Today I am mulling over the unfolding of events at the Annual Meeting. I find it ironic that AGM’s happen during Lent as a reminder that we navigate difficult and dangerous terrain as we walk with Jesus toward the cross.
I don’t know why it is, but generally the Church has this sense of panic that the money must be safe-guarded and socked away. Sometimes those who have a vision for mission and outreach are frustrated to be told that there is no money for mission when there is money for new sound systems. Sometimes the Finance Committee is frustrated because there is so much emphasis placed on reaching out and doing mission without a clear vision of how to practically make it feasible to finance the new endeavor.
It is a dilemma.
Today I read the account of the woman anointing the feet of Jesus, and was somewhat comforted to know that disagreements about money have always been with us. The discouragement of that is that disagreements of money will also always be with us. And so every year we rediscover the balance that allows mission and ministry to happen, while also being good stewards of the financial resources and the generosity of the people of the congregation.
And that for me is the key point. The generosity of the people. It has been my experience that when congregations engage in worthwhile mission and ministry that the finances will follow.
Interestingly enough, that is the correct order.
One person at the meeting yesterday commented that thriving and growing congregations frequently face financial hurdles as they undertake ministry and pray for the finances to fuel the mission.
The other side of the coin can be seen in congregations where the purse strings are so tightly held that fear overrules faith, and without a mission focus to give the congregation purpose, decline follows.
How to speak to the faith, the vision and the passion is a question that requires constant attention.
The answer is generosity.
We know the story of the woman, at the home of Simon the leper who comes into the dinner party and anointed Jesus with a very expensive perfume. It is an act of gratitude, and faith. It is the full extravagance of worship. Without a doubt what we give to God needs to come from hearts overflowing with love, gratitude and joy.
I would say at this point that the call to fund and finance the vision for mission, to reach out to the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the refugee and the prisoner in the name of Christ must bring forth in us that same generosity of spirit…. Generosity of out time and talents as well as our finances.
I would say that…. except before I can go there we need to look at the rest of this text.
When the disciples saw what was happening, they were furious. “That’s criminal! This could have been sold for a lot and the money handed out to the poor.” Matthew 26: 9 MSG
What is happening here? Surely there is more to faithful living than helping the poor!
Jesus is clear in his response.
“Why are you giving this woman a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives, but not me. When she poured this perfume on my body, what she really did was anoint me for burial. You can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she has just done is going to be remembered and admired.”Matthew 26: 11-13 MSG
Indeed those who need our help will always be with us. And Jesus is not saying that we should not work to alleviate their condition, but that our work and mission needs to come from a proper heart…. a heart that overflows with love for Jesus. We need to show our love in worship and extravagant praise. We need to pour ourselves out before God and in that place discover what God is calling us to do. It is about more than throwing money at the need that we see, it is about giving ourselves and our finances as we are directed by God.
And that is important for all of us to remember. When we start to engage in a mission are we certain that this is what God is asking of us? When we start a new project to upgrade equipment or buildings are we sure that this is what God is asking of us?
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. Psalm 127:1 NIV
I think that for all of us, and I certainly know this is true for me, we forget an essential factor before we step out in faith or commit ourselves financially. WE FORGET TO ASK WHAT GOD WANTS. In the parable of the anointing, what God wanted was that the sacrifice that Jesus was about to make be made holy by the anointing of oil. When we plan to build our mission or build onto our building we need to ask, what does God want, because it is only in seeking God’s will that what we do will be holy.
Today’s Prayer: GENEROSITY
Gracious and Glorious God, we want to live so that you are glorified in all that we do
Encourage us to always seek your well before we do anything
Nourish in us a desire to know you more fully and respond only to your voice
Order our lives so that loving you generously and serving you genorously are hallmarks of our livinng
Repeat again and again your call until we listen and more importantly hear
Open our hearts to respond to what we hear you saying
Shape us in your image
Instill in us a desire to be servants
Teach us what is necessary for generous living
Your love is what we need to be faithful. Amen