In the moment I received June’s words as insult to the hours I had spent carefully crafting a theology of giving in light of the future ministry of Sunnyside. I was convinced that the right words might inspire increased generosity. Obviously I still feel that way, in part, or I wouldn’t be wasting my time and yours with this posting. When the stewardship season was complete my conversation with June was lost in the season of Advent and then New Year, then Lent and Easter and so forth and so on. And then we began getting to work on the 2015 Stewardship Campaign when my conversation with June crept back in. My memory of the conversation was this: here is a faithful member of the congregation who right now in this moment needs love, prayer, and support. She doesn’t need a stewardship letter. And for me, my memory of June became a pastoral awareness of the entire congregation. We are a people with a deep and committed love for the church who at the same time are in need love and compassion with and for one another more so than we are in need of another stewardship letter.
Nevertheless, we are a church in transition. We have been a church in transition for five years now but here on the cusp of the Holy Wait we are in transition from the Sunnyside of the past to the Sunnyside of the future. After five years of ministry with you we have completed a vision statement.
We envision Sunnyside United Methodist Church to be the front porch to the Kingdom of God. A place where all are included, received with hospitality, find hope, experience the abundance of God’s love and are transformed through Jesus Christ.
Along with a vision statement with have crafted six Core Values.
Love. Relationship. Grace. Forgiveness. Justice. Growth
These statements serve to communicate who we believe we are becoming; not who we already are, rather who we are becoming. They reflect the nearly 15,000 people served over the past couple of years in our outreach. The words reflect our desire to create spaces for children to worship and to be educated in the ways of Jesus. These words speak to a way in which we desire to live together in community with the love of Jesus Christ as our guide and a refusal to walk away when the going gets tough, and to never shut our doors on any person. They communicate our desire to place relationship with God and with one another as our highest priority. These are words of which I am so very proud and I hope the entire congregation can say the same thing. Mostly however, these are words that do indeed speak to our future for as I said before – these words speak to who we are becoming, or to frame it theologically, who God is leading us to become. Finally, these are words given birth out of the years of hard work, prayer, and commitment of the countless saints who have come before us.
As Advent approaches I have already determined where I will be investing my hope during my Holy Wait. My hope will be invested in the vision of this church. My hope will be invested in the building of a front porch to the Kingdom of God at 2800 Gull Road. And for our family, we vote for our hopes with our finances. Just this month we got to the daunting task of creating a 2015 budget and just the same as we have for the last 8 years of our marriage, on the very top of that budget we earmarked the first 10% of everything we will make in the next year for God’s use through the church.
When we first began doing this we did it because we knew we were supposed to and we also knew that somehow magically God would provide if we gave. But here we are eight years later and I no longer feel that we are supposed to do this and neither do I believe there is any magic trick involved. My thinking has shifted in seismic proportions. Now we give out of a firm believe that God has plans for the world to transform it for good through the church and the God needs us to make this happen. It goes back to what St. Augustine said, “Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.” And when we give first to the work of God in the world before all things, even before our taxes or our mortgage or our pension funds, our generosity along with prayer-filled responsibility will be blessed and God will provide us with all we ever need to survive. It’s not a magic trick - it is the result of ordering our lives around the values of the Kingdom in the midst of an economy that values things antithetical to the Kingdom.
After five years at Sunnyside I am convinced that it is the church through which God is building the Kingdom. I am convinced that investing in the church is investing in a more just, and equitable future, and even more, that investing in the church is investing in the belief that for years to come, God will be transforming lives in and through Jesus Christ, right here at 2800 Gull Road – Sunnyside United Methodist Church.
I hope that as our final Sunday of the stewardship season approaches you are prayerfully considering how you will invest. Know that I am praying for you. Know that I am praying for the church. And know that as we enter into a time of Holy Wait, the front porch is under construction and God is depending on each of us to build it, one piece of lumber at a time.
Grace to you and Peace, Pastor Matt