by Rev. Joan Kessler
This story we just heard Anne share with us this morning got me to thinking about coin tosses. When was the last time you pulled a coin out of your pocket to solve a problem and make a decision? Perhaps you and another are trying to decide what to order for dinner… Chinese or Italian… both are acceptable outcomes but you give it to a two-sided coin… one of you flips it into the air with your thumb and the other gets to call Head or Tails. One restaurant wins out over the other. The decision is made by pure chance and you can get on with it the outcome.
I discovered this week that there has been extensive research into the fairness of the coin toss and the probability of a particular outcome. There are many factors which determine this… the age of the coin, the wear and tear it has been subjected to… even the bacteria it has encountered. Research has shown that depending on how the coin is tossed, whether it is caught mid-air or lands on the floor spinning, all affect the result.
The question posed to Jesus this morning by the authorities, wishing to trick him and entrap him with his answer, is a bit of a coin toss. They know the answer Jesus gives over whether or not it is lawful to pay one’s taxes to the Emperor is a loaded one. If he answers yes, then he could be perceived as in collusion with Rome, justifying Roman occupation and oppression of the Jews. This would not be a popular answer among the Jewish people. On the other hand, if Jesus answers no, he could be suspected of plotting against Rome and suffer the consequences of such subversive views. Jesus is quick on his feet. He asks one of the Pharisees to produce a coin… Whose head and title do you see? Caesar’s is the obvious response. And so Jesus simply responds Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and render unto God what belongs to God.
Was Jesus’ response helpful? Did it leave his listeners perplexed about Jesus’ financial advice? All week, I have been asking myself. Jesus cared a great deal about money… and maybe I should rephrase that… Jesus cared a great deal about how money was used. Throughout his ministry, Jesus challenged the wealthy to give their riches to the poor for that was where true freedom was found. We too make our decisions about what we do with our money, our time, our talents. We pay our taxes, we make decisions about monthly household expenditures, things that are really a yes and a no type of response. I’ll buy this now and delay this expense for later.
Deciding what to do with what we have isn’t always simple…whatever our particular situation might be…whether we have considerable means or treading very close to the wire. SO many responsibilities compete for our attention. It’s not just money; we have to decide how to use our valuable time and our energy. COVID has definitely reshaped our thinking around what we do with our time and money will likely follow those priorities. What is most worthy? Time with family and friends who make up our bubble, our work, our volunteering, blessed rest and sabbath?
Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and render unto God what belongs to God. A countercultural idea from the Jesus economy is being proposed today. What yes and no decisions do we make… what things are a priority for our time, our talents, our treasures that we hold close to us?
I want to take a bit of this reflection time to share with you some important work that has been done over the course of the summer and early fall with respect to Transition and Visioning here in this community. The report I want to share with you was created by the discernment and work of nine individuals: Don, Eleanor, Gary, Marg, Fran, Karen, Adam, Verena, and myself. Our coming together was shaped by the arrival of COVID, moving our life together largely to online.
In our time together, we set out to write a new Mission Statement to take our community into the foreseeable future. That statement is being worked on and considered and will be shared with you when it is ready. We also focused our attention to four areas: Building Usage, Finances, Outreach/Communication, and what it means to be Intergenerational. Next Slide please…
Building Usage: We looked at the church building and its physical space. We wondered about building maintenance, rental group usage, our own events and Sunday services. The closure of our building due to COVID back in March certainly had us asking the questions around how we use our building and for what gain. We wondered what upkeep and expenses will look like in the near and distant future and how this reality will impact and shape our mission and outreach. What are our short and long-term goals with respect to our building? A Property Resource Team is available through Pacific Mountain Region, which assists Communities of Faith re-imagine their buildings and provide guidance around church redevelopment. No decisions have been made with respect to property redevelopment but I would be amiss if I didn’t say we were curious about what this means and what other congregations have experienced and been able to develop. Next slide please…
Our hope: To create a rental committee and related policies around our building’s usage.
Finances: The necessary closure of the Thrift Store due to COVID and the reliance on the Federal Gov’t Wage Subsidy program had us wondering about our budget and financial viability. We are grateful for the continued givings of the congregation but realized how much we depend on the Thrift Store to meet monthly expenses. Do we need to re-envision our annual budget? Next slide please…
Our Hope: To create Finance Committee to review our financial position, revenue sources and budget planning. Next slide please…
Outreach and Communication: We considered our current means of communication within the congregation and wider community of Lake Country. We wondered how we can utilize social media, signage and other advertising. It was suggested a questionnaire could be distributed to members of the congregation asking for feedback on communication and their comfort level with online means and other technology. Outreach initiatives geared towards young adults (UBCO) and children and families need to be developed. The other idea that generated excitement and possibilities was to host a coffee time in the Matthews Room for Thrift Store customers and other neighbors looking for some fellowship. This would be considered post-COVID. We also contemplated undertaking the work of becoming an Affirming congregation within the United Church of Canada that sees intentional course of study undertaken to make our church inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Next slide please…
Our Hope: To create an Advertising/Marketing committee to further examine these issues. Next Slide please…
Intergenerational: Marg attended this online event in September with keynote speaker David Csinos from the Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax. Marg shared some of the keys from this year’s conference, which was focused on small (and mighty) churches. Topics included the advantages of small churches, reimagining faith formation, and becoming a successful intergenerational church. How can we become more inter-generational in our Sunday services and programming. Currently our Spiritual Nurture committee is not meeting largely due to COVID making events not possible but we will rebuild with input from our families with children.
To summarize then, the Transition and Visioning team will continue to explore the following:
· Mission Statement
· Building and Property
· Outreach and intergenerational growth
· Becoming an affirming congregation
· Developing an attitude of openness
· What do we want from church?
Our team plans to continue to meet quarterly. And we welcome your feedback and input. We have named three opportunities inviting participation from our community…We will need willing participants to bring these ideas to life and see them fly. If you want to talk about what you have heard hear or have questions for clarification please do not hesitate to get in touch with one of the Team members. You will be hearing more from us as we go down this road and we hope to have a mission statement to present by our Annual General meeting in 2021.
Our centering words for this morning came to us from Thomas Paine, an England-born political philosopher and writer from the 18th century; What we esteem too cheap we obtain too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Jesus is calling us to pay attention to what we have and how we use it. This is a timely reminder. I am also reminded of another quote I heard recently that when we gather here on Sunday mornings, we come for ourselves but we stay for one another. May it be so.
Amen and Amen.