The Gifts We Bring

A video of this sermon can be seen by clicking (here)

Call to Worship: click (here)

Sermon notes:

What gifts can we bring?

We welcomed nine new members to this religious community this morning.  We gave them gifts: a book and a rose, a little something for their minds and a little something for their souls.  These are mere tokens of the richness that I hope they will each find here.

What they may not have realized when they signed our  membership book, is that they were giving us something in return.  Oh, they knew they had to pledge some amount of financial support for the church, but did they understand that their very presence among us is also a gift?

Presence is a present.  Showing up, participating, being a part of the worship experience, going to social events, contributing energy, serving the church, and promoting our social justice work are some of the gifts we give to each other.  They are gifts we give to our larger community as well.  Ogden is a better place because we are here.  Don’t ever doubt that, because it is true.

Each person who joins with us makes us better.  Each new person increases our diversity and enlarges our perspective.

They come bringing gifts.  Since Thanksgiving is over and it suddenly is almost Christmas, I guess it is time to mention a carol.  One that has been going through my head as I was thinking about today is that old, rather grim,

“We three Kings of Orient are”. It always seemed grim to me because of the stanza about line about Myrrh.

“Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume 
Breaths a life of gathering gloom. 
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

It is kind of creepy.  It makes me think, however, about some of the reasons that many of us come looking for a religious community.  It is often in times of grief, sorrow, or pain that we feel drawn to religion, to spirituality, to community.  When we are lost or afraid, it does help to gather in worship with others.  A religious community can hold an individual’s pain in a way that can help ease suffering.  It helps us know that we are not alone.

It does that because we are all human here.  We all have struggles and challenges.  We have all known loss and pain.  So bring your full self here.  The hurting parts of you are also a gift you can bring.  In the tender places in all of our hearts, there is a longing for gentle understanding and of recognition.  The bitter perfume, the Myrrh if you will, wafts through this room.  When you sense someone else’s distress, it is so natural to reach out with a helping hand.  Asking for help can be a gift, because it creates an opportunity for someone to serve.  Helping others feels good, so share your sorrows and your fears.  All of our burdens grow lighter when we share.

Another of the wise men brought frankincense, which is a type of rare and strong incense.

Maybe it is even spicy.  I like to think of this as our own unique talents and passions.  Our lives are a wonderful mixture that contains so much that we can share.  What we love matters, perhaps most of all.  What puts spice in your life?  Is it something you can bring to church?

Our junior high group has a covenant for when we meet together.  It is a simple one.  (Ask youth).

Yes, they promise to “be awesome. ” Here in this space, we get to share our awesomeness, just like we can share what makes us cry. What makes you awesome? Something does.  If you can’t think about what that might be, ask someone to tell you.  Other people know you are awesome, even if you don’t.  We all of us have the ability to inspire awe in others.  It can be a special talent.  We certainly have amazing musicians and artists among us.  We also have people who are really good friends, who can bake amazingly delicious cookies, who can unclog a sink, or smile at a stranger.  Find your awesomeness and share it.  That is an important gift you can bring.  It is another reason people join a church; they want to make a difference in the world.  When we share full selves, when we put our energy all together we can change the world.  We have already changed Ogden Utah, yes we have.

Now we are going to get to the gold, the gift the last wise man brought.  You know I was going to get there, didn’t you?

How many of you have read the letter I sent out via email on Friday?  If you didn’t get it, please let me know.

(click for letter)

If you read the letter, you know that we are asking for an additional financial gift this year, in addition to what you already pledge.  Why?  It is very simple.

Since the recession hit, we have been consistently bringing in less each year than we need to cover all of our expenses.  Our treasurer can share the details with you, but basically the income we receive from both pledges and the collection plate just isn’t enough.  We have some fundraisers planned, which should help make up some of the difference.

(Next Sunday is the holiday boutique – please come and bring your family, friends, and neighbors.  On February 15th we will have another Chocolate Affair, a goods and services auction.  Bring everyone you know to that one too.)

But even with the fundraisers, our cash reserves will still be dwindling.  We are now very close to the $30,000 that we all agreed awhile back was a prudent amount to hold in reserve in case of emergencies.

Water, electricity, heating bills, staff salaries, printing costs for the order of service, and routine maintenance on our aging building all have to be paid for, but they do not qualify as emergencies.  They are ongoing expenses.  Spending our emergency reserve on these ongoing expenses would be financially irresponsible.

In case anyone is starting to panic, let me say clearly that we still have this reserve.  We are in no way broke. We are not thinking about selling the building or laying off staff.  Right now, we are just paying close attention to all of our spending and deferring a number of things that aren’t critical to our mission.

But speaking of the building, about eight years ago, this congregation purchased this building.  A lot of you were here then.  You sold some land for part of the money and took out a $40,000 mortgage.  How long did it take you to pay off that mortgage?  Do you remember?  Less than a year it was.  It took less than a year for the 80 or so members we had then to raise $40,000.  Keep that in mind.

So we aren’t broke.  At least we aren’t broke yet.  But we are worried about the direction we are going.  It is causing stress.  Jeff, our treasurer, isn’t bald yet, but he will be if this keeps on.  It is depressing and tedious to be worried about every little thing we need to spend money on.  I hate it.  You should hate it too.  We gave the new members carnations today rather than roses to save $20.

And I know that some of you have to do that everyday in your own lives.  You don’t have enough to pay all your bills every month.  You juggle and save, and feel guilty if you splurge on a cup of coffee.  I know that some of you use our food shelf so that you and your family will have enough to eat.  I know too, that some of you have come to me for financial help.  We have, in our budget, a small fund of only $500 called the ministers discretionary fund, which I can use to help our members when they are in need.  Because it is small, I can only offer $50-100 at a time, but it can keep someone’s heat from being shut off.  It would break my heart to have that fund eliminated because we just couldn’t afford it.

So what are we going to do?  We are going to “go for the gold”.

We usually raise around $2000 in our end of year appeal.  This year we have a goal of $20,000.  If we can raise that amount it will us some breathing room.  We’ll still be careful with the finances, but we won’t have to pinch every single penny.   We won’t have to defer needed repairs and small building improvements such as painting.  We can better focus on our mission if we can reduce the stress of our shrinking income by raising enough to carry us through until the recession is really over.

What is our mission?  It is on the front of the order of service.  Read it with me.

The Mission of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden is to create a Caring, Inclusive Community that encourages Freedom in the Quest for Spiritual and Intellectual growth and the Advancement of Social Justice in our World.

It is a worthwhile mission, yes?  Is it worth going for the gold?  I think so and I hope all of you do too.

$20,000 is very doable.  Remember that you raised $40,000 to pay off the mortgage in a very short time.  In my letter, I suggested that 4 people could write checks for $5000 each and we would be there.  I do believe we have 3 or 4 people who might be able to do that.  Are you one of them?

If 20 of you gave $1000, that would also do it.  We have roughly 100 members.  If all of you could give $200 each, we would meet that goal as well.   I really hope this math is right.

Some of you may only be able to give $50 or $100 dollars.

Some of you, as I said, really can’t do anything, but try, if you can, to put a dollar or two into it, just to participate, just so you can be part of this effort.

If you want to write a check, make a note that it is for the end of year appeal.  If you want to donate cash, put it in an envelope and write your name and end of year appeal on the outside of the envelope.

Let’s create an atmosphere of abundance here, where our spirits all can grow and flourish and where our doors are always open wide to welcome whoever and whatever may come.

Yes, we need some of your gold.  We also need your bitter perfume and your spicy incense.  We need your imperfections because that is the only way the light shows through.  We need your hearts warm and beating, doing the work of love and justice making.

You are part of this church no matter what type of gifts you bring.  You are the best gift because all of you have hearts of gold.

Namaste

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