To Whom Much Is Given
Pentecost 2, b, June 10, 2012
Luke 12:48b & Matt. 25:19-21
Though scholars quibble about the exact amount, they are united in saying that the talents mentioned in this Matthew 25 parable from Jesus, the amount this steward was given, was enormous. The master had provided an enormous stewardship challenge to be faithful, and this first steward was found up to the challenge: ‘Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
It is a joy, though a challenging mix of a joy, that I have to share with you this day. What I share next is no sermonic joke…but wondrous good news.
At various points in the life of UCC, the Nordan family of San Antonio generously provided funds for us to build the Chapel, to provide for our Student Lounge. The Nordan Trust the family set up decades ago, has contributed a few thousand dollars to UCC on a regular, yearly basis.
But just recently the Nordan Trust made a determination to distribute of their assets to our congregation, to Central Christian Church in San Antonio, and to Texas Christian University. The amount that they are distributing to our congregation here is four million dollars!
I guess that should just sink in for a minute. Four million dollars.
There is no question that 50 years from now, a hundred years from now, if University Christian Church is still here, long after you and I have passed away, this Nordan Trust distribution will long be known as a milestone in our evolution as a community of faith. This is one of those days when it’s very easy to say, “God is so good.”
Our Church Board has been in conversation with the Nordan Trust about this possibility for a while, and if the Board members’ conversations are anything like what is going on in your heads right now… you are beginning to imagine the way that that money could positively affect our congregation, the wider church and God’s world. Right away people began expressing their own hopes for using funds. Suggestions so far include:
> to tithe a special outreach gift, 10% right off the top, given away,
> to take care of some long put off building maintenance needs and longed for church building enhancements,
> to set up a permanent endowment with yearly proceeds supporting in designated ways, UCC’s ministry in perpetuity,
> to finally return to calling a full-time Campus Minister here again,
> to permanently endow a professorship at Brite Divinity School,
> to doing something really huge with it, something that would change the world for the better, etc., etc.
I am literally building a list of all of the suggestions as I hear them because we don’t want anyone’s concerns to be lost in the conversation.
Let me say first what our Church Board has determined for the short run. Sometime later this month the money will be put into specified accounts with the Christian Church Foundation, the financial investing arm of our Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. The funds will simply be held there in a safe account under their prudent management for at least the remainder of this year, because…as you will remember…
This year we at UCC have already determined that we will be engaged in our New Beginnings process which will look at who we are and who we are called to become in ministry. This financial boon will no doubt figure greatly in our conversations time and time again, for it does offer us new potentials, as the community organizer I mentioned two weeks ago would have said, it gives new power to the congregation – that is the ability to do much more good and faithful work.
I have asked our Board President, Kim Campbell, to stay here in the Sanctuary after worship to answer any other questions you have about this process. More will be in the Church Newsletter, too. We want this whole process to be as absolutely transparent as is possible.
Now, since we are a congregationally ordered church, YOU, the congregation, will determine how this godsend is handled. I have every confidence that you and the leadership that you elect will handle this new power, this new capability with very faithful stewardship. If we have been faithful in a few things, The Lord is surely now entrusting us with many, a huge new stewardship responsibility.
One scripture has resonated in my spirit throughout this unfolding: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
Not to throw a wet blanket on that giddy joy you may be feeling right now….but I believe that there are two important spiritual concerns, two “even more demands” on us, that even at the beginning of this process should be lifted up. The first is what the Bible calls “dissension.” We heard it in last week's Scripture passage from first Corinthians chapter 12:
But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.
Scripture time and again teaches us the importance of harmony within the church. Because the decisions that will be made in the next months here regarding these funds are so large and because many here care so deeply about various avenues of ministry, there is the possibility that we will find ourselves: at odds with each other, arguing, pitching our case perhaps at times too strongly, trying to play down another's perspective in order to lift one's own up higher.
If this monetary gift leads to significant dissension, it will not be the fault of the gift itself, but it will be our failing to live up to the high calling of Christian community, that is, listening with care to one another, holding one's own opinion no higher than the opinion of sister or brother. This will be our first challenge in the coming months: to treat one another with great respect and honor as we carefully discern how best to use these funds in God’s service.
The second spiritual challenge – and the one that is more pressing from my point of view- will be the temptation for some of us UCC members to reduce our own personal stewardship. We might begin to say perhaps even subconsciously, “Well, the church has all that money invested, what I was going to pledge doesn’t amount to much in the big picture, so I don't really need to continue growing in my own financial stewardship. I'll just back off what I might have given for ministry through the church.”
Do you remember the story of Gordon, the small business owner who as a faithful member of his congregation gave his tithe, 10% of his income, regularly in good financial years and in bad, with a grateful spirit, in response to God’s love for and blessing of him and his family. One day Gordon came to church to speak with his minister about a problem.
Gordon said, “Reverend, you may have noticed that for a number of months now, things have been going very well over at my store. In fact, business has been so good, my profits have been so high… that now I’m finding it hard to continue giving my full 10% tithe to church’s ministry as I always have.”
“Well, yes, indeed, Gordon, I do hear that this is a serious problem, that yearning to hold back from what you know you should be offering,” said the minister.
“There’s only one thing to do, let’s you and me bow in prayer right here and right now and pray together that God will speedily reduce the profit of your business…. so that you are able once again to resume your tithing.”
If these Nordan Trust funds that we are receiving undermine our personal growth in generosity then these funds are not a blessing at all. If these funds we are receiving undermine us spiritually, curtail in any way what it is we personally might otherwise have given, then I’ll say we should just give it all away as fast as we faithfully can. As Jesus said so graphically in Matthew: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
My friends, this concern is not just hypothetical. While a few pledges are still trickling in, the report of how we have responded to the encouragement to grow in our generosity this year has not been good. Our pledging thus far is even falling far short of what we gave last year!
So now our Church Board is drawing up a budget for the financial year 2012-13 that begins in three weeks, and what we have been telling the Board with our financial pledges is that the Board is going to have to cut church activities. They have to cut support for our ministries, our outreach, our education, our youth, that we haven't prioritize highly enough what we do here together in Christ’s name to contribute to accomplishing it.
This is the tough reality we are facing for the year ahead. I hope this disturbing news will encourage us to increase our giving now, so we can turn that message to the Board around!
In the longer run, if the ongoing Nordan Trust funds are added on top of what you and I generously give to the work of the church, the ministry that we do in Christ’s name can be truly turbocharged! The chains of financial challenge will fall away and the future of God’s ministry through UCC will be shining brightly!
But there is the other possibility, too. If having these Nordan trust funds discourage us from growing in our personal giving and if those funds end up merely replacing what you and I should be giving, it not only undermines our common ministry, it also undermines our personal spiritual growth, as well. Then we will not have been faithful stewards of God. My friends, we dare not allow that to happen on our watch.
So while this news is fresh and wonderful, it is time, today, for you and for me to say together in a unified spirit that we as a congregation will together work out the specifics of how this Nordan trusts money is used to advance Christ’s ministry. We will do so honoring one another's opinions; open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and carefully discerning what it is God would have us do.
And, today, we should all say together,
“I will not flag in my zeal.
I will not shrink from God's call to me.
With God's help I will grow in my stewardship so that I can become that generous person and that we can become that generous congregation, that God intends us to become…this answering faithfully the enormous stewardship responsibility before us.. so that at the end of our days, as we pass the baton to the next generation, we might hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant..
enter into the joy of your master.”