June 19, 2016 / Generous Lives Part 4: Why Where We Give Matters / Sara Wolbrecht / Matthew 6:19-21
Friends this is our fourth and final week examining how we can change the cultural story of scarcity, looking at four fresh ways to see our stuff. I’m talking about three kinds of resources we all have: our time, our talent, and our treasure. And no matter how much of each of those three areas we have in our lives right now – our cultural story will always make us feel like it is insufficient, lacking, tight, not enough. We are indoctrinated with a story that tells us what we have is scarce. And though there are times when this is absolutely true and maybe it is true for you now – most of the time the story of scarcity is a lie. And we’re farming it with this question of experiencing more of the life of God.
Let’s review where we’ve been, the paradigms we’ve covered, mindsets for how we view our time, treasure, and talent – because this all informs where we’re headed – so hold on to these. Here are our paradigms: Four Paradigms for Generous Lives: Our first week we looked at how the first community of Jesus-followers had this incredible life of generosity (and we wondered about: how is that even possible?) and we named how it is possible because 1. Generous living flows from the Spirit of God as we (keep) say(ing) yes to the Jesus story, together. And we are invited to keep saying the fresh yes to the story of Jesus to let that Spirit of God flow through us generously. So the foundational place we begin from: it’s not about how awesome we are at being generous, but what God can do through our yes.
The second week, we explored how God gives so much to people who are willing to share all they have, the paradigm that 2. We only get what we give. That God loves to give more to open hands.
Last week we looked at our third mindset – our relationship with our things, our sense of ownership – that we are not collectors of resources, but instead we come alive when we see ourselves as curators of God’s resources. Our paradigm is that: 3. God only gives to us so that he can give through us. Which inherently names that the money, time, skills we have – we hold them loosely for they are not ours, but are actually God’s resources, and the choices we make matter. Our willingness to step out in courage will open us up to greater opportunity and responsibility for curating.
Friends, this is where we have been – pretty awesome, challenging stuff – and today we reach number 4. ??? (what’s it going to be?!) as our journey reaches its culmination as we at what God has said he will do in us when we are generous. Which I am stoked about.
Before we get there, though, there’s an important stop we need to make in this journey around generosity. Have you ever noticed how often we give money and time to things that we have no idea how they work? We just trust that people do their jobs, and that things will be handled well and will be ok. A great example: flying in an airplane. I am just assuming that the pilot has had a little bit more sleep than I’ve had and hopefully a lot more experience and training than I’ve had – but I haven’t met her or him. I don’t know! I don’t know their background. And watching Denzel Washington’s films have not given me any more encouragement. But I trust it’ll be ok. Know what mean?
Here’s the thing: Church should not be like that. This thing should not be that mysterious, and sometimes it is.
And friends, if we’re talking about generosity and giving, we need to acknowledge that Salt House is a place where we have trusted a portion of our lives, our hope, our talents, our time and for some of us – our money to this community of Salt House. And sometimes churches appear secretive about how time, treasure and talent are used and we here refuse to live that way. We want to be transparent. So it’s important for us to stop and explain some things financially today. And as I do, please know that if you don’t consider Salt House a home for you, if you’re visiting, that this is not for you, in a sense – though I do think the principles behind it are universal, and so all of us have something to hear in this. And if you are visiting, we’re not expecting anything from you – so please just soak this up with no expectations attached.
So, think about Salt House. You may be someone who has been here for one week, or from the very beginning. I wonder, what is it about this place that keeps you here, what are you thankful for, how does God reach you here? The music. The meals we share. The Salt House Kid’s experience. Our inclusive theology – that we welcome all people. Maybe the New Bethlehem Day Center and serving families experiencing homelessness. Or our refined sense of mission to reach people who face transition. Or maybe simply, you’re here because this is a place where you can belong. Or maybe you just love what God does here especially on Sundays, forming us, changing us, you have a good time. Or the preaching – that keeps you comin’ back each week.
Whatever it is, we want to see much much more of that. More of God impacting our lives and using us to impact our neighborhood and world for the sake of Jesus. But we may have never stopped and asked: but how does all that work?
So here we go! So, how much do you think it costs to fuel Salt House each month – what’s our operating budget each month? About $20,500, or an annual budget of $246,540 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. That may seem high or low – as you consider some of your own costs. To explain what we’re seeing here, we don’t have a mortgage or rent payment, but we do have a loan payment we’re paying off (financed our renovation). We also pay for everything for the facility – upkeep, utilities, insurance, taxes. Also costs related to ministry – like food, craft supplies and curriculum for our kids, all the tea lights and twinkly lights we go through, wine and juice for communion, office supplies, printing costs, signs. All of these costs we keep pretty low, and at a fairly bare minimum.
By far, where our money is invested is in our staff, compensating our team to devote their attention to mission-critical ministries we’re doing. That accounts for 70% of our budget, paying our five staff people. Me as pastor, Jason Bendickson at half-time as lead for music, the arts, website and social media, Sean Bendickson as our office and communications guru at 1/3 time. Our Salt House Kid’s leader, Renee Connor, and our janitor and facilities lead, Gary. We also pay for the staff support we get at HSLC. And I’ll point out as a side note – everything else that happens here is made possible by so many of y’all who show up, serve, volunteer – everything else is done by this community. Singing, playing, leading our kids, cleaning, set-up, tear-down, watching our finances, serving in leadership, cooking, filing, organizing, leading. Which is awesome.
All of this comes to about $20,500 a month total to keep Salt House humming.
That’s a quick look at our expenses. As for income, let’s look at how our income lines up with our expenses. Salt House has a few sources of income that fuel our ministry: we own a rental house next door. We also rent to Eastside Seventh Day Adventists who use our building, Friday night and most of Saturday. That all accounts for $5,200 each month in rental income. An incredible blessing to have that income.
Then we have the offerings that folks here at Salt House give, many of us. We receive $8,500 per month from offerings. This includes what we gather on Sundays, as well as any online and text giving – including folks who don’t actually attend, they believe in what God is doing here and pray for us, and give (which is a tremendous gift). This number includes all of that.
So – this means that our total income is on average $13,700/month. And our expenses are $20,500. This means we have a deficit of $7,000 per month at this time. We have been able to support this deficit because Salt House received a $95,000 endowment from Trinity Lutheran Church before we launched. Those funds have sustained us through our months of deficit, and about $30,000 currently remains – this pool of money also includes grant money we have received from the ELCA, as well – which is amazing.
Moving forward we have another source of income, we also have the tremendously generous gift of the JOY Campaign from Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. Back in the fall, HSLC invited folks to give, to pledge to three years of supporting Salt House and folks were incredibly generous. We have about $68,000 a year for these next three years. Amazing, right? So thankful.
…Our trajectory then: if nothing were to change in how much giving happens here, we would still have enough money for 2.5 or 3 years. Folks, again, that’s so encouraging. This is phenomenal for a new congregation, like Salt House – we are still brand new. And this is amazing that we have such assurance that we are ok.
What we do however hope to see, is an increase in giving – so that we can exist longer than three years – and that will happen as people join our community, and as people choose to invest more into the mission of God through Salt House.
Just a final word on all of this: our finances each week are managed by staff members from HSLC, our parent congregation – high accountability and consistency there. We also have volunteers from Salt House watch the numbers, who are aligned on our vision, and provide expertise and leadership in this. So I am getting information from those folks, so I don’t follow this directly, and I don’t know who gives and who doesn’t. …If you have any questions about any of this, please let me know.
Phew! Ok. We made it. That’s the quick, abbreviated look at how Salt House works. And I wonder: hearing this, noticing the numbers – I wonder – what does this do in you? What kind of response does it stir up in you? What emotion, what do you notice? Again – we’re talking about money and for so many of us that is uncomfortable even before we start talking about it. But again, we don’t want this to be a secretive process. Transparency is key. So what are you experiencing in this?
I’ll tell you what I feel: the overwhelming thing I feel when I hear this is gratitude. Such gratitude that our story here at Salt House is one of generosity: that of Trinity Lutheran Church which has made our existence even possible – and continues to, the generosity of the folks of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. Gratitude for your generosity: y’all and so many others who have given so much to our new community– prayer, time, money, ideas, creativity, care, food and gifts to what God is doing in the Salt House community. I am overwhelmingly grateful.
Another thing it prompts me to do as a pastor is to say: we have some room to grow here. Not just practically but spiritually. God wants to grow us in maturity. We are always a work in progress, always becoming, we never have to have it all together because we know we still have growing to do. If we want to see progress, we need to engage in the process.
And to engage in that process of spiritual maturity and generosity, we’re turning this final week to some of what God has said he will do when we act generously, when we make those choices. 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.
(Take in a deep breath – hold for four seconds). 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. Our final text for this generous lives series, comes from there. (Come on up). We could include a whole lot more from this chapter, but we’re going to just drill into a few sentences to focus our discussion.
Matthew 6:19-21. 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. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. What does this 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, my time, my talent 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.
And 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). We can insert the word “resources” here for treasure. Jesus is saying: however we spend our resources, our money, yes, and also our time in how we work and play, our gifts and talents – however we spend our resources, wherever they go, we’ll be. Those places will become the things that we value most, that shape us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically. Our heart goes to where our resources go. Think about that! And I was floored some years ago when I realized this is actually what the verse says – my money and resources, how I use them, 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 resources, 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 to live and be differently. Throughout his teaching, Jesus talked a lot about the things that are precious to us. You see, Jesus talked a lot about money, a ton. Did you know: Jesus talks more about money than he does about love! (More than anything else). Did you know that? It’s not that he was obsessed with money – I think he knew that we often are. I don’t know if there is anything we think about more often than money – we think about it more than we do food and relationships and our future. We think about where we’re spending our money, where we wish we could, what we have or don’t have, how much debt we’re burdened with. It’s like white noise in all of our experiences. And that obsession does something to our psychology and our souls – and Jesus is saying there’s another way.
So yes, into the white noise of money, Jesus offers us this principle and invitation: to ask ourselves: where do we want to go? This is our final paradigm for generous living, and I can’t say it more simply than this: Give where we want our hearts to go.
Give where we want our hearts to go. If we want to change the story we’re living, to move out from under the oppressive story of fear and scarcity, and if we want to be changed at a heart and soul level, to experience breakthrough in how we function in the world, then the best possible action, is to take our resources and place them where we want to go.
How do we actually do this? Jesus says: store up treasure in heaven – Jesus isn’t talking about a pot of gold that we get after we die. Jesus is saying that our hearts will attach to God’s heart as we move our resources in the direction of God. Jesus says: invest in the things that matter, on things that have lasting impact, on things that align with God’s heart. 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.
Friends, the question then is: where do you want to go? What do you want to value most? …And how the heck do we answer that question?
A place to begin to answer this vital question, is to ask: where is your heart already going? In other words, where are we already giving? Where do our own resources already go?
One way to measure that: flip open your calendar and open up that bank account ledger. If we were to flip through our own bank statement, seeing where our money goes – what would that reveal? To look through our calendar, to see where our time and our gifts go – what are we giving to? This is a visible sign, a way of tracking our priorities, of where our heart is going, of who we are becoming on the inside.
Our bank statement and calendar – that’s the place to start – to notice where our resources are already going. And as we do this, to celebrate the ways we are already generous, the places where we are aligning with God’s heart.
And to be open, also, to notice where our resources aren’t headed in the right direction. And it often takes time to really notice where we can redirect what we have. Sometimes there are glaring changes we can make. For me: I needed to unsubscribe from emails from the Gap and Forever21 because too much of my time and yes, money, would go there if I saw those emails. That was obvious. It’s taking me more time, however, to let go of the cultural expectation that I need to buy shoes and clothes each season that are on trend. And after stopping that behavior, it’s taking even longer to let go of the time I spend dreaming about the possibilities of what I would buy.
It takes more time, effort, prayer, to really sort out the places where we can change how we direct our time and money and talent. The work of realigning our priorities, our hearts takes time – but it begins by naming it, and taking action to place our hearts where we want to go.
So my friends, what can you begin to name today in your life both as priorities you celebrate and those you want to change as you consider where you want your heart to go?
We’re going to spend some time looking at these questions. And to do so, I invite you to pull out your bulletin. You picked up more paper than usual this week, because we wanted to put a few things in your hands. Pull out the half-sheet that has a big heart on it.
You can use this piece of paper in a few ways. The heart is open space for you to draw, make lists, words, phrases – to name the places you want your heart to go. You don’t have to have answers to how or what that looks like. But to begin to listen and dream with God about how God wants to give through you in a way that will shape your heart.
Then the bottom half and the back of that sheet are dedicated to considering how you want to live generously in community here at Salt House. I know some of us are tapped out, empty, unable to offer anything - and if that is the season you are in we are with you and for you – and if anything please just write down how we can pray for you.
Also – there is so much to engage in beyond what’s happening here at Salt House that God is doing, but as God’s people, a piece of our generosity is lived out in community – again, we saw that in the Acts 2 passage a few weeks ago. So this at least gives us all a place to start, together, knowing that there is much for us to do, generously, beyond these walls in our spheres of influence.
So for those of us who want to experiment in generosity, here are some options at Salt House. The front is a place for making a statement of commitment – again, this isn’t written in stone, but a place to say, yes, God, this is where I want my heart to go. To indicate intention, to make the choice to live more generously. Then the back offers some of the possibilities of what that can look like – ways, to serve and use your gifts. This is obviously a finite list – please, please, add to it based on what you have to offer, based on what you hear God saying to you, based on the gifts you have, based on what you would like to see here.
And again, maybe this feel awkward for some of us, to be so direct about giving our time and our money. I know it is taking me n extra measure of courage. But Jesus is so clear – her ein what we read, and in all the ways he talked about our stuff. Our relationship with our stuff is a spiritual reality, and it is sacred work for us to even pull out the paper and prayerfully ask God to do something in us, to lead us in how to invest our resources – for ultimately, we are investing our hearts, our loves in these places. And so we do it.
And as we do, what we discover – I don’t know why or how it works exactly, but as we give where we want our hearts to go, we discover a life of joy. We discover how all those other paradigms are true: that the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to do it. That the more we give, the more we receive, that what we have isn’t ours but belongs to God and God gives to us so that God can give through us to others. And this final paradigm seals it all – that in embracing this generous lifestyle – and don’t get me wrong this is hard, ongoing, sweat-it-out, take the leap of faith kind of work – but with every act and habit of generosity, we actually are changed, we become generous, joyous people whose hearts align with the heart of God. That is what God does in us. We can’t change the cultural story of scarcity that we live in, but we can let God change our story as God changes us to live generous lives for our sake and the sake of the world. And that my friends, is good, good news. Amen? Amen.