“To sacrifice something is to make it holy by giving it away for love.”
–Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking
I had a volunteer office administrator for my first three months of ministry; she was an amazing and valuable help to me in getting to know the congregation and a great support. The only problem was that she was new and I was new to church work. We did, I believe, an admirable job of making things up as we went…planning Advent, setting up a nominating committee, and the like. Then November came…and an elder walked into the office and frankly asked: “So…are we skipping the budget this year?”
It was on that day that I vowed that I’d never be caught off guard again…and why I’ve set up the practice of preaching stewardship in October. In part, as a routine, but also because I think that it’s vital that the church talk about service through a variety of gifts with intention and purpose. If you read ahead in the newsletter, I’m going to break that pattern and not specifically preach stewardship this year, but we are going to begin structuring plans and estimations for next. There is, of course, a huge catch. For all of us. What in the world does 2021 look like? For any of us?
I know that the proposition of looking into the future is a bit dicey for some of us right now; it is hard for us not to look into 2021 with uncertainty, hesitation, grief, and fear. And, of course, we don’t need to go far to discover that we are not alone in this fear. Political, societal, and financial situations in flux lead the evening news and increase our anxiety and feelings of instability. Many of us face unique uncertainty in our lives: medical issues, unpredictable financial situations, and ongoing tensions in relationships that would be hard to navigate even without the coronavirus.
Facing this uncertain future, it often feels safer and easier to simply retreat and retract. It is easier to embrace anger, bitterness, apathy, and blame.
But a look not only at the story of God, but the history of Northminster provides a different vision. In Joseph, Ruth, Esther, Jeremiah, David, and Paul we see God’s ability to bring hope out of uncertainty. In the risk of initial planting, fear of conflict, and tragedy of loss, Northminster has remained full of joy and hope. God continually shows in that God’s generosity and vision remain constant…even in hard times. And so we have the audacity to look forward to 2021. We will once again proclaim the story of a gracious God that never stops giving us life and hope. We will creatively look at how God calls us, regardless of our situation, to remember what is truly important. We will look at how God calls us beyond our grief, anxiety, and uncertainty to the stable, unbending, unchanging gift of life.
In other words, we will be about the work of stewardship. We will celebrate God’s faithfulness, even in 2020. We will give thanks for the impact of generosity and sacrifice in our community and in church family. Things may look a little different as far as stewardship is concerned this year, but the root of all of it will remain the same. It is not about guilt or obligation or the church demanding that you “pay up.” It’s about taking a look, especially during new and difficult times, and realizing how much we have truly been given by God. And then, even in uncertainty, giving some of it back so that others might experience the grace and hope we have experienced.
God’s grace and life are always present, working, and life-changing. We can look to the future in the midst of uncertainty and say with all confidence that we may not have a very clear picture of what lies ahead; but, to the service and glory of God, we’re going to have a reason to serve, a reason to come together, and a reason celebrate.
Grace and Peace,