions to be leaders in this city - through expanding our ministries for justice and witness in and with the city; developing ministries for children and youth - in the area of education, mission, art, music, and drama; and strengthening our health ministries for all ages in this congregation and throughout our neighborhood. To make dreams come true, it will take the stewardship of your lives in weekly and annual giving. Yet it will also take one, two, three or more of you stepping forward with legacies of love - gifts that will keep on giving for years to come. That is Sound Theology.
When I saw today's scripture lessons, I had to laugh because they speak of stored treasures of silver and gold, priests with trumpets, slaughtered creatures with seven horns, seven eyes and seven spirits, blood ransomed for saints, and myriads of myriads of angelic choirs. As I meditated on these texts while traveling through Selma, Alabama, I could not help but think that our Music Minister was planning a requiem of sorts and had invited the heavenly host. I wondered aloud in prayer, "Lord, has the choir grown this much in my absence and is Tim Smith sending me an unequivocal signal about the nature of this service and the end of time?" As I prayed and chuckled (and chuckled and prayed), my heart and mind were drawn within the books of Chronicles and the Revelation of John to other texts (texts I might add - that a pastor, rather than a Music Minister would choose).
In I Chronicles 26:27 it reads, "From booty won in battles they dedicated gifts for the maintenance of the house of the Lord." (See Tim, this passage is clear! It speaks for itself!). Then again in I Chronicles 29:3-5, we hear about gold and silver, but not about how it is stored in the house of the Lord. Rather, the text declares, "Because of my devotion to the house of my God, I give (my gifts) to the house of my God . . . (The author goes on to speak of 3,000 talents of gold and 7,000 talents of refined silver and concludes with this question) Who then will offer willingly, consecrating themselves today to the Lord?" In other words, who will live out their legacy of Love for the Lord? Who will dedicate and consecrate themselves and their gifts and tithes to that purpose?
Finally, Rev.21:1-6a, reminds us that God is continuously and constantly creating, recreating and renewing life. Our God is now and forever, wiping away every tear, ending death itself and making all things new. There is a new heaven and a new earth. Our Christ is the Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end. God is doing this here and now. God will do it forevermore. It is enough to proclaim with joy, "Thanks be to God for the legacies of love at First Church!"
It is sound theology. Amen.
Copyright 2004, The First Congregational Church