SALT & LIGHT
Today, I’m going to share with you a message on financial giving. We don’t often do that but every now and then it’s a good idea. The idea of doing this came up at our Finance Committee meeting last month where we looked at our balance sheet and said, “Hmmm, we think we have to do some work on this.”
Our reality is that we had a financial deficit last year. That was okay to a point because we started off the year with some money in the bank. But that balance was depleted to the point that we are basically started with a zero balance for 2023.
But before we get into that, Let’s ground ourselves in Scripture. This morning, I want to read what Jesus said about salt and light from Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV) which says this:
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Jesus said that we should be salt and light. What does that mean for us?
First of all, what is salt? You’d think that should be an easy question but it’s not. Contrary to what many people think, salt is not a spice. That’s because spices, by definition come from plants. Salt does not come from a plant. It’s actually an ionic compound called sodium chloride.
So what is sodium chloride? It’s a preservative. It keeps things fresh so that they don’t spoil. Years ago, salting things was an important way for our ancestors to preserve food for the winter. Beef was salted as was pork. The fishermen in Newfoundland made their livelihoods by salting cod and shipping it back to Europe. That’s what salt does. It preserves.
And what about light? What does it do? It shows us the way. Without light, you can’t see where you are going and you can trip and fall perhaps injuring yourself. But as long as there is light on your path, you know where to go. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t trip. Some people have two left feet and can trip over the yellow line in the middle of the road. I’ve been known to do that myself. But as long as there is light, at least you know what you’re tripping over. Light shows you the way.
As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called to salt and light in our community. We are called to preserve that which is good and to be light that provides direction for the way that we should go. Those are two pretty awesome responsibilities but that is what Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to preserve what is good and to provide direction in our community. Jesus calls us to be salt and Jesus calls us to be light.
PAYING FOR WHAT YOU WANT
How does that relate to our financial responsibilities in the church. Think about it. Where do we get salt and where do we get light? We get salt from the grocery store and we get light from the hydro lines that come into our homes. Do you know what we have to do? We have to pay for our groceries and we have to pay for our utilities if we want to continue to have salt and light.
The same thing is true for the church. If we want to be salt and light for our community we need to fund that ministry with our financial offerings. That’s where stewardship comes in. That’s how we pay for the salt and light that we share.
I’d like to share a couple of theological principles. The first one is this: As the people of God, we need to pay for what we want, not for what we have.
What does that mean? It means that we need to use our financial resources to pay for the stuff that will help our ministry to grow. In short, if we are serious about building our Christian education programmes, then we need to be willing to spend the money to do that. If we want to expand our music ministry, we need to be willing to pay for that. If we want to refill the Family Minister position – which we are hoping to do – we need to be willing to pay for that.
Here is something that is true. If you want to know what’s really important to someone, what do you look at? Do you listen to what they say? Yes, to a point. Do you look at the organizations they belong to? Yes, to a point. Those things matter. But if you really want to know what is important to someone all you have to do is take a look at the monthly credit card statement and you can tell right away because people will spend their money on what’s important to them.
Churches act the same way. If you want to know what’s really important to a congregation, look at their annual financial statement. That will tell you. It doesn’t matter what a congregation says is important to them, it’s where they spend their money that will tell you what’s really important. I know that sound very crass but it’s also very true. Besides, it’s also what Jesus said in Matthew 6:21 (NIV): “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I want to share an example with you of what I mean by this. I know of a United Church that not too long ago decided to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a rebuilt pipe organ. You might wonder why they did that. I wondered the same thing. They did it because their old pipe organ was kaputz. It was no longer worth repairing so they thought they had to replace it. Why? Because it’s what they’d always had a pipe organ and they wanted to keep having a pipe organ. $250,000 is a lot of money. In fact, it was more than their normal operating budget. They had it paid off in about a year and a half. Isn’t that amazing? I thought it was amazing.
So, what’s the problem? The problem is that this same church said that it wanted to attract more youth and young families. But if that was their goal why did they spend $250,000 on a pipe organ? Is it because teenagers just can’t wait to listen to 19th century pipe organ music through their ear buds? I don’t think so. In fact, I know precious few people of any age who listen to classical pipe organ music anywhere but in church.
At the same time, the same church tried to raise enough money to fund a part-time child and youth ministry position. But they couldn’t do it. I want to be clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a pipe organ but, in this case, spending all that money on a pipe organ was inconsistent with their stated goals of reaching out to youth and young families. They could raise $250,000 for a pipe organ but couldn’t scrape enough together for a part-time youth minister? They they were willing to pay for what they had, not for what they wanted. There was no salt and the lights were turned off. That same congregation today is one of the many that is wondering why they are aging and can’t attract young people. Salt and light. Salt and light. There wasn’t any. I don’t want to be that church and I don’t think you want to be that church either.
MONEY FOLLOWS MISSION
That’s the first principle, that we need to pay for what we want, not for what we have. Here’s the second one: mission does not follow money; money follows mission. What that means is this; mission is not based on how much money we have. Rather, we decide what mission we want to achieve and then think about how to fund it.
Money follows mission. Once we have decided what we believe God is calling us to do, only then do we think about the funding. That’s because as people of faith, we have to believe that if God wants us to do something, then God will also provide the means to achieve it.
Again, look at the Kyiv Home. This time last year, none of us even had a germ of an idea that this was going to happen. But now the house is almost complete and we may have Ukrainian refugees in there by early March. When we started this, we had to budget, no money and no materials. Now we have a house and we have funding. We have come a very long way in very little time.
If we had got caught up in the money at the beginning, the Kyiv Home project would have never got off the ground. But we focused on the mission and trusted God to provide the money and it happened. I’m not say that God just handed us a blank cheque. But I believe that God inspired people to open their wallets, open their hearts and volunteer their time and resources to make this happen.
Salt and light. Jesus calls us to be salt and light. Jesus calls us to preserve what is good in our community and then to reach out by providing direction and hope. Salt and light. Let’s be salt and light in our community.
But here’s reality. Two weeks ago, I spoke about the church as an institution and the church as a movement. And I said that it is far easier for the church to get money for movement projects like the Kyiv House and the Prayer Garden. Those things inspire people and they make a clear and obvious difference in our community. People love funding those movement missions.
It’s much more difficult to raise money to pay salaries and hydro bills. That’s because salaries and hydro bills are not nearly as inspiring as outreach mission projects. We have never had much trouble funding outreach projects. But the salaries and hydro bills still need to be paid. And that’s where our shortfall is right now.
Our balance in our operating budget is basically zero. That doesn’t mean that we’re bankrupt and in danger of closing. We still have money in the bank but only because our treasurer is borrowing from other funds in the church. But those funds have to be replaced and we need to balance the budget for our operating expenses.
The Finance Committee is asking everyone to consider if they can increase their monthly offerings or give an additional one time offering to the church. We know that some people can’t do that. Some people are already maxed out and if you’re one of those people, then we thank you and don’t feel pressured into doing something that you can’t do. But lots of us could do a bit more. There are a couple of thoughts I want to share with you as think about this.
The Bible talks about giving in terms of a tithe and I think it’s a valuable tool to use as we consider how much we are able to contribute to this ministry. The literal tithe means 10% of our income. But I’m not a literalist and I don’t think it is necessary to take the tithe literally. You certainly can. In fact, Ruth and I have goal of giving 10% of our take home pay to the church. But that’s our goal and it doesn’t necessarily have to be your goal.
But there are two important points that the concept of the tithe brings to us. The first one is that the tithe is about proportional giving. It’s about giving a certain proportion, a certain percentage, of your income to the work of God. Whether that is 1%, 3%, 5%, 10% or even 20%. It’s a percentage that you choose to contribute.
I’ve given you these statistics before but they are worth repeating. When you ask the average church goer how much of their income they give to the church, they will guess that they give about 3%. But when they go home and figure it out, they discover that they actually give slightly more than half of that or about 1.7%.
What that means is that a lot of people don’t know how much they give. Maybe they say that they give 3% because that’s what they’d like to do. But then they discover that they aren’t doing it. And maybe that’s a good thing because it gives them a goal to shoot toward as they seek to be salt and light.
So the question become, what proportion of your income would you like to contribute? That’s for you to decide. And once you’ve decided that how do you get there? Maybe your already there. Maybe you’re actually above where you’d like to be. But if you’re not, if you’re giving less than you like, what do you do about that?
I remember when Ruth and I started this conversation when we first got married almost thirty-eight years ago. Her parents were pretty clear that we should consider tithing 10%. Unlike me, her Dad was a literalist. I recall Bernie saying back then that if we gave the Lord the tithe, that we would never go without. And so far, he’s been right.
But it took a while for us to get that 10% goal. It takes time to rearrange your finances because we all have other financial commitments as well. But we figured out where we were and every year we increased our offerings by 0.5% or 1%. It took about seven years to reach the 10% but we got there and we’ve stayed there. As our income went up, our offerings went up. Next year, in retirement, if our income goes down, then our tithe goes down as well. But that’s the benefit of a tithe. You aren’t locked into a dollar amount. You are locked into a percentage that automatically adjust over time.
The other benefit of the idea of a tithe is that it is intentional. We are told in the Bible to give to God from the first fruits of our labour. That means that the tithe comes off the top. We found that to be a valuable concept. Rather than rummaging around in our wallets and purses on Sunday morning trying to find something to put in the offering plate, we just give through PAR. Every month, our offering comes out of our bank account just like our insurance payments and RRSP contributions. It makes it easy and, that way, we know exactly what we are giving to the church every month. That helps us to intentionally contribute to the work of God as we seek to be salt and light to our community.
So what about you? What is God laying on your heart? Again, if you are giving all you can, then thank you. But if you think you can give a little bit more, the Finance Committee will appreciate that too. Even a little bit more can make a difference especially if a lot of people give a little bit more because those “little bit mores” add up to a lot and can make a huge difference.
Anyway, there you have it. That’s where we are and that’s what we need. Let’s continue to be salt and light together as we seek to do the ministry of Jesus Christ in this place.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, you are in our world. You are in our communities. You are in our lives. You are in our hearts. You are with us every moment of every day and for your constant presence we give you thanks and praise. You are with us in the laughter. You comfort us in our tears. You lift us up in times of pain and offer us the healing protection of your enfolding wings. You come to us in love. We return to you in love.
Although we have received our salvation by faith and not by works, it is a comfort to know that you care about the things that we do for others. Enable us to always do all that we can for others, taking full advantage of every opportunity to be an example of your love and character. Thank you for your unconditional love and unfailing promises.
We remember our Annual Congregational Meeting that happens today after worship. We pray, O God, that this will be a good, constructive and godly meeting. Enable us to hear everyone’s voice but especially yours. Give us direction. Give us courage and give us a kick if and when we need it so that we can continue to be your people in this place.
We lift up in prayer those who have been sick at home or in hospital this week. We remember especially John, Carol, Mark and Ron. Bless them as you have blessed us all with your Healing and Holy Spirit.
Once again, we remember our military personnel around the world. Keep them safe as they carry on their duties with courage and professionalism. We pray for peace in the troubled places of your creation, especially Ukraine as they continue to struggle against the aggressor. We pray that the communities may be rebuilt and families re-established that life may return to normal according to your justice.
God, you are our Heavenly Father, the one who nurtures and supports us through all of life. It is our desire that we be always willing to follow your leadership and instructions regardless of how it may appear to others. Help us to have courage and strength to go anywhere and do anything that you ask of us. May we go without hesitation or reservation, confident that all things will happen according to your great purpose. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 5, 2023 / Epiphany 5
Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12); Psalm 112:1-10; Matthew 5:13-20; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us sing praises to God.
Let us worship God with gladness.
The love of God is eternal;
Complete in us, O God, the work that you have begun.
PRAYER OF ADORATION
We enter your presence, God of Grace, and bow down within your Holy Temple. Your love and your faithfulness rise through the ages. Your name is supreme among all names. Answer us as we call upon you, O God of Creation. You are faithful to fulfill the promises that you have made and, so, we lift up our voices in praise to give you glory, honour and blessing. Come down from your heights and care for us. Redeem us in your love. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Earth and Ocean, you have called to us but we have not always been faithful to answer. Sometimes we are timid. Sometimes we are shy. Often we hesitate to cast our nets into the waters of life for fear that they will come up empty and we will be disappointed. Forgive us, again, for our doubts and uncertainties. Enable us to see beyond our narrow vision and to follow Jesus where he leads. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When Jesus calls, he leads. When he makes demands, he provides. When he promises forgiveness, he redeems. Walk in the light and stand in awe of the One who gave his life as a ransom for all that we might be freed from our sins to live and answer the call of God.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
For all of your goodness, God, we give you thanks. How can we respond but by giving back a portion to you for your work? We send these gifts in Jesus’ name as signs of love and faith to answer your call to mission and ministry. Amen.
Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, to becomes fishers of humanity.
We, too, are called to reach out to those to whom God has sent us.
Go, in Jesus’ name, to cast the net of salvation into the waters of our community.