November 4, 2018 Mark 12.28-34

It’s in the preacher’s contract that you have to preach on love God and love your neighbor at least once a year.  Ok, there is no “preacher’s contract”, but if there was it should say that you have to preach on love God and love your neighbor at least once a year.  It is, after all, at the heart of our faith.

Yes, belief that Jesus is the Christ is also at the heart of our faith.  That is the foundation of Christianity, what separates us from other religions.  Love God and love your neighbor is how we are to live, what we do because we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.

It all sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  In one sense it is.  We believe that there is one true God, who is known to us as God, Jesus the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  Those three names are three ways in which God has chosen to be in relationship to human beings.  Same God, three ways in which God has been at work.  Then, as First John says, “We love because God first loved us.”  Our love of God and neighbor is our response to God’s love for us.  Love is the very nature of God, and Jesus says it needs to be our nature as well.

Of course, all too often it’s not that simple.  How do we love God and love others?  The love talked about in the Bible is not usually romantic love or the I love pizza kind of love.  It’s usually the self-sacrificing love Jesus proclaimed and lived out in his life.  It’s the kind of love which requires more of us than a warm feeling toward God and other people.  Remember that in Luke’s version of the story of Jesus and the curious scribe, the scribe follows up his question about the greatest commandment by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”, whereupon Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan.  That story reminds us that whoever is in need is our neighbor, even if we are the least likely person to help them.

So it’s that simple – believe in Jesus, love God and love your neighbor.  And it’s that difficult.  How do I help the drug addict, the refugee looking for a safe home, the person down the street who has lost a loved one, the co-worker who has marital problems, and on and on.

Fortunately, we are not left alone to figure out how to live out our faith in Jesus, how to love God and love our neighbor.  Christianity is and always has been a faith that is lived out in community.  While it’s true that there are times when we have to make decisions and choices on our own, we are connected to others, ultimately all others, who believe as we believe.  All other Christians are in the same boat.  We are all trying to work out our lives and our faith the best we know how.  And at our best, we are working together to live out our faith and bring the reign of God to fruition.

That’s why we have churches.  That’s why we have denominations, and in the case of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), regions and districts, and congregations.  We need each other.  We need others to teach us and hold us accountable and help us carry on Jesus’ work.  We can worship by ourselves, but it’s not the same.  We can do mission by ourselves, but we are limited in what we can do.  We need the community we call the church.

Today is the day we designate to ask all of us to consider our giving to Timberlake Christian Church for next year.  By turning in a pledge card we are not signing our life away.  That’s why we sometimes call it something like a statement of intention.  TCC is not going to foreclose on our house if for whatever reason we are not able to fulfill our pledge.  Nor do we base our proposed budget every year on the pledges we receive.  Over the years we have discovered that we are better off looking at the trends in our giving and adjusting the proposed budget accordingly.

So why do we ask for pledges?  Two reasons.  One, it does give us some indication of which direction our income may be headed in the coming year.  We can always adjust the budget if we need to.  Second, and I think more importantly, it is an opportunity for each of us to engage in the spiritual discipline of money management.  Jesus talks a lot about money.  He rejoices when Zacchaeus decides to give away a chunk of his money.  He tells a rich man to give away everything he has.  He tells a parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus, and who ends up in better shape.  Hint – it’s Lazarus.  He says the reign of God is worth selling everything you have in order to have enough money to obtain it.  And so on.  He’s not at all bashful when it comes to talking about money.

So we in the church shouldn’t be either.  Mission requires money.  It just does.  Whether it’s conducting worship every Sunday or doing children’s and youth ministries or helping Interfaith Outreach or going on mission trips, mission in Jesus’ name often requires money.

Take a look at this/the donut chart, which shows show how we plan to use the money we hope to receive next year.  As is the case with most churches and most non-profits, most of our “overhead” is staff expenses.  It takes people to carry on the work of Jesus, and to help others do the same.  So we are not at all unusual in that respect.

We do well in our outreach giving.  Last year we gave $30,000 to outreach, including our contribution to Disciples Mission Fund and our designated giving to lots of local outreach partners, like Meals on Wheels and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and the Helping Hands Clothes Closet and so on.  Our giving to Disciples-related causes last year ranked us fifth among the hundred and two Virginia Disciples of Christ congregations which contributed to something Disciples-related.

Our per capita total giving was $1591.85.  That ranked us twenty-fourth among Virginia Disciples of Christ congregations.  Looking at the numbers, I suspect there was fudge factor operating in a couple of cases.  I think some churches had giving from their foundations counted in per capita giving.  And we don’t have the kind of givers some congregations have who drop twenty or thirty thousand dollars a year in the offering plate.  Still, the $1591 suggests we probably have room for growth in our giving.

So in just a minute, we’re going to have an opportunity to fill out a pledge card.  You don’t have to.  Or you can write on it something like, I’ll give what I can.  But I encourage you to fill one out if you feel comfortable doing so.  Did I mention the church will not seize our house or garnish our wages if we cannot complete our pledge?

You may have noticed, looking at the weekly report in the bulletin, that we’re running behind on giving versus budget this year.  The good news is that we’re doing ok when it comes to giving versus actual expenses, so we’re not going broke.  But I was curious as to why we weren’t doing as well this year compared to last year, when we were keeping up with the budget.

So I asked Melinda, our financial secretary.  She told me the main difference is one family we have lost, and given the circumstances, I think it’s ok that I name them.  You recall that Lois Whitehurst died in May, and that soon thereafter Bill moved to Indiana to be close to his son’s family.  Bill is a retired Disciples minister.  I don’t have the list of churches he served, all in Virginia I think.  I do know that none of them were large congregations.  Here in Lynchburg they lived in a very modest ranch house in the neighborhood behind Kohl’s.  But last year they gave $6000 to the general fund of Timberlake Christian Church.

I was surprised when Melinda told me that.  Bill wasn’t doing any interim ministries last year, and you know that Lois was totally blind, so their income, as far as I know, was Social Security and Bill’s pension.  But they gave $6000 last year.  Not all of us can do that.  But we all can give.  Please take a moment and, if you are willing, fill out a pledge card and bring it to the communion table.  It will help us, individually and collectively, to love God and love our neighbor.  Amen.