Sermon for Nov. 21, 2021
Stepping Forward in Faith
As many of you know I’m walker. I love walking over any other mode of transportation. I am not, however, a runner. Even as I continue to work on staying active, running, is not one of the things on my exercise routine. Honestly, I really don’t understand the pleasure of running. Yes, I’ve heard of a “runners high” but the excruciating effort it would take to reach such a state does not appeal to me. If you are a runner. Good for you. It’s not for me. But whether one is a runner or not, all of us can understand the metaphor of “running a race.” Living through this pandemic has made us feel like we are on an endurance run. And it hasn’t always been easy, we are definitely not at the “runners high” stage, nor have we reached the finish line.
Our lives are a journey- that sometimes feels like a 100m dash, sometimes a sprint, and many times like a marathon. At times, it feels like we’re going around in cycles on a track and other times like a cross-country jog. At times, the path is intense, as we keep moving, trying to keep up. At times, it is a straight line. At times, it is all over the map. The apostle Paul took many circuitous routes as he journeyed over land and across the Mediterranean Sea, from Damascus across Turkey to Macedonia and Greece and back to Jerusalem, planting churches and raising funds for the church in Judea. There is a lot to love about Paul’s writings but one in particular is that all along the journey he is thinking about the future and always moving forward. This movement is rooted in his relationship with God through Christ, who is always calling him forward. In Philippians, we hear that Paul wrote, “I am well on my way reaching out for Christ who has so wondrously reached out to me.” But here is the crazy thing about Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote it while in jail, his work was under attack by competitors, he has been planting churches for 20 years with very little reward and yet, this letter is called “Paul’s happiest letter” within biblical scholarship! Perhaps at this point in Paul’s life he has found that runner’s high! Even from prison, Paul helps early church communities move forward, because he has his eye on the goal, far beyond any present circumstance. The goal is, drawing near to God known to us in Christ. The path is wherever or whatever God is calling us to do- to serve, to learn, and to be in relationship. Paul doesn’t claim to be an expert. In The Message’s version of our passage verse 13 goes, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made, but I have my eye on the goal where God is beckoning us onward. We are off and running and we’re not turning back!”
In our church calendar, today is called, “Legacy Sunday” and much of what we will hear comes from excerpts from the Stewardship and Planned Giving department within our national church. Today they really hone in on the idea that the reason we are a part of this race is because we wish to leave a lasting legacy. Legacy gifts, or planned gifts, are a way for people to keep moving forward in faith, as is our weekly offering. This is about supporting ministry that is forward thinking. The most common type of legacy gift comes to the church when a person dies: money left in a will, a gift of life insurance or a charitable gift annuity. However, a planned gift can also be given when a person is alive, like stocks, bonds or mutual funds. I’m not going to pretend I understand it all but I have witnessed, especially over the past two years, how much of an impact legacy gifts can have. Planned gifts can have a big impact on communities. Think about the conversations we are having around building affordable housing on our property. Think about how you all did an incredible job this year in raising funds for our roof and furnace. I mean, truly it is astounding, to know that when we put out the call not only did people respond so that we met our goal but we exceeded it! Nearly tripling our goal. And you know what that means? It means that we will not be depleting as much from our GICs. Instead it means we can use our GIC funds to invest in further ministries that are forward thinking, like an affordable housing building project. The legacy of investment in ministry that can be felt for generations to come.
The planned giving office shared the following story. As we hear this story of giving I pray it inspires us to think about our legacy in this community. Like Paul, Mary Hobley thought about the future ministry of the church. Mary was passionate about music. She was still singing in her church choir and taking weekly voice lessons into her 90s. She wanted to pass the gift of music on to future generations, so she left a gift in her will for St. Columba by-the-Lake Presbyterian Church in Pointe-Clare, Quebec. Interest from this gift allows St. Columba to support music ministry in Mary’s name. Half the money provides two music scholarships annually for high school students in the community who have graduated and are going on to study music. The second half provides funds annually to support St. Columba’s ministry, which the session can designate as it sees fit. Some years it has been used to enhance the music ministry, like piano maintenance, but it has also been used to help fund sanctuary renovations and a new Food Ministry Coordinator at St. Columba. Mary’s gift has enabled that particular congregation in forward thinking ministry.
Throughout scriptures we are reminded that everyone is blessed, valued and entrusted with resources. We are given these resources by God and it is up to us to decide how we use them. The ministry we do, and the impact of legacy gifts, looks different in each congregation. As a church, especially as Presbyterians, we are known to be thinking people. We think carefully before we do things. We assess and reassess; we pray and we ponder. We look at the big picture and the long-range goals. We create budgets and prepare reports. Don’t forget we have a congregational meeting next Sunday to review and approve the 2022 budget.
But even with all that planning, there are things we don’t know about how ministry or our lives will unfold. The past two years has taught us that sometimes we have to rethink everything! And yet, we keep moving forward in faith. We pledge from our resources, make use of our gifts and strengths and invest in what will enable us to serve God and make our community better. Stepping forward in faith always involves a risk and an investment. Paul risked everything to share God’s love, creating and supporting communities that would live out the way of Jesus. He ended up in jail because of this work. People of faith have always taken risks, in the generous use of their lives and financial resources. We are asked to take the risk to love, to hope, to be generous, and to try something new. Like Paul, we are not always experts, but when we continue to run the race, and when we continue to be generous, our lives are enriched.
As we step forward in faith together, we move towards the God who created us and who loves us. The road is not always straight or paved, frankly, the road is not always clear or safe, but God goes with us. As we step forward taking risks and sharing our resources, there is always life-giving legacies in our community to be found. Amen
The Rev. Jenn Geddes