Lenten Devotional: Monday, Feb. 23

Discipleship Moment: Gifts
By The Rev. Harvey Smith
Feb. 23, 2015
Originally published Nov. 16, 2008

Rev. Harvey Smith died a week ago at the age of 91 and many of you remember him well. He was a pastor in the New England Conference for 33 years. For those who never met Harvey, the message below will give you insight into the faith and character of the man so many will miss. It was given during our fall Stewardship emphasis in 2008 when for 5 Sundays one member spoke briefly about what a particular vow of membership (prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness) meant to him/her.

What a great moment Jenny gave us last Sunday . . . the importance of our presence as we meet for worship each week.

Today it is my turn to talk about another part of the promise each one of us made when we were received as a member in Oconee St. UMC.

Let me begin with a story from around my 9th or 10th year about a Rhode Island Red Hen. Well, it wasn’t a hen when my parents gave her to me—just a half grown chicken. I had to see that she was fed and watered each day. How proud I was when she laid her first egg. Each Saturday in season my mother would take our garden vegetables, fresh churned butter, and home ground sausage to curb market in town to sell. When my hen had given me six eggs, she would sell them for me too.

She also gave me an empty powder box—one that had two compartments—and showed me how to make a coin slot for each side. One side for myself and the other side for God. This was my first real lesson in tithing, or shall we call it proportionate giving?

A few years later when I became a Boy Scout, I needed the Finance Merit Badge along with a number of others to earn my Eagle Scout badge—a coveted and more rare reward in the late ‘30’s. I remember my counselor for the Finance Merit badge was Bix Gunn, Vice-President of Callaway Mills, a large textile mill in LaGrange, GA. A personal budget was required. So I prepared one showing my paper route’s income and how I spent my money each week including what I deposited in my bank savings account and what I gave to my church. I will never forget the look on his face when he said, “You give this much to your church each Sunday?” I knew it wasn’t much by his standards, but for me it was my tithe. “Yes,” I responded. Up ‘til then I assumed every church member and wage earner did the same.

When Annie and I got married, one of the first things we did after moving into our New York City apartment where I served as Scout Executive of the Upper West of Manhattan, was to prepare our budget. Annie’s earnings as secretary to Mrs. Peale and mine came to about $400. So I listed as the first budgeted expenditure $40 for giving. “What? That’s a lot of money!” “OK,” I said, “We will put this $40 in a manila envelope and your job will be to give it away. Note each gift on the back.” Annie had such fun. I never heard another complaint about proportionate giving.

Why am I sharing these personal stories with you? For I am sure it seems like a legalistic kind of Christian witness. But oh, it’s so much more.

First, We came to know that all we have is a gift of God. God gives us the ability, the opportunity, and the strength to earn what we receive in that pay check.

Second, The 90% God allows us to keep becomes so much more precious. And we try to spend it wisely and more carefully.

Third, and most important of all, proportionate giving for us became an act of faith. We continually moved into a more financially demanding future, like having six children and answering God’s call to ministry, but we always trusted that God would provide – not all that we wanted, but all that we really needed. And God did!

More than 15 years ago this church took an act of faith. Forced with a changing community, a dwindling congregation and financial support, Oconee St. UMC saw no way out but to close its doors. Some of you here this morning remember this too painfully well. Thank God you took that act of faith and decided to give your church to the community. You had a kitchen downstairs and room to feed some of the homeless and hungry in this area. On faith you opened this church’s doors; other churches and organizations saw God’s miracle and asked if they too could be a part of what we know today as “Our Daily Bread.”

Jesus fed 5000 and said “greater works than these shall you do.” Last year Oconee St. served more than 50,000 meals.

Other people had been looking for a church that was more interested in serving the community than in just filling church pews and maintaining an edifice here on Oconee St. Soon we were helping to meet other community needs like the Interfaith Hospitality Network, and even sharing in the support of a Methodist missionary in Ghana. The first item in our church’s budget is now our Missions Outreach.

Like many of you, this church has become for me “the church I’ve been looking for all my life.” Some have said that Oconee St. is one of the most important churches in the Athens area. Aren’t you glad that you are a part of this unique experience in Christian witnessing?

Then let’s recommit ourselves to that tremendous act of faith that called this chapter in Oconee St.’s life into being.