Sunday, September 8, 2013

Building Our Church; Building Our Faith

Introduction to reading:
Our reading this morning comes from Hebrew Scripture --- 1st Chronicles. In the 28th chapter, King David shares with his son Solomon the plans for the temple --- the temple he himself was not allowed to build because of great wars on every side.  But now – in a time of peace, his son Solomon had been chosen to carry out this wondrous and difficult task.   In the parts that I’m reading from chapter 29, the author of Chronicles writes about a message that King David is delivering to a great assembly of all of the leaders in his kingdom.   After sharing with them the plans for this great building – the temple -- he talks a little about the resources that will be needed.  This reading is taken from Chapter 29. 

READING:  1st Chronicles 29:  1-1; 6-9.
Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this structure is not for man but for the LORD God. With all my resources (as King) I have provided for the temple of my God…(long list of treasures).  Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided (as king) for this holy temple: Now, who is willing to consecrate themselves to the LORD today?”
Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. They gave toward the work on the temple of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze and a hundred thousand talents of iron. Anyone who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of the LORD in the custody of Jehiel the Gershonite. The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.

Rev. Jane Page
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro

How many of you have been involved with building a house before?
How many of you would do it again?

I’ve been involved with building three of them – the first when I was just 22.  Now I know that’s way too young – but I was rushing through life.  I’d already been married five years, completed my Bachelor’s, was working on a Masters – teaching school at Sallie Zetterower and was pregnant with my first child.  My then husband Fred – now called Fred Ex – and I were living in a one room efficiency that we had shared since we married and we needed more room.  We decided rather than renting or buying a home, we would build our forever home on the piece of property where my dad’s land joined his dad’s land.  We found it on a map, walked over to it and decided that since our two family properties joined there – well it must be God’s will that we build a home there.  Of course there was not ROAD back to this piece of property.  But, my mom and dad remedied that by designing a little subdivision on that edge of his property which included a road that was deeded to the county.  That’s the road that is currently across the pond dam from the house I live in now.  We got on the list for William Powell to build it – since he was about the best builder in town at the time.  His estimate was within our range – especially since we were getting the lot free.  The house was nearly complete by the time Fred III was born.  There was one big problem though.  We couldn’t afford it.  You see – our contractor was doing this on a “cost plus percentage” basis --- and while we were building, lumber prices skyrocketed.  Plus we had added some features along the way that were not in the original budget – but weren’t that much – you know, just  for $5 more each we could have much nicer light fixtures) -- yet they added up, of course.  Plus, I had quit my job to stay at home with my baby – which was “the thing to do” at the time.  And even though Fred was working two jobs – as a teacher and a Holiday Inn desk clerk – we just couldn’t afford the monthly payments.  SO – we reluctantly decided we were in over our heads, sold the home, and moved into a small apartment. 

After living there a few years – and with two sons -  we decided to give this building this another try.  But we were going to do it right this time.  We would get a contract price from a builder so we would KNOW the final cost.  And yes, we could afford this one --- which was on another lot in that same subdivision. Of course we found out why it was so much cheaper.  The quality of the workmanship was SO shoddy.  I mean if I put a pencil down on the counter --- when I started to pick it up it had rolled down the counter because it wasn’t level.   And the lot was chose was actually too low, so that we always seem to be having septic tank problems when it was rainy.   We had decided to move to Starkville Mississippi for a year to work on our doctorates – and decided that we might as well try to SELL that house which was such a disappointment for us.  And we did!  That builder – by the way – left Statesboro shortly after that – and after getting in trouble with a lot of ethical problems. 

Now - my brother had called “dibs” on the lot where I live now.  But his wife did not want to live “back in the woods” where no one could see their new home.  So when he told my dad that he would instead like to build ON Country Club Rd --- I immediately laid claim to the beautiful lot I’m now living on – or Paradise South – as Greg calls it.  I promised my dad and myself that this would be the LAST house I built.  My sister in law Nancy Page had recently built a home and used a reasonable contractor.  But she said the reason her house really turned out well was because she was over there every day in the middle of it.  We were going to be away at school, but my mom said she could play that role for us – and she did, making sure everything was A-okay.  She followed those builders around pointing out every little possible problem.  And then after they would leave at night she would come back over with her caulk gun and caulk up any cracks she could find.  Our house is air tight.  It’s tighter than Myley Cyrus’s VMA awards pants.  That was 1978, and I’m still living there and loving it.

So what were some of the lessons I learned?
There were lots of them, of course --- but the main thing I learned is that you have to HAVE the resources for building your home or have a reasonable plan for making sure that happens – and you have to MANAGE those resources well as you build and maintain your home. 

Now – this congregation has been making good efforts for resource acquisition, allocation, and management for our new church facility.  We’re fortunate to have the gifts of land and building; a savings of $40,000 that was achieved by those who came before many of you – and was allocated for a new facility – and hopefully the opportunity to sell this current facility; also paid for by many who came before and many who are still with us.  We have also written a MOST EXCELLENT Chalice Lighter Grant which will hopefully bring us new resources.  And of course, we have the wondrous gift of a general contractor – Matt Dowling – providing his services as a gift in-kind.  We’re doing this right!  And if all goes as planned, we won’t need additional resources from you for our new facility. 

But we want to build MORE than building.  We want to build our congregation – and build our faith, our personal faith, our congregational faith, and Unitarian Universalism.  That’s why my theme for sermons this year is “Building Our Church; Building Our Faith.”  And I’m using the building metaphor as we progress on both our physical facility and our building our faith.

And today --- I’m taking those lessons learned from my mistakes and successes – and knowing that we have to have some focus on the sources and resources for building our faith. 
Ah, yes – this is indeed our annual canvass sermon – when we encourage you to consider your gifts of time, talents, and treasure for the following year.  And I stand here in front of this assembly as David did in ancient times to voice that encouragement. 

Now as a religious naturalist – I certainly don’t take the Bible as a firm authority – nor any other religious text.  I do read these texts though – and filter them through my pragmatic lens to see if there are teachings that can help me live a better life and help others to live a better life.  After David’s encouragement for resources – and the people’s giving of them that we heard about in our reading today, he shares a prayer of praise and Thanksgiving.  And there is something in that prayer that struck a chord with me.  I’ll read the passage first then share how it can harmonize with us today.  David prays:  “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.”

Now you may wonder how someone who is not a theist identifies with that.  Well, it reminds me of something my Mama told me the other day.  We were talking about trying to stay healthy and she said --- well, I figure I’ve got to try to take care of my body because it’s the only thing that is really mine.  All of this other stuff – comes and goes.  I may have it later or I may not.  I may leave it to you all and you may keep it or not.  It’s not really ours anyway.  We just have use of it for a while – and try to do the best we can with it.  And I thought – yeah, she’s right.  It all belongs to the Universe folks.  We are just stewards of whatever comes into what we term “our possession.”  But it’s not really ours – anymore than this air above me is mine.  But we sure do use it and sometimes abuse it.  While we are stewards of these sources and resources though – it IS our decision about how we use them – or abuse them.

And I believe – one of the best things we can do with our time, talents, and treasures we have is to SHARE them.  For example, I’m so blessed to live in a beautiful place – so I try to share with all of you and really want you to come out Friday night and enjoy this space with us.  And I really believe that the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro is doing wondrous things and has an awesome future to do more for our children and youth, our members and friends, our community, and through our association with others – the World.  But we do need your gifts to make it happen.
You may say – “well, with all that seems to happen in my life, there’s just not enough LEFT to give to church.”  Well, if you are giving what’s leftover, that’s part of the problem.  Here’s where I find another good lesson that works for me in the scriptures.

There are 72 Bible verses about giving of the first fruits.  Now there are lots of interpretations of what this means and how it should be done.  Now pardon me from getting personal here – but I’m just going to tell you how I personally do this “first fruits” thing.  But from my pragmatic perspective, I like to think of it as giving to the important stuff FIRST – right after the harvest --- not seeing what’s leftover.  Now I don’t farm --- but I get a pay check each month.  Actually I get two, the one our treasurer Bill Herring sends to me for showing up and working here – and the one Georgia Southern sends me for NOT showing up and working out there.  And I’ve got my bank account set up so that when that money goes in --- before anything else goes out – a check for $600 each month is sent to this congregation. And that’s just my gift.  Greg gives separately and generously as well.  I also have other first fruits gifts I share with other organizations like the UU service committee each month.   I don’t have to see if I have enough LEFT to give at the END of the month, because I’ve followed that principle of first fruits.  And it just makes my life and my bookkeeping easier.  I’m not asking you to match my gift.  I’m in a very blessed position and I live a simple life so I can do this.  But I think that if most folks followed that principle of first fruits, you’d find it a lot easier to give more from a spirit of abundance rather than a spirit of scarcity. 

This congregation knows something about the spirit of abundance and generosity.  You all are enjoying the service in this beautiful building today because a small group of hardy souls pushed their own limits of giving with faith in the possibilities of the future.  And aren't we all so grateful.  And others of you – including Happy Hicks who left money in her will for the purpose of getting a minister – gave so that you could have a minister. We’ve had our ups and downs financially, especially now as some of our more generous givers have moved away.  We’ve had to make some serious cuts in our operational budget.  I moved from ¾ time back to half time and we no longer have a part time administrator.  But your gifts have continued and make it possible for us to do some pretty incredible things!  Hopefully, we don’t do these things from a spirit of scarcity and anxiety.  Oh, we sometimes fall back into that place.  And with an unpredictable economy, it’s a little easier to catch ourselves moving in that direction.  In today’s world, we too often allow fear to control how we live and how we give. 

But you know, we all have plenty and then some of SOME things – if not money, then perhaps other resources; our time, our talents, our hugs, our smiles, and our words of encouragement.  And I have found that I even have more MONEY to give when I adopt a lifestyle of living a little more simply.  And living more simply helps me to have more money to support the kinds of things (like the Farmer’s Market) that are important to me.  It’s another way that I can be a good steward of the resources that I have.  And that nurtures my soul, spins my zen…it makes me happy and joyful!  But as much as I like being happy, that should not be the reason for my giving.  I’m reminded of these inspiring words of Kahil Gibran in his book The Prophet. 

“There are those who give little of the much which they have - and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”

That line is worth repeating:  “They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”

The myrtle gives its fragrance naturally and freely.

Oh may WE give as the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

We breathe so that our bodies may live.  We give so that our souls may live.

May it be so!

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