How to be a Good Dead Person – Part 3 of 3

“Leave a Legacy”

Rev. David Felten

Words of Wisdom: Matthew 6.19-21

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How to be a Good Dead Person, Part 3:
Leaving a Legacy
October 24, 2010

Welcome to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ swan-song sermon that includes the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer and stack of other sayings that even if you didn’t know they came from the Sermon on the Mount, you’d have a hunch that they sounded awfully “Jesus-y.” This is a part of the sermon where Jesus rips into the “hypocrites” in his midst for their self-centered piety. It seems like a pretty practical “you can’t take it with you” message culminating with the famous bumper sticker: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” But if the goal is to store up treasures “in heaven,” how exactly does one go about doing that?


A lawyer named Strange died, and his friend asked the tombstone maker to inscribe on his tombstone, “Here lies Strange, an honest man, and a lawyer.” The inscriber insisted that such an inscription would be confusing, for passers by would tend to think that three men were buried under the stone. However he suggested an alternative: He would inscribe, “Here lies a man who was both honest and a lawyer.” That way, whenever anyone walked by the tombstone and read it, they would be certain to remark: “That’s Strange.”

We’ve been talking the last few weeks about how to be a good dead person, and the first two facets of being limited and planning for the end of life have required planning. This step is the only one that you can achieve without any planning, and that’s leaving a legacy. Whether you plan for it or not, you’re leaving one. The question is, what kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Perhaps one of the most famous posings of this question comes in Dickens’s Christmas Carol. Remember? The ghost of Jacob Marley comes back to visit Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is given a glimpse of what his fate will be, what his legacy will be if he doesn’t change.

In our passage today, Jesus does his best Jacob Marley impersonation: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” But what exactly is he talking about?

Let’s see, what are treasures on earth? Anything that is vulnerable to being ruined, lost, broken or stolen. What does he mean by storing up? Well, he’s not talking about prudent stewardship here, but about our tendency to hoard things, to make an idol out of stuff.

So, we’re supposed to store up treasures in heaven, which means give more money to the church – right? Wrong! Possible, yes, but think of it this way: what can you do to invest in priorities that are inspired by your commitment as a disciple of Jesus?

Think of it this way: in life, most of us require some kind of assistance along the way, be it physical, financial or spiritual. Perhaps a local church or food bank supplied meals during a tough time. Like me, maybe you were given a scholarship that made going to college possible. Maybe you’ve been the recipient of an act of kindness, a participant in a program for personal enrichment, the beneficiary of medical research, given sanctuary in a domestic abuse shelter, or been inspired by a quality arts or music program.

And how are many of these programs and advances possible? In large part through the generosity of those who laid up their treasures beyond themselves, of people who have chosen to leave a legacy that reflects their priorities and passions.

Earlier this year, our family went to visit Laura’s 99 year old Aunt Attalee in Northern Arkansas. We try to get there at least once a year, but this year was different. Attalee has moved to an assisted living center and her house in Sidney was all packed up and ready for the auction: car, house, and all its contents.

When visiting Attalee at the nursing home, she took the kids aside and told them, “I want you to go into the house and pick out whatever you want.” The kids picked out a painting, a ceramic dog, and a necklace – all meaningful reminders of their Aunt, small reminders of the legacy of love their aunt has left them.

That’s certainly one way to be remembered. It’s intimate and personal. But there are other ways, too. And over the years, it’s been a constant surprise to me as to who does – and who doesn’t – do the work to leave a legacy beyond their immediate family, say to their alma mater or their church or other non-profit.

LEAVE A LEGACY is a public awareness campaign designed to inspire people just like us to make a charitable bequest. Bequests are just one type of “planned gift” that can be made to the organizations you value.
When it comes to funding for efforts to make a positive difference in the world, gifts large and small are important. Charitable giving is not only for the wealthy! People from all walks of life can “make a difference in the lives that follow” through all kinds of giving.

Video Clip:

According to research conducted ten years ago, only around eight percent of people chose to support the causes and organizations that are making an important difference in their community with planned giving.

“Well I have children and relatives! Shouldn’t I leave my entire estate to them?” No! The truth is that, depending on the current tax laws, leaving a gift to charity in your will may reduce the tax burden on your heirs significantly. In fact, I’m not an expert, but I’ve been told that the tax laws are changing January 1st and if you’re planning on dying soon, do it before December 31st! You should consult with a financial advisor or attorney for the details, but the bottom line is this: there are nearly 300 million Americans, and around two million of us die each year. In 2004, only 42 percent of adults had wills at all, a five percent drop since 2000.

Most people say they want to leave some sort of legacy in life. Even if they don’t say it, we all want to be remembered — because being remembered means that our lives had meaning and significance to someone other than ourselves.

The sad thing is most people don’t leave a legacy other than having not left a legacy. The largest group gets remembered through occasional visits to their tombstone and materials left in their will (i.e. money, house, etc) which sooner than you think gets depleted.

But there is a way to guarantee eternal life, as it were, to live on posthumously through something you created or left behind. HOW? Talk to a specialists, including your attorney, a financial advisor or someone at your favorite non-profit organization. Learn as much as you can about various charitable gift options and the kinds of gifts that make the most sense for both you, your favorite charity or non-profit, and your EGO! Let’s not forget about that.

1. your will can direct a gift to your church or other non-profit. Simply bequeath a specific sum of money or choose to leave a percentage of your estate or the balance remaining after the bequests are made to your heirs.
2. an endowment protects the principal of your gifts. Annual distributions are made in your family’s name for your intended purpose.
3. In addition to a will, you might want to consider a trust or gift annuity. In exchange for your gift, you will receive a lifetime income, tax benefits and the ability select the charities that benefit from your gift
4. You can establish a memorial fund in your family name or that of another person, with the income to be used as you direct.

The important thing is for you to DO it. “But if I start planning that way, it means I have to admit that I’m going to die.” Get over it. You’re going to die. The question is, are you going to be a GOOD dead person?

John Wallach was an award-winning author and journalist. He was not a rich man, but in 1993 founded a group called Seeds of Peace to provide an opportunity for the children of war to plant the seeds for a more secure future. You can read a little bit more on the front of the worship guide.

Despite all of his awards and accomplishments, one of his most lasting achievements is one that has out-lived him and continues to grow in effectiveness and impact on the world: Seeds of Peace started with 46 Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian teenagers in 1993 and has expanded to include young leaders from South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans. Its leadership network now encompasses over 4,300 young people.

Beginning with a summer Camp in Maine the program continues through year-round regional dialogue meetings, conferences, workshops, educational and professional opportunities, allowing participants to develop lasting empathy, respect, and confidence, equipping them with the communication and leadership skills necessary to advance peace (and effectively undermining the previous generation’s resistance to reconciliation and coexistence). John Wallach has left a legacy. What about you?

It doesn’t have to be huge, but with all our efforts combined, it can make an amazing difference in the lives of real people.

This summer, our annual conference speaker told us that there were two major reasons people don’t go out of their way to leave money to a non-profit (their churches in particular). The first reason is that the church doesn’t ask, the second is that people don’t trust the church to handle their money effectively. Well, today, I’m asking. And as far as trust is concerned, we have worked hard at The Fountains to get everything in order financially to be good stewards of your gifts. On top of that, we have our own Foundation set up through the Desert Southwest Foundation to serve as an endowment fund and to receive your donations.

The world, it is a-changin’, and churches are being closed all over the country because of it. If we don’t get creative with funding, churches and the non-profits we support are going to be more and more crippled.

So, we’re doing our part to help inspire you in laying up some treasure in heaven. On Wednesday, Nov. 10th at 4pm, we’re sponsoring the first of several get togethers with a representative from the DSC Foundation to help you see ways you can leave a legacy. Wednesday, Nov. 10th at 4pm.

And if you look at the net worth of the people in this church, I don’t see how there would be any problem for us to set as a goal in 2020, to have $1,000,000 in our foundation. What will it support? Someone in this church thinks summer camp scholarships makes a difference in the lives of kids – can we fund a scholarship for every kid at our church? Someone here thinks Stephen Ministry makes a difference in people’s lives and has funded all the training so far – can that be funded for years to come? Someone here thinks that it would be important to reach out to at-risk kids in Fountain Hills with healthy food and constructive activities during school breaks – can we make that happen?

Stream of Thought: What’s your legacy?

What can you do to invest in priorities that are inspired by your commitment as a disciple of Jesus?

This is an amazingly generous congregation. Through our worship guide this month, we let you know that one of our youth needed $1200 more dollars to go with her civics class on an honors tour of Washington, D.C. One of you wrote a check on the spot last week.

There are examples left and right of individuals’ generosity in using their resources in doing good things through The Fountains, but Jesus suggested that doing good things included laying up treasures in heaven – and I hope, that, for you, that means thinking about more than today, and looking forward towards leaving a legacy.

Some of you know that I like doing the occasional Letterman-style Top Ten list, so today I’d like to close with the “Top ten reasons to leave a legacy:”

1. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
2. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
3. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
4. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
5. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
6. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
7. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
8. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
9. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.
10. You’ll continue to make a difference after you’re gone.

How can you be a good dead person? Leave a legacy. Can you picture this with me? Jesus coming on the screen saying, “I’m Jesus Christ, and I approved this message.”

Original material © 2010 David M. Felten

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