We have had some great weeks at Messiah. Three households presented their newest little ones to be baptized, a Messiah preschool student introduced his new baby brother during Preschool Chapel and received a baby blanket on his behalf, we commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with the fanfare of orchestral accompaniment, and yesterday, on All Saints Sunday, six young women affirmed their baptism in the Rite of Confirmation. While the role and place of "church" are definitely changing in the 21st century, it has been reassuring to me to see that Jesus' great commission (Mt.28:19-20) to go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them, still has a primary place among God's people.
God's promises in baptism are everything
Everything the people of God at Messiah have done in the past and will do in the future actually grows out of ours and others' baptisms. If baptisms didn't happen, there would be no reason to gather, no lessons to teach from the Bible, no discipleship to learn, no ministries to support or in which to engage, no promises to trust. Baptized into Christ, we have a guaranteed reason to live as community, to serve selflessly, and to give generously because—as one grandson was reminded by his grandfather—"In your baptism, the only death you need to fear is already behind you."*
Money is funny … this is why we pledge
With the only death we need to fear already behind us, we are free to live and lean into life to its fullest—even as it pertains to the money under our management, which nearly everyone considers a very personal, if not taboo topic. I will never forget the conversation with a parishioner who vulnerably shared fears and frustrations about his prostate cancer and, during the same conversation, talked about a life insurance settlement he was soon to receive. When I asked how much money he was talking about, he responded, "Pastor, don't you think that is too personal of a question?" He never told me.
Money is funny. If our pursuit for more and more of it, or the desire to protect our accumulations get the upper hand, money can kill us. It can hamper our ability to trust God. We are all tempted to trust it more than God.
One of the reasons we give money to the church is not because the church will die if we do not give, but because we will. And this is an unnecessary death since the only death we need to fear is already behind us. I have met a lot of generous people and not one of them lacked for joy. I have also met a lot of stingy people and a common characteristic among them has been the kind of death and darkness easily associated with a low balance in their joy ledgers. Ask them for what they are grateful, and you typically get some pretty shallow responses.
It's not easy for us to trust God's promise of blessing and to respond by being generous givers of our money, stretching toward the tithe (10%) and even beyond. On the face of it, the balance sheet looks like you have less personal net worth and wealth—the key metrics for the way the world assesses our value.
Living in gratitude is satisfied living
The amazing part of living in gratitude for the promises that God seals in our baptisms is that you will enjoy having less. This happens because the self that you have to enjoy it with will be freer, healthier, and more alive than the self you would be had you kept it all. Apart from the good things our giving may do for others, we need to give for the good it does for us. Giving puts into action all of what we say about trusting God. When we return a proportion of the income over which God gives us management, we are trusting God to supply what we need. And, we are deciding to be satisfied and grateful for what we have.
If you have not done so already, Kathy and I encourage you to make a decision to follow the biblical teaching of first fruits giving, to give off the top, before any bills are paid or savings accounts funded. Returning your 2018 financial pledge to the church is as much about making your giving the first thing you do as it is about the actual amount. It is the first step to getting your financial life under control and of experiencing part of the new life our Lord has in mind for you. If we give from the leftovers because we do not have a plan, we are never satisfied. And there will be very little left over because we are always looking for more … or desperately holding too tight to what we have.
Living in gratitude is part of adapting to our post-Christendom era
An emerging characteristic of congregations that are successfully adapting to post-Christendom ministry is that they are grateful. They see not a lack of resources for what they can do, but are grateful for the abundance of what they have in both resources and opportunity. They are living into gratitude.
Kathy and I encourage you to do the same—to make your financial pledge as a means and a sign that you too are choosing to live in gratitude, that you see abundance in God's promises all around you. We are not certain which comes first, generosity or gratitude. What we are sure of is that they go together and always serve to reflect the God-given identity promised to us in our baptism in Christ.
Living in Gratitude pledge culmination weekend - Nov.18-19
We will be celebrating and giving God thanks for 2018 Living in Gratitude pledges the weekend before Thanksgiving, November 18-19. Please return your 2018 financial pledge online or via paper form on or before this date. If you need assistance or have questions about making your pledge, please contact Doug Ruecker, Messiah's Financial Secretary. Your pledge and conversation are always kept in his strictest confidence. Thank you.
Living in Gratitude, Pr. Peter Braafladt
*Stephen Bouman, From the Parish for the Life of the World (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2000), 51-52.