The story is supposedly true that an elderly Samuel Clemens (who wrote under the name Mark Twain) received a letter from a young student who also wanted to be a writer. The student asked Samuel Clemens to help him get started in a writing career by sending him his very best word, for which he included $5 (a lot of money back then) to pay for that “best word.” Apparently Samuel Clemens wrote back and said simply, “Thanks.”

“Thanks” is a very good word, and it is a word we say too infrequently or else too routinely. But to say “thanks” and to mean it – that is a very good word.

When I saw the financial report for 2012 of the Indiana Conference, I found myself wanting to say “Thanks” – thanks for the faithfulness and generosity of the United Methodist people of Indiana.  Because of your faithful giving, the Indiana Conference finished 2012 “in the black” with all bills paid, and we also were able to pass along 100% of our general church giving to what is called the “Episcopal Fund,” which pays for bishops in the U.S. (like me) and more importantly pays for bishops in places like Africa, where most Conferences could not afford their own bishop. We also paid 96% of our “World Service” general church apportionment and 90% of the 5 other apportioned funds – which allow the UMC to maintain its mission and outreach all around the world. The reason those numbers made me want to say “thanks” is that we have moved from only 53% payment of our share of those general church funds in 2009 to the nearly-100% payment in 2012. That is an amazing turn-around, and it is due to the cost-savings structures of our new Indiana Conference and mostly it is due to the generosity and faithfulness of our pastors and people. So …. Thanks!

I also note that our churches gave many, many dollars beyond their Conference tithes and district shares in 2012. For example, in response to the tornados in southern Indiana, especially Henryville, our people gave over $600,000 in disaster response offerings in just a few weeks. Our Indiana Conference continues to be a strong supporter of all kinds of missions and outreach ministries beyond our Conference budget, beyond our local church ministries, and beyond the “first mile” giving which pays our basic bills. Our United Methodist people are generous, and so again I say “Thanks!”

As I have prayed and reflected about those excellent financial reports from 2012, I found myself picturing an offering plate being passed among our 1100+ congregations. I “watched” people put money into the plate, voluntarily, generously, oftentimes with joy, and always with a conviction that our giving is above all a giving to God. Because God is so generous to us, we give out of gratitude. I “watched” those individuals giving, and I thanked God for each one. No one forces anyone to go to church, and no one forces anyone to give. And yet, it happens, and we don’t often enough pause to say “Thanks.”

So I am giving you my very best word today. That word is “Thanks” for your giving, for your love of the Lord and his church, and for your faithfulness to God.