Six weeks ago I spoke here at Old South at a post-service lunch to kick-off the 2014 Stewardship Campaign.
Then, and in a letter you received in October, I suggested spending time praying, thinking, and perhaps talking to your partner about how much to pledge in support of Old South Church.
I asked you to do this knowing that we are in a time of financial uncertainly. The great recession is slow to fade in the rear view mirror, the government has been shut down, and income for many Americans is stagnant.
I asked you to think about what it would mean to you as an individual to support the vitality of this church by giving generously.
I also related a Globe newspaper story about the use of time, and explained my feeling that giving of money is similar to giving of time. In both cases, helping others rather than indulging yourself is more likely to bring happiness.
Most importantly, however, I discussed the relationship between financial stewardship and faith. I spoke of today’s Bible reading from Matthew that tells us that God will provide for our needs if we worry first and foremost about our relationship with God. I also addressed the “Leaping out in Faith” theme selected by the Stewardship Committee. Most critically, I talked about how I see the number on my pledge card, and yours, as an act of faith.
From that perspective, I posed a critical question – is your faith strong enough to approach the decision of what to pledge – and especially to pledge generously with a feeling of calm and good will instead of anxiety or fear?
With this question of faith, as well as this year’s Stewardship theme “Leaping out in Faith” in mind, let me pause for a moment so that we might hear from Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr.:
[VIDEO CLIP “Leap of Faith”]
This section of the film is called “The Leap of Faith” for obvious reasons
The critical line and parallel for us today is “only in the leap will he prove his worth”
Indy quickly recognizes that he faces a leap of faith, and not a test of his ability to make the greatest standing long jump in history. He reacts briefly as if he doubts his readiness for the test - but then puts his hand over his heart, steals himself for the test, and … leaps
Much as Dr. Jones did, you face a test of your faith today. All of you have one boot up in the air.
After all, each of us is responsible for what we pledge.
We have free will to decide; God let’s us choose. Will our actions, our pledge, be pleasing to him? It is up to you and me.
Beyond the leap itself I would ask you to think of one other visual image from this video. Think of the amount of your pledge as the depth and width of the canyon that Indy leaps. The amount should be such that absent strong faith in God the chasm would look very scary. On the other hand, if the amount produces no anxiety, if the ground before you presents no risk then you may want to reconsider. The goal – to give enough that the chasm is deep, and yet have peace of mind when stepping out.
Of course, our strength of faith is related to and a measure of our connection with God. Faith is necessary to give generously, and giving generously is a demonstration of faith and commitment to God. It was made clear to us in our reading from Matthew what should come first in our lives; it is our relationship to God, it is living as one of his children, it is seeking his kingdom.
Can we honestly say that that’s what matters to us most? That amidst all the world has to offer, all that tempts us and competes for our attention can we truly say that our relationship to Jesus Christ is our top priority?
If we can say that and mean it then our faith is likely very strong and our pledge will be what it ought to be. It will be generous, sacrificial, and it will show the importance of God in our lives. There won’t be hesitation today to leap out.
Another aspect that is telling in regard to our faith is the attitude with which we give. The spirit with which you pledge makes a huge difference. Do you have an Indiana Jones style sense of adventure? Do you give out of guilt or compulsion? Old South has for years asked the congregation to give until it feels good. This is a variation on biblical guidance from the Apostle Paul that God loves a cheerful giver. And, why not give happily since God will provide and that your pledge will support Old South Church, which you know and believe in. Hopefully we can all pledge joyfully and with a sense of gratitude for the privilege to share in God’s work.
Next, it is probably understood but worth briefly stating that giving should be relative to resources. A $1,000 pledge may be a far greater act of faith than one of $5,000. The important factor in regard to the pledge is not the amount but the proportion. Whatever the amount, it should be large enough to represent a sacrifice on our part.
In the end, of course, this church, your church, depends on you, its members and friends for support, there is no one else to turn to.
Here at Old South, we do not have dues, assessments, or fees. Our church depends upon the voluntary pledge you will make today.
What will happen if you take a leap and give generously? Among other things through Old South’s mission and ministries:
• Lives will be improved through our Summer of Service;
• Residents of disaster stricken communities – such as New Orleans will be helped;
• The City Mission Society, Women’s Lunch Place, and many other groups will receive our support;
• Critically, this church will have the staff and resources to minister to the current congregation and to be here for present and future generations of people in Boston and the region. It will provide a home from which to explore faith in God.
You have a number of options before you in regard to what number goes on your pledge card. You could:
1. Give an amount that you won’t miss
2. Give an amount that matters, that means you will have to do without something else, or you could
3. Give an amount that represents risk and means you are truly exploring giving out of faith.
Of course, this is not a public exercise; those around you will not know what you have given. Rather, this is a private conversation between you, your conscience, and God. Nonetheless, it is worth asking yourself what would happen if all those around you gave as you do. Would there be abundance or a crisis?
So, turning back to what I charged you with six weeks ago and again in my letter, have you been praying, contemplating and thinking since we last met? Have you been building a relationship with God? Have you been pondering what to give? Have you been getting yourself “spiritually fit”? Much as one would train for a marathon, or a bike race, have you been working the muscles in your mind to prepare to write a number on a sheet of paper today?
Hopefully the letters that you received from Rev. Taylor and me helped you “pump iron” as it were.
Perhaps you have done a few workouts contemplating God’s promise to provide if you step out and give generously?
And of course, you have been praying, accumulating what serious bike riders call “base miles” that contribute to your overall fitness. You need time in the saddle getting used to the rigors of riding to get really good at biking. Seems to me that prayer is like that – building day by day a relationship with God such that more challenging questions of faith, like today’s pledge, are surmountable.
So, having spent six weeks in intensive spiritual training,
Are you ready to engage in an act of faith?
Can you put your concerns aside through faith in God?
I trust the answer is yes, because exam day is here.
Much as Indiana Jones, you should be confident that your boots will land on solid ground as you step out in faith. You should be at peace, without an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. You should not be sitting on the edge of your pew.
The number on our pledge card today is important to you, to your congregation, your spiritual home Old South Church, and to all those touched by your mission and ministries.
Giving is good for the soul and is good Christian practice, and nourishment for and a sign of one’s faith.
Be honest and generous not about what you can spare, but about what you can give if you step out in faith.