25 March 2018
A week ago Saturday I attended a Stewardship workshop hosted by the Diocese of New Westminster. Part of the afternoon was dedicated to learning to create a narrative budget. The point of a narrative budget is to present not only numbers, numbers as well, but to tell stories about ministry. Giving to cover deficits or salaries or utilities is harder than giving to ministries, especially when there are illustrations of the church’s ministry.
And so one would create a regular budget as our treasurer always does and then we would look at our ministries and ask what is it that we as a congregation do?
Perhaps we would have the following categories:
Christian Education, and
We would look at how many staff hours are dedicated to each of those areas in order to attach a number to those areas. And this would then make it clear what our ministry looks like and that our giving is to the ministries of the congregation, not to a budget.
As we were talking about this it dawned on me that looking at the ministries of our congregation will always involve asking about our mission. What is it that we are about? What is it that God has called us to be and do here in this place?
I looked up our mission statement on “findachurch.ca” and it looks like it may be time to review it and have that conversation about our mission.
Remember that Jesus sends the disciples, he sends the twelve, he sends the seventy, and before his ascension he gives the Great Commission. Being sent is essential to our identity as Christians. But what does that look like in a community that has changed and a world that is in crisis?
We are at the threshold to Holy Week and in the Gospels both the stories of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the anointing of Jesus by the woman are markers of Jesus’ journey toward the cross.
Jesus tells his scandalized disciples that they should lay off of her, because “she has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial.” (v.8) We don’t know whether she knew this, all we know is that her act is an act of complete devotion and love. As Jesus would pour out his life for the world, she poured out her oil, and with the oil her love. Reading the Gospels we notice that God never holds back and that that the call into discipleship is one that wants not just a little devotion or a small gift, though God will accept those too, but God wants to receive and redeem the whole of our lives.
The disciple’s objection was a reasonable one. What about the poor? Had Jesus not taught them to care for the poor, had Mary not sung that the poor will be filled with good things, had he not come to the last, the least, the lost, and the little? From our end we may dismiss the disciples’ objection, especially as a congregation that understands something about beautiful worship, beautiful music, and beautiful art. In fact, could our worship be an example for others? After all, the woman’s praise is still sung today.
At a quick glance, Jesus seems to confirm this. Jesus reminds his disciples that they always have the poor with them, and they can show kindness to them whenever they wish; but they will not always have him.
And yet, Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 15. He is not saying, you will always have the poor, therefore don’t be too hard on yourself and instead focus on the beautiful things in life. Jesus quotes from the instructions for the year of Jubilee when every seven years all debt that had been accrued shall be forgiven and people shall be set free. Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.”
And so we see that Jesus defends the woman but does not lessen the command to care for the poor. Jesus accepts the woman’s everything and he wants our everything. In regards to a narrative budget that describes our ministry this means that Jesus wants worship and outreach, music and evangelism. In fact, both are marks of the church and we cannot be the church of Christ with only worship or only outreach. The God we worship compels us to reach out to the poor and needy, and in the poor and needy we see the face of Christ who directs our lives to worship.
Part of the crisis of today’s church is that we are not always sure how to do that, or that we are so concerned with institutional survival that we abandon Christ’s mission. Yet God wants our all as God gives God’s all.
I have been to a number of funerals, as you would expect.
The first one I attended was the funeral for my maternal grandmother. I was 13 then. When my grandfather had died 18 months earlier my parents had deemed me too young to attend. Things were different then.
The next funeral I attended was for an acquaintance from my kayaking club. He and two friends had been on a cycling trip and a drunk driver, and American GI from the nearby garrison, had involved all three in the accident, killing one of them. They were only 18 years old.
I won’t tell you about every funeral I have been to but I have seen funeral customs change: Fewer funerals in churches; fewer funerals, robbing the bereaved of an opportunity to say their good-bye’s in a way that honours both the living and the dead; the renaming of funerals into celebrations of life, as if funerals ever celebrated death, and in tandem with the change of language the covering of any dirt on cemeteries with AstroTurf as if seeing dirt would be too much of a reminder of the finality of death, preferring denial over truth.
I have been to funerals where I have seen extravagant displays of flowers and where there haven’t been any, usually because the obituary asked for donations to a charity in lieu of flowers.
Many years ago, perhaps on my way home from a funeral with an elaborate display of flowers I told Jackie and the kids that when I die, I don’t want any of this ‘in lieu of flowers’. I want lots of flowers as a symbol of life and of love – unless, of course, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when I am gone, you never know; but I also want lots of gifts to the church, for even the mission and ministry of a smaller church plays an ever more important role in a pluralist and secular world. The church reminds the world of God’s promise and call. I want both, flowers and gifts to the church for the church to carry out God’s mission.
I realize today that this is exactly what Jesus wants, he wants worship and mission, music and care of the poor. Jesus wants and welcomes our everything as he pours out his life for the world.