Further Reflections on the Prodigal Son, by Pastor Marty Troyer
I think the marinade is working! As we continue to soak in the amazingly beautiful and complex story of the Prodigal Sons from Luke 15:1-2,11-32, I feel a richness that wasn’t present with the story a few short weeks ago. Today, I’m struck by the resources of the Father in the story. Coupled with the father’s desire to minister to his son was his ability to do it. He didn’t just want to give something to his son, he actually could! Indeed, the man in our story was apparently quite wealthy. He follows an early inheritance with a ring, sandals, robe and party complete with fatted calf.
As a congregation, we are very much like the father in our desires to do good things. We long to be a healthy vibrant worshipping community of Christ followers who push beyond the walls of our own families and church. We desire to do good things for the local community in need (Food Pantry, MAM); the international community in need (Ten Thousand Villages, Mennonite Central Committee Relief Sale and Relief Kits); for our partners in ministry (Western District Conference, our sister churches in Houston); and for our own children and people (Sunday school, discretionary crisis fund, worship, etc…). And this is just the beginning! As much as we love and support these ministries, our desire for doing good isn’t limited to them. Recent desires I’ve heard from folks at HMC about doing good have included international service trips, a community garden on our property, adopting a missionary family, working more deeply at local peace and justice initiatives, and perhaps above all spreading the word that we are a gospel-formed community.
So, while we are like the Father in our desire to do good things, are we also as a congregation like the Father in our ability to respond? Do we have the resources we need to be the kind of community with the kind of character we want? It would be hard to find someone in our church’s leadership who could say anything but “No.” For the second year in a row now, we’ve passed a budget where our income falls far short of our expenses. Cuts have been made. In other words, our desire for good ministry exceeds our ability to fund them by tens of thousands of dollars (our 2010 budget has a $25,000 gap between pledged offerings and pledged ministry!).
The reality is that individuals who commit to each other for the common good can accomplish more together than lone individuals. We saw this in 2009 where we received record levels of giving, going past our pledge to each other. This extravagant giving allowed us to unexpectedly address three needs we otherwise would not have. After the congregation empowered church council to give $428 away, council agreed to support the Interfaith Worker Justice Center, East Spring Branch Food Pantry, and to purchase 12 much needed new worship books. Together we did what none of us could have done alone.
For 2010 we’ve covenanted with each other to give even more. Our pledge to one another was $80,000 this year in offerings to be received, or $1,538.00 per week. A 20% increase from 2009. A stretch no doubt. But one that stretches us to become more like the Father: able to do the good things we feel called to do.
I invite you, as individuals and families, to help provide our congregation with the ability to do good. Your financial contributions are power for good in our world! While not possible for everyone, 10% of total income is an ancient standard of giving to the local church. Some of you should give less than this (or nothing), some of you much more. But most of us are capable of a 10% tithe, and would feel a deeper sense of connection to our church and God’s mission by considering giving at this level. While most Christians agree in theory to the 10% standard, in practice the national average is 2.4%. Imagine how Jesus would have had to alter his Prodigal Sons story had the father character not been able to respond as he wished! While it is my policy as your pastor to not see what individuals give (indeed, I have never seen what anyone but my own family gives), I would imagine we are a typical church in that we have families at all giving levels and percents, and that our average is far less than 10% per giving unit. And so again, I invite you to assess your own giving practices and to join us in making our collective desires to do good possible.
Individuals and families who faithfully give to the church enable us to be like the Father in one more key way. You enable us to experience the joy of giving and the joy of ministry! The Father ministered to his son gladly, joyfully, extravagantly. There was no worry about having enough, overextending himself, checking the budget for allowances or where to get money from. No! There was joy and freedom to do so in a non-anxious way.
And so here we are, soaking in the marinade of this gospel story about a Father’s love for his sons. And like any good marinade, it’s transforming, enriching, and enhancing who we are. It’s helping us to become whom we’ve always wanted to be!
Soak even more by praying with us using our daily prayer practice, which you can find at: houstonmennonite.org/worship