January 16, 2012
Dear Colleague in Ministry,
A week ago, the Pew Charitable Trust released a study about the use of texting as a way to contribute to relief efforts. The Red Cross response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 propelled texting as a way of giving into the mainstream. Although the sample is small because it included only those who agreed in advance to be contacted, there are some interesting findings:
- 80% did not give through any other means than texting
- Most texting donations were impulse-giving.
- Three-quarters of the donors said they didn’t do much extra research when donating via text.
- The majority – 56 % – have contributed to mere recent recovery efforts via texting.
- Text donors tend to be younger and more racially diverse than the people who give through more traditional means.
What can we learn about giving from this study? I’m sure there are many things and I would welcome your observations. However it seems to me that “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” requires more than impulse-giving in $10 increments.
Thanks for all you do to help United Methodists learn to give.
Grace and Peace,
You may want to read the Associated Press article or view the entire study report.
Living in God’s Grace
Probably very few of us would call ourselves "rich," especially in these challenging economic times. Dwindling retirement savings, lost jobs and homes, and the dollar's diminishing "purchasing power" can make us feel pretty scarce. Therefore, most of us should be immune to this week's admonition in Psalm 62:10 - "if riches increase, do not set your heart on them" - right? Not according to John Wesley, a key founder of the United Methodist tradition. In his sermon* on Psalm 62:10, Wesley claims that very few people can disregard the psalmist's words in light of what being "rich" truly means: "Whosoever has food to eat, [adequate shelter,] and raiment to put on, with something over, is rich. Whoever has the necessaries and conveniences of life for himself and his family, and a little to spare for them that have not, is properly a rich man..."* By Wesley's definition, are you rich?
"Do not set your heart on [riches]," sings the psalmist. "Trust in [God] at all times, O people; pour out your heart before [God]; God is a refuge for us" (62:8). Whether our riches increase or decrease, "at all times" we would do well to examine where it is that we're pouring out our hearts. Do we pour our hearts into every rise and fall of the stock market? Do we invest our hearts in fears of not having enough for tomorrow, next week, next year? Theologian Walter Bruggemann claims that "We have a love affair with 'more' - and we will never have enough."** These difficult financial times give us the opportunity to step back and ask important questions like: Have we been pouring our hearts into the bottomless pit called "never enough" or into the abundant "refuge" that is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists? Where do I really want to invest my heart this very day? May the Holy Spirit constantly lead us out of scarcity's pit and into God's refuge; may the Holy Spirit give us the will and skills to show others the way.
In God's Grace,
Tanya Barnett & Tom Wilson
Northwest United Methodist Foundation Staff
*Wesley's sermon, "On the Dangers of Increasing Riches"; bold added for emphasis.
**Walter Bruggemeann, "The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity," Money & Faith: The Search for Enough, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Morehouse, 2008); bold added for emphasis.
Image source: Microsoft Publisher clipart
"What I have found is that no matter where we are in the political, economic, or financial resource spectrum, the myths and mindset of scarcity create an underlying fear that we, and the people we love or care about, won't have enough of what's needed to have a satisfying, happy, productive, or even survivable life.
"...Once we define our world as deficient, the total of our life energy, everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do - particularly with money - becomes an expression of an effort to overcome this sense of lack and the fear of losing to others or being left out. . . . [This] distracts us from living more mindfully and richly with what we have. [This] is a chase with no end and a race without winners."
"We who are now the richest nation are today's main coveters. We never feel that we have enough; we have to have more and more, and this insatiable desire destroys us. Whether we are liberal or conservative Christians, we must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God's abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity - a belief that makes us greedy, mean, and unneighborly. We spend our lives trying to sort out that ambiguity."
*Lynne Twist, "Scarcity: The Great Lie," Money & Faith: The Search for Enough, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Morehouse, 2008); bold added for emphasis. As a fund-raiser, activist, author, and teacher, Ms. Twist has worked and interacted with both the resource-rich and the very resource-poor.
**Walter Bruggemeann, "The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity," Money & Faith: The Search for Enough, Michael Schut, ed. (Denver: Morehouse, 2008); bold added for emphasis. Dr. Brueggemann is a Hebrew Bible professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.
Reflections on the Lectionary
Stewardship reflections on readings for the third Sunday after the Epiphany
Revised Common Lectionary texts for January 22, 2012: Jonah 3:1- 5, 10; Psalm 62:5-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20
In a previous edition of Radical Gratitude we offered reflections on the text in Matthew (4:18-22) that parallel's this week's reading from Mark. To see this reflection, please click on this link to theEpiphany+ 3, Year A edition.
This week we will focus on Psalm 62:5-12 and, in particular, on what United Methodist founder John Wesley had to say about it in his impassioned sermon "On the Danger of Increasing Riches." We include an excerpt of his sermon below (with bold added for emphasis) as well as this summary of his main points:
(1) Wesley calls his followers to realize just how rich they are - even when they try to convince themselves and others that they're not - and to give thanks to God for this reality.
(2) Wesley calls his followers to realize how easy it is to get caught in the trap of always wanting "more."
(3) Wesley calls all who are rich (by his definition) to tithe/give proportionally to their income - to share God's gifts of life for the sake of others, and for the sake of freeing their own lives/souls from wealth and the insatiable hunger for "more."
We hope that Wesley's insights will help you to reflect honestly on your relationship with "riches" - on the gifts of Grace that God entrusts to your stewardship.
"Consider, First, what is here meant by riches. Indeed some may imagine that it is hardly possible to mistake the meaning of this common word. Yet, in truth, there are thousands in this mistake; and many of them quite innocently. A person of note, hearing a sermon preached upon this subject several years since, between surprise and indignation broke out aloud, 'Why does he talk about riches here?' There is no rich man at Whitehaven, but Sir James L----r."* . . . But a man may be rich that has not a hundred a year, nor even one thousand pounds in cash. Whosoever has food to eat, and raiment to put on, with something over, is rich. Whoever has the necessaries and conveniences of life for himself and his family, and a little to spare for them that have not, is properly a rich man.
"...But many have found out a way never to be rich, though their substance increase ever so much. It is this: As fast as ever money comes in, they lay it out, either in land, or enlarging their business. By this means, each of these, keeping himself bare of money, can still say, 'I am not rich;' yea, though he has ten, twenty, a hundred times more substance than he had some years ago. . . . It is possible for a man to cheat himself by this ingenious device. And he may cheat other men. . . . [But,] this shift . . . will not avail. . . . Thou art convicted already of 'setting thy heart' upon thy riches, if thou layest all thou hast above the conveniences of life, on adding money to money, house to house, or field to field, without giving at least a tenth of thine income (the Jewish proportion) to the poor. By whatsoever means thy riches increase . . . unless thy charities increase in the same proportion . . . thou dost undoubtedly set thy heart upon thy gold, and it will 'eat thy flesh as fire!'
"But O! Who can convince a rich man that he sets his heart upon riches? For considerably above half a century I have spoken on this head, with all the plainness that was in my power. But with how little effect! . . . I have a message from God unto thee, O rich man! whether thou wilt hear, or whether thou wilt forbear. Riches have increased with thee; at the peril of thy soul, 'set not thine heart upon them!' Be thankful to Him that gave thee such a talent, so much power of doing good. Yet dare not to rejoice over them, but with fear and trembling. . . . Do not make them thy end, thy chief delight, thy happiness, thy God! See that thou expect not happiness in money, nor anything that is purchasable thereby; in gratifying either the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, or the pride of life [through purchasing] the veriest trifles** [that we find] pleasing as long as they are new.
Perhaps you say you can now afford the expense. This is the quintessence of nonsense. Who gave you this addition to your fortune; or (to speak properly) lent it to you? To speak more properly still, who lodged it for a time in your hands as his stewards; informing you at the same time for what purposes he entrusted you with it? And can you afford to waste your Lord's goods, for every part of which you are to give an account; or to expend them in any other way than that which he hath expressly appointed? Away with this vile, diabolical cant! Let it never more come out of your lips. This affording to rob God is the very cant of hell. Do not you know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessaries for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud your Lord, by applying it to any other purpose? When he entrusted you with a little, did he not entrust you with it that you might lay out all that little in doing good? And when he entrusted you with more, did he not entrust you with that additional money that you might do so much the more good, as you had more ability? Had you any more right to waste a pound, a shilling, or a penny, than you had before? You have, therefore, no more right to gratify the desire of the flesh, or the desire of the eyes, now than when you was a beggar. O no! Do not make so poor a return to your beneficent Lord! Rather, the more he entrusts you with, be so much the more careful to employ every mite as he hath appointed.
"Ye angels of God, ye servants of his, that continually do his pleasure! Our common Lord hath entrusted you also with talents far more precious than gold and silver, that you may minister in your various offices to the heirs of salvation. Do not you employ every mite of what you have received, to the end for which it was given you? And hath he not directed us to do his will on earth, as it is done by you in heaven? Brethren, what are we doing! Let us awake! Let us arise!. . . Let us employ our whole soul, body and substance, according to the will of our Lord! Let us render unto God the things that are God's; even all we are, and all we have!
"...Lay up no treasure on earth, but give all you can; that is, all you have. I defy all the men upon earth, yea, all the angels in heaven, to find any other way of extracting the poison from riches."
*A modern expression of this might be, "There aren't any 'rich' people in the U.S. other than Warren Buffet and Bill Gates."
**Some of the novel "trifles" that Wesley lists in this sermon include, extravagant food, drink, and clothing like "ruffles, necklaces, spider-caps, ugly, unbecoming bonnets, costly linen, expensive laces."
Telling the Story
Over the years I've encouraged pastors to follow a practice I learned from one of my mentors early in ministry. It's the practice of using the time of the offering to "tell the story." Here's a suggestion to introduce the offering this Sunday:
It’s been two years (and several other disasters) since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Restoration work continues. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams are still working there. The United Methodist Committee on Relief is still working there – and will continue to do so. This is another example of the commitment of the people of The United Methodist Church to being the love of Christ to those in need.
Today as we bring our gifts, tithes and offerings, let’s do so in celebration of our on-going ministry to the people of our world who are recovering from disasters.
Awareness and Action
The Well-formed Stewardship Leader
“Like shifting tectonic plates deep beneath the earth’s surface, the foundations for mission funding in the church are changing. Some of what is familiar is slipping beneath the surface. Simultaneously, new and unforeseen landscapes and perspectives are emerging.”
In 2007 the Stewardship of Life Institute of the ELCA was charged with addressing the formation of stewardship leaders. They identified six competencies in a well-formed stewardship leader:
• Trusts God’s abundance
• Grounds oneself in biblical and theological principles
• Holds a holistic perspective
• Perceives connectedness
• Engages and critiques culture
• Embraces financial health as an expression of faith
“In an attempt to emphasize that leadership is more than just believing the right things (though that’s important), the competencies assume that core beliefs (or perspectives) will be manifest in behavior –both in the leader’s personal life and in his or her work. Integrity is an important value here. It’s simply not possible to be a good stewardship leader if one does not model healthy personal stewardship.”
Six essays, one on each of these competencies the form six chapters of a short book, How Much Is Enough? A Deeper Look at Stewardship in an Age of Abundance. One of the chapters is written by Chick Lane, author of Ask, Thank, Tell. And even more exciting, it’s available free as an ebook from the Center for Stewardship Leaders at Luther Seminary.
Quotes are from the preface of How Much Is Enough?
“And Jesus said to them, ‘follow me and I will make you fish for people.’
And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
--Mark 1:17-18, NRSV
“A single person can sing a church hymn,” wrote Rod Stetzer in The Chippewa (Wis.) Herald (Dec. 2, 2011). “But a choir singing the same hymn gives it power.”
The Community Mission Coalition, an alliance of nine area congregations, is using that philosophy to reach out to the neighborhood. Two United Methodist churches — Trinity and Zion — are involved.
Tom Drehmel, a member of Central Lutheran Church, said he read an article in the city newspaper about another congregation’s teen program. He contacted the youth and outreach minister at the other church, and Central Lutheran provided 30 volunteers.
Later, youth in the two congregations collected more than 20,000 jars of peanut butter to send to the people of Haiti.
That planted the seed for the Community Mission Coalition, in operation since summer 2011. Participants contact service organizations in the community and ask what they need. Then they try to respond. So far, they have gathered diapers, laundry detergent, used eyeglasses and shoes.
Working with existing ministries prevents duplication of efforts. Children, youth and adults are involved.
“It’s driven by lay people,” Drehmel noted.
Today is Ecumenical Sunday, and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is Jan. 18-25. Both celebrate interfaith partnerships that link Christians and strengthen Christian unity through prayer and outreach. The Community Mission Coalition is a perfect illustration of the work God calls us to do together.
From sharing food pantries and housing people in transition to helping job hunters and feeding schoolchildren, congregations of many faiths combine their talents and people power to do amazing things.
It takes you back 2,000 years to Luke’s description of the early church in Acts 2 (The Message).
“And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.”
Not enough children or teachers for vacation Bible school? Check with the little Presbyterian church down the street. They might welcome the opportunity to work jointly with your congregation.
Wondering how to start an intergenerational ministry? Ask the Lutheran church in your neighborhood their secrets to success. See if your members can work with — and learn from — them.
Sure, our doctrines are not identical. However, our similarities far outweigh our differences. And people of all ages benefit in the process.
What a wonderful way to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
God our refuge,
In times of abundance
help us to pour out our hearts to You.
In times of scarcity -
that find us searching for other sources
of refuge --
help us to pour out our hearts to You.
Please accept these gestures of our longing
to return, whole heartedly, to You.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
(Inspired by Psalm 62:5-12)
from Radical Gratitude
Generous God, you give us so much, including opportunities to work and learn together. As we “fish for people,” open our minds and our hearts to new ideas and new ways of doing things so that your church may continue to flourish. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
from United Methodist Communications
God of Deliverance, we pause during this time of worship to return to you some of the monetary riches that you have given to us. While we wait in pensive silence, we are reminded to set our hearts and minds on your steadfast love. You alone are our rock, our fortress, and our salvation. We experience comforting solace in your refuge. Thanks be to God! Amen. (Psalm 62:5-12.)
from General Board of Discipleship
"The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be... The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.