November 5, 2017 / MONEY 1 - GENEROSITY: ON PURPOSE / Sara Wolbrecht / Matthew 6:19-21
As we continue our Chunk of Change Series, paying attention to how God gets our attention, hooks us, and invites into a process of being changed – we knew that we would hit this day. In November. It’s November. When Thanksgiving is two weeks from Thursday, with Christmas Eve just seven weeks from today. We are beginning the holiday season, a season of so many good things, but also a season of a lot. Like, all of the things happen during the next seven weeks. And we wanted to dig into a particular piece of something we all will be thinking about, dealing with, stressing over, planning with EVERY DAY for the next seven weeks (and beyond). And that thing is money. That’s right, starting today, for three Sundays, we’re talking about money.
I know, I know, you’re thinking – Thanks, Sara, I finally brought my friend to check out Salt House and told them we’re laid back and everyone is welcome – and now you’re making it weird. I know, I know – you’re welcome. But don’t worry, we’re only going to talk about it for three weeks. And really, I think we’ll actually enjoy these next three weeks. Why?
Well, we’re going to attempt for three weeks, to let God spark change in us, to teach us – because we need to be taught – how to be generous. Not how to give – not about writing a check. We’re not going to lock the doors and pass a bucket around. It’s bigger than that. What we’re diving into starting today is not about a do. This is about a BE. We want God to teach us how to BE generous. So though we’re talking about it through the lens of money, it is absolutely about being generous. And for us to have this larger conversation this fall about being changed, transformed, repenting – you better believe that God is in the business of helping us be changed, liberated into a life of incredible generosity.
Why are we doing it now? There are few reasons for NOW. As we named – we are headed into an incredible season of giving. Great experiences and giving to people we love, giving to people and places of need. ‘Tis the season.
A second reason why now: because the last time we had this conversation, it was our “Generous Lives” sermon series, was in the spring of 2016. It has been 17 months. And it is time for us to come back to a conversation about money. Churches can appear secretive about their finances and we never want that to be the case. We have a high level of accountability to how we handle our finances, and we want you to be sure to know that process, as well as know our financial vitality at this time (2.5yo!). We are still a new congregation, and so having that conversation is important.
Also – 17 months ago, when we had a sermon about the specifics of our financial picture, you may remember at that time, 17 months ago, we were losing, on average $7000 a month. Expenses over Income. And that was ok, because it fit into our projections of where we should be financially as a church getting started, (we should be losing that much money) and we were benefitting from grant money the ELCA and the money we had as we began.
But the question is – what about now? How’s our financial picture? What has changed in our financial picture in the last 17 months? Has it changed? Well, stick around, and in two weeks, you’ll get to see the numbers, and you won’t want to miss that conversation – dun dun dun!
The final piece for WHY NOW – is simply that money is a spiritual issue. And to talk about it, we’re just following Jesus’ example. Jesus talked more about money than anything else, more than prayer, fellowship, forgiveness, sex, marriage, even more than he talked about love – he talked more about money. There’s a reason he did. There’s a reason why Scripture mentions money 2300 times between the two covers. And here’s why: because I believe Jesus knew that money has an effect on the human spirit more than any other thing. That’s why Jesus talked about it so much – that’s why we’re zeroing in on it. Money – how we live with it – is a spiritual issue, so in that sense, it is always time to talk about money. …For all these reasons: that’s why we’re doing this now.
To help orient us, let’s define generosity – here’s our working definition for the next three weeks. The definition is not as polished and catchy (as I would like it to be), but it’s accurate and complete. Here’s the definition we’ll spend these three Sundays in, together:
Generosity: is the on purpose, preplanned, liberation of personal financial assets. Y’all having fun? This is what we’re talking about. Say it with me… Each of these three Sundays we’ll delve into one of these three descriptors, but real quick:
First of all, generosity is on purpose: goes where we want it to go. Making the intentional choice. Then, generosity is preplanned which means: it is pre-planned. We thought ahead about this – spending doesn’t can’t catch us off guard. And third, I love this word – generosity is liberation. Which means we have the option to set free something that so often enslaves us. And it is personal financial assets – this is a series about money. Talking about money because – again – we are following Jesus’ example of paying attention to something Jesus knew has an effect on the human spirit more than any other thing.
So for today - one of the places where Jesus is speaking directly to this, is where we will turn today. In this conversation of generosity, I’m not going to make up anything about what God does with money – we’re going to go back to what God has already said – we do that every week. We’re turning to Matthew 6.
In the most famous speech that has ever been given, we call it the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says something that maybe we have heard before – but I wonder if we really understand it. (Come on up) We could include a whole lot more from the Sermon on the Mount, but we’re going to just drill into a few sentences to focus our discussion.
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV). Jesus continued: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
That last sentence may be particularly familiar for us. Where Jesus says: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. What does Jesus mean? For the longest time I had this last verse backwards. When I was in college, when I would try to remember what this verse says, I thought it said, for where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. In other words, whatever we care about most, that is where our money and time and gifts WILL go, as a reflection of what we value. And that made sense to me – yeah, whatever matters most to me, that’s where my money will go. EH. Wrong. Completely wrong. It’s actually the opposite. Say it with me: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And please note: Jesus is not the only one who said this. Many years later it was spoken by another: Dumbledore. You know it’s true when both Jesus and Dumbledore say it.
Another translation of the Bible says it this way (which I find helpful): The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being. Matthew 6:21 (The Message). Jesus is saying: however we spend our money, wherever it goes, we will be there. Those places will become the things that we value most, that shape us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically. Our heart goes to where our money goes. Think about that! And I was floored some years ago when I realized this is actually what the verse says – my money, how I use it, that action shapes who I become. Not the other way around.
Is this shocking to you, too? Anyone else need to admit that they’ve switched this up before? And yet now that I have lived with this text for a few years, and been married and had kids and bought a house and changed jobs and noticed how I use my money, yeah. Yes, this. This is absolutely true. And it has the potential to be incredibly liberating.
For in this, Jesus is doing what he always does: he’s offering an invitation, an opportunity for change. To ask ourselves: where do we want to go? Ton this first Sunday of liberating our assets, of talking about generosity, into this conversation Jesus tells us to: Give where we want our hearts to go. Give where we want our hearts to go. That’s it, right?
How do we actually do this? Looking at the rest of our text – Jesus says here: “store up treasure in heaven” – Jesus isn’t talking about a pot of gold that we get after we die. At one point a rich young ruler asked Jesus the same thing – and it’s simple. Jesus tells him: sell everything and give it to the poor. This month, we’re not going that far, but what is clear, is that, for Jesus, without exception, every time he talks about treasures of eternity, he is talking about people. So here he’s saying: move your treasure towards those who need it, because that is where God’s heart is, and our hearts will attach to God’s heart as we move our resources in the direction of God. Does that make sense? It’s always about people – that’s the “eternal treasure.” That’s how we do this. Move our resources in the direction of God. Because: The place where our treasure is, is the place we will most want to be, and end up being.
Today, we hear from Jesus an invitation to live with our money in a way that is, as we have named for our theme for today: on purpose. Intentional. To give where we want our hearts to go. Money is such a spiritual issue because what we do with it actually shapes us – our hearts, our perspective on the world, the kind of character we develop.
Hold this for a second, because, alongside this, I want to share a story of a group of people who together, in their own way, asked this question –the on-purpose question of choosing where they wanted their heart to go.
It is the story of Trinity Lutheran Church in Kirkland, WA. If you’ve been here at Salt House for a while, then you know that before this place was Salt House, this building was built in the 1950s as Trinity Lutheran Church. There’s a video that was filmed here a year ago, in July of 2016 talking about how Trinity became Salt House, put together by the Mission Investment Fund, a Lutheran organization that funded the loan for the remodel of our space before Salt House opened. Though the video is told with a Mission Investment Fund slant, it tells our story well – up to that point last year. Hear it again, or for the first time.
VIDEO: Salt House Story
Salt House, we were birthed out of painful, sacrificial, on-purpose generosity, out of Trinity Lutheran folks giving up this place and people they love and giving it toward what God might want to do.
I bring this up today as we begin this conversation of generosity, for three reasons – first, can we just name again how amazing this is? Just to stop and say, WOW! And thank you God for the peple of Trinity who chose on purpose generosity. So that’s the first reason.
Second, to name that this is our story – we started in generosity and Salt House continues to live a story of generosity. As we heard and know, when we had been open for 8 months in November 2015, we met as a community to decide together whether we should give our 3000-square foot, unfinished basement over to become a day center for families experiencing homelessness. There were only about 30 of us then. We were still so new and unsure of what we might need that basement for and who we’d become. And yet that day, what did we say? We said yes. A unanimous yes, to continue the story of generosity. We wanted our hearts to go there, to be with those folks. That decision was two years ago this month, and …
Tomorrow (tomorrow!) will be the one-year anniversary since the New Bethlehem Day Center opened. Tomorrow. Can you believe it? One year! Because we said yes: 40 families were housed this year (40!). An average of 35 people were served dinner every night – half were usually children. Showers, computers, laundry, rides, case management, jobs – so much life-change happened for folks living through difficult transition. In this building. Because Trinity said yes to what God was doing – and we said, the on purpose yes, too.
And we said another yes almost a year ago, December 2016. Right after the Day Center opened, we finished a season of discerning who we are, what our mission is – and together we voted to sell the northwest corner of our property to be developed as a 24-Shelter for families and for single women experiencing homelessness. Which meant saying no to that space being anything else that we might need in the future. We chose homelessness on purpose. We are on target to sell by the end of next month.
Friends, Salt House’s story is a story of generosity. Birthed in generosity, we continue finding ways to say the on purpose yes to God, and yes to where we want our hearts to go. This is absolutely the “treasure in heaven” Jesus spoke about. Jesus meant PEOPLE every time. And that’s what we’re trying to live here. This is our story of generosity. And I love it.
Third and finally – I bring our story up today as we begin this money conversation – to say: this is YOUR story. You are part of the story of generosity that God is writing here in this place. And I remind you of this to then ask you this question: I wonder, where is your heart going? Your heart is already going toward families experiencing homelessness on the Eastside of Seattle. Supporting what Salt House is doing is drawing your heart into this story.
But as we know, your story is not just the collective story here at Salt House – we each have our own personal finances and choices, places where our money goes that our hearts go, too. So my friends – remembering that this is our story together, this morning, we begin by asking, by paying attention to this question: Where does my money (heart) go? We ask ourselves: What am I investing in now? What is shaping me, now?
This question is your homework for this morning for this week – write it down or put it in your phone if you’d like – on your calendar as a reminder, on a note. I invite you to become a curious observer of how you spend your money. You can get very practical about it: look at your bank account and look at the long list of purchases you make over the course of a month, the places you give to. Where is there intentional budgeting, where is the spontaneous spending. And again – to just get curious about it – and not judgmental, don’t should yourself about it for now. Just pay attention. Where is your heart going? Make a list. Where, how you spend your money. What is forming you through how you spend your money? Because, the place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.