Tag Archive | stewardship

Your Money and Your Life UUP 4/2/17

Money-Bag

 

Draw the circle wide, that is what our faith is about isn’t it?  We try to welcome all to the circle of this congregation and this faith.  We try to pay attention to those who have been marginalized and we attempt to truly celebrate diversity in all of its manifestations.

 

Just saying something doesn’t make it so, however.  It will take all of us, working together, to live the words from that song and to live the words of our mission statement: Live your sacred, transform through love, act with courage.

 

It will also take money, your money.  We are beginning our annual stewardship campaign, and during this campaign you will be asked to make a financial pledge in support of this congregation and its mission.

 

This year’s theme, created by the stewardship committee with some input from the board is:

 

“Coming Together–Expanding Community–Changing the World!”

 

There are also three specific goals:

–Affirm Our Commitment to Professional Ministry
–Expand Our Religious Education Programs for Children, Youth, and Adults
–Expand Our Leadership for Social and Environmental Justice

 

You will be hearing a lot more about the goals and how they fit into the theme over the next month or so, but today I want to talk about money.

 

Money can’t buy you love, as the song goes, but what is the meaning of money in your life?  How important is it?

 

Say you are walking down a dark alley late at night, and you hear a voice saying, “This is a stick up, give me your money or give me your life.”

 

Some of us may have heard those words and been faced with that actual decision, but for most of us, that stark choice is only something to think about – or maybe worry about.  But the choice is pretty clear; almost all of us would choose life in that situation.   You can’t take it with you, as the saying goes.

 

This isn’t a dark alley.  This is springtime in Petaluma. But I’m going to ask you that same question, “Your money or your life?”

 

A lot of us have lost money over the years and some of us have lost a great deal.  Some of us have never had much money to begin with. There are those that have lost jobs, and those that have lost their homes.  Financial loss or uncertainty can bring an increased tendency to hoard, or at least to be more cautious with our spending.  Some of that is a good thing.

Frankly, almost all of us, even those of us with fairly limited incomes, have gotten into some bad habits over years. Buying more than we need and always getting something new rather than repairing something old.

It hasn’t been good for our pocketbooks, and has been terrible for the environment.   The trash thrown out every day in a typical American household could feed and clothe a whole village for a month in many parts for the world.

 

But when money is tight, we feel insecure.  We are afraid of losing more.  We tend to hold on tighter.

This congregation, like all congregations has experienced financial worry, deferring decisions that might make a difference in how much you can do, both internally and in relationship to the wider world.

 

We need to be careful not to hold on too tight to what money we have, however.  If we confuse our net worth with our inherent worth, we can find we have lost not only money, but also our life.

 

It is actually pretty easy to lose both, your money and your life.  Maybe not easy in the sense that we will literally die if we lose all of our money. That can happen if someone ends up on the street, without food or shelter.  If there isn’t money for medicine or health care, that too can be life threatening.

 

But the real danger, for most of us, is to have hard economic times change us in ways that cause our spirits to die.

 

If we let fear take over, then we can lose all the joy, all the possibilities, all the opportunities for generosity that can still be very much a part of our daily lives.  We can become so cautious that we are always saving for some future rainy day despite the fact that it is already pouring outside and the roof is leaking buckets.  We can let opportunities slip by us because we are convinced things will only get worse.

 

Loss is a funny thing.  It is never fun, but it can also make us appreciate what we have, can help us get our values clarified, and our priorities more in line with who we want to be in the world.  People who have faced a life-threatening illness know this very well.  I have never heard someone on their deathbed say that they wish they had spent more time with their money.  And although some may wish they had more money to leave to their loved ones when they die, most know that it is the love they leave behind that has the most value.

 

Instead, many people who have suffered serious illness come to a realization about what is really important in life.  They treasure more of the moments, they enjoy the sunshine more deeply, and even, sometimes bad weather.

Some, who have lost a loved one to death, also come to take better care of their remaining relationships.

 

Life is indeed short, no matter what we do or don’t do.  A line from one of our hymns says:

“For all life is a gift, which we are called to use to build the common good and make our own days glad.”

 

Make our own days glad.  Now, you have all heard the saying that money can’t buy you happiness.  Money can’t buy you love.  A certain amount is necessary of course.  Survival needs: clothing, shelter, food. Some money for some comfort items beyond the basics helps.  It is nice to be able to go to a movie, eat out once in a while, or take a trip.  But how much money do we really need?

I found this poem by Kurt Vonnegut, most famous for his book, Slaughterhouse Five.  He wrote it after his friend, and fellow author, Joseph Heller died.   Heller wrote Catch 22.  Those of you who didn’t read the books may have seen the movies.

The poem:

Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22′
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!

“The knowledge that I’ve got enough,” we really need to stop awhile and think about what that is, what it means.  The larger consumer culture is always telling us that we don’t have enough, that we need a bigger house, a newer car, the latest fashion, and the most sophisticated electronic device that doesn’t even exist yet.

 

The question, “what is enough?” has been a pretty personal one for me.  As some of you know, I worked for the Social Security Administration for 25 years.  It was a very secure job, and one that paid a fairly good salary.  I could have kept working there another five years and would have received not only the additional salary, but also a much larger pension.

 

My “net worth” would have been much higher than it is today if I had done that.  But I was tired of working there; it wasn’t much of a challenge anymore even though I still loved the work in many ways.  The early retirement pension that was offered seemed like it was enough to get by on.

 

Instead of just staying on the job, I spend four years in seminary and am now been a minister. It is not a decision that I think I will ever regret.

 

Life, my life and your life, is about much more than money.  What makes you feel more alive and what gives your life its purpose and meaning?

I suspect it is not really the size of your bank account, or even of your shrinking stock portfolio, if you were lucky enough to ever have either one of those.

 

Money does have value, but I would maintain that the true value of money lies in how you spend it, not in how much you earn or in how much you have saved.  I had to pay quite a bit of tuition for seminary, but what I learned there and the calling I have found as a result is priceless, way beyond the actual dollar value that could have paid for a very expensive and fancy car.

 

The money I have given to the various good causes I have supported over the years is also worth much more to me than anything I have ever spent on furniture, for instance.  Furniture is nice, nice furniture is even nicer I suppose, but expensive furniture doesn’t have the kind of value that is really important.

 

That gets to some of the questions I am trying to ask today.  Are you spending what money you have on something of real value, either for yourself or for someone else?

 

As I said, you will be getting a lot more information about the stewardship campaign, including an invitation to share some food and talk about what this congregation means to you and what level of financial commitment you are both willing and able to meet.

I want to ask you all of you to consider pledging at the “sustainer level.  It will be in the chart you will receive later, but note that the amount varies by how much income you have.  If your income is around $10,000 per year, you can consider yourself a sustainer of this congregation for $250 a year.  If your income is $100,000 a year, it will cost you $5,000 to say the same thing.

 

The stewardship campaign will be going on all month. Spend some of that time reflecting on how much this community means to you and how much you are willing and even eager to commit to ensuring that it thrives.

 

Is it a matter of your money or your life?  Some churches make promises of a penthouse suite in the celestial kingdom if you pledge generously to their church.

 

I don’t believe what you give to a church will make a difference to you after you die.  But what it just might do is help save your life now, today.

 

True generosity always comes back to the giver. Giving might save your life, give it more meaning.

 

It also might save someone else’s life.

 

Put it all on a scale in your mind’s eye.  Your money or your life, your money or someone else’s life, how do they balance out?  I am not asking anyone to give more than they can or should.  If you are struggling now to meet your basic needs, a token amount is just fine.

But think about what you spend your money on, and what is really valuable in the long run.  Most of us have enough money, much more than we usually realize.  What we don’t have enough of is love, community, and justice.

 

Pat Francis will speak later about how this congregation saved her life.  She isn’t the only one here who has that story to tell.  There are also a lot of other people who need what we have to offer.  Can we draw our circle wide enough to include them?

 

Blessed Be.

 

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The Meaning of Money

Money-Tree

 

Money can’t buy you love, but what is the meaning of money in your life? How important is it?

Say you are walking down a dark alley late at night, and you hear a voice saying, “This is a stick up, give me your money or give me your life.”

Some of us may have heard those words and been faced with that actual decision, but for most of us, that stark choice is only something to think about – or maybe worry about. But the choice is pretty clear; almost all of us would choose life in that situation.   You can’t take it with you, as the saying goes.

This isn’t a dark alley. This is springtime in Berkeley. But I’m going to ask you that same question, “Your money or your life?”

A lot of us have lost money over the years and some of us have lost a great deal. Some of us have never had much money. There are those that have lost jobs, and those that have lost their homes. Financial loss or uncertainty can bring an increased tendency to hoard, or at least to be more cautious with our spending. Some of that is a good thing. Frankly, almost all of us, even those of us with fairly limited incomes, have gotten into some bad habits over years. Buying more than we need and always getting something new rather than repairing something old.

It hasn’t been good for our pocketbooks, and has been very terrible for the environment.   The trash thrown out every day in a typical American household could feed and clothe a whole village for a month in many parts for the world.

But when money is tight, we feel insecure. We are afraid of losing more. We tend to hold on tighter.

This congregation has experienced years of financial worry, deferring maintenance on the buildings and drawing down from its endowment to pay for operating expenses. This year is the first year in a long time where the budget will end in the black, and the budget for next year also looks very good at this moment. You all can be very proud that.

We need to be careful not to hold on too tight to what money we have, however. If we confuse our net worth with our inherent worth, we can find we have lost not only money, but also our life.

It is actually pretty easy to lose both, your money and your life. Maybe not easy in the sense that we will literally die if we lose all of our money. That can happen if someone ends up on the street, without food or shelter. If there isn’t money for medicine or health care, that too can be life threatening.

But the real danger, for most of us, is to have hard economic times change us in ways that cause our spirits to die.

If we let fear take over, then we can lose all the joy, all the possibilities, all the opportunities for generosity that can still be very much a part of our daily lives. We can become so cautious that we are always saving for some future rainy day despite the fact that it is already pouring outside and the roof is leaking buckets. We can let opportunities slip by us because we are convinced things will only get worse.

Loss is a funny thing. It is never fun, but it can also make us appreciate what we have, can help us get our values clarified, and our priorities more in line with who we want to be in the world. People who have faced a life threatening illness know this very well. I have never heard someone on their deathbed say that they wish they had spent more time with their money. And although some may wish they had more money to leave to their loved ones when they die, most know that it is the love they leave behind that has the most value.

Instead, many people who have suffered serious illness come to a realization about what is really important in life. They treasure more of the moments, they enjoy the sunshine more deeply, and even, sometimes bad weather.

Some, who have lost a loved one to death, also come to take better care of their remaining relationships.

Life is indeed short, no matter what we do or don’t do. A line from one of our hymns says:

“For all life is a gift, which we are called to use to build the common good and make our own days glad.”

Make our own days glad. Now, you have all heard the saying that money can’t buy you happiness. Money can’t buy you love. A certain amount is necessary of course. Survival needs: clothing, shelter, food. Some money for some comfort items beyond the basics helps. It is nice to be able to go to a movie or eat out once in awhile, or take a trip. But how much money do we really need?

I found this poem by Kurt Vonnegut, most famous for his book, Slaughterhouse Five. He wrote after his friend, and fellow author, Joseph Heller died.   Heller wrote Catch 22. Those of you who didn’t read the books may have seen the movies.

The poem:

Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
now dead,
and I were at a party given by a billionaire
on Shelter island.

I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel
to know that our host only yesterday
may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22′
has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!

“The knowledge that I’ve got enough,” we really need to stop awhile and think about what that is, what it means. The larger consumer culture is always telling us that we don’t have enough, that we need a bigger house, a newer car, the latest fashion, and the most sophisticated electronic device that doesn’t even exist yet.

The question, “what is enough?” has been a pretty personal one for me. As some of you know, I worked for the Social Security Administration for 25 years. It was a very secure job, and one that paid a fairly good salary. I could have kept working there another five years and would have received not only the additional salary, but also a much larger pension.

My “net worth” would have been much higher than it is today if I had done that. But I was tired of working there; it wasn’t much of a challenge anymore even though I still loved the work in many ways. The early retirement pension that was offered seemed like it was enough to get by on.

Instead of just staying on the job, I spend four years in seminary and have now been a minister for 8 years. It is not a decision that I think I will ever regret.

The members of this congregation got an email on Friday, letting you know that next week will be my last Sunday with you. I will be in the office the following week and then will take my accrued leave, with my resignation effective July 19th.   It’s been wonderful being the minister of this congregation, despite our difficulties. I hope you all know that I have loved you and tried to do my best for you. Sometimes, however, things stop working and the future possibilities of a particular ministry become limited. That is the time when a larger wisdom calls us to move on.

Life, my life and your life, is about much more than money. What makes you feel more alive and what gives your life its purpose and meaning? I suspect it is not really the size of your bank account, or even of your shrinking stock portfolio, if you were lucky enough to ever have either one of those.

Money does have value, but I would maintain that the true value of money lies in how you spend it, not in how much you earn or in how much you have saved. I had to pay quite a bit of tuition for seminary, but what I learned there and the calling I have found as a result is priceless, way beyond the actual dollar value that could have paid for a very expensive and fancy car.

The money I have given to the various good causes I have supported over the years is also worth much more to me than anything I have ever spent on furniture, for instance. Furniture is nice, nice furniture is even nicer I suppose, but expensive furniture doesn’t have the kind of value that is really important.

That gets to some of the questions I am trying to ask today. Are you spending what money you have on something of real value, either for yourself or for someone else?

Most of you know we are at the beginning of the annual stewardship campaign. Members, regular attendees, and supportive friends each year are asked to make a commitment of financial support to keep this fellowship going. We receive no outside support and in fact also support our larger denomination to the tune of around a $100 per member annually. Everything we do here comes from the people here and from rentals of the building which the founders of this fellowship purchased by mortgaging their own homes.

This year, there is a relatively ambitious goal of $50,000.

If you make that goal, it will mean that there will be enough money to continue current programs, make necessary building repairs, save for things like an elevator and a new roof, and also begin to repay part of the money that was borrowed from the endowment in years past. This is a stretch goal, last year the amount members and friends pledges was $36,000, $14,000 less than is hoped for this year.

The excellent news is that your board has already pledged close to $10,000. 20% of the goal has already been met!

Many of you got a letter this week with a pledge form inside. There are some here today as well. You can fill it out and turn it in today if you like. But I want to ask you to maybe not do that, unless you are ready to pledge at sustainer level or above. Note that those amounts vary by how much income you have. If your income is around $10,000 per year, you can consider yourself a sustainer of this fellowship for $250. If your income is $100,000 a year, it will cost you $5,000 to say the same thing. Also, please be aware that pledges are a year long commitment, and not a “once a year write a check for what you can do on a particular day.” The stewardship campaign will be going on all month. Spend that time reflecting on how much this community means to you and how much you are willing and even eager to commit ensuring that it both survives and thrives.

Is it a matter of your money or your life? Some churches make promises of a penthouse suite in the celestial kingdom if you pledge generously to their church.

I don’t believe what you give to a church will make a difference to you after you die. But what it just might do is help save your life now, today.

True generosity always comes back to the giver. Giving might save your life, give it more meaning.

It also might save someone else’s life.

Put it all on a scale in your mind’s eye. Your money or your life, your money or someone else’s life, how do they balance out? I am not asking anyone to give more than they can or should. If you are struggling now to meet your basic needs, a token amount is just fine. But think about what you spend your money on, and what is really valuable in the long run. Most of us have enough, much more than we usually realize.

What is the meaning of your life? What is the meaning of your money? How will you spend them? Please be as generous as you can.

Why Church?

for web 1

Call to worship (here)

Video posted (here)

Today we have yet another sermon title with a question mark in it.  Why church?  The question mark is at the end, but it could have been after the “why.” We are in some ways, a “Why?” church.  We are almost always asking why.  Why do we do it this way?  Why do we have to change?

I heard a joke the other day about our churches.  If we do something once, it is an experiment.  If we do it twice it is a tradition.  If we do it three times, we have always done it that way.

Why do we humans react the way we do?  Why do we do the things we do?  Why, why, why?

Why do we love questions so much?  Yes, we are the “why” church.

We are already known as the “love church,” because we try always to stand on the side of love.  It is through love and with love that we try to answer life’s questions and figure out what we should do.  We just don’t stand, we move, we rock and we roll.  Yes?

Love is usually the answer to why.

But why church?  Or more specifically, why do you come to church?  Why do we need a church like this in this town?  Why do we need a church like this, a religion like Unitarian Universalism in the world?

So think for a minute about why you come to church.  You are here after all, so you must have a reason for coming.

What are some of them?  Go ahead and shout them out.  I know some of you are not shy.

Robin Bartlett, a Unitarian Universalist Religious educator, in her blog post from which our reading was taken, has heard a lot of people say they come to church for their children, because they are asking questions about God, or because a neighbor or friend is trying to recruit them into a more conservative religion.  That is a real concern here in Utah where youth who are not LDS can be socially isolated in the wider community.

It also helps for adults when the missionaries come calling to be able to say, “Sorry I already have a church.”

But you could say that, even if you never attend services.  You don’t have to be a member of a congregation to tell someone you are a Unitarian Universalist.

Some people say they come to church because the sermons are entertaining.  The crazy preacher can be really funny; you never know just what she will say.  You could find much better entertainment, however, on TV, in the movies.

Maybe you come to church for the music, and our music here is fabulous, especially for a small church.  But you can find great music a lot of places, at concerts, festivals, and even on I tunes.

Some people say they come to church for the intellectual stimulation, to hear words and ideas that make them think. Of course you could attend a college level lecture for that. Weber state offers a lot that will stimulate your brain cells both with their own faculty and a lot of interesting guest speakers.

Maybe you come to church because you care about social justice.  This church community works very hard in many ways to bring more justice, equity, and compassion into our world.  But if social justice action is your only reason, there are literally thousands of groups you could join that are doing fabulous work for a wide variety of social causes.  You could even run for office.

If you are looking for inspiration here, for motivation, for ideas on how to live in this complex world, you could read poetry, listen to TED talks, or join a self-help group.

If you are hurting and looking for comfort or if you are trying to find yourself, you could go to therapy.

Some people come to church to make friends, or even to find a life partner.  You could do that at a bar, a health club, or through social media.

You might be surprised, but some people also come to church to find God, the holy, to connect with their inherent spirituality.  There are other ways to do that.  Go out in nature, watch a sunset, plant flowers, or play with your children. You will surely find the holy there.

Did I cover everything?

I did forget one, which reminds me of another joke.  It’s Sunday morning and the alarm goes off.  A woman turns over in bed and groans.  She turns to her partner and moans.  I don’t want to go to church today.  I know the sermon is going to be boring.  People will ask me to do things I don’t have time for.   I’d rather just stay home and sleep in this week.  Her partner turns to her with a sigh.  Honey, you have to go to church today.  “Why? Why do I have to go to church?”

The answer?  “Honey, you have to go to church because you are the minister.”

There are many reasons to come to church, but unless you are the minister, there are many other options.  Even ministers can decide on a different career choice.  Almost none of us are do it for the money in any case.

But how many places can you go where all of those reasons can apply?

Robin Bartlett tells us to go to church

“for community, for learning, for solidarity, for a good word, for love, for hope, for comfort, even for salvation. Go to church because you can’t imagine not going. Go to church because (of what) your church …demands of you. Go to church because you cry in the worship service at least once a month. Go to church because you look forward to seeing the people.

Go to church because your church forces you to put your money where your mouth is–to use your financial resources to make a statement about what has worth. Go to church because you are known here. Go to church because you want to be known. Go to church because you pray for this same imperfect, rag-tag group of people all week until you meet again. Go to church because you need to in order to get through your week. Go to church because if you miss a week, you feel like something was really missing in your life. Go to church because your church community helps you to go deeper; to risk transformation; to yank you further down a path–to ultimate reality, to truth, to God–kicking and screaming. Go to church because it is a statement to yourself and your children about what has value and meaning. Go to church to find your purpose and live it. Give yourself the gift of church.” http://uuacreligiouseducation.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/dont-go-to-church-for-your-children/

She goes on to say, specifically addressing parents who say they come to church for their children,

“If church is not a gift for you, it won’t be a gift for your children. You know that old (line) that we borrow from (the) plane instructions we hear read by flight attendants–… apply your own oxygen mask first before you apply your child’s, right? Well, you are your child’s religious educator and oxygen mask. Not our (religious exploration) curricula. Not our volunteer teachers. Not (the) minister. You. That’s a big responsibility, and (maybe) you don’t feel up to the task because (few) of us do.

But if we aren’t getting our spiritual needs met–our religious yearnings satiated; our deepest cries in the night soothed; our need to serve and be served (met); our God-sized hole occasionally filled, emptied and then filled up again– then we are never going to be up to the task of helping our children do the same.”

She says, “Don’t go to church for your children; go to church for you. You deserve it. Your children deserve it. And this brutal and beautiful world needs you to.”

That last line is worth repeating, “This brutal and beautiful world needs you to.”  How important is this church, not just to those of us who gather here each Sunday, but also to others in our town, in our state.  I think we offer a vital service just by continuing to exist and to thrive.  We offer hope to the young person wondering if their life is worth living because they are gay, to the man just released from prison expecting to be shunned by everyone he meets, to the recovering alcoholic, to the person who is homeless, to the eccentric thinker who everyone else thinks is just crazy, to the members of conservative religions who worry that their questions are somehow sinful, and to all the people who are suffering in so many ways from a culture that is far from accepting of differences and difficulties. Even if they never find their way here, even if they never sit in one of the pews here in the sanctuary, if they know about us, we have given them some hope.  We have made a difference.  We have offered an alternative, a radical alternative, a community based on love.

So if you have been thinking this morning about the reasons you come to church, I assume you have thought of more than a few.

I have another question for you.  How much would it cost if you went other places to get what you find here at this church?  How much more would you be spending on tuition, on therapy, on concert and movie tickets, or on drinks in a bar, if you did not come to church?  What about the things that are truly priceless?  How could you possibly meet anywhere else the diverse and wonderful people we have here in this religious community?  Where else would you be welcomed with such open and loving arms no matter who you are and how you are feeling?    Where else are tears and laughter both not only acceptable, but treated as precious?

As you probably know, our board members and stewardship committee folks are hosting dessert gatherings for all of you who attend services here, whether or not you are members.  These offer a chance to talk about what this church means to you and to the wider community, to decide how you can contribute to its continued success, and to eat some yummy desserts with people you already like or ones you might want to get to know a bit better. Some have already been held.  Some are at the church and some are at people’s houses.  If you haven’t gotten a personal invitation yet, there is a sign-up sheet on the reception counter or see Tom Taylor. If you are really short of money, come anyway, there are always volunteer activities that you do that will help sustain this church too.

One last joke which I saw on twitter this week under the hashtag #theologynerd

Ready?

“If you don’t know what eschatology means, it’s not the end of the world.”

Hilarious right? OK, for those of you who don’t get that joke, eschatology is the theological stance of a particular religion on the end of the world.  It isn’t something most Unitarian Universalist worry about much.  We definitely don’t take the book of revelation literally. We may worry about environmental disasters or wars ending life on this planet, but our view of God and the divine does not include the idea that God will destroy the world at some future date.

No, our theology is more about life, about continual new beginnings, second, third and fourth chances.  It is a life saving, life enhancing theology.  We stand on the side of love, and we come to church to do just that. Amen and Namaste