Turning Things Around

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Ephesians 6
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 17-26
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Luke 6: 22 (NIV)

THE BEATITUDES

Last week we began our annual preparation for the Annual Meeting which is after worship today. We looked at how we did with the goals and objectives for 2019 and we looked at the first of three goals for 2019. As a reminder that goal was to develop a strategy for welcoming, engaging and retaining parishioners in Cottam United Church.

Today, we are going to look at the other two goals for 2019 which are:

To fill the Family Minister position that was approved by the congregation, and

To consolidate our finances by developing an effective stewardship programme.

But before we do that, let’s as always, ground ourselves in Scripture. We’re going to do that with the Beatitudes which are found in Luke 6:20-22 (NIV) which says:

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

          for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,

          for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who weep now,

           for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,

          when they exclude you and insult you

          and reject your name as evil,

            because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

This is one of the most well known passages of the New Testament. It’s also one of the most radical because it does what Jesus does best which is to challenge the prevailing assumptions of the day by enabling people another side of the story. That’s exactly what Jesus is doing in this passage. He takes all of the negative things in life and turns them into positives.

Whoever thought of the poor as being blessed? Jesus says they are because the kingdom of God is theirs. They might be poor now but just wait and see how God will turn that around in the coming kingdom. What about the hungry? Jesus says that in the kingdom they will have lots to eat. And then there are those who weep. They will laugh in the kingdom. And blessed are those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus because they will be rewarded for their faith in the kingdom of God.

Jesus has a way of turning things around. And he has called the church to do the same thing. Jesus calls us to turn around and to see things in a new way. The way that I like to think of this is that Jesus calls his church to turn obstacles into opportunities. And that is what we are going to talk about today. That’s because we have some obstacle in our way that we need to address and that is what today’s goals are all about.

FILLING THE FAMILY MINISTER POSITION

So let’s take a look at the first goal which is to fill the Family Minister position that was approved by the congregation. As you know, last fall we passed the position description for a Family Minister whose job it will be to help develop and implement a comprehensive programme for families with children from junior kindergarten and grade 12. The whole idea is to meet the changing needs of our congregation and community. As we said last week, unlike many United Churches, our congregation has been growing and getting younger. That’s a good thing but it has created some obstacles.

First, while there are more people involved in the church than ever, that doesn’t always bear out in worship attendance because the younger families tend to be less consistent in attendance due to work and other family commitments. That means that many of the younger families are here every second or third week rather than every week. I’m not saying that to be critical and it shouldn’t be seen as a negative. It’s just reality and it’s probably not going to change. So, while in 2018 we saw a modest increase in attendance, it really doesn’t reflect the number of new people we actually see in worship on a regular basis.

The second obstacle is that the increase in our congregation also doesn’t necessarily show up in our finances because much of the increase is in younger families who have limited disposable income because they are raising families, paying mortgages and saving for their children’s educations. But that again is what we have and we have to work with it.

The third and probably the most serious obstacle is that we are in danger of burning out our volunteers who have worked tirelessly to bring Christ to our Sunday School children. If we burn them out, who is going to replace them and continue on with this important work? The other aspect of this is that because our volunteers are so busy trying to meet the needs of those in the church, they have had little time or energy to reach further out into the community. There is a huge potential out there that we have not hardly begun to tap into. And if we don’t tap into it, you can be sure that some other church or organization will.

So we have some obstacles. And what did Jesus say about obstacles? He said that he will bless those obstacles and turn them into opportunities. That is what we hope the Family Minister will do. He or she will help us to get past the obstacles so that the work of Jesus Christ may continue and so that his message can be shared and spread.

IMPROVING FINANCES

The last goal we want to look at this year is to consolidate our finances by developing an effective stewardship programme. The reason we need to do that is because of a new obstacle. For the first time in over ten years, we find ourselves in a deficit position with our finances. And that’s not good because the ministry initiative that we want to do that require money. We want to build the prayer garden. You saw the plans for that last week and there is a copy of the drawings downstairs on the bulletin board. Please have a look at them. To complete the entire prayer garden as designed with all of the walkways and everything else, we’re talking in the range of $30,000. The good news there is that we don’t have to do it all at once and it’s quite possible to complete it over a number of years. The plan is to use $15,000 from the Memorial Fund but we haven’t been able even to use that because it was keeping our General Account afloat for a couple of months in 2018. So we have to fix that.

We also want to hire that Family Minister and that’s going to cost money. And we have to realize that that a new staff is not a one shot thing. It’s an ongoing commitment that we need to finance every year. While we certainly expect to get grants for seed money to get things going, those grants will not last forever. The plan is to have that ministry pay for itself in three years by attracting enough new people to the church that our offerings will increase. The bottom line is that this position eventually has to be self-sustaining. I’m quite hopeful that we can achieve that.

That are other projects as well. The Property Committee has its wish list of projects that need to be done. The Social Media and Technology Committee has some great ideas that will further help us to share the Gospel message but that requires money too.

So all of this requires money and right now we don’t seem to have enough of it. That’s a big obstacle and it’s a new obstacle. The challenge for us is to take that obstacle and turn it into an opportunity. What’s the opportunity? It’s the opportunity to develop an effective stewardship programme.

If we made one strategic error in the past ten years, it is that we haven’t talked enough about stewardship. We haven’t talked enough about money. We didn’t have any money problems and so why talk about it? After all, one thing people really don’t like to talk about in church is money because we didn’t want to sound like one of those churches that is always asking for more of it. That was a strategic error and it’s part of the reason why we’re in the position we are in now. It might be that if we had kept up our stewardship education, things would be different now. But we can’t change the past. All we can do is look to the future with hope.

Here’s what we need to understand.  Money is a very important topic. It’s important to the church and it was important to Jesus. How important was it to Jesus? He talked about money more than almost any other topic. He talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell combined. He even talked about money more than he talked about love. When I first heard that, I was surprised. In fact, I think I was actually rather annoyed. But after doing some research, I discovered that it’s true.

In the New Testament, Jesus told a total of thirty-seven parables. Twelve of those dealt directly with money. Here they are:

  • the two debtors
  • the good Samaritan
  • the rich fool
  • the pearl of great price
  • the hidden treasure
  • counting the costs
  • the lost coin
  • the rich man and Lazarus
  • the workers in the vineyard
  • the prodigal son
  • the tenants in the vineyard
  • the talents

And what about the many other things that Jesus said about money. Matthew 6:19-20 (NIV) says, “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.” Here’s a few more familiar ones:

Matthew 19:21 (NIV): “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Matthew 6:24 (NIV): “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Luke 3:14 (NIV): “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

Matthew 21:12-13 (NIV): Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Luke 12:33 (NIV): Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Matthew 6:3-4 (NIV): But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And finally this one; Mark 12:41-44 (NIV): Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

I could go on but I think you’re getting the picture. And these are only the words of Jesus. This is the red letter stuff. I haven’t even touched the Old Testament or the rest of the New Testament.

Money is an important topic and we have not paid enough attention to it. We need to turn that around and I’m confident that we can. After all, this congregation has shown a great ability to turn obstacles into opportunities in the past. In the fourteen years since I’ve been your pastor, we have don’t a lot of things that people didn’t think we could accomplish financially. In 2006 we totally renovated the sanctuary at a cost of some $40,000. We have put a new roof on the church which cost about $25,000. Six years ago we put an addition on to the church hall for new offices which cost over $100,000. That was all paid for and in fairly quick order.

One of the things we have to get our minds around, however, is that some of the things we want to do now are not about the building. They are about reaching out into the community. And it’s interesting that the experience of many churches is that their people are often far more willing to give to building projects than they are to ministry projects.

I know of one church in the area that wanted to hire a youth minister. They tried and tried but could not come up with the money. But then, just a year or so later, their pipe organ needed to be replaced. In less than year they raised $250,000 to purchase a refurbished pipe organ. Imagine, that money could have given them a part-time youth pastor for over ten years but they thought that a pipe organ was more important. I don’t think that’s the kind of church that we want to be. I think that we are the kind of church that is more interested in reaching out in the name of Jesus.

This congregation has demonstrated an incredible ability to step up when the situation arises. The reality is that back in 2006 we were in the exact same situation that we are now and by the grace of God and the dedication of the people we moved forward.

But to do that we will have to do three things. First, we will have to be honest about our situation. Second, we need to understand how we got here. No problem was ever solved by skirting the issues. We need to face them directly and honestly. And finally, we need to find creative and faithful ways of overcoming the obstacles so that we can move forward in ministry.

I also want you to keep this in mind. The Church is one of the few organizations that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members. What do I mean by that? I mean that, to be the church of Jesus Christ, we must constantly be on the lookout for ways that we can reach out to our neighbours in this community and beyond. To that means that we sometimes face obstacles. And when we do, we need to take Jesus’ advice and turn those obstacles into opportunities.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Holy God, we give you thanks for your faithfulness in all situations. You are a God of hope and you lift us up above our difficulties into a new and glorious life. We appreciate very much the life that we live today. We are surrounded by many good and beautiful creations. We have the privilege of knowing many good and godly people. How can we fully acknowledge your greatness and our overwhelming gratitude for all that you have done for us? Still we thank you for life. 

Thank you that we can be confident of your love and the certainty of your promises. When we turn to you, we can have joy in situations that would otherwise cause worry, anxiety, or despair. We can have that joy even before the solution are available to us because you are totally reliable. Thank You for the comfort and assurance that you offer. Your love is always a Rock upon which we can absolutely depend.

We give thanks also for the life of Lyle Miller whose funeral was this week. Thank you, O God, for his faithful actions and gentle spirit and all of the things that he did for your glory and to share your word.

We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We pray for Sharon and all others who have been ill in body, mind or spirit. Heal all of us of all of our wounds by the power of your Spirit. In the midst of our prayers, we thank you for the wonders of medical science and the quality of life that it offers to us.

God of Hope and Grace, we are thankful that you care about all that concerns our lives. Enable us to always keep our hearts and minds focused on you and your way of doing things. We hold fast to the hope that we have in you. In doing so we will be able to make wise decisions and live lives filled with wisdom and discretion. We can then rest secure in you, free of worry or fear because we know that we have done the right thing. Thank you for peace in our hearts and for your great unfailing and unconditional love. We pray these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

February 17, 2019 / Epiphany 6

SCRIPTURE

Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE: Blessed be the God of Creation

ALL: who watches over the assembly of the people.

ONE: Come, let us worship the one who gives us life;

ALL: let us give praise to our Shepherd and Friend.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Father God, we seek to be open to you today. Open our hearts and minds by the grace of your Spirit that we be willing and eager to learn more of your wonderful Good News. Sometimes in can uncomfortable to follow you. Sometimes we are required to change our attitudes or our way of doing things. Enable us to always be willing to surrender to your will and way. We seek to embrace you as you have embraced us.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

God of Compassion, we wander away from your path and walk in sinking sand. We are grateful that present circumstances are never permanent in your sight. Regardless of what has happened in the past, you are able to restore situations that would otherwise be impossible. Enable us to focus on your unfailing love and your unlimited mercy and grace. Despite our sinfulness, you offer us hope and assurance. We desire to set our hearts to trust you in all of life’s situations. Lead us into greener pastures of service to you and others.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The sinfulness of humanity has given way to the grace of God. The power of the Cross is the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Receive the Good News. When we confess our sins, God heals us and makes us whole.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

We express our thanksgiving through the offering of our tithes. We give in trust, not knowing what you, O God, will do or what difference our gifts will make. We give in faith, knowing that you waste nothing but rather make everything work for your purpose when we offer it in Jesus’ name. Receive our gifts, O God of Creation.

COMMISSIONING

We have shared in song and prayers. We have offered to God our thanksgiving and praise. May we go back out into the world as transformed people, renewed by the power of the Spirit and the grace of God’s amazing love.

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