Yesterday’s sermon is available on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.
Mark Twain once said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” Isn’t that the truth? It feels good to get a well-deserved pat on the back, but what if I told you that there was one compliment that could guarantee you eternal life? I’m not saying that if you don’t hear these words, you’re doomed to be thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, but Jesus seems to. In this morning’s Gospel lesson the Master tells two of his slaves the words that I long to hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Just think about it. You’ve just died peacefully in your bed, with your family by your side, when you find yourself standing in front of the Pearly Gates. As you look up at the grandeur of Heaven that is infinitely more than you could ever even imagine, you see Jesus standing before you, arms outstretched with a wide, toothy smile, saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Oh man, that would be the best. The good news is that those words are so simple to hear. All we have to do is be good stewards of the gifts that God has given us.
If we take the parable of the talents at face value, then this is a story about how we use our material wealth. The landowner had money upon money. He was Scrooge McDuck rich and he wanted to get richer, so rather than put his money in a safe while he went on his journey, he gave it to three of his servants so that they could continue the work in his absence. To the first he gave 5 talents, 75 years’ worth of wages. To the second, he gave two talents, 30 years’ worth. Finally, the third he have one talent, 15 years’ worth of money. Upon his return, the first servant gave him back 10 talents, the second had four to give, but the third returned only the one talent. The third servant’s sin, it seems, was that he was too paralyzed by the fear of scarcity to realize the abundance of the gift of his master. He had roughly $375,000 at his disposal and was afraid to lose even a penny of it. Through this parable, Jesus calls us to not hold onto the material things of this world, but to take the risk of sharing them for the up-building of the Kingdom of God.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last seven-plus years, I’ve talked with someone about financial stewardship and heard them say, “I’m just afraid there won’t be enough.” I get it. I said that for many years. Prior to going to seminary, and even through seminary, I subscribed to a left-over model of scarcity giving. Whatever cash was left over in my pocket on Sunday morning, less what I needed for brunch after the service, was what went into the plate. My average monthly gift was probably $15.00, and there was never enough money. When I got ordained, Cassie and I made the decision that if I was going to ask people to give God 10% of their income then as a family, we also needed to tithe. These days, our donations include 7% to Saint Paul’s, 2% to EduKenya, and 1% to Beckwith. Roughly $625 a month goes out the door, off the top, to support the work of the Kingdom, and you know what, there is rarely enough money. Just a few months ago, we had one of those months where the car broke down. Twice. The kids needed school clothes. Someone got sick, of course, and the month simply ran longer than the money. In the midst of feeling sorry for myself, I went through our financials and realized just how much we had given away and do you know what I felt? I felt the joy of the master. There may not have been enough money that month, but there was most certainly enough.
I tell you this not to make the Pankeys look good or to make you feel bad, but to tell you that the joy that God promises for those who are faithful stewards of his bounty is real, it is available, and it surpasses anything that money can buy. The other reason I’m telling you this is that I don’t think this parable is just about an individual or even a family. I think this story is about Saint Paul’s in Foley. On Monday evening, your vestry approved a preliminary 2015 Plan for Mission that is all about taking the gifts God has given us and using them for his honor and glory. For 2014, our budget is $340,000 dollars which includes little, if any outreach. Outreach happens, of course, but through a $25,000 shadow budget of Valentine’s Dinners, chili sales, and special requests. For 2015, we plan to take seriously the Master’s call to be about the work of the kingdom by being good stewards of our money, our staff, our buildings, and our people. Based on the feedback we received during last fall’s Community Conversation meals, we’re planning to continue to grow in education, fellowship, children’s ministry and outreach. We’re beginning to stock-pile for the new roof that’s five years out. We’re budgeting for our youth to take a summer mission trip without having to dress up like waters to beg for money. We’re planning for several fellowship events that will bring the whole family together to simply enjoy one another’s company. We hope to raise our Diocesan pledge from 4.5% to 6%, with a goal of tithing to the Diocese within 5 years. And because our baptismal covenant calls us to reach out beyond 506 North Pine Street in a big way, we plan to make $40,000 available for mission and outreach within our local community, including half the down payment for a Habitat for Humanity house. We’ve set aside some money to upgrade the furnishings in the Mission House, formerly known as the Education Building, to better accommodate the 1,000 or so heads in beds each year, funds to repair the ceiling in the AA Building, and the ability to make several significant gifts to other worthy causes. The lesson that I learned from the Parable of the Talents this week is that we aren’t called simply to exist where we are; we are called to take risks in order to make a difference as the hands and feet of Christ in Foley, Alabama.
In the coming days, you will be invited to make a commitment to the Plan for Mission at Saint Paul’s. The key to this plan’s success is having pledges toward our goal of raising $438,463.67 in 2015, a 15% increase over this year. Without the commitment of the whole congregation to make this Mission happen, we simply can’t do it. We know 100% participation is impossible, but it’s our goal anyway. By my count, we have approximately 160 families at Saint Paul’s. In 2014, 30% of those families made a pledge making up 60% of our budget. This year, it is our hope to reach 100% pledge participation, funding 100% of our Plan for Mission. Whether you have been pledging for years or have never made a pledge before, I know that it is unreasonable for me to expect you to jump from wherever you might be to giving away 10%. It took getting ordained for me to finally do it, but I hope that you’ll consider looking at where you are now and investing 15% more in the Plan for Mission. If you’re giving $10 a month, try $11.15. If you’re giving $100, shoot for $115. If you’re giving $1,000 a month, how about $1150? Together, we can live into the dream that God has for us.
Of course, this parable isn’t just about money; it is also about your skills as a carpenter, computer programmer, photographer, master gardener, grandparent, teacher, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker and how you use them to build up the kingdom of God. For Saint Paul’s in Foley to live into our Plan for Mission, it’ll take everybody’s talents: financial and otherwise, with a dash of risk and a whole lot of faith in a Master who loves us beyond measure. In the end, it is the my hope, Keith’s hope, and the hope of your vestry that we’ll look back on 2015 as a year in which God blessed us with a warm embrace and the soothing words, “Well done, good and faithful servants.” Amen.