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June 4, 2017
GENEROSITY AS TRANSFORMATION
Most of us have had the experience of being put on hold. We make a call needing assistance, and there we wait, stuck listening to a loop of some yammering or bad music. We try to multitask, but our mind is preoccupied with an annoying question. “When are these people going to pick up?” Will you wonder with me about the longest time you were ever on hold? I am sure I have waited over 30 minutes at times.
~ Pastor Tim Stern
As we approach our Pentecost reading this morning from the book of Acts, we need to be aware that the disciples of Jesus have been stuck on hold. The Ascension of Christ, after the resurrection, has left them in a lurch. They understand Jesus as now fully in the presence of the first person of the Trinity. Christ in heaven; disciples on earth and at a loss for purpose. There is grief, there is prayer and consoling, there is lot of standing around and staring at sandals and sky, but there is not resolve, direction or energy. Like the vision of dry bones that comes to Ezekiel, they are lifeless. Like the people of Babel, the disciples and their community have not yet figured out how to take advantage of their diversity. The followers of Jesus are scattered and perplexed.
One day, about a hundred and twenty of them were gathered for dinner and prayer and suddenly a storm was unleashed upon them. This was not some gentle breeze. The shock of it was like a violent wind. The Holy Spirit was a gale wind of change. Emotional bursts of faith ignited voices and hearts, it seemed to those gathered that there were tongues of flames dancing on their heads. They could think of no better way to describe it. Disciples who had been hiding in fear and silence abruptly found their voices, courage and purpose. The church falling and flailing, became the church flying. The church ignited was released for ministry. Their message was so clear that devout Jews from Africa, Asia and Europe heard the gospel preached in their own tongue. Their worship so enlivening and contagious that people were amazed. By the time Peter got done with his little homily, three thousand people were moved to baptism and dedication. When we speak with children we often call Pentecost the birthday of the church.
You are probably aware that this year is the silver celebration, the 25th birthday of our church. Our first worship was in December of 1991, and we were chartered as a congregation in October of 1992 with 93 members. Today we are almost 300 strong with 150 children and another 150 friends who worship with us three to twelve times a year. We have undergone so many amazing transformations in 25 years and 90% were positive. The good thing about the other 10 percent is that we as a church learn from our mistakes. For the most part when we screw up, we acknowledge it and adjust.
This spring, the word Transformations is being used to describe our hopes for one of our primary tools for mission, which is our building. We are engaging in an exciting Capital Savings fund founding. We are swearing off on new mortgages and vowing to save money until we are within three years of having the funds in hand to expand our building. Like responsible stewards, we are opening a savings account, and we are going to watch it grow. We are filling the piggy bank, feeding the nest egg. We are going to compound interest, grace, goodwill and hope until we are ready to launch.
Sardines stuck in a can, that’s the best phrase to describe our lobby on Sunday mornings Tuesday nights and during special events and special worship. The lobby worn, tight and perhaps a bit dingy. Our goal is to create a welcoming space for a welcoming congregation. Our goals is to expand and improve our lobby. You as a congregation truly have the spiritual gift of hospitality, but your lobby is holding you back.
I remember, about 16 years ago, our goal was to grow hospitality at Ark and Dove by creating a commercial kitchen. A woman in our church, who had served as mission elder and building fund campaign chair felt a strong wind in her life. She came to me a said, “Tim, I’m retiring in a month, and I want us to have a real kitchen for Logos and for mission projects. Someday,” she said, “we will have the room to house homeless people. I have an IRA toward which I have been contributing for years. I am giving 10 percent to the church for the kitchen.” I was blown away, and you know what? Her generosity was transforming. Suddenly money and ideas started flowing. Her vision was contagious and, in months, we had our kitchen. Hospitality is in our DNA.
If there’s one thing that shapes our ministry at Ark and Dove, it is our devotion to the education and spiritual formations of children, youth and adult. It’s right in our mission statement. Our goal is to transform lives so that people are empowered and God’s dream is carried into the world. On Tuesday nights, when Logos is on. On Thursday nights when scouts are here. On Sunday mornings at 9:30, our cup runneth over, and we truly don’t have the room to host the educations ministries we would like to unleash. We would like to add two multi-use classrooms to our toolbox.
A Worship Elder came up to me one night at Logos, just as we were in the midst of one of our eight previous Building Fund Campaigns. “Tim,” he said, “Ark and Dove has touched our family. My wife and I, and our daughter, have grown in faith in so many ways. We are so grateful for the community we have here. I have served on a building fund team, and we know that every campaign needs a lead donor, someone to give 10% or more. Well, as you know, my father died a few months ago. Well what you didn’t know, and we didn’t know, was that he left my brother and I over a million dollars. We’ve talked, and we weren’t expecting this gift. Its sheer grace. It’s a windfall. We are going to give away about 15% and part of that giving is that we would like to pledge $45,000 to the building fund. We wanted you to know ahead of time, so it helps the church plan the campaign and for its future.”
I felt the winds of Pentecost. I knew this elder did not like hugs, but let me tell you, I gave him a very long and warm handshake. That gift was absolutely transforming for our church. It was what we needed to get over the top, to move forward on expanding this sanctuary and building the Marshall Room.
We would like to expand that Marshall room, so that we can effectively host larger receptions at funerals and weddings, and more men who are homeless during Winter Relief. We would like to add showers down at that end of the building, so that when men, who are homeless, are here they can get cleaned up any night, not just the two nights we drive them to a nearby school.
We are not building a monument and certainly not a cathedral. Our goal is to create an inviting and effective space where people can readily be in conversation with the Holy. Through our generosity, we deepen our faith, we assuage our anxiety over our devotion to our possessions, we nurture others, we create cadres and pockets of hope, and we play joyful Pentecost music for a world filled with static.
Time and time again our church has been transformed by generosity, there are so many stories to share, ministries have been launched, and hurt mended, by generous acts of mission, mercy and justice, but only so much time for a sermon.
This week, our work, as a church, is to pray about Transformations. This week our call as a church is to go to our website and click on the tab that is called Sharing and to read all about Transformations. This week our ministry, as a church, is to fill out our pledge cards and to return them to worship next week. If we choose to face this wind, lift our wings, unfurl our sails. If we all choose to ride the gust, it could very well be a transformational moment. And if you are a visitor or a friend, we certainly are not asking you to pledge; but if you could keep us in prayer; it would be deeply appreciated and it might even be transforming.
I read an essay once by a pastor who lives in Pensacola. On the coast, he says “we have almost a constant breeze, but the speed is variable. The Spirit is that wind, a force that cannot be conjured or controlled. Although we cannot moderate its potency or dictate its direction, we can choose [to get off of hold, we can choose to become unstuck] and raise our sails.”