Proper 20a 2014: The “S” word

Sermon for September 21, 2014
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Henrietta, NY
Proper 20, Year A

As a worshiping community, St. Peter’s works hard to live in liturgical time. Sunday by Sunday we follow a pattern of hearing Holy Scripture and worshiping in accordance within an intentional church cycle. Many times our liturgical life overlaps or collides with the secular world in which we live. In some ways, our “stewardship season” is part of such a collision.

The “season” of stewardship is filled with talk about money: what is needed, what we should do; with those we serve and the projects we choose to sustain.

Stewardship, however, is not about a particular season; it is about our lives in their entirety. The congregation’s “stewardship season” is one way in which to provide the vestry with an approximation of funds that will be available for our mission and ministry in the coming year. That’s what the traditional church season of stewardship accomplishes. Here is our budget; here is what we need. There is a piece of this model that is helpful. We come up with a figure, a dollar amount that we think that we have to run our programs and ministries. There is a dollar amount in this world that is attached to having a building, having a priest, and having people be paid for their gifts to our life in this place. And while this might be a helpful financial model, as a spiritual model there is something fundamentally missing.

What is it that is missing? Abundance, joy, and our relationship with Jesus.

We have each been given a particular abundance by God. There is no one else who has our gifts, be they gifts of prayer, creativity, business acumen, finances, a listening heart, a strong body, or an engineering mind. Stewardship is a response to that abundance. You might have heard me say that a very good reason to come to church is that someone else needs the exact gift that you have. It’s true. Someone who is here today, or who will walk through those doors while you are here needs exactly the gift that you have. When you are not here, someone and perhaps everyone misses out on what you have to offer. You might be that cold drink of water for a person or persons wandering in the desert. Fellow travelers, Christians and Episcopalians in this place, need you.

So when we look at stewardship ONLY as what St. Peter’s might need in dollars in the coming year, we risk looking at the world from a point of scarcity, from a limited view that says: “what does St. Peter’s need” and I’ll give accordingly. We unfurl our pockets and mentally say, “I hope you’re happy. This is all that I have.” Another $100 here, another $20 there. We will feel pinched for money, over and over again. And, no, that is not all that any of us has. We have hearts and souls and bodies and dreams, sorrows and dashed hopes and a journey to take with and toward Jesus. We have Jesus.

The Israelites were full of complaints, weren’t they? They show us what a countenance of scarcity looks like. In one of my favorite passages, the Israelites grumble about being taken out of slavery. Moses, we would rather have died than to be brought here!
3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Really? Slavery was better than hunger? Does anyone else hear a temper tantrum in this rant? (It continues, but that’s for another chapter and another day.)
What did God do?
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you,

God gave the people what they needed. Not what they asked for, fleshpots full of bread, but food enough for every day. God answered Moses and God’s people. And while I have made a little bit of fun with their complaints, I recognize that what the people of Israel did was not easy. They gave up everything that they had, a way of life that was known, when they were thrown into slavery. They left it all again to follow the call of God on their lives. Freedom and sustenance did not come easily, but at great sacrifice to their lives. Some of them – maybe many – did not make it to the promised land. But they were faithful and followed the pillar of fire. We are called to do no less.

That brings us to JOY.
Stewardship is our joyful response to all that we have, including life itself.
What is an appropriate response to life? That answer will be different for every person and for every family. What is God’s call on your life? Is it complete? … Over time and prayer and commitment, the question becomes: “What does God need me to do? What do I need to do to be in a living, active, joyful relationship with God?” These are the questions of stewardship.

How, today and tomorrow and next week and next year, will I journey with Jesus … to the cross and into new life? How will my weekly journey to receive Christ’s body and blood transform our lives in the world? Each week we are sent out to be faithful disciples, to live into that which we have received. We have received Christ. How do we give our strong and engaging minds, bodies, hearts to the one who loves us so much? That is a call of stewardship.

I have learned to consider that we do not “give till it hurts.” We do not give to insure a safe passage to heaven, or for pride, or in a way that suggests that abundance comes in some sort of small pie, and we dole out the smallest piece that we can in order that we can have most of it later. Abundance is beyond what we can imagine; it is part of our lives, the unimaginable manna from heaven itself.

My brothers and sisters, we give until we know joy. We give of our finances and of ourselves that we might know and walk with Jesus the Christ, our Lord. We walk not alone but with everyone in this place, with everyone who is here and not here and who has gone before us since creation.

As you are invited in a few weeks to consider time, talent and treasure and what you might offer, start with a prayer of thanksgiving for all that you have. Ask God: what are YOU calling me to give? What gifts am I to bring forth, to fling into the world with seemingly reckless abandon, as you did with your love and your life? What, gracious Lord, am I called to give in order to know the JOY that is life with you? Transform me, dear Christ, to know you. Transform us, dear Christ, to know you. To give not as the world gives, but as only you can transform us to do. Come, Lord Jesus!

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