Monday, June 29, 2009

Pentecost 4 (proper 8) Year B, Sunday June 28, 2009

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Preached by Deacon Lynn Anderson

In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer Amen.

Some Sunday mornings as we listen to the readings and the psalm, the common theme is obvious. It is easy to imagine what the designers of the lectionary had in mind. Today is not one of those times. We move from the lamentation over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan to Psalm 130; a disclosure of deep sinfulness and a need for forgiveness. The Epistle is Paul’s teaching on stewardship and the reading from the Gospel of Mark that weaves two completely unrelated miracles of healing stories into one teaching. They just don’t seem to connect with each other or with anything else. As I prayed about this, I kept hearing the familiar: “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.”

I realized that while I knew and many times repeated this very familiar part of our liturgy, I had not made it my own truth. Proof to me that the Book of Common Prayer and Holy Scripture are both living documents, they speak to us where we are in our spiritual growth continuum, differently at different times. I began the research and discovered that this familiar sentence is from scripture, 1 Chronicles 29:14. In fact it is part of King David’s farewell address as he turns things over to his son Solomon. The transition is patterned after that of Moses and Joshua, with the words; “be strong and of good courage.” He describes in detail the things have been amassed for the building of the temple. He lists those things he has given of his personal treasures. Then he stops and begins to bless God in front of his entire congregation. This leads to verse 14 in which King David says: “But me – who am I, and who are these my people, that we should presume to be giving something back to you (God)? Everything comes from you; all we are doing is giving back what we’ve been given from your generous hand.”

All things come from God and anything we give back is his anyhow; we are but stewards, called to manage what God gives to us to manage. That includes everything we have, our talents, our time and our treasures. This is a bull’s eye strike on stewardship. That is right where I hoped God was not leading me. Preaching from the work of Paul with his very long and often confusing sentences and preaching about the dreaded stewardship topic are two things most of us try to avoid even thinking much about.

At the same time that God seemed to be calling me to this specific sermon, two other things happened that pushed me to this morning. One was the announcement that Ann Wiggs had bequeathed a generous gift to St. Augustine’s church, giving us all her message about her strong faith and her love for the Lord and for this parish. The other happening was that Sr Ellen Francis recommended a book she wanted me to read, called Remember the Future by Gerald W. Keucher, a colleague of hers from New York. I’ve read it twice, will loan it and hope that many will be interested in hearing what this priest has to say about Financial Leadership and Asset Management for Congregations. Stewardship seems to be one of the directions that God is leading our Interim Priest to emphasize her work with us. Evidently there are many things that God still wants me to learn. Perhaps there are things that God wants us to learn together about Stewardship. So this morning, Paul’s lessons on stewardship from his letter to the Corinthians it is.

I wrestled like Jacob with this very complex passage from the Epistle today for more than one night. I came to this simple understanding of the Stewardship lessons of Paul:

· Paul advises not commands us to be Good Stewards.

· He suggests good stewardship must include desire of the heart.

· Gifts must be the result of a free decision, rather than of any compulsion.

· He assures us that If this is the spirit of the gift, then, the gift is acceptable to God and enough.

So as we think about all of this, we must remember that when Paul wrote there were not buildings to maintain and Priests to pay and Diocesan pledges to make in the early church. Money was collected to do the work Jesus gave to the church, feed the hungry and the poor and take care of the Widows and Orphans. Funding the facility and the maintenance and the programs is very difficult for most church units today. These things are not fun. In our Diocese there are many parishes that cannot afford a full time priest. Perhaps that is the base problem of “21st century stewardship. But I challenge you to notice that most parishes seem to generate a lot of giving in all three areas (time, talent and treasure) for outreach projects. Think about the response to the Angel Tree project where we give so generously and lovingly to the children with incarcerated parents. Each of us can think of a special area that promotes sacrificial and spontaneous giving in us. What does that tell us about ourselves? What can we do with this information? You see we do have the commitment of buildings to maintain and a Priest to pay and a Diocesan pledge to honor.

Can we translate these stewardship lessons from Paul into our world and circumstance today?

Perhaps what God is calling us to do here is to schedule a time for an open honest, searching dialogue within our parish about the importance of sacrificial and spontaneous giving. Should we discuss in an open forum soon what the important principals regarding Christian stewardship are according to the teachings of scripture? Do we believe as individuals and as a parish of believers we are to follow Christ in giving freely with joy and love? Which of the principals concerning Christian stewardship can be applied to our own situation?

One of God’s gifts to me was an involved and wise father whose counsel I often sought. It was just amazing to realize how much he had learned while I was away at college. I often as long as he lived, discussed with him a decision or a challenge I was facing. He would listen and then ask what options for solution I could see. Once I responded, “Dad If I could see the options, I wouldn’t be talking to you about this.” He replied, “Lynn, if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.” I know that to be truth.

Perhaps reflection on the economic situation in most of our homes and in the country is exactly the time to address these hard questions with God’s help. Maybe we start by exploring whether or not we individually and as a group really believe that “all things come from God and it really is of God’s own that we give back.”


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