11/12/2000, P22, Year B

“Focus on the Future”
Annual Pledge Campaign

Mark 12: 41-44

t was an annual Pledge Sunday worship service, of which every church has some variation, and an affluent middle aged man had given his lay witness as to how much God had blessed him. Among other things, he had related how he had been nearly bankrupt in his first business venture; indeed, he only had one-thousand dollars in the bank, which was the exact amount of his unpaid church pledge for the year. It was toward the end of the year and he decided to give it all to pay his pledge. He closed his remarks by attributing his subsequent multimillion dollar success to this singular act of faith. When he sat down in his pew, a widow leaned over and whispered, "I dare you to do it again!"

In our text we read about a widow who did just that, not because of a dare, but as a result of her love for God, she gave everything she had. Both Mark's gospel and Luke 21: 1-4, include that she was a "poor" widow. Not all widows were poor; some had children or other family. By giving "all" she out gave all the others to the Jerusalem treasury. The value of a gift to God is not determined by its amount but by the spirit of faith in which it is given. Others gave out of their "surplus" but this woman of hope gave with a vision of what God could do. It was just two mites (pennies, NLT), a tiny amount, but we get the impression that she would have been willing to give it all, even if it had been millions.

On an Internet discussion, a preacher shared this week a true story about a dear widow who brought a check to him for their church's capitol funds crusade for $500.00. She asked, "Tom, is this all right?" The Pastor responded, "It is if it represents you." Later she brought a check for $5,000.00. Again she asked, "Is this all right?" Her friend, her Pastor responded, "Sure it is if it represents you." A few days later she brought a check for $500,000.00. She smiled and asked, "Tom, is this better?" The Pastor also smiled and again said, "Yes, if it represents you." Finally she felt good about her donation, it was not all she had, but it represented a significant sacrifice. Her intent, her vision, was finally focused.

What a great sense of faith and hope for the future this poor widow, and Tom's rich widow, had. This positive outlook had to be given to them by God. Their magnanimous gift was a byproduct of their hope for the future of the Kingdom.

Human beings, unique in nature, are able to conceive of a future. It is a part of our soulfulness. By instinct, squirrels hoard acorns for the winter and birds feather their nests; but, our souls tell us there will be a future, and God wants to give every one of us a positive sense of hope. He can enable us to stand on tiptoe as we catch His vision of what can be.

If we live our lives out of history, we live out of the past. That's who we once were. If we live our lives out of divine imagination, we live for the future. That's who God can enable us to become. The Christian life calls us to move into the future with our hand firmly in the hand of Him who has power to help us.

Certainly, we must retain a memory of the past to inform future decisions, but the Gospel is new every morning, and calls us to march forward in building His Kingdom. The future must be shaped or it will impose itself upon us as catastrophe. This is true for our personal lives, our families, and our extended family in God's Kingdom here at Peachtree and Porter Place.

Our challenge of 2001 is for our church to focus our ministry and vision on the future. I am convinced that our church has a bright future. Only time will tell if our greatest days are yet ahead. We do know that our immediate neighborhood is on the verge of a great influx of new residents. Thousands of new homes are on the drawing board and much property has been zoned "residential." New center city residents mean new members for us. We will continue to draw folks from the entire metropolitan area through our television ministry and advertising program. Our three years of sustained membership growth tells us that we can reach new folks from all across our four million population metro area.

Atlanta's center city needs a strong church like ours. Every great city in America has a continuing presence of vital in-town churches. Our church adds beauty, stability, and can offer that which other downtown institutions cannot: forgiveness, fellowship, and a relationship with Jesus Christ, who will continue to be our Champion. Seekers will continue to be attracted to the clear gospel message offered here.

However, as we build for the future we must continue to find funding.

Today we celebrate the first of two Sundays for us to march forward with our annual estimate of giving cards. We will accept the estimates of those who give out of their surplus, yet we encourage you to joyfully give proportionately to how much you have been blessed. Some who tithe 10% are able to give far more than others. Someone might give at a level similar to the poor widow of today's text; yet, all pledges are the same "if they represent you."

Giving at a higher level will require intentional focus. There are no auto focus cameras in giving to God's Kingdom. The more magnanimous our gift, the more concentration it will take. Those cheap preset focus cameras never made good snapshots. If the light and distance from the subject just happened to be just right, you would get an acceptable photo, but most of the time the picture was fuzzy.

Our Father wants to help us focus clearly and have a beautiful picture of the future.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

11/12/2000, P22, Year B