Years ago Mary Ward and I attended a wedding which, if held today, might be described as “new age.” The person officiating was affiliated with some religious group and the couple probably considered themselves Christian, but the ceremony had little in common with what we were accustomed to as Episcopalians. The vows the couple exchanged were remarkably tenuous: I promise to love you as long as love shall last. Mary Ward and I looked at each other and both wondered aloud, “How long do you guess that will be?”
For all I know that couple may still be married but, if they are, I daresay something more than flimsy sentiment has been discovered. Couples, to be successfully married, must move beyond love as a matter of the heart onto love as a matter of the will. Christian marriage is a commitment to love as long as we live, not just as long as we are in the mood. The emotion of love is truly marvelous yet, for it to be all it can be, it must be lived out within a committed, lifelong relationship. Making the promise to love creates the environment in which the true joys of love may be found. Otherwise love comes and goes like the wind and leads down empty paths.
Every church member I have ever known has wanted to be generous. While I have known any number of church members actually to be stingy, that certainly has not been their goal in life. People, in my experience, really do want to do good things and they want to do good things with their money. Sadly, many never find a way to accomplish that and do turn into stingy people. Their goal was to be generous but they never got there.
In our giving, most of us begin with sentiment. Our hearts will be moved by something and we will make a contribution. There is nothing wrong with that kind of giving but, unfortunately, that’s the only kind of giving many people ever do. We hope that one day we’ll be able to give more to those things that capture our hearts but time passes and we find our money increasingly obligated. Similarly, every church member I have ever known has wanted to be closer to God. Many, however, only pray when they are moved to do so. They keep hoping for something deeper but time passes and the relationship never develops any further. Our moods and desires simply don’t take us where we want to go.
Commitments and promises extend us into the realm of what we were meant to be. Promise itself comes out of wonderful emotion and yet transcends it as well. Promise stretches us beyond what we want to do right now and calls forth the very extent of our potential. Promise actually extends us beyond our own capability. We commit ourselves to doing something and then find we need great help in keeping that commitment. Thereby we know grace and its power to pull us through things we cannot solve alone. Making a commitment creates the environment where that which we want most can come to be.
I will assume that you want to be generous. I will also assume that the only way you will become so is by making a commitment to give of your money to God’s work in the world. When your church comes to you each year and asks for your pledge, we are trying to give you a chance to grow. Yes, we need your money in order to do what we believe we should do as a parish in the coming year. But even more importantly, you need a place to give so that you may become more generous.
We ask you not only to give but to make a pledge, to extend yourself in a commitment to give of your resources. We need to know how much to count on for budgeting purposes, but each of us needs to make a promise to give so that we will grow spiritually. Otherwise we flounder, wanting to be generous but never getting there.
Next to our prayer lives, our financial giving most significantly affects our spiritual growth. Don’t leave either area to flimsy sentiment. Commit yourself. Make a pledge and watch what happens to you and your church.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.