Living Table UCC, the congregation I serve as pastor, is on the brink of doing a whole new thing. We spent years in conversation with other congregations to discern the shape of our future. This summer, we sold our building. Soon we will move into a newly remodeled church building with two other congregations. We will embark on a shared campus journey. Who knows what that will be like? We have hopes and dreams, fears and concerns. Yet, mostly, we are trusting the Spirit to continue to lead us to where we are called to be in this time.
It can be challenging, though, to trust the Spirit. When looking at our budget for 2022 we don’t have any solid numbers because we’ve been online since March of 2020 and because we will be moving into the new space around the beginning of January. What we do know, is that the expense of sharing the new space is quite a bit more than we anticipated for this first year. We are a congregation without a lot of financial resources. Yet, we went “all in” for this adventure because we believe it is the best use of our resources and what God is calling us to do. This belief, this trust, doesn’t always mitigate the fear and anxiety about future financial stability. Yet, we are leaning into trust more than not.
When Jesus witnessed the widow putting in her two copper coins, her mite, he celebrated her and spoke about her in contrast to the “scribes.” These “scribes” represent the elite of the day who liked to have attention focused on them and their piety recognized (sound familiar?). However, when they gave to the Temple, they gave in a way in which there was no evident sacrifice. They gave what they would not miss and they could go on living in a showy kind of way. The widow did something remarkable; she gave all she had, little though it was. She didn’t want accolades or any kind of attention. She gave in a way that trusted God’s abundance. There was no evidence of a scarcity mentality for her.
It’s not news that giving in churches has declined in what I suspect in a way disproportionately to the decrease in membership. There are, of course, economic reasons for this such as the fact that families cannot survive on today’s minimum wage and people who receive social security cannot make ends meet either. In addition, we know there is a lot of competition for giving dollars. When folx tithed more regularly, the church provided a lot of social services. These days, the church provides fewer services. It is appropriate to think of a tithe as including all charitable giving – 5% to church and % to other non-profits. Yet, most of us give more like the scribes than like the widow.
We tend to give what we will not notice or miss. We give in a way that does not challenge us to conserve spending in other areas of our lives. We forget that stewardship is a spiritual practice that ought to prevade everything in our lives. I’m not suggesting we give everything we have to live on as that would be irresponsible. However, if we live into the spirit of giving that the widow exemplified, then we would be giving in a way that we notice. It isn’t a choice between paying rent or mortgage or other necessities. Rather, it is giving in a way that curbs our other spending. Perhaps it means making coffee at home. Perhaps it means saving a bit longer for a new TV. Our giving should indicate that we trust in God’s abundance and reject the scarcity of Empire.
This is why I am repeatedly astounded and grateful for Living Table’s decision to move into a whole new future. While individually we struggle to trust God’s abundance, as a community we are able to do just that. It’s not without risk, and we all know that. Yet, it is still the faithful thing to do. I’m wondering what each of us needs to let go of the scarcity mentality that the Empire uses to keep us divided and paralyzed. What might happen if we dream together of a future where we live in God’s abundance without fear of inadequacy of being, of finances, of action, of justice? And then seek to make that vision a reality. If a widow could do it with two coins of little value, then surely we can do it with all that we share together. What if the church took on the mission of breaking the hold of Empire and moving into abundance?