People of The Light!
"No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:15-17, NRSV)
Ash Wednesday signals the change in the church season from Epiphany to Lent. Light is an important theme of Epiphany because it is the season that follows Christmas. It is the season of Christ’s light coming into the world. Light can be an interesting metaphor to help us understand God’s presence in the world. The language of light can also be a way of understanding God’s presence in us. Light is also a powerful image to describe stewardship and giving. As individual lights, we can give off only so much light . . . but when we join and give together, we create something so much brighter than we ever could by our selves.
United Methodists from northern Europe (Finland, Sweden, Norway) experience very little daylight during this time of year. One Norwegian recently shared with us that at this time of year in Norway, there are no daylight hours, just lots of night. All that darkness helps them understand scriptures about the interplay of light and dark in very meaningful ways. (Isaiah 9:2, Luke 1:78-80, John 1:1-5 for just a few examples!)
Recently, “The 33” was released in movie theaters. It’s a dramatization of a real-life mine collapse in Chile that trapped 33 miners 300 meters underground for 69 days. It’s hard to imagine surviving in those conditions with no light except for the lamps the men wore on their helmets. They had to become lights for each other as they survived and awaited rescue. They only way they lasted until the rescue was to share supplies and comfort each other, creating community in the process.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of the light. Jesus told us that a light shouldn’t be hidden, but should be put on a stand and lifted up, so that it lights the way for others. Light is given to be shared! Your money, time, talents, and gifts are part of the light that you get to share in the world! Giving generously of yourself is a faithful response to what you have received from God. A single candle on a dark night can be seen from up to 48km (30mi) away! More candles shining together create more brightness, and become even more obvious! As you give, you will discover that the impact of your giving is multiplied when you shine a light with others.
As United Methodists, we bring many individual lights close to one another, side by side. United Methodists bring the light of individual churches together, through our connectional system, to bring light to the whole world. The fuel for that connectional light comes from personal stewardship. Giving generously is a spiritual discipline, and one that John Wesley encouraged from the very beginning of the Methodist movement.1 Your personal stewardship is brightened when your local church gives “apportionments” into the connectional system of the United Methodist Church. Apportionments are a share that each annual conference or local church provides to support international, national, and regional missions2 At the general church level, apportionment money supports bishops, ministerial education, most general agencies (like Discipleship Ministries where the Division on Ministries with Young People is housed) (http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/apportioned-funds). It also supports denomination-wide efforts like the Black College Fund, Africa University, and even Imagine No Malaria.
Africa University is now 30 years old, and has graduated more than 5,000 people from 22 African countries in that time! This university was created by many people, each giving generously, and the United Methodist Connectional System creating a faithful response to a specific need. United Methodists also have given generously since 2007 to Imagine No Malaria, a denomination–wide initiative designed lessen the mortality rate of African children infected with malaria. To date, the UMC has lead stewardship efforts totaling nearly $75 million dollars!
See how brightly we can shine in stewardship together? Our connection can shed light on problems, and also bring together our individual lights to magnify the impact of our giving.
The United Methodist connection works because of personal stewardship. Picture yourself, and your church as one pixel in a wide-screen, high-definition, LCD monitor. Your pixel shines brightly when you recognize and share your gifts. But only when your individual pixel is surrounded by others who are also giving off light, can we start to see the whole picture, the wonder of God’s Kingdom. Coordinated giving makes the chole picture clear, and magnifies the impact of our response to the world’s needs.
When you give your time, talents, gifts (this means money too!), service, and witness you are practicing a spiritual discipline.3 It warms the heart, and provides a means to show your love for neighbor. Personal giving creates mission, economic justice, and can influence simplified living. Everything is God’s, and God desires that all people share in the goodness of God’s creation. So when you give your time, or your money, you are responding to God’s call for generosity.
When you give money (either by pledge, weekly offerings, or special donations) to your local United Methodist Church, over 90% of your giving stays at your local church. About 10% of donations go to the other levels of the church, including districts, conferences, jurisdictions, and the General Church. That means if you give $1 in the offering plate, 90 cents stay to help financially support your local church. 10 cents then is apportioned by the local church and made available to other levels of the church. For a more detailed breakdown of how your giving is used in your area, contact Annual Conference Leadership. For more information about the theology behind United Methodist Apportionments, check out this booklet: http://www.umcgiving.org/resource-articles/why-we-apportion-booklet1
So, God has gifted you with time, talents, and gifts that can help you light the world. How do you want to use your light?
- Stand as a candle, a beacon of hope?
- Find others, and shine with them to enlarge your impact?
- Light your piece of the picture (like a pixel)?
Ken Sloane & Chris Wilterdink
(UMNS Photo by Mike DuBose)
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