[The following is a transcript of this Sunday’s meditation]

One note that I wanted to point out, this translation that we use, The Voice, they use the term, “The anointed one.” The term that has often been translated into English as Christ. For them, the anointed one really gets to the heart of who Jesus was, and what the word Christ means. Christ is the Romanized version of the Hebrew word Messiah, which translates into anointed one. When you hear that anointed one, in The Voice translation, it’s when you normally would have heard the word Christ in the scriptures.

We see here, this church in Corinth, this community of Christ followers, around the time of about 50 AD, just a couple of decades after Jesus has died. They have some divisions. Now, like I said, we’re only getting half of the conversation here. There’s some evidence through this letter, that this actually isn’t the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, that there was one before, and then there is also a second letter that comes afterwards. Paul is in conversation, trying to work out some of these issues with the church in Corinth. We don’t really know exactly what the issues are, but we have Paul’s side of the conversation saying that people are starting to get divided.

It seems that Paul spent about eighteen months in the church in Corinth. He founded the church in this fairly large metropolis, metropolitan area, an urban group of mostly gentiles, a small Jewish population. It seems that they were a fairly intellectual group. Paul stayed with them for about eighteen months, and had some other leaders that he rose up, Apollos, and others who stayed with the church, when Paul moved on to other churches. After Paul left, it appears that more people came into the church, and started to identify with who brought them into the church, who mentored them in the way of Jesus.

Instead of going back to the source, instead of saying that I am a follower of Jesus Christ, they began to divide up into these factions saying, “Paul brought me in, so I’m with Paul.” “Appolos is my favorite teacher, so I’m with Appolos.” “Cephas Peter is the one that I look to.” Paul hears this, and Paul gets very upset. Understandably, he says, “This isn’t what this is all about. Has the anointed one, has Christ been divided up into factions, or are we all here together as one? Has the ministry of this community been divided up into factions?”

I think that this is something that a lot of churches wonder about. I think even in MCC, in the past, there has been this assumption that our church is divided into factions. Sure, some of us identify more strongly with different ministries of the church, but I think we’re at a point now in our history where we don’t walk around saying, “I’m with music. I’m with CE. I’m with outreach. I’m with the trustees.” This is something that the narrative budget that we’ve been talking about for weeks now has really helped us to see. The narrative budget has shown us how all of our ministries are woven together, like Sandra was talking about with the kids. We’ve reached a point in our history where it’s near impossible to say, “I’m with music,” or “I’m with CE,” because the lines are blurred.

This morning has been a great example of that, of how our children are learning about God in so many different ways. They’re learning to explore their faith through music. They’re learning to explore their faith through the word, through the classes down the hall in Discovery Kingdom. Paul says, “The mission given to me is about preaching the good news.” That’s the mission that we’ve all been given. It’s the mission that MCC has, is to preach the good news, and not only through outreach, or through preaching, but also through all of the ways that we come together. I have found it really, really interesting how for many, many months now, there has been a giant pink gorilla sneaking his way around the church. I have heard almost nothing about him.

There are lots of things that lots of people come to me and talk about, and I’ve only had one or two people say, “What is it with that giant pink gorilla?” In the beginning of the year, this gorilla showed up, it was around Christmas time. He was going to be donated to the City Mission Society, but they didn’t want him. I looked at him, and I said, “This is great, what could I do with a giant pink gorilla?” There’s that old saying about the eight hundred pound gorilla who’s in the room, that nobody talks about. I was like, “I know we’re going to have this big discussion about the budget this year, so I’m going to name that gorilla D.” He wears a name tag, and his name is D. I was thinking, that gorilla is going to be the deficit. That’s going to be the deficit that nobody talks about, but we all know is there, and it’s staring us in the face.

My plans kind of got thwarted, because we’ve been talking about the deficit. We’ve been open and honest about our budgets. We’ve been open and honest in ways that we almost never had before. The stewardship committee has dug in, and come up with new ways to talk about our budget. We’ve had conversations in all different forums about how our budgets are affected by our ministries. D ended up standing for something else. D turned into discernment for me, because we’ve spent lots of time discerning God’s will for this church. We haven’t divided ourselves into factions. We’ve gathered together. We’ve gathered in groups. People who say, “It’s not that I’m only with music, but music speaks to me. Music is what helps me connect with God.” “It’s not that I’m only with CE, but I believe that it’s important to set a foundation for our children, to help them discover their faith.” “It’s not that I’m only with worship, but that’s why I come here on a Sunday.”

We’ve been able to have these conversations about how it’s all woven together. People can say, “Even though that may not be the ministry that I’m most focused on, I appreciate how it helps others find Jesus, and I want to help contribute to that.” We’ve had all of these conversations about our budget, different ways to look at our budget. We’ve put a new budget together for our coming fiscal year, that starts July 1st. We’ve had all of our talks about past deficits, and we’ve put them aside for now, because what we have recognized is that it’s more important to discern our future. Once July 1st comes along, we don’t have a deficit anymore, if we can raise the money to cover the budget that we plan.

Stewardship has listened to all of the various ministries, all of the various committees, and come up with a budget of $322,200. Of that, about seventy-five percent will be paid for by our pledges, by the money that we promise to give over the next fiscal year. We’ve all promised at this point that if the money doesn’t come in, if we can’t cover the $255,000 in pledges by May 8th, that we’re going to take another look at the budget, and that we’ll see how much money has been promised, and that is how much money we will vow to spend in the coming year, fiscal year. We don’t need to talk about a deficit anymore, because one way or another, there’s not going to be a deficit, but what will our church look like next year? What will our ministries look like in July? I’m confident that our pledges will be up this year. I’m confident that our goal of $255,000 in pledges, an average of about $3,000 per household, I’m confident that we can do that.

What is this money going to pay for? We’ve seen most of what it does in the past. We know about the foundation, the things that we do all the time, obviously worship, obviously choir, Sunday school, all of those things that we’ve always done, but now we’re also imagining what else is possible. We’ve had great conversations about making the position of CE director, of minister of Christian Discovery, ordainable. We’ve all decided that that’s a great next step. When we talked about it, we said this is not going to cost us anymore money, and it won’t if we leave it exactly the way that it is. In our new budget, in our dream budget of $322,000, that would cover expanding that position, from twenty-two and a half hours a week, ten months a year, to thirty hours a week, 12 months a year.

Why do we want to do that? Because it will give us increased opportunities for intergenerational ministries and programming. We can work to not have it feel like I’m with the little kids, or I’m with the adults, but that we’re all together. More opportunities, more events for children and adults to come together and talk about faith, to worship, to be in fellowship together, to also work on community outreach, reaching out to other people, outside of the walls of this church, to let them know that we are here, and to let them know about the thriving youth programming that we have, including adding a high school Sunday school class. We have this age group, people who often look at confirmation as graduation from church, and they disappear for awhile. If we had the time, if we had the hours, we could work on developing programming to cover that age group. More hours would give us more time for mission work, and outings for youth group, and increased pastoral care for children and families, and continuing to develop the custom curriculum that we have.

That budget also covers our youth choirs, our cherub choir, and our junior choir. Currently, this past year, Kathy has donated her time for the junior choir, the older choir that we had singing in the first row there. She’s worked on them, not only with fundamentals of singing, but also connecting their theology to music, also talking to them about what it means to be worship leaders. I don’t know if you can tell how seriously they take it when they’re up there in that choir loft. They’re focused. They’re paying attention. They know what they are called to do here in worship. The money also includes having a tenor section leader. I went back and forth about whether this is exactly the right time to share this, but it needs to be shared as well. Unfortunately for us, Christian will be leaving us after next month in June. Fortunately for him, he will be going on to law school, and much better things, well good things we’ll say, equally good things.

We need somebody in that position. Not only does it help the tenor section … I’m getting really choked up. Not only does Christian’s leadership help the tenor section, he really helps to anchor the entire choir. To have somebody in that position is somebody who helps give us a foundation, somebody who helps us work on our fundamentals, somebody who is there when Kathy is running around with bell choirs, and junior choirs, and musicians, and all of the other things that her music ministry covers, somebody who can be there to warm up the choir, and to help run us through. There are other things in the budget that account for this increase. An increase of about $16,000 over last year’s budget. These are all things that are woven together. These are all things that make us the unique church community that we are in Sudbury, a church that’s not just a strong music church, or not just a strong youth church, or not just a strong worship church, but a church that’s all of that because we work together, because the lines are blurred, because we are all called to be the church of Christ.

I see God at work in MCC. All of the ministries that we are doing are exciting. We are welcoming in new people. We are giving children a groundwork to discover their faith. We are celebrating and worshiping God through song and through word, and through service. Because of that, my family and I talked about how much we would pledge. We’ve decided to raise our pledge again this year. We are fortunate that we can do a little bit more than the $3,000 that we are hoping for, and we’re going for $4,000 this year. I’m extremely happy to make this pledge. This is something that my family and I are very proud to do. I hope that you’ll join us. We’re asking that all of the pledges come in by May 8th, so that we can know how much money has been promised to us, so that we can develop this balanced budget.

I really hope that we can raise enough that we can do everything that we dream we can do. As a little bit of added incentive, anybody who gets their pledges in by May 8th, will be entered into a drawing for Red Sox tickets, if you need that. Really, the most incentive is, if you give money to the church, we will continue to do incredible things that we do. Those of us who have experienced the reality of being rescued and made right, know that it is nothing short of God’s power at work at MCC. I am with God, who has made known to me through Jesus Christ, and through the work of Memorial Congregational Church. I hope that you’ll join me and my family in making a pledge to this church to continue to support our ministries for the year to come. Amen.

Woven together – a Stewardship meditation

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