Loving our Neighbours & Neighbourhood
Our Call to be Church and an Invitation to Stewardship
1 Samuel 1:4-20; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10: 11-25; Mark 13:1-8
Sunday, November 18, 2018 – Stewardship Sunday
The Season of the Saints
Knox-Metropolitan United Church – Regina, SK – Treaty 4 Territory
This morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus looking with disdain at the buildings of the temple in Jerusalem, stating that not one of them will remain one on top of the other, followed by portents of wars and rumours of war and a call to remain faithful as the world goes through birth pangs — well, it all may seem like an odd reading to accompany a reflection on giving, about stewardship.
Odd, but I think actually quite workable.
This reading when pulled out of the scope of the narrative of the Gospel of Mark, sticks out, feels apocalyptic, and Jesus sounds like a bit of a conspiracy nut — but when taken, embedded into the narrative itself, feels much more in line with the great arc developed.
Just before Jesus and his friends walk out to look at the stones of the temple, which Jesus states will not remain one on top of the other, is the episode we read last Sunday, in which the rich and powerful of Jerusalem’s elite pour money into the temple treasury and then an old widow gives her final two pennies.
I suggested last week, as have many before that this is in fact about power and oppression not about generosity, because the treasury is not actually the equivalent to our offering plates, and in Jesus’ time giving to the temple is not like giving to the church or synagogue. It is where one brings their taxes — and under this system the poorest are being forced to give more than they can, at risk of their own survival.
So then when Jesus condemns the temple, he is not condemning one religion (Judaism) while extolling another (Christianity) — although it has far too often been read in these terms. Jesus, I would argue is offering a graphic, image-laden reminder that the institution (in this case the temple) must be judged by the way it improves the state of the lives of those under its care. This has been Jesus’ message throughout
the whole of this Gospel.
For us today, in churches and other communities of faith, we might ask, in what way is our institution making tangible difference in the lives of those with whom we are finding ourselves in relationship. Add to this Jesus’ warning of the wars to come, and the naming of the time of birth pangs — when read against Jesus’ ministry throughout Mark, reminds that Jesus is building community that equips those with whom he connects to live lives of justice and mercy in the midst of the real challenges of their time, and in so doing to make other ways of living — maybe even another world possible.
This year during our month of Stewardship reflections, we have as we have done over the past years begun with stories — stories of people who have found themselves at Knox-Metropolitan United Church, and have found here something that has brought value, hope, healing, inspiration into their lives.
On All Saints Day we heard from Debra Burnett about her aunt Beverly, how the church was there for her in times of challenge and in times of celebration, and today we heard from Morgan about the role of church in her life.
This is, I believe where any conversation about faithful stewardship begins — rooted in the fruit growing in the lives of real people, finding that which they need to navigate their own world, and being to embody a world beyond that which we see all around us.
I wonder what story you might carry about this congregation, community, building, these services with you? If we had the time to share with one another and listen it would be great to hear sometime. The significance this community has had can be seen in many of the legacy gifts offered to continue the work of Knox-Metropolitan United Church into the future. Dr. Evenden, the Edna and Murray Forbes Foundation, Beverly Bennett, and gifts in memorial of beloved members of the church who have recently passed away — all given in gratitude for the presence of this community, and out of a belief of what effect this community can have on the lives of those it touches for years to come.
Over the past many years this congregation has worked to decrease dependence on these funds to cover shortfalls in operating expenses, in hopes that these gifts would be present for years to come, or to allow significant investments in the future to be made, not simply to keep lights on.
In 2016 the church had to budget a transfer of $250,000 from investments to cover expenses, in the end, through careful management, generous givings and hard working fundraising closer to $175,000 was needed. In 2017 that number reduced to just over $90,000, and though in 2018 we budgeted $150,000, financial projections for the rest of this year look to be closer to $100,000. This is all good news even though still indicative of a longer-term challenge.
The good work and positive results seen over the past years does not mean that we need not be concerned about divide between revenue and expenses, but I would suggest that the vision of how Knox-Met can continue to impact positively the lives of individuals and our shared life together makes that divide a challenge compelling enough to face with enthusiasm and hope.
Attendance and offerings are increasing, rental income contributes a much needed amount, second only to offerings and givings, while ongoing and new fundraising, special donations and community grants provide the remainder of the income of this congregation.
Our Being There When the Future Comes campaign, named in 2017 to gather together our work around strategic direction for the future and considerations about possible building projects has the questions of sustainability at front of mind. This Tuesday morning we welcome just over 50 people representing 40 organizations – arts, community services, faith groups, developers, Regina Planning and Management and more to come and join a facilitated conversation about the role Knox-Met does play and could play in the future of the downtown.
The high attendance certainly speaks to the belief even outside the church community that the presence of Knox-Met in this city indeed makes a positive impact in the lives of people who live here, whether or not they attend worship on Sunday morning.
This accompanies the Small group discussions held last winter around Tables about what the Knox-Met of the future will look like, as well as the Congregational Conversation about vision held in August.
After Tuesday’s conversation, a report will be developed by the EDGE Network for Ministry Development in the United Church and will be presented to the Congregation about what was heard — from there the congregation will again enter conversation about what possible directions these findings might invite us to consider.
In the meantime, we continue to speak to one another about the significance and respond in what way is most appropriate to our own situation.
This morning we began delivering envelopes with information about Stewardship for 2019. You will find within a letter about our situation and our goals in ministry, as well as an invitation to consider personal and family contribution. There is a purple sheet that can be placed in offering plates over the next month, returned to the office throughout the week, scanned and emailed or phoned in.
And as always the first invitation to stewardship this year – is a call to share stories.
The letter you will receive mentions the lists that hung in the Lower Hall throughout September, looking at new innovations, activities, and physical improvements to the building since the Future Plan was adopted in 2012 — things that we can celebrate in our ministry together – but these are all program highlights. What I have not been able to share – is how individuals have been impacted – for those stories are yours to share.
If we had the time, to wander through this room today and invite each one gathered here to share how this place has been and continues to be an important place for you – I wonder what stories we’d find. I wonder, during what difficult moments in life you have found strength, whether in the words of faith, sung, spoken and pondered in this place – or through the presence of a community of friendship, prayer and support?
I wonder, whether in moments of loneliness you have found here a warm greeting, whether a sharing of peace has met you?
I wonder whether you have inspired here – whether you have been nourished here?
I wonder what of the vision and mission of Knox-Metropolitan United Church has drawn you, has captured you – excites you – fuels you to
believe in its importance.
Let us name these – and for each of us it will be different – and if I may be so bold, let us share them, let us speak them to each other in this
community, and beyond.
Let us first, before we explore what we will give – and our giving might mean finances and it might mean gifts of time, service and energy – let us explore why we find ourselves inspired to do so.
Let us imagine together and speak to one another about the importance of this ministry that we are called to – of what it means to each of us – let us listen to what it means to others – let us imagine what it can mean to those to whom we feel called to reach out.
I know that I have been moved by this vision – both emotionally stirred by the call to be downtown on purpose – and literally moved as in inspired to pick up and travel across the country to join you in this.
I’d love to hear your stories – pop by or call the office throughout the week, send me an email. Let us continue to speak about these things together.
For in life, in death, in life beyond death.
God is with us.
We are not Alone.