A number of parishioners suggested that I reprint my sermon from last Sunday here and since I am busy preparing for our Diocesan Annual Convention at Kanuga I decided to do that. Deacon Anita, Sr. Warden Sharon Tatlock, Jr. Warden Calvin Boyd, myself and my wife Chris will travel to Kanuga on Thursday to participate in "the Councils of the Church." These are special and important times in the life of our diocese and your prayers are appreciated.
Sermon from last week:
It is Stewardship time at All Saints. That time each year where we ask for your financial pledge to this parish. Stewardship time can be difficult for everyone, myself included. I've heard preachers apologize to visitors for talking about financial giving, I won't do that because giving is such an important aspect of our lives as Christians.
To many, asking for a financial pledge, feels like the Church is putting itself where it does not belong, to others it's just none of their business, and to others it is not a difficult time at all because they have come to terms with the subject of money. A few people here have shared with me their journey towards their generous giving and all of these stories have one thing in common: they all allude to the fact that "It's amazing that when you give more, you don't miss it and you receive so much more than you give."
Jesus talked a lot about money and possessions and I believe he did so because he understood that money is where so many of us face life and death issues. I think he believes that if we can faithfully decide about money... then we can faithfully decide about just about everything else in our lives. Now that's really Good News!
Before I begin I want everyone to know how thankful we are for your faithful giving this past year.
So here I go..., First, let me tell you the good news and the bad news. Here's the good news: You have heard of the tithe - the Old Testament commandment to give 10% to the Lord? You have heard of that, right? Well, I'm going to tell you a little secret: there is not one place in the New Testament where Jesus upholds the tithe as the standard of giving. He never once mentions it. Isn't that good news? Now, the bad news: Jesus wants everything! All of us! Jesus demands that all the stuff in your life that keeps you from him be given away.
Over the years, there have been specific events that have defined my own personal stewardship - "aha" moments. I want to share these with you.
One day during field education I went with my supervisor priest to pay a pastoral call on a parishioner who was upset about her money situation. Her expenses were going up and the Dow was going down and her husband had died and she had no new income and was quite nervous about it. The reality was that she had more than enough, but she just kept worrying. She actually was losing sleep over the issue. When we sat down she said to the rector, "Father, what is the solution?" Much to my surprise my boss looked at her and said, "there is only one solution and that is you've got to give it away". I almost fell out of my chair. And I can tell you terror seized that ladies heart. But, the interesting thing was, after a while she decided to give up some of her income, realizing that the fear she was suffering from came from being possessed by what she had.
In the OT money was referred to as "mammon", loosely translated as "False God." Money has the power to possess us - no matter if you have plenty of it or are just making ends meet. Money has power. It is the measure of all things in our society. And what Jesus teaches us is that in the battle with the false god mammon the only way that you can have power over it is in giving. If you cannot let go of it, it owns you. If you cannot give it generously, it has more power over you than you over it.
Giving is a profound spiritual issue. Stewardship is not about supporting a budget. Giving has to do with spiritual health. It's about ones relationship with God!
The second moment in my life that effected my stewardship journey was when it was time to pass down some family treasures and mementos of the past. I would often sit down with Emma and Justin and take them out and let them touch these things: an old little metal truck, an old piece of pottery, an old spoon...things like that and I would tell them the story about it.
When it was time I began passing these items on but when I first started to give the treasures away, I had a bad habit that I didn't even know I had. One day, Chris, overheard an exchange I had with Justin. She said to me, "Why do you keep doing that when you give them something?"
I said, "Do what?"
She said, "Why do you present them with a treasure and then go on and on with a litany of rules about how they should take care of it, how they should shine the spoon or protect the pottery. Chris said, "Just give it to them. They'll take care of it. Just give it to them and be happy about it".
Real Christian giving never involves control. Rather, it is about relinquishing control, about letting go. And the power of the gift is in this action of letting go. This is how God gives to us, over and over and over again, each and every day.
If we try and control what we give we can actually destroy the nature of the gift - for others and especially for ourselves. But, what our Lord teaches us is that giving involves relinquishing control and relying on God, trusting in God to use the gift in a righteous manner. In my experience, God always blesses our gift when it is given freely.
This last story came to me by my last Bishop so it is his story, but it transformed me. You see this bishop built wooden steam boats and loved the water. One day he was in New England on vacation and decided to go to the local wooden boat show. Walking along the pier in this New England town, he came upon a beautiful, small finely tuned homemade boat. It was about 18 feet long and looked like it had literally been carved out of teak and mahogany. Brass and shining bright work everywhere. It was a true work of art. The Bp was quite excited and wanted to find the owner right away. He saw an older gentleman standing in khaki pants nearby and asked him rather impatiently, if he was connected with the boat.
"I suppose I am", the man said. "Do you own her?" the Bp asked quickly. "In a manner of speaking", the man said, "I built her from scratch". "So she's your boat?", the Bp said. The man took a deep breath, seemingly exasperated by the bishops questions about ownership, and looked up at me with a big smile and said, "Well, young man for now I have the privilege to be her steward, yes".
Although I was not there I was taken by his words. It was obvious to me that this man had found a way of loosening his grip on the world - including his grip on a boat that had taken years to build and I chose, based on the story, that there was joy in his eyes as he spoke to the Bp.
The most important news of all this morning is that the more we are able to let go of what we have for Christ's sake, the more we receive joy. This is the very heart of the Gospel teaching on the subject of stewardship. The paradoxical truth of God is that the more we give, the more we receive. That's why giving is about us spiritually - not about church budgets - not about control - but about us becoming joyful committed people.
Throughout life God provides us with opportunities to give of ourselves. Your annual pledge to All Saints is such an opportunity. It is also special in its own right too, because it symbolizes the intersection of your spiritual health with the mission of God's church. I hope you will embrace the opportunity to give of yourselves - for the sake of your own joy - for the sake of your relationship with God and for the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
See you Sunday!
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