5th Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 23:16-32

Herbert and Lucy (Again)

You have probably heard or read the stories about the unlikely millionaires next door. Sometimes, it’s a janitor or school teacher who leaves a large estate to charity. One of my mentors in my last congregation was the son of an LCMS pastor. He had grown up during the Depression and had become a real estate developer and philanthropist. Among his wise sayings was, “You don’t acquire wealth through income. You acquire it through thrift.” Another was, “Every person should have two sources of income: one to pay the bills and the other to make money.” Another was, “Saving the first $10,000 is the hardest.”

Herbert and Lucy were worth several million dollars but lived in a one-story ranch home that had been theirs outright for decades. They drove a couple of older Mercury cars: one a sedan, the other a wagon. Once a year, they took a nice trip, but that was as extravagant as it went. My first week at St. Matthew’s they invited me to lunch at their house. After all the pleasantries and background sharing, they said: “We are going to leave a large estate invested in the ELCA Foundation, but St. Matthew’s will be the primary beneficiary. The church will receive a quarterly check, and we want 5% to go into a designated fund to pay seminary expenses for a student from our congregation.”

We discussed the way they accumulated wealth through thrift and that they were childless. They talked to me about why they wanted the church to be the primary beneficiary, because the church had been their closest family. We talked about the future of the ELCA and how they really didn’t approve of having homosexual pastors with partners. They discussed it, because the Episcopalians had elected a gay bishop with a partner the previous year. Herbert and Lucy set up their own endowment with the ELCA Foundation but St. Matthew’s would be the primary beneficiary. Finally, they said they didn’t want me to tell anyone who was going to give a large estate at St. Matthew’s, but they did want the church leaders to be prepared for it.

So, I shared with them about my previous congregation’s Endowment Fund, and that none of the money could be used for current expenses. I shared that before I had taken my previous call, many people had treated the Endowment Fund there as a slush fund for any favorite project. So, we agreed that the distributions from their estate should become the principal of an Endowment Fund, in which none of the principal would ever be spent except in a dire emergency. And, then, we talked about appropriate uses. They said, “We trust the congregation council to use the earnings wisely, never spending all the annual earnings, and never using the money for the annual budget. And tell them we don’t want the money to go for a parochial school or for a church van. We don’t want the money to be used for those things.”

Herbert and Lucy loved the Lord, and they loved St. Matthew’s. They set firm boundaries as they planned. The ELCA Foundation holds the principal of the estate and that helps grow their own principal, but they cannot use the money contrary to Herbert and Lucy’s instructions. Neither can St. Matthew’s use the money for a budget shortfall or benevolence. Nor can St. Matthew’s use the money in the seminarian fund for any purpose other than to assist with the expenses of someone from St. Matthew’s studying at a Lutheran seminary. In short, our Endowment Fund Team wisely manages the Bost principal and the earnings from it. Having accepted their gift, both the ELCA and we are required to manage it as Herbert and Lucy designated. Yes, there have been small other gifts over the years, but they are literally dwarfed by the ongoing distributions that Herbert and Lucy wisely set up out of love for God and church family.

Thank you, dear Father, for Herb and Lucy who didn’t trust lying prophets far or near. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put thirty-three pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box for the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.