October 28, 2018

Stewardship 2018 – October 28, 2018

Any time a member of the clergy of a parish takes to the pulpit to talk about stewardship, they risk intruding on an area of his parishioner’s lives that is held as “personal and private”. For some, the church talking about money is a bit like the church talking about politics, although in this day and age it’s probably easier to talk about politics. Either way, both subjects demand a certain bearing of the facts that most of us would just as soon avoid, because it makes us feel uncomfortable.                            -------------------Pause-------------------

Three church members were sitting together one day, talking about how they decided how much to put in the offering plate. The first church member said that what he did was that he drew a line on the floor, and stood with one foot on each side of the line. At the end of each week, he would then take all the money he had earned and throw it into the air. What came down on the left side was his to keep, and what came down on the right side he gave to God. The second church member said what she did was she drew a circle on the floor, about three feet in diameter. At the end of the week, she would take the money she had earned and throw it into the air. What landed inside the circle was hers to keep, and what landed outside the circle she gave to God. But the third church member said that he didn’t like either of those two methods. Instead what he did was at the end of each week, he took all of the money he had earned and threw it into the air and said that what God grabbed was God’s to keep, and what landed on the ground was his to keep.  

Judging by how this sermon is beginning, you might be thinking to yourself: I didn’t come here today to hear about money. I came to church to hear about spiritual stuff, religious stuff, biblical stuff. But whether we want to recognize it or not, what we do with our money is very much a spiritual and biblical matter.                                     -------------------Pause-------------------

I’m not up here to teach you to bargain with God this morning. And I certainly don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable. I simply want to share with you why it is that I give to Saint John’s Church. My decision to do this is because I believe that it may be helpful for you to know a little bit about my personal theology, because you see, I struggled with this issue for many years, just like you do. And perhaps my journey will strike a familiar cord or two.

There are three simple reasons why I give of my treasure and make a significant annual pledge to this parish. The first, is because it’s necessary for my spiritual health as a Christian person, my relationship with God. You see, I was not born into this world a giving person. I didn’t inherit a generosity gene or a chromosome that dictated a giving attitude. And while my family and my mentors taught me about giving to others, my nature was to be rather self-centered. I was also born as an alpha male. I am the oldest child of a middle-class family. I was told, even subconsciously, that I could do, and be anything, I wanted to be. All I had to do was go out and grab it for myself. In short, I was born a taker, not a giver. And all my life I have struggled with a nature that is basically a self-centered one.

For some reason that defies my comprehension even to this day, at some point in my early adult life, God revealed to me the truth that a life defined by taking was going to be nothing but a cul-de-sac, a dead-end street for Sandy Key, a journey that ends only in death. I can assure you that that living into that truth hasn’t come easy, especially with my default thinking always telling me to believe otherwise. But, for some extraordinary reason God decided that I was to be one of his servants, God wants me to live a life defined by those two greatest commandments – Love your neighbor and love God.  And apparently, there is one person who is even more hard-headed about getting their way than I am, and that’s God.

And so, God and I will continue to struggle, but what I’ve come to learn is that giving of my treasure to God is the only thing that keeps my self-centered nature in check. I must give if I want to be a healthy person. It’s like when you go to the doctor and are told “take these antibiotics”. The doctor doesn’t say, “It would be nice if you would take these antibiotics” or, “You might want to consider taking these pills.”! Rather, the doctor says, “If you want to be a healthy person, then take these pills, otherwise you’ll be sick”! The Doctor isn’t commanding me to do something, just describing reality. I give because it keeps me a healthy person.              -------------------Pause-------------------

The second reason I give to this church is because outside of my immediate family, the church is the community that I truly believe in.

Now, this is not to say that the church is a perfect place. Like any human institution I believe we will agree it has its faults and failings. We are a community of fallen people, first and foremost. And if someone wants to find a reason not to give, it’s not all that hard to do. Our sin is often apparent. Interestingly enough, the New Testament has never suggested that the church is a perfect community. Historically, such thinking has come from Christians who like to think of themselves as perfect and, in this day and age, from the media. That’s why the media is having a field day with the Roman Catholic Church today; ‘cause when a church gets into trouble or when there’s some moral controversy, it’s a great soundbite to say, “Look at these perfect people acting imperfectly – isn’t this news!”

The New Testament, on the other hand, suffers from no such illusion: “Of course the church is imperfect! What did you expect? It’s full of sinners!” Instead, as the church we understand ourselves not to be a perfect community, but a redeemed community. And there is a big difference.

I believe wholeheartedly in this redeemed community. I believe that the answer lies being here with you and sharing in the discipleship of Jesus Christ. And despite how clouded things can get and convoluted by matters trivial, I know and feel that you and I are part of something holy and everlasting – that when I am with you, I am at home, in the deepest spiritual sense. The Church will always be my home.

You know, the pipe bomber, in all his warped, evil thinking, conveyed a truth last week that really hit home for me. He indirectly joined all the school shooters to make us believe that we and our children are not safe anywhere. And, is a way he is right on some strange, demented level, we are not safe in the same way anywhere”. We live in a very, very dangerous world. Outside of the Christian community in all its various forms there is no true safe place in this world, nothing, no institution that can promise the safety of God’s love and compassion, no government, no ideology, no principality or power that can offer that. It’s only within the body of Christ that there is the promise of true sanctuary.

But, let me ask you something? When the next 9/11, or another Synagogue or church or school shooting comes, or when there is some tragedy in your life, to whom and where will you turn?   Will you turn to United Way? Will you make your way to your Alma Mata? Will you contact the local historical society, Library or Community Center? What community will you seek out? Does your giving reflect how you will respond then?

I am not trying to invoke fear in you. I am simply trying to hold up reality.

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Finally, I give to the church because it’s my way of responding to God’s generosity. This is probably my strongest reason.

Now, that may sound like a token statement from your Associate Rector, but let me assure you, it’s a claim that’s deeply, deeply felt in my life. I won’t get too personal this morning and tell you why that is, perhaps at another occasion, but I will tell you that at some point I had a conversion experience about my giving. At that point I came to realize, by the grace of God, just how plain fortunate I am in life. And I’ve spent a lot of my life before that, worrying about what I or my family didn’t have. You see I lived out of a sense of scarcity and so I easily found scarcity.                              But suddenly, through various experiences, God broke through my hard headedness and woke me up to the abundance that I have all around me that I had missed. It’s amazing how one can forget about the generosity of God, and simply not see it. Now I look for it – and surprisingly, I find it more often than I would have even imagined.                                                         -------------------Pause-------------------

Just think about this: “If you give generously to this church, God will bless you. If you don’t give generously to this church, God will still bless you. And if you are one of those who refuse to give generously, I hope God will bless you and bless you and keep on blessing you until you are so darned embarrassed that you can’t help but respond”!

I just love that.

I give because it’s the only way I know how to respond to being wonderfully blessed by God.   Abundance is everywhere, it’s in family and friends and in living here in Connecticut and with serving alongside you, it’s even in the fact that I am privileged to serve two extremely different churches.  

My list is endless.

Well, those are the three reasons I give a portion of my income to Saint John’s Church. They’re not the only reasons one might have, nor are they the best reasons for giving.   They’re just mine.

And as one of the leaders of this parish, I want to thank you for your part in giving to Saint John’s as well.

Our God is so gracious and so intent on loving us into being gracious people, despite our appetite for hard headedness and heartedness. What I pray is that all of us, in this transitional year that offers us a wonderful opportunity to set a course for the next decade, will take our pledge to God seriously and know it for the spiritual opportunity that it is.

May our pending discernment over the next month be met above all with a humble heart, a deep sense of gratitude, and with a knowledge that we are loved, beyond reason or measure, by our Lord and our God.

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