I’ve been saved! (by electronic transfer)

Sermon by the Rev, Lisa Smith Fry
Sunday, October 29, 2017

I usually do ‘giving’ sermons—to talk about stewardship—a couple of times a year. This is the first one! Now– before you all run out the doors–  I am really aware of how much people don’t want to discuss their relationship with money and more importantly- don’t want to discuss their pattern of giving. So I’ll start the conversation with my own confessions.

I admit it- I would love to live in a Star Trek world where there IS no money. I love Star Trek, and one of the reasons is that in that fictional Earth of the future—the Earth had eliminated money. In that future, people finally realized that money—or the lack thereof– controlled a person’s choice of a career, eliminated most real risk-taking, determined who ate, who got care, who lived where, and was inextricably part of the class structure of society. In Star Trek world –people were encouraged to pursue what they wanted– money was not a concern.

Unfortunately we aren’t there yet, and that world is still very much a fantasy. We live in a world run by money. And I’ve always sort of had a love/hate relationship with money. I love what it can do – but I’ve never thought I had enough. It took me years to discover that the world is very invested –no pun intended—in making us think that.

As you all know, I was a clergy spouse for 20 years before I was ordained, and often I was in charge of our family’s financial books. A pledge amount for the year was discussed— and as the bookkeeper it was often my job to determine what amount I thought we could give. I always wanted to give more than we usually did—but finances were so tight… And here’s my shameful confession: I don’t think there was once in all those 20 years that I ever managed to complete our pledge. Not once.

This made me feel really bad. I mean really bad. What was wrong with me? The end of the month would come and I would be paying the bills and there was just never enough to pay that pledge. So – I’d think—“I’ll pay it off next month. Really.“And I’m sure you can figure out what would happen. Suddenly it was the end of the year—Christmas time—and I’d have this large pledge amount unpaid. For years thinking about pledging filled me with dread—and I’ll be honest— enormous guilt. Especially as part of the clergy family.

I’d been trying to put God first in everything I did since I was 12 years old. Why could I not get the money thing right?

They say that how we think about money stems from impressions we gather as a child. If we live in a secure environment and our parents give freely, then that’s what we internalize.

I was from a great family, full of love and learning, music and theatre, but I always remember knowing that we never had much money. We were only allowed 2 cookies when we came home from school. No more. We were only allowed to put one slice of bologna in our sandwiches. I always wore hand-me-downs.

We would go camping one weekend a year for a summer vacation. We didn’t buy clothes or furniture or curtains until we could afford cash—my earliest recollection of our living room make it seem like it was wonderfully spacious.  Actually, it just didn’t have much furniture in it. Money was scarce.

Scarcity. I saw life that way. I learned the lesson: there’s never enough. No matter how careful you are—there will never be enough. I learned it from my parents. My parents learned it from their parents.

So as I was raising a family– even though I shopped at Goodwill, scoured yard sales and got groceries at the discount grocery—I just knew there would never be enough. And what I meant—probably what we all mean when we say that—is that there will never be more than enough. Plenty. Extra. Enough to share with God.

I was still in this morass of scarcity when I moved to Little Rock. And then-something changed my life. It was electronic transfer.

I’m not kidding.

I kind of dipped my foot in the water of the 21st century and decided that half my pledge would come out of my paycheck automatically twice a month.  I have to say I was nervous. What if there wasn’t enough?

And here’s what happened: I never even noticed. It came out of my account just after my paycheck was deposited, so I never saw that money. By the time I paid the bills, it was already gone.

I was up to date on my pledge for the first time in my life, ever. I never dreaded the notes from the church telling me where I was in terms of my pledge—in fact—I would get this big grin on my face when I realized that I was caught up, and that I would complete my pledge easily and on-time. I know!   It’s like a tiny God-miracle. I did happy dances! And since it didn’t hurt that first year—I raised it a bit the second year—to test the water again.

Interestingly—I didn’t get my electronic giving set up here in time—and now I’m behind. But no more. Now it’s back on track. Someday I may even get to 10 percent. That’s my new goal.

And the world is still trying to tell me I don’t have enough. But I do—oh yes I do. I have a wonderful daughter, and great friends who support me. I have the most wonderful place in the world to work. I have you. I own a tiny, lovely house. I still shop at Goodwill, and want to raise my own vegetables—but hey— now it’s hip!

And I’m grateful—so grateful for everything I have, for God’s care in putting me here, for the gift of electronic transfer, which taught me even I can give.

I’ve come to hear the truth in the words of Brene Brown:

“We’re never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. “For me,” says Brown, “the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It’s enough.”  And I can live with that.

Amen.