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St. Paul’s – Lent 5 – 3/26/2023


A blue-chip investment firm flailed and flopped recently when it flew a suit from the high-rise canyons of Boston to the mesas of the Navajoland which is part of our Diocese. This person came to explain to a group of Navajos why they should invest for old age.

Hoping to hook the 95 Navajos gathered, he started by asking how many had heard of Willard Scott. None had. The representative explained that Willard Scott was the former weatherman of the Today Show who often featured 100-year-olds on their birthdays.
 You know what? the rep queried. More people are living to be a hundred.

No one reacted. On the reservation, people die younger than the general population. The pitch didn’t even cross the plate.

Undaunted, he persevered by telling them about health consciousness and New Year’s resolutions to lose weight.

Again, blank stares. The Navajos don’t make New Year’s resolutions, don’t have health clubs and aren’t obsessed about weight.

And so it went. Clearly Boston had nothing to do with Gallup, New Mexico. The Bostonian wasn’t able to cross the cultural divide in this low-income population where they don’t even have Navajo words for savings or retirement.

A local resident explained that for the Navajo, Money is different. It’s there to be spent. If you have some, you help your family.

Later, the tribal officers set up their own investment team, led by a 24-year-old investment-savvy Navajo. This time, this team was able to get the pitch into the strike zone where the people could hit the ball. They emphasized family, and how saving can help others, not just the individual.

We don’t target only the participants, we target families. With unemployment as high as 70 percent on the reservation, the team hopes that by encouraging those who have jobs to save money they’ll be better able to help their relatives in the long run. It isn’t investing for selfish reasons. It’s investing for the benefit of their wider family.

Since then, there’s been a 10 percent increase in the investment plan participation. In a culture that’s truly family-based, taking a family approach works, savings grow, and in the long run, the family benefits.

Even Blue Blood Bostonian Brahmin investment firms get it. Stocks bought today are not just for retirement; they’re there to pass on to the children, who pass them on to their children, and on and on, never spending the principle and reinvesting a percentage of the dividends, buying more as necessary and watching the whole thing grow generation after generation. It’s a way for families to pool their income so that eventually no one in their family lacks.

Sound familiar—Maybe so—Acts 4:32-35

32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Of course, not everyone can do this. Taking the short view is tough enough for most folks trying to make ends meet, pay mortgages, finance cars, fund orthodontics. The long, long view is an idea many folks never think of, let alone dream about. Investing for the long term is a hard sell to much of America.

It’s a hard sell for the church, too. But the early church gave it a shot.

They agreed to pool their resources. No one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common (Acts 4:32). They sacrificed. They sold what they had, land or houses, and turned it over to the group – and as a result, no one lacked.

They worked together. They invested themselves with social capital. They created community. They took chances. They invested in each other and everybody’s needs were met. “There was not a needy person among them” (4:34).

Can the early third millennial church match the success of the early 1st Millenial church?

The church is filled with needy people. Some need money. Others need love. Some need hope. Others need joy. Some need solace. Others need prayer. All need God. That’s the bear market news.

But we’re a part of a bull market church. Needy people have a lot to give. The church is a mutual funding company.

Lots of folks who come to church lack something, and often are seeking that something in church … from us, from God.

•Need: Some lack companionship because they’re widowed and lonely.

Investment: Invest yourself in a friendship with an elder and see what good can come from it for everybody.

•Need: Some come to church because they hurt inside.

Investment: Invest your ear time for their mouth time.

•Need: Some lack heat, or food, or school clothes, or money for the doctor.

Investment: Sink your money in the church’s mission account.

The church is an investment club, only our capital is more than money. We invest our time, energy, talents, hopes and cash in our church.

What would the church look like if it could be a people, a place, where no one lacked? A place where we invested ourselves in each other? A place where no one was needy?

The church would look like the people of God acting with one mind and one heart.

Church isn’t just for us. It’s here because ancestors in faith built it, mind and heart, sweat and bones, calluses and money. They invested in us long before we even were born. They provided the sanctuary, the meeting rooms, the bell, the organ, the pulpit, the carpet, the kitchen, the rocks embedded in our walls.

Since our founding in 1897, we have been in our current church building since 1931.

As Tricia so eloquently put it last Sunday, our building has matured. As is noted in our pledge cards, we need to redo our bathrooms, our handicapped parking and access to our building. In 2020 and 2021, at the height of Covid lockdowns, annual giving to Saint Paul’s decreased, but we kept our expenses lower and were able to leave our financial reserves untouched.  In 2022, our expenses returned to pre-Corona levels, but we ended the year by spending 10% less than we budgeted.  However, donations to Saint Paul’s were down 15% compared to 2021, ending 2022 with a $6,000 deficit.  If these trends continue, we could have a $25,000 to $40,000 deficit at the end of 2023.

A big difference in this year’s budget vs last year’s is $20k for the curate plus $15k for the gas line repairs.

We need to calculate church today with the same equation. It’s not just for us that the church is here. It’s for our children’s children.

Jesus said, Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:20). Invest yourself in the church; invest yourself in the people of God.

Let’s call it the Nazarene Investment Club.

Let me close with the prayer at the bottom of our Stewardship letter this year…..

Abundant God, you made us in your image

and breathed in us a spirit of generosity that is both gift and response.

Move us, we pray, to give as we have received – abundantly, generously, and joyfully that our common ministry may ever bear witness to your unfailing grace.

In the name of the Three in whom we are One. Amen.