The Cornerstone Fund is a ministry of the United Church of Christ which allows churches to both invest and borrow toward greater financial health. The churches that borrow are usually looking to build. Literally. They are looking to construct some addition to their building to build upon the vitality of their ministry. Those that invest are looking to reap a little more than they’ve sown.
That’s a Biblical concept, of course. It’s one of those idioms that we throw around without really knowing where it comes from — and a concept that we struggle with particularly when the stewardship season rolls around. In the fall, this what most of our United Church of Christ churches do. They begin a pledge drive — encouraging each other to give generously. Sometimes this results with abundance. Sometimes we’re just barely meeting our budget.
I’ll be the first to say that I have weird attitudes about money. Those attitudes don’t often figure into my sermons — and I don’t spend that much time talking about budgets, but it’s always a question in ministry. So, on Saturday, I went to learn how I might Make Friends With Church Numbers. I learned that we’re more like distant cousins. We’re not really friends — as much as I try to address my strange attitudes taught to me by my parents and grandparents.
In this seminar, I heard a stern reminder to talk about money. It’s something I haven’t heard since seminary where my preaching professor always encouraged us to talk about those things that no one ever wants to talk about. Most directly, I was told that time is not the same thing as money. This pulls me right back into the Bible — as it’s something I do preach. When those members of our congregation struggle with the affluence of the church I serve (and we are affluent), I remind them of the gifts that they give that are not financial. I remind them of the generosity offered in time and energy. I believe this is a gift and something that should be valued by our churches that are so often begging for volunteers as much as they are begging for money. (Yes, we do indeed beg.)
As I read this week’s gospel, I hear that familiar reminder in the Gospel of Luke that God really doesn’t care about the rich. God is much more concerned about the hungry people covered in sores who receive attention only from the dogs. The thrust of the lesson is indeed about reaping what you’ve sown — but it sure doesn’t sound quite so good for the rich man. Should he have given more financially? Or would his location change if he were to have actually give Lazarus his time? I believe the answer is both. Our time is as important as where we choose to invest our resources. Certainly, the work that the Mission Mall has offered points to this fact. It matters most where we choose to invest our time. Our resources can (and should) support that time — but our time is more valuable than gold (or fine linen and good food in the case of the rich man).
This question really does feel impossible. I feel as though I should just throw my hands up in despair and frustration — and pray to God that my dampened spirit doesn’t affect the ministry of the Stewardship Committee’s hard work. Lord, hear my prayer.