Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Learning Abundance

Is chaos the right word for the last few weeks in my own corner of the world? Maybe.

On the first Sunday of this month, I shared the results of our fall stewardship campaign with the congregation. We lit 105 candles, one for each thousand dollars pledged. Seventeen of those candles were gold instead of white, representing $17,000 in new or increased pledges. For some churches, those numbers would mean hand-wringing and moaning about budget cuts. For my church, these numbers represent a newfound abundance of life and Spirit among us. There were gasps and applause at a number so high.

We'd been challenged to raise $5,000 in new funds, with the promise of a matching gift of $5,000 if we did so. No one thought we'd get to $17,000.

That day, I also shared news of a generous gift from a person in the community who simply believes in our ministry.

Between that gift and the match gift, it was one of the largest offerings ever given at my church.

Some time later, despite everything being done as it should have been, that offering was stolen.

As a result, there have been many emails and phone calls with all sorts of people: parishioners, police, insurance agents, insurance adjusters. I have a whole list of things I learned from this process that I would have been quite happy to never have known.

The people whose checks were part of that offering all diligently canceled their checks. They were gracious about it. They were even more gracious when they re-wrote those checks.

Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised about that last part. Maybe I shouldn't be quite so surprised that, across the board, a new check was issued to the church, replacing what had been lost. But I was incredibly, wonderfully surprised by both the reactions and the giving of the gifts, again.

I was surprised because, sometimes, more often than I'd like, stories of fear and scarcity win. It's taken me a while to write this partly because I've spent the last days trying to wrap my head around what happened. And what happened is that my church believed the Gospel.

They believed they have more than enough and can give some away.
They believed what they have isn't really theirs to begin with.
They believed that fear doesn't win.
They believed that one thing going wrong doesn't throw everything off course.

It's the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 (or the 4,000). It's the story of a widow bringing an offering that she couldn't afford. It's every single time--and there are many--when angels and Jesus said, "Do not be afraid." It's the woman caught in adultery to whom Jesus simply said, "Go, and sin no more."

I shouldn't actually be surprised that we've learned abundance instead of scarcity and fear, but I was. As it turns out, we've been transformed by the Gospel after all. For that, thanks be to God.