Community of Tampa | St. Pete | Florida

Penny for Pinellas

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all…” Mk 12:43

This week I was surprised to see two thick Pinellas County voting ballots in our mail.  Those of you who live in Pinellas have surely received your ballots also.  What are we voting for now?   Well, a few precincts will be voting for city council members, but the main objective of this ballot is to vote on the county referendum called Penny for Pinellas.

For those who haven’t see signs like “This bridge paid for by Penny for Pinellas,” this bill levies a one percent sales tax on everyone who spends money in the county, and is used for improvements to infrastructure; roads, bridges and public facilities. The tax was first approved almost 30 years ago, we are simply voting on whether to extend it for a third time. Now, people have different opinions on public taxes.  As a Taxachussets liberal I might say, we need this tax so government can perform its many job!  Some of our parish’s anti-tax libertarians might say; buy a gun, get a first aid kit, home school your kids; who needs government?

There are very different opinions on taxes and government spending, differences which will be highlighted in the next months as the US Congress considers tax reform.  But one thing we might all agree on, is the powerful truth which drives programs like Penny for Pinellas.  Namely, that a small contribution from a lot of people has tremendous power and effect. That tremendous power, I believe, is the power by which we have built and sustained this church, and is also the power which will be compounded for us in the glory of the kingdom of heaven.

Why do I believe this? Well, 2000 years before the Pinellas Penny, there was the Widow’s penny,  a parable Jesus told showing the mystical power of making small contributions from the heart. I will remind you of the story.  Jesus is watching the crowd put money into the treasury of the temple.   Some people put large sums. But a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth a penny. Jesus calls his disciples and says that this widow, despite her small gift, has put in more than anyone else.

What is the power in the widow’s penny? Well if you need to see it demonstrated financially, try this.  Find an online interest calculator, take the widow’s 2 pennies and deposit it in a bank at 4-percent interest compounded semiannually; today it would have grown to the sum of almost $5 billion trillion. What great power there is in a small investment, when it is allowed to grow over a long time! But we don’t need a financial calculator to see this power demonstrated, we only need to look at St. Hagop Armenian Church.  Over the 40 years of this church’s history, and on the 10th anniversary of our consecration, we see how the heart-felt investments of so many, over time, has been compounded  and blessed to be a thriving sanctuary, cultural hall and community.  This is St. Hagop’s widow’s penny in action.  This is exactly why we switched from dues membership to our stewardship pledge program. Because if everyone gives gladly, whatever they are able, we will have billions and trillions of blessings here at St. Hagop. Please pray on this as our 2018 pledge comes around with the new year.

And when we get into the realm of blessings, stewardship and St. Hagop church, we go beyond just the financial.  In a more significant sense, that widow’s 2-penny investment continues to reproduce itself to this very day. Only eternity will reveal how many of God’s people, including us here at St. Hagop, have been challenged by this woman’s sacrifice, and have dared to follow her example.  Some of us may make a commitment to greater stewardship because of her. Others may increase giving of ourselves and our talents in service of Christ and His church. It is impossible to estimate the eternal value of all the good that such self-giving service has yielded through the centuries.  Like the widow, each of us, regardless of means, can invest in eternity when what we give represents sacrifice, devotion, and love for Christ.

So the next time you see your referendum ballot or a sign on the road, I want you to remember that St. Hagop Armenian Church was also paid for by a Penny for Pinellas. Not the taxpayer’s penny of course, but those of our faithful, living and departed, who made their heartfelt contributions to Christ and His Church here in Pinellas. Eternity alone will reveal the full extent of our investments, as God’s blessings are compounded eternally in His Kingdom, now and always; amen.


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