Text: Matthew 24:14
14 And this good news[a] of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations;
You may remember that we have been referencing a poem over the past few weeks written by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian titled “The Work of Christmas”. For those who may be unfamiliar or who have forgotten, let’s take another look at that poem.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
When I began this series I was really excited to talk about the lost and the broken; I wanted to expand our thinking around the hungry and the prisoner. I believe we have accomplished much of what I envisioned we might accomplish with this series. But I must admit to you that I have been somewhat apprehensive as I have watched this next item on the list get closer and closer. I had some anxiety around finding things to say that I was comfortable with as it related to rebuilding the nations. I had anxiety in part because I wasn’t certain what the author meant by rebuilding the nations.
The term rebuilding bothered me a little because it implies that the nations had been destroyed, and now we have to rebuild. I thought of Japan, or parts of Europe or more recently, Iraq or even Viet Nam, but then I realized that those nations come to mind for me because of where I am from; the United States. You see, I thought of nations that needed rebuilding because I thought of nations that had been destroyed at the hands of this country as a result of war and bombs and destruction. But that is only the perspective of someone from this country; what would be God’s perspective?
As I asked that question of myself I began to realize that all nations are in need of rebuilding to one degree or another. Every nation has an element of society that could use a fresh start, every nation has a population of poor and hungry, every nation has a segment of population that may have been impacted by natural disaster. As I tried to broaden my view of rebuilding a nation, I began to see a rebuilding of the nation’s people as the primary objective. Because that is what a nation is; it is the people. A nation is not the land, it is not the cities or the buildings or the bridges or the military might. A nation is the people. If we focus on the idea of rebuilding the people of all the nations, then our mission, at least for me, becomes clearer.
So how do we rebuild people? That is the question, really isn’t it? How do we rebuild people? I also think that our text this morning is really saying that as well; that we are to share the Good News, that is share the Gospel, with all the nations, all the peoples of the earth. I don’t think we share the Good News simply by telling the story of Jesus or through what many of us may consider conventional evangelism. No, I believe we share the Good News through action and through tangible evidence that somebody cares. That is how we rebuild people, we give them hope, we give them food, we give them shelter. In short, we find ways to make their lives better.
I believe we have a responsibility as a church to help rebuild people everywhere. Certainly there is plenty to do right here in the valley. But there are other nations; there are other people, perhaps half-way around the world that need rebuilding as well. How do we reach them? Is it not a little unreasonable to think that we can reach into all the world and rebuild the people of every nation? The text didn’t say a couple of nations or a few nations of our choosing, but rather it said all the nations. How do we do that? It seems impossible.
I would agree that it seems impossible for this church to reach all the nations. We can’t even reach everyone in the valley; how are we supposed to reach all the nations? It can’t be done and the task is just too big. Perhaps it would be better if we ignore that part of the “Work of Christmas” list and ignore that particular text in the New Testament and others like it.
It would be easy to come to these kinds of conclusions and simply give up. But it can be done and it is being done when we work together. That is, in part, the beauty of the United Methodist system; we don’t have to do everything ourselves, by working together we can accomplish a great deal more than any one of us could accomplish on our own. We have systems in place that allow us to impact the entire world and participate in rebuilding the nations. One such system is UMCOR-the United Methodist Committee on relief.
I believe most of you are somewhat familiar with UMCOR and what it does in our world. Our connectional system of United Methodist Churches makes ministries like UMCOR possible; we work together to solve world problems and rebuild the nations.
One of the ways we participate in our connectional system is through the paying of our apportionments. One of the ways I like to think about the word apportionment is to think of it as “a portion meant for others”. There are countless ways that our apportionments impact the world and the nations and the people in need of rebuilding. When we pay our apportionments, we are working with others to rebuild the people in other nations that cannot rebuild themselves. We are reaching across the oceans and around the globe in ways that we simply could not do by ourselves. When we support our connectional ties, we support the concept of working together and accomplishing far more as a group of churches than any single church could do on their own.
We probably don’t talk about this enough. And that is my fault since I am the one who decides for the most part what we talk about on Sunday morning. But we need to talk about it now. Apportionments are important and through our support and paying of the apportionments, we fulfill our call to rebuild the nations and rebuild the people of the nations. It is the most effective vehicle available to us and we should use it.
But here’s the deal. In 2015 we only paid about half of our apportionments. That means we left some things undone. It means someone didn’t get the help they need. It means we didn’t do everything we are called to do.
There are a lot of reasons we left half the apportionments unpaid. Rest assured we did not withhold the money to pay our apportionments; we simply didn’t have the money. You see apportionments are different from most of the bills we receive as a church. With most bills, if you fail to pay or cannot pay there are dire consequences. They come and turn off the electricity or the water, if you can’t pay the help, they seek employment elsewhere, it is against the law to not have insurance or pay our taxes. There are lots of bills; sometimes the apportionments get shuffled to the bottom of the pile.
We are a strong church and we are doing a lot of things. There are a lot of changes happening and we are investing a lot of money in our future right now. But the day-to-day expenses continue. We may give the impression of a church with lots of resources and buckets of cash hidden away in every closet, but that is not the case. In reality, we survive week to week. Often we wait on a bill, wait on a paycheck or simply don’t pay our apportionments in order to balance the checkbook. Some churches have trust funds or investments that can pull them through the lean times. We do not. Most of the resources of that type have been used long ago.
Just for example, it takes about $14,000 a month just to keep the lights on, the telephone working, the building clean and insured, and the staff paid-before we take on any special projects or fix anything that needs to be repaired. On a weekly basis that means we need to collect a little over $3,000 each and every week. Generally, when we count the offering, it is less than that. Much less.
I know some of you have been supporting this church for decades. Your generosity is inspiring. But I also know that some of you have not changed the amount you give each week or each month for a number of years. Our expenses are not what they were 10 years ago. Others perhaps have not thought about giving more to the church-and that may be because we haven’t ever really asked. But we are asking now. If we are going to complete the work of Christmas, if we are going to rebuild the people of the nations, if we are going to accomplish what we need to accomplish to secure our future; we need to survive in the short term. We have been making some long term plans that I’m certain will ease this burden over time. But it will take time. Until that day arrives when we have even more members, more programs, greater outreach and greater ministry-it is up to us.
I think most of you would agree we have made considerable progress toward our long term sustainability over the last year or so. But the journey ahead is long and the results take time. Give some thought about when you last evaluated what you give to this church and what it might mean for someone if we could do a little bit more. Pray about it, think about it and then act on that decision. I want to keep moving forward, I want to keep doing the work of Christmas, I want to pay 100% of our apportionments in 2016 and I want everyone to experience the joy of supporting an effective and dynamic ministry that is this church.
And that, as they say, is food for thought. Go in peace. Amen.