Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving, 2016

A few weeks ago the local church was in the midst of its annual pledge campaign, and I was asked to say a few words. Some of them seem appropriate on Thanksgiving Day (they were inspired by last March's blog post, Richer than Rockefeller):
The immediate questions before all of us are how much, if anything, should I put down on my pledge card for next year, how many hours should I volunteer for, and in what ministries? If you are like me eventually you get a brain cramp and sign up for pretty much what you signed up for last year.

But I do find it useful once in a while to lift my head out from under my credit card statements, my pay stubs, tax returns and spreadsheets and try to look at the big picture.

The wealthiest person in the world, as most of you know, is Bill Gates, whose personal fortune is currently estimated to be $80 billion.

But historians say that the wealthiest person who ever lived was John D. Rockefeller, who at one time controlled 90% of the oil industry. Money Magazine took John D. Rockefeller’s fortune in relation to a much smaller American economy and also adjusted it for inflation. Money Magazine estimated that his wealth would be like having $250 billion today.

John D Rockefeller (Daily Mail / Getty)
100 years ago John D. Rockefeller was 77 years old---by the way he would live another 20 years---but would you trade places with him? He had an army of servants, but here’s a little of what we have and he didn’t:

1) We can be in Paris in 11 hours. It would take him a couple of weeks to get to Europe from California by rail and then by ship.

2) If any of us had a medical emergency, paramedics would be here in 10 minutes or less. We would be treated by methods that would be infinitely better than were available in 1916 by the best doctors in the world.

3) We have the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. No matter how many people John D. Rockefeller had working for him, it would take them hours to research a topic in the Library of Congress and we can do it in minutes. For that matter, we have movies--with sound--and huge music libraries at our fingertips, too.

4) I am sure each of us can think of many more examples of progress---about how we can carry on a live conversation with a relative halfway around the world and see their faces, about how we can forecast to the hour when rain is about to start, about how we no longer need to keep a stack of maps in our glove compartment to know where we’re going.

When you look at it that way, hundreds of millions of us ordinary folk are each richer than Rockefeller.

How much of our wealth is represented by what’s in our bank account, and how much wealth do we have merely because we are alive in this time and this place?

And while we are thinking about wealth and how much to give, how much does the church give back to your own lives and that of your family? Are you wealthier because this church is alive in this time and this place?

You may not have a lot of room in your budget, but look at all the unfilled spaces on the ministries and the sign-up sheets. Offering your time and talent increases the wealth of our church just as surely as a monetary offering—possibly even more so.

We are each of us richer than Rockefeller, and our church adds to that richness in ways seen and unseen. Please help keep it that way.

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